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The quotable pope: Francis fuels debate
September 19th, 2013
11:01 AM ET

Pope Francis: Church can't 'interfere' with gays

By Eric Marrapodi and Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editors

(CNN) - Pope Francis said the church has the right to express its opinions but not to "interfere spiritually" in the lives of gays and lesbians, expanding on explosive comments he made in July about not judging homosexuals.

In a wide-ranging interview published Thursday, the pope also said that women must play a key role in church decisions and brushed off critics who say he should be more vocal about fighting abortion and gay marriage.

Moreover, if the church fails to find a "new balance" between its spiritual and political missions, the pope warned, its moral foundation will "fall like a house of cards."

The interview, released by Jesuit magazines in several different languages and 16 countries on Thursday, offers perhaps the most expansive and in-depth view of Francis' vision for the Roman Catholic Church.

The pope's comments don't break with Catholic doctrine or policy, but instead show a shift in approach, moving from censure to engagement.

Elected in March with the expectation that he would try to reform the Vatican, an institution that many observers say is riven by corruption and turf wars, Francis said his first mission is to change the church's "attitude."

"The church has sometimes locked itself up in small things," the pope said, "in small-minded rules."

"The people of God want pastors," Francis continued, "not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials."

MORE ON CNN: New interview shows why the pope is so beloved 

The interview was conducted by the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit journal based in Rome, over three meetings this August at Francis' apartment in Rome.

The pope approved the transcript in Italian, according to America magazine, a Jesuit journal based in New York that initiated the interview and supervised its translation into English.

Advance copies of the interview were provided to several news organizations, including CNN.

Jesuits from around the world submitted questions to Spadaro. Francis answered them with the frankness that has become a hallmark of his young papacy.

To begin the interview, Spadoro bluntly asks, "Who is Jorge Mario Bergolio?" - Francis's name before he was elected pope.

"I am a sinner," the pope answers. "This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

The pope didn't mention any particular sins, and Catholic theology holds that all humans are sinners, a consequence of Adam and Eve's original transgression. Still, a pope describing himself foremost as "sinner" is striking.

MORE ON CNN: The pope said what? Six stunners from Francis

Offering new glimpses of his personal life, Francis said he prays at the dentist's office and felt trapped in the Vatican's traditional papal apartments. (He moved to a smaller one in a nearby building.) He has a taste for tragic artists and Italian films and keeps the will of his beloved grandmother in his prayerbook.

But it was the pope's vision for the church's future  - painted in broad strokes - that's sure to rile or inspire Catholics, depending on which side of the church they sit.

Here are some highlights:

On Women

In July, Francis said, emphatically, that the "door is closed," on women's ordination, a statement that disappointed many Catholic liberals.

But that doesn't mean the church should consider women secondary or inferior, Francis said. "The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions," he told Spadora.

Francis also called on Catholics to think hard about the function of women in the church.

"Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed," the pope said. "The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role."

On Homosexuality 

When Francis was a bishop in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he received letters from gays and lesbians who said they were "socially wounded" by the church, he said.

"But the church does not want to do this," Francis said in the interview.

The pope then recalled his comments in July, when he told the media aboard a flight to Rome, "Who am I to judge" gay people?

MORE ON CNN: Pope Francis on gays: 'Who am I to judge?'

"By saying this, I said what the catechism says," the pope told Spadaro. The catechism, the Catholic Church's book of official doctrine, condemns homosexual acts, but says gays and lesbians "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity."

"Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person."

Francis said that someone once asked him if he "approved" of homosexuality.

"I replied with another question," he said. "`Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being."

Abortion, gay marriage and contraception 

Some American Catholics grumble that Francis has been largely silent on signature Catholic political issues.

"I’m a little bit disappointed in Pope Francis that he hasn’t, at least that I’m aware of, said much about unborn children, about abortion, and many people have noticed that," Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, said earlier this month.

Francis said that he's aware of the criticism, but he is not going to change.

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods," he told his Jesuit interviewer. "I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that."

But the pope said the church's teachings on those issue are clear, and he clearly believes in those teachings, so what else is there to say?

"It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time," Francis said.

False prophets and quick decisions

Only false prophets claim to have all the answers, Francis said.

"The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt," he said. "You must leave room for the Lord."

But church leaders, including himself, haven't always practiced humility, the pope admitted.

Many of the bad decisions he made while leading Catholics in Argentina came about because of  his "authoritarianism and quick manner of making decisions," the pope said.

That won't happen again, Francis said, as he begins to steer the church in a new direction.

He didn't offer an exact course, but he said change will come. Sooner or later.

"Many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time," he said. "I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time of discernment."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Church • Culture wars • Gay rights • Pope Francis • Vatican

soundoff (3,625 Responses)
  1. power, love , sound mind

    1st. Peter is not the rock, jesus is the rock! What most of you do nt underst. Is that the bible is a mystery and not understood by anyone who is not in jesus christ, you are blind, until. God chooses you. Sooo! Be in fear all who have no knowledge of what bible means. It won't be long before. The anti-christ willbe on the scene and u wnt recognize him either. All u have to do is seek the real truth and you will supernaturally understand! Just try it before evil takes over to a reprobate mind.

    December 29, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
    • PATRICK

      You are right about JESUS being the Rock , JUST DEPENDS ON HOW YOU APPLY IT

      January 5, 2014 at 4:23 pm |
  2. devent

    the editors of this blog,your conscience will haunt you for non democratic,you are discriminating non conforming ideas to your own belief.and this will haunt you profoundly .it violates your own precepts

    December 3, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
  3. Ted

    Comment: Simon of Peraea may have have 'put a diadem on his head'

    November 8, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
    • Ted

      , and his men must have created sufficient trouble to make the Romans send in the legions, but there are no indications that he was considered the Messiah. Jona Lendering

      November 8, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
  4. bwucinski

    Reblogged this on Young, Wild, and Free and commented:
    This interview with the new Pope gives me hope that once again the Catholic Church can mature and move forward in this new age of spirituality.

    Plus, he digs on feminism. You go Pope. You go.

    October 11, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Bob the Chef

      He digs on feminism? Meaning what? He's certainly not a supporter of feminism, guy. If that's what you're saying, then the following is for you. This obnoxious arrogation of respecting the feminine by the Left and feminists is hideous and deceitful. If anything, feminism is a slight at femininity. It disrespects it and corrupts it into some joke. There is a seething contempt for the feminine in feminism. So actually, the more accurate thing to say is that Francis loved the feminine as the Church does. This article distorts what he actually said and meant to make it seem like he was addressing these things exclusively and intentionally in relation to your rather nauseating political beliefs. Not so. So grow up. This new age of spirituality you speak of is one in which vast hordes of people will formally terminate their ties to any religion in favor of emotionalized nonsense. Francis is correct, but you just believe whatever CNN or other propagandists tell you and what they imply by what they mention.

      October 29, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
    • lainnj

      This pope is no feminist. The "door is closed" to female ordination. They want no women behind their sacred walls. And, really, who can blame them? We can only suspect what's going on in there, and they certainly don't need any women for what they are doing. In fact, women are only likely to mess up the good thing they've got going.

      November 27, 2013 at 6:33 am |
  5. sam stone

    Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness

    October 10, 2013 at 12:16 am |
  6. Behold!

    The Pope is right. The church cannot not interfere with LGBT because it choses NOT to. Addressing people directly for any sin is offensive whether one sees it as a sin or not. That job is left to the Holy Spirit. And the people of the house of CNN say? Amen!

    October 2, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
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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.