In an important statement signaling a shift in the Churchâ€™s stance towards homosexuality, Pope Francis on Sunday urged Christians to apologise to gay people and others who have felt offended by the Church.
"I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally," Francis said at a press conference on board his aircraft while returning from Armenia.
"The Church must ask forgiveness for not behaving many times -- when I say the Church, I mean Christians! The Church is holy, we are sinners!"
The Pope added that besides gays, the Church must also apologise to all those who have been exploited by it.
"I believe that the church not only should apologize to the person who is gay whom it has offended," he added, "but has to apologize to the poor, to exploited women, to children exploited for labor; it has to ask forgiveness for having blessed many weapons."
The Pope was reacting to a question about a German cardinal who had said that the Catholic Church should apologize for being â€˜very negativeâ€™ towards gays.
Rev. James Martin, editor at large of America magazine and a Jesuit priest, termed the Popeâ€™s apology to gays and lesbians as â€˜a groundbreaking momentâ€™.
"While St. John Paul II apologized to several groups in 2000 -- the Jewish people, indigenous peoples, immigrants and women, among them -- no pope has ever come close to apologizing to the LGBT community. And the Pope is correct of course. First, because forgiveness is an essential part of the Christian life. And second, because no group feels more marginalized in the church today than LGBT people."