(Bloomberg) -- Pope Francis was forced to apologize after reportedly using an offensive term to refer to gay men wishing to become priests, highlighting the deeply complex relationship the Catholic Church has with the LGBTQ community.

Francis, 87, allegedly told bishops convening last week in Rome not to admit homosexual men into seminaries, labeling them with a highly offensive term, Italian media including Corriere della Sera and la Repubblica reported late Monday, citing unnamed sources who attended the closed-door meeting. 

Since his papacy began in 2013, Francis has been more welcoming toward the community than his predecessors, garnering both praise and criticism from Catholics along the way. 

Some reports referred to a language issue behind the Pope’s most recent comments, suggesting that Francis, a native Spanish speaker, may have not been aware of the exact nuance of the Italian word he used.

The Vatican press office said Tuesday that the pontiff had extended his apologies to those who “felt offended” and that he was aware of reports about the alleged incident.

Francis said there is “space for everyone in the Church, for everyone!,” according to the statement. “Nobody is useless, nobody is superfluous, there’s space for everyone as we are,” he said. 

The Vatican said that the Pope had never intended to offend anyone or to use homophobic terms.

Shortly after his mandate began, Francis said, “Who am I to judge?,” when asked if there was a gay lobby in the Vatican. He has also made overtures on women’s rights but has stopped short of moving to allow women to be ordained.

Still, Monday’s media storm highlighted how far the Church is from allowing a more tolerant approach to become its actual doctrine, and how deeply complex the Vatican’s attitude toward LGBTQ people is.

In one recent example, the pontiff signaled groundbreaking openness by saying priests should be able to bless same-sex couples in certain instances, some of the Vatican’s most progressive remarks to date.

But the overture led to a fierce backlash, with the Holy See clarifying that any such move would not formally contradict traditional doctrine on same-sex marriage, which the Church fiercely opposes despite growing acceptance from members.

With a dwindling number of priests, the question of whether seminaries should openly admit homosexual men is not new, and the Pope reportedly said in 2018 that “the slightest doubt” about a seminarian being gay would suffice to block his admission.

Francis is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this year he appeared to suggest that Kyiv should surrender after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, and that it should seek to negotiate peace with Moscow. He was quick to clarify his remarks, noting that he condemns all wars.



--With assistance from Tiago Ramos Alfaro and Antonio Vanuzzo.

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