Benedict XVI, while head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, voiced similar thoughts in a 1986 letter to bishops on the pastoral care of homosexual persons, stressing that "it is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action."
Such treatment, he said, "deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs."
So while Francis is not the first Pope to speak out about the need to respect homosexual persons, he is perhaps more vocal in making sure that message reaches both these individuals and the world.
The Pope's approval of an apology to the gay community can also be seen as a continuation of the synodal process.
One of the issues addressed at the 2014 and 2015 Synod of Bishops in Rome was how the Church might adopt a new language in communicating her teachings in modern society, particularly in relation to topics such as abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality and divorced-and-remarried Catholics.
In the words of Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who spoke at an Oct. 8, 2014, event in Rome, adopting a new language was not just "a question of the immutability of the Church's truth, but our burning desire to find a language that can present it in a more gracious, compelling, cogent way."
Phrases such as "natural law," "intrinsically disordered," and living "in a perpetual state of sin," which are used in the Catechism to describe various irregular situations, were mentioned by synod fathers as expressions up for re-consideration.
While such phrases might express the Church's position clearly, the argument was that they are either rarely understood outside of the Church, or that the tone they emit exudes moral judgement rather than an invitation to join the family of Christ.
Viewed through this lens, Francis' encouragement of an apology for any wrongs done to homosexual persons is not a watering down of Church teaching. Rather, it can be read more accurately as representing his desire to change the Church's perspective for the purpose of dialogue.
The shift is not an issue of questioning doctrine, but of viewing and treating people, of encountering them with an unchanging doctrine in a more understandable and welcoming way.
Francis seems to be challenging us to see homosexual persons not primarily as those with "intrinsically disordered" inclinations, but as struggling brothers and sisters who need welcome, respect and accompaniment in order to eventually understand and accept the truth.
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Another key in interpreting Francis can be found in his days as cardinal in Buenos Aires. In 2010, then-Cardinal Bergoglio wrote that a proposed bill to allow same-sex marriage and adoptions would "gravely injure the family."
"What is at stake here is the identity and survival of the family," he said in the letter. "At stake are the lives of so many children who will be discriminated against in advance, depriving them of the human maturation that God wanted to be given with a father and a mother. At stake is the outright rejection of the law of God, engraved also in our hearts."
Yet the cardinal, while clear in supporting Church teaching, also supported the legalization of same-sex civil unions, a move those close to him described as a strategy to protect the institution of marriage itself.
What is seen in that situation in Argentina – as well as the current situation with the comments on the gay community – is a stance that defends the Church's doctrine without being afraid to dialogue and encounter, to shake things up and "make a mess," as the Pope instructed the youth of Argentina to do three years ago.