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Vatican meets lawyers opposed to the criminalization of gays

VATICAN CITY (AP) — International lawyers researching the criminalization of homosexuality met Friday with the Vatican secretary of state and urged the Holy See to publicly oppose such laws and "conversion" therapies for gays.

The Vatican said Cardinal Pietro Parolin promised the delegation he would relay their research to Pope Francis. The Vatican statement ended a roller coaster few weeks of leaks and denials about Friday's visit to the Vatican of members of the International Bar Association, the Inter American Institute of Human Rights and a U.N. Latin American institute.

The groups had said they expected a "historic speech" from Francis during their visit, and a French gay journalist had reported that Francis would use the occasion to publicly oppose the criminalization of homosexuality.

But no papal audience was ever confirmed. The Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti issued a statement saying "I can categorically deny that the Holy Father will deliver a 'historical speech' on the topic of homosexuality."

The issue is particularly sensitive, given that Francis has already roiled conservative Catholics with his generally accepting views about gays, launched with his famous 2013 comment "Who am I to judge?" about a gay priest.

More recently, he told a Spanish TV station that gay tendencies aren't a sin. But a public pronouncement opposing the criminalization of homosexuality might have been considered too much by his religious and diplomatic advisers, particularly following Brunei's new Islamic laws punishing gay sex by stoning offenders to death.

A papal pronouncement might have been taken as a direct criticism of an Islamic country at a time when Francis is seeking improved ties with the Muslim world. The Vatican restricted itself Friday to confirming that Parolin met with the delegation and repeated the church's position reaffirming "the dignity of every human person and against every form of violence."

In a statement, the delegation members said they presented Parolin with the results of their research into the effects of criminalization of homosexuality in the Caribbean. The research found the likelihood of serious violations of human rights laws in those countries.

The groups urged the Catholic church to publicly call for the international community "to recognize that criminalization of homosexuality and any form of consented intimate acts, sexual or not, between adults is an intolerable affront to human dignity."

They also asked the church to pronounce itself against so-called conversion "cure" therapies for gays. Catholic teaching calls for gays to be respected and not discriminated against but holds that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered."

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