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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. Wisdom

    This is great! If the Pope is a sinner; the priests are sinners and pedophiles, but we won't go into that. Then why do people go to a priest to pray for them if the priest is no better than they are?! Pray to GOD yourselves, and ask Jesus for forgiveness. There is no reason to go to a man when dealing with things that are spiritual. I never understood that. Just like the Bible says no man is to be called father yet priests have that name. GOD is the father no Pope and no priest. Learn your religion; you'll be shocked what you find out. It is not Christianity!

    September 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • borgplate

      But Jesus was a man and you pray to him.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
  2. Rick from ohio

    Maybe this pope will actually save the Catholic Church! Thank God, I hope people finally get it! Spirituality is not about the church, It's about your own relationship with God! I don't care where you stand, we all should have the same rights. What someone does behind their bedroom doors, does not affect my religion at all!

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

      "What someone does behind their bedroom doors, does not affect my religion at all!"

      I agree, but only if those involved are consenting adults. I'm still waiting for this pope to do anything about the child molesters in the clergy, other than hiding them.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
      • Rick from ohio

        I am with you there, it's time for some responsibility from the church as well, but I'm not exactly holding my breath either. But one can hope! (Sigh)

        September 19, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Then perhaps we should actually want the church to "fail", then there would be no one attempting to put themselves between themselves and their God(s).

      As for the "behind closed doors" .. I know what you mean as it pertains to same gender relationships .. but that just wakes up the elephant in the room, Pedo priests .. we can't ignore what's going on behind the closed doors of the self proclaimed moral authority, they need to be help accountable.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
      • Cunning Stunts

        God created the Heavens but could only manage one son.
        Fail.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
    • Live4Him

      @Rick from ohio : What someone does behind their bedroom doors, does not affect my religion at all!

      But it could / would affect those involved. Therefore, you seem to be taking Cain's viewpoint (i.e. Am I my brother's keeper?). Christianity loves / cares about others – even those determined to harm themselves or others.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:02 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 9:37 am |
  3. Barry G.

    We are all sinners, except for the one who was crucified on our behalf, Jesus Christ, the son of God.

    Anyone who says otherwise is a liar or is ignorant of the most important event that ever occurred.

    “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son (Jesus), that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but shall have eternal life.” (The Gospel of John)

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

      that really is a kooky doctrine.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
      • stillwaiting aka Basho1644

        KOOKY! Oh, that's just the word for it !!

        September 19, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • dogon

      His only son? He's god for crying out loud. He could have "created" more sons. And since he supposedly "rose from the dead" isn't that like being alive. Ridiculous beliefs....

      September 19, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
    • borgplate

      Jesus was a sinner......He had to be. Why else do you think he yelled "Father why have you forsaken me!" He also went to hel.l for 3 days. You can't go there if you are sinless. He only became sinless once he collected the keys to salvation in he.ll.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  4. timelord7202

    Everyone is. Yet nobody wants to forgive. Unless they're in political office and forgiven by the same political party.

    This country and world need a reset button. Who wouldn't be interested in starting over anew, as a society, and where everyone has to make changes?

    September 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
  5. anonymous

    The papal system for a long long time, I am talking over a thousand years, has been known to be the first beast of Revelation Chapter 13. All the identifying marks match it perfectly, not pretty well, but perfect if you do your history. Before the Roman Empire fell there were people praying that the Empire would not fall because they knew that it would then be divided into ten kingdoms and then the antichrist power would come. It was given 1260 days to reign in the bible. it says it 3 times. Which in Bible prophecy a day equals a year being that God said the Israelites would wonder the desert for 40 days but they didn't just 40 days but 40 years. So 1260 years they were given after they came into power. 538 ad is when they came into power...which is after the ten horns came into power like the Bible also mentions that it would be after the then horns, so 538 + 1260 years = 1798. 1798 is the year Napoleon ended the Papal reign and thus gave it its deadly wound, but it was restored with the Lateran Treaty signed by Mussolini. Look it up. So even the deadly wound prophecy fits. But even with this little information I have put on here do know that I am not pointing really at a specific corrupt person, but a corrupt system. There are many in the catholic church that are saved.
    3

    September 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • HA25

      And page 20 line 17 of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy says 'This will be our End" meaning the world will end in 2017...

      What HAS been known for a long, long time is that Revelations refers to the fall of the Roman Empire, who the writers hated for obvious enough reasons.

      And there was no Exodus from Egypt in any case, showing that your 1 day = 1 year because of some supposed wandering in the desert cannot be true, so the rest of your argument falls apart.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  6. Mark B

    Does the Pope not think that Jesus would "interfere" with the spirituality of gays? Really?

    September 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • Meredith S.

      No, Jesus would not. Why would He? He was inclusive, not exclusive.
      That being said, I like this Pope. A breath of fresh air.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  7. children of Israel

    Catholicism is hired by Satan, the Pope is not written in the book of life, the good book called the Bible. *1st Corinthians 2:15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. *James 2:9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. *1st John 3:4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments. *Proverbs 6:23 For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life: (Matthew 5:17)

    September 19, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • GAW

      I didn't know that Satan advertizes on Crag's List.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  8. brijsmith

    I wanna give this Pope and St. Francis a high five.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • doobzz

      Just don't leave your kids alone with them.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
  9. Yankee Doodle

    While the governments spies on us, inflates our money away into nothing, and brainwashes us, the media says, "Hey! Look over here! Look at the Pope!"

    September 19, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • PushingBack

      Yup, you've been brainwashed alright!

      September 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • GAW

      Walmart is offering a special on aluminum foil. Start making those hats.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  10. Rob McCall

    #useless

    September 19, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  11. David Camden

    ...that's what the "religious" groups always preach.....rarely do you hear the message of salvation and repentance of sin. This world is so lost and in such need of salvation...only through the shed blood of Jesus....receive Him into your hearts and be delivered from the wrath that is about to come.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • M.E.

      The wrath you speak of that's "about to come," Hasn't it been due for about 200 years now? And yet it never seems to show up. It's apparently slower than the mail systems of 3rd world countries. Personally, I'll take my chances with the oncoming "wrath."

      September 19, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  12. disanitnodicos

    This pope is really wiping his behind on the Catholic Church.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
    • midwest2

      That's your opinion. Some of us may not agree.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • doobzz

      Did he run out of little kids to wipe himself with?

      September 19, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
  13. Yankee Doodle

    Nothing like the Pope and gay marriage to distract Americans from all ways our government is completely failing us right now.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
    • GAW

      No one forces you read such articles.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  14. jdk47

    Only CNN would think a Christian saying "I am a sinner" is newsworthy. Heads up CNN, that's the whole premise of the religion.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      which is why it's so disgusting.
      christianity is built on guilt, fear and ignorance.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
      • Amanda

        Yep. and if you can't guilt people with the judgement of a god, or scare them with the eternity of their soul, how else are you going to control them?

        September 19, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
      • Bootilicious

        Bootfunk has never made a mistake or a done something wrong. You don't have to be religious to know that we all can make mistakes or decisions that break even our individual moral code.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
  15. PushingBack

    Wow! I personally don't believe in god or anything religious at all but this is a huge step for the RC Church. This Pope seems like a decent person and an organization like this needs forward looking leadership.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
  16. God

    lol @ religion

    September 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
  17. WOW!!

    the popes a worthless piece of crrrrap

    September 19, 2013 at 1:00 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.