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The quotable Pope: 11 most surprising sayings
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. Bil

    He's the Catholic Church's equivalent of Gorbachev, pretty much. It's centralized command and control is falling apart, and he knows it's falling apart. He's going to oversee a startlingly rapid collapse in the church's power to enforce its doctrine.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • WOW!!

      amazing that cathoholics live in a free country, yet love to be dictated

      September 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
      • John in Florida

        Do you mean they should be able to hate whoever they want?

        September 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
      • Rick from ohio

        You might well be the one person here that does not even understand religion.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
  2. mike

    Another hippie!

    September 19, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
  3. Baptist

    All religious organizations should be taxed. They are no longer interested in teaching the concept of unconditional Love that was the teachings of Jesus. They are more concerned with fighting political battles and who is is what office. Look at what the Mormons did in California for Prop 8. Tax the hell out of them all.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  4. DJR

    It's an interesting interview, and as he asks I won't judge. I will say it is why it is becoming known as the Catholic Church not the church, as hollyhood tries to sell it. He is the shepherd of millions, and millions of millions more will leave. The BOOK is written, Luther told the catholics this. Calvin proclaimed it even more, and the pulpits of the reformation and revivals brought people back to what is truth. I am a sinner, because I do not follow what is written. This is his own proclamation.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  5. YeahSoWhat

    "its moral foundation will "fall like a house of cards.""

    It's actually already doing that...some of those cards are blowing around in the wind...

    September 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • Wah Wah Wah

      Some of you Cafeteria Catholics only agree with the Pope when it suits your purposes. This man is the head of our Church. You are denying him. You are denying the Church.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
      • Amanda

        Exactly! As it should be.
        The church's power becomes dangerous when people agree, regardless of what they actually believe. To blindly follow anyone just because he is the head of the church is asinine. Nothing would ever change that way and the religious leaders in this world would continue to control and abuse personal thought. If someone disagrees with the church, then DISAGREE! Do it loudly, and help this world to become a better place.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
      • PushingBack

        "An unexamined life is not worth living."

        September 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
      • Mark

        If you really want to understand the catholic church, and the spirit behind it, visit be4thefire.com. Check out the Vatican exposed link, and all other videos as your heart desires. Remember, the same spirit that built the Vatican is working through this Pope. Watch the videos, and decide for yourself if the Pope is spreading false doctrine that will lead people into Hell.

        September 20, 2013 at 9:36 am |
  6. AvdBerg

    Spiritual Truth

    – God heareth not sinners ((John 9:31)
    – He that committeth sin is of the devil (1 John 3:8)

    For a better understanding of what spirit the Pope serves (Luke 9:55; John 8:34), we invite you to read the articles 'Popes and the Princes of This World', 'Papal Infallibility, Contradictions and Spiritual Blindness' and 'The Mystery Babylon' listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    We also invite you to read the second item (Scarlet and Purple Colour) on the Recent Revelations Page. It simply and clearly explains the deceptions that for centuries have been hidden and have now been revealed, confirming what is written in Matthew 10:26 that there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9.

    Narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:14).

    September 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • John

      Alan Watts: What to tell children about God and The Universe

      There was never a time when the world began, because it goes round and round like a circle, and there is no place on a circle where it begins. Look at my watch, which tells the time; it goes round, and so the world repeats itself again and again. But just as the hour-hand of the watch goes up to twelve and down to six, so, too, there is day and night, waking and sleeping, living and dying, summer and winter. You can’t have any one of these without the other, because you wouldn’t be able to know what black is unless you had seen it side by side with white, or white unless side by side with black.
      In the same way, there are times when the world is, and times when it isn’t, for if the world went on and on without rest forever and ever, it would get horribly tired of itself. It comes and it goes. Now you see it; now you don’t. So because it doesn’t get tired of itself, it always comes back again after it disappears. It’s like your breath: it goes in and out, in and out, and if you try to hold it in all the time you feel terrible. It’s also like the game of hide-and-seek, because it’s always fun to find new ways of hiding, and to seek for someone who doesn’t always hide in the same place.
      God also likes to play hide-and-seek, but because there is nothing outside God, He has no one but himself to play with. But He gets over this difficulty by pretending that He is not Himself. This is His way of hiding from Himself. He pretends that He is you and I and all the people in the world, all the animals, all the plants, all the rocks, and all the stars. In this way He has strange and wonderful adventures, some of which are terrible and frightening. But these are just like bad dreams, for when He wakes up they will disappear.
      Now when God plays hide and pretends that He is you and I, He does it so well that it takes Him a long time to remember where and how He hid Himself. But that’s the whole fun of it-just what He wanted to do. He doesn’t want to find Himself out too quickly, for that would spoil the game. That is why it is so difficult for you and me to find out that we are God in disguise, pretending not to be Himself. But when the game has gone on long enough, all of us will wake up, stop pretending, and remember that we are all one single Self-the God who is all that there is and who lives for ever and ever.
      Of course, you must remember that God isn’t shaped like a person. People have skins and there is always something outside our skins. If there weren’t, we wouldn’t know the difference between what is inside and outside our bodies. But God has no skin and no shape because there isn’t any outside to Him. . . . The inside and the outside of God are the same. And though I have been talking about God as ‘He’ and not ’she,’ God isn’t a man or a woman. I didn’t say ‘it’ because we usually say ‘it’ for things that aren’t alive.
      God is the Self of the world, but you can’t see God for the same reason that, without a mirror, you can’t see your own eyes, and you certainly can’t bite your own teeth or look inside your head. Your self is that cleverly hidden because it is God hiding.
      You may ask why God sometimes hides in the form of horrible people, or pretends to be people who suffer great disease and pain. Remember, first, that He isn’t really doing this to anyone but Himself. Remember, too, that in almost all the stories you enjoy there have to be bad people as well as good people, for the thrill of the tale is to find out how the good people will get the better of the bad. It’s the same as when we play cards. At the beginning of the game we shuffle them all into a mess, which is like the bad things in the world, but the point of the game is to put the mess into good order, and the one who does it best is the winner. Then we shuffle the cards once more and play again, and so it goes with the world.

      ~Alan Watts

      September 19, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
      • HA25

        Lie – that's all you had to say. Lie to children about the world and God. Make up a story so long as it sounds reassuring and explains things so they will not look to hard for other explanations.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • ready1923

      A World Deceived....that's a real objective source!

      September 19, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
    • AvdBergism

      (just one of the over 40,000 sects of insanity)

      September 19, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • Madtown

      "Spiritual truth" for those who have access to those particular writings and teachings, and favor them. Not truthful at all to other humans who have no such access. Therefore = NOT the truth for humanity as a whole.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • snowboarder

      i went to that website. that is some pretty crazy stuff.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
  7. Thomas Jefferson

    Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • Vatican Ratline

      What do you call a German Catholic??? U call him a NAZI hahaha

      September 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  8. JOHN

    Catholic don't need, want, or value your approval of OUR Pope

    September 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • doobzz

      As long as YOUR pope continues to hide child molesters, there will be people getting in your face about it.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  9. Abba

    The church needs to stop attacking eachother. Simple. Jesus sat down with sinners, but he did not tolerate sin. He called them out on it. ... Peter was like all of us today, denying Jesus and not standing up for the truth. Whats the difference after he repented? He lived for Jesus and proclaimed the truth.

    If you call yourself a christian, stand up to it. Stop attacking everyone else. Take the plank out of your eye before you try to take it out of another. Don't tolerate sin, stand up, YES. but do it all with love or you'll be heartless like the pharisees...

    September 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
  10. Bill from Long Island

    This pope might actually get me back to church.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • doobzz

      Please leave the kids home when you do.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  11. I like this one.

    I'm really fond of this Pope. As a Catholic, I'm getting pretty sick of my church wasting time on trivial things that just don't matter. Our job is to take care of the poor and disenfranchised, not disenfranchise people who don't fit into our rigid idea of goodness. It's ridiculous that people are spending so much time judging people when they know full-well that they are sinning by doing just that. We cannot change how God feels about anybody but ourselves, so let's just help people instead of trying to change them. What they do is their business, not ours. God loves them regardless, but God is probably pretty peeved at us for screeching into the void about how unfair it is. Life is beautiful. Let's try to make it beautiful for everybody.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • doobzz

      "Let's try to make it beautiful for everybody."

      Great idea. Let's start with the children who were molested by priests. They deserve to see their molesters brought to trial instead of being quietly relocated and protected by the pope.

      That might not make their lives "beautiful" but it would be a start.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
      • Hey, keep judging.

        You're sinning. Hope you know that.

        September 19, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
        • doobzz

          LOL! Yeah, the nerve of me, pointing out the hypocrisy of the latest pope-a-dope.

          Maybe they'll bundle me up with some gay men and throw us on the witch burning pyre as human fuel. Ah, the good old days when you could dance around the bonfire, smelling human flesh burning like a barbecue.

          September 19, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • Creole

      My sentiments exactly; well said!!!!!

      September 19, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
  12. JC

    I think Malachy was right, the last Pope was the last Pope....this guy has some strange ideas about church doctrine and what or if to follow.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • Welcome to the Reformation.

      You'll go to heaven no matter what, but you ARE sinning in the eyes of the Church by saying what you're saying. Just letting you know.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
      • JC

        How's that?

        September 19, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
        • Denial.

          You're denying the Pope and you're turning your back on the Church. What you do is your business, but if you were a Catholic, you'd be running to confession instead of whining about how unfair this Pope is.

          September 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
      • JC

        And I am not really interested in what the "church" says....I care what God says. Religion, near as I can tell, is a bunch of nasty people manipulating people who long for spiritual leadership and fill the void with religion not because its great but due to a lack of viable choices.

        September 19, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
        • Why are you commenting if you aren't a Catholic?

          Seriously. Why do you care? You obviously aren't a Catholic. What you say about the Church doesn't matter.

          September 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
    • Owl96

      Francis has not changed one Church Doctrine. What he has done is begin to change the way the Church chooses to minister to various groups of people. Even in the latest interview, he proclaimed that all doctrine stands.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  13. Sniffit

    This should be interesting to watch develop over time. He's saying things about how they should be behaving that American bishops are absolutely going to view as a challenge and threat to their power, influence and ability to fundraise.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • WOW!!

      the catholic hierarchy from the pope down –> all about money and power. The pope's no different. He plays games of humility. That's their marketing strategy.

      Remember, you are referring to a religion that has money laundered in the USA and Italy,, denied abused children and never stepped in to help them.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
  14. TMV

    He's a sinner AND a criminal!

    September 19, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • So are you.

      We all are. That is why we need the Church and why we need Jesus. But hey, you're probably just a loser atheist.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
      • Amanda

        YOU might need the church and YOU might need Jesus. Some people are strong enough to stand on their own.
        and there's no reason for name calling here. Grow up?

        September 19, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
  15. Aiden

    I am really sorry but Catholicism has nothing to do with real Christianity. And The Pope is not God on Earth. Catholicism like Orthodox or Protestantism became business to "forgiveness" – pay money and you are forgiven. That is why people are running away from God.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • ready1923

      Who EVER said that the Pope was God on earth...certainly not the Pope.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • JC

      It has not been about Christianity since Constantine and Nicea when the symbols of Christianity went from those of life like water and fish to signs of death like the cross. Pretty simple clues there.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • Laura

      We don't believe the Pope is God on earth. The Pope is God's representative on earth. I don't see those as the same.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
      • Aiden

        I guess you have never heard the Pope claims infallibility...They have regularly claimed to be divine

        September 19, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
    • JC

      People are "running away" from religion. Near as I can tell, the average person, and polls seems to support it, is longing for God and Faith.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
  16. yo!

    He might be secretly gay.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • JOHN

      You wish.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • ready1923

      YOU might secretly be gay too!

      September 19, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • GAW

      Well I guess someone wishes everyone was gay.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  17. chieftrainer

    "Pope Francis said the church has the right to express its opinions but not to "interfere spiritually" in the lives of gays and lesbians"

    I'm hoping he is not saying the church is distinguishing gays and lesbians from everyone else with that comment. If so, why is he the pope? Why shouldn't all people be treated the same by the church when it comes to spirituality? I would sure like to understand what he means by the term "interfere spiritually".

    September 19, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
    • Michael

      I would imagine that he's speaking of things like forcing/coercing gay people to go into "conversion therapy" programs, and more importantly, forcing children to go to them. which is a form of child abuse.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • John in Florida

      I took it to mean that they should not try to keep gays out of church or from receiving communion. We should let God judge every person as a whole.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
  18. earlybirdat2007

    As a Protestant, all I can say is What A Wise and Godly Man He Is!!

    September 19, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
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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.