NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Pope Francis is speaking out again in support of the gay community, saying the Catholic church owes them and others who have been mistreated an apology.
The pope made the apology on board his papal flight to Rome, saying the gay community should "not be discriminated against and they should be respected and pastorally accompanied," CBS2's Seth Doane reported.
"I think this is significant," said Rev. Robert Dodero, an American theologist. "This has been standard Catholic doctrine for a long time to distinguish between persons and acts. But what the pope is saying no, we have to do more than that, we have to actually apologize. As Catholic Christians, we have to apologize to groups of people -- homosexuals being one of them -- whom our language and behavior has hurt. That's a new step forward."
Following the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, the Vatican had released a written statement about the "dreadfully high number of innocent victims" which "has caused... the deepest feelings of horror and condemnation."
But the Holy See was criticized for not specifically noting that so many of the Orlando victims were gay.
While the pope's comments have set a different tone, the church has not changed its official stance on gay issues, teaching homosexual acts are sinful.
Dodero says church doctrine doesn't change, "but what changes is tone and tone is very important. It may be as important as doctrine."
When Doane asked if this is all public relations, Dodero replied, "If it were only public relations, though, would that be such a bad place to start?"
In addition to apologizing to the gay community, the pope extended his apology to the poor, to exploited women and the child laborers.
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