July 29th, 2013
06:30 PM ET
By Kyle Almond, CNN
(CNN) – Perhaps it's fitting that the pope's first news conference was held onboard an airplane. Since Monday morning his comments have soared around the globe at high speed.
His remarks on homosexuality filled many Catholics with hope, especially those longing for the church to accept gays and lesbians more openly.
But they also discouraged others, including those who believe the Catholic Church should ordain women.
Some social media commenters said they were just plain confused.
The pope was flying back from a weeklong visit to Brazil, his first international trip as pontiff, when he talked to reporters about a wide range of controversial topics.
His comments on gays and lesbians garnered the most attention.
“If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?” said Francis. He added that the church’s problem isn’t homosexuality, but rather those who lobby against the interest of the church.
The pope’s remarks don’t signal a groundbreaking shift in church policy, but they do carry weight with those fighting for acceptance.
“I think it is a welcome change in tone from the really harsh and damaging rhetoric that LGBT Catholics and their families have gotten from the last two popes,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, which focuses on LGBT rights in the Catholic Church.
In 2005, during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican issued directives that barred men from the priesthood "who are actively homosexual, have deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called 'gay culture.' "
That policy has been unevenly applied in the years since, said John L. Allen Jr., CNN’s senior Vatican analyst, but it has had an effect on public perception.
“Many gays and lesbians would probably say they don’t always hear a message of respect and compassion from Catholic leaders,” Allen said. “Instead, what they often seem to hear is precisely judgment. At that level, Francis is setting a new tone, one of acceptance and welcome, without reversing any doctrinal positions.”
Duddy-Burke agreed that the pope's remarks didn't result in “any ground broken theologically.”
But, she said, they are “encouraging and welcome, and we hope that they would translate into the same kind of openness from other bishops here in this country and across the world.”
While the pope appeared to open one door Monday, he dismissed the possibility of ordaining women as priests.
“The church says no. That door is closed,” he said. In 1994, Pope John Paul II declared that the Catholic Church has no authority to ordain women.
Francis did say that women need to have a deeper role in the church, but his dismissal of women's ordination was “heartbreaking,” said Erin Saiz Hanna, executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference.
“The church is not Pope John Paul II in 1994, nor is it Pope Francis today,” Hanna said. “It’s the people of the church that make up the church, and we know that the majority of Catholics support women’s ordination.”
Hanna said her group had much hope for Francis.
“We were there in Rome when he was announced, and there was a sense of relief,” she said. “We believed that he would take the church in a new direction, and up until this point he had been doing some things to show that - washing the feet of women on Holy Thursday - that broke all sorts of rules and had never been done before. …
“But in this one quick interview on an airplane, he completely destroyed hope for women.”
Some on social media were also confused by the pope’s stance.
Twitter user @jobeans said: “Pope's ok with gay priests; not women. But hey, its only the 21st Century, right? #pope”
Dawn Perretti Joblon @DMJ8321 tweeted: “See new pope is open 2 gay priest but not women. Why does that not shock me. The Catholic church's continued bias towards women is pathetic”
Still, the majority of tweets and Facebook posts Monday focused on the pope’s remarks about homosexuality and not judging gays.
On a CNN Facebook chat, N Marlene Fleming praised the pope: “Thank God for this brilliant and humble man! A voice of reason, at last.”
Not everyone agreed.
"The pope is cool with gays and atheists now. Boy is he gonna be surprised when he reads the Bible," said @HDBtweets.
Others agreed with the pope's sentiment while still calling homosexuality a sin.
"We should hate the sin, the tendencies and love the sinner period - that was what the Pope meant," Ud Udodi Kachi said on Facebook. "Not marginalizing sinners, we all have all sinned."
Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said all the reaction has been overblown, especially by the mainstream media.
“The pope speaks about materialism for one straight week in Brazil before millions of people, and his formal comments garner 74 news stories on Lexis-Nexis,” Donohue said.
“He speaks off-the-cuff about homosexual priests before a handful of reporters on the airplane going back to Rome and his remarks trigger 220 news stories.”
What do you think about the pope’s remarks? Are they a big deal to you? Do you agree with them? Let us know in the comments below.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.