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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. Lazlo

    I love this man. It appears that God has sent a servant when we desperately needed one.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  2. Awesome

    I love this Pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  3. Lord Toronaga

    Truly a horrible moment. Go away you nasty POS pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  4. Pat

    I don't know about you, but I'm starting to fear for this pope because what he's saying is out of line with traditional Catholic views. And there are a great many Old World Catholics who hold those views, some in positions of power. I'm wondering if Francis isn't putting himself at risk by challenging these people.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  5. Doc Vestibule

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

    I think he nailed it right there.
    His predecessor was a career bureaucrat.
    He was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the author of the 'Crimen Sollicitationis', which outlined how the church is to handle accusations of se.xual impropriety against clergy (swear everyone to secrecy upon penalty of excommuniation, move the priest to a new parish).
    The RCC earned its reputation as an inst/itution primarily concerned with the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its as.sets.

    The new guy is doing a good job of helping to change that perception.
    He is publically trying to exemplify core Christian virtues like humility, charity and compassion. He isn't afraid to dine with publicans and sinner or to wash the feet of the poor.
    He's a PR boon for the Vatican – and God knows they need it! (pun intended)

    September 19, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • treasure

      thanks catholics for molesting our children and for the spanish inquisition

      September 19, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  6. scsinuts

    I'm a smoker. I'm a joker. I'm a midnight toker.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Jerome Horowitz

      Don't bogart that joint!

      September 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  7. Lord Toronaga

    OMG ... I'm out of the Catholic Church for good. The creepiest people on the planet have now taken over the church. Now the gays have ruined the church twice. Child molesting and now the right to child molest.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      you poor, simple fellow ...

      September 19, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
      • Lord Toronaga

        Go eff your friend's butt hole.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
        • sam

          Run along, little troll.

          September 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  8. treasure

    thanks Catholics for the Spanish inquisition

    September 19, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • richunix

      No, it was created in 1478 under Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II and Isabella of Spain...

      September 19, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Bob

      Pretty sure the Spaniards share some of that blame too.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  9. Sal

    I like this man. He is a modern moderate religious leader and that is a good thing. It's about time that the church realized that the world has changed. This Pope is a good man and is trying to keep up with the times. 

    September 19, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • joe

      Come on. Give me a break. The church in 1st world countries is dead. We've evolved out of it.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
      • Atheist, me?

        Now why do you have to mention evolution? That is based on the notion that u r somehow genetically superior because u r Atheist! SAD!!!

        September 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
        • troll spotter

          trollin' trollin' trollin'

          September 19, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • abraham

      you like him because.what you believe and what he is expressing about Gay now.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  10. Bill Ball

    They finally have a regular guy.........................Will he continue or will they murder him?

    September 19, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  11. Enough

    Again CNN has distorted what our Pope has said. Read the whole article and you will see our stance has not changed.

    http://www.americamagazine.org/pope-interview

    September 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  12. TomGI

    Please CNN, knock off with the pope. Couldn't care less what he is or does. I see lots of stories on NBC and USA Today and you guys are front and center with this pope. Give it a rest.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  13. John Calvin II

    The Pope is trying to accomodate sin, which is like a nice family trying to accomodate a bear in their living room. The Bible is clear on these things. The Pope, sadly, is in error. And since one of the qualifications for the office of Pope is to be inerrant on matters of scripture, this Pope is disqualified. They should remove and replace him.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Roger that

      I agree. We need a pope that demands the enforcement of the Biblical laws like ra pists being forced to marry their victims.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
    • raforrester

      What is it about not judging others and loving your neighbor that goes against Jesus?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  14. jimbob

    When will the Vatican stop supporting the disciples of hajj amin al Husseini in palestine?

    September 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Bob

      haji who?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  15. Alphonce

    the pope is just fullfilling jesus prophesy that a time will come when preachers will give to people what they want to hear but not the truth,this is the time,Repent

    September 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  16. Mary

    I do so love all the posters who cite Bible verses to "prove" being gay is forbidden - yet managed to overlook the fact that in other verses, the Bible ALSO a) condones slavery, b) condones polygamy, c) condones animal sacrifice... I could go on for quite a long post, but I won't. You can't just cherrypick the bits you agree with out of the Bible and hold them up as a blueprint for how we should live in the 21st century. Or rather, you CAN, but you look pretty silly, because you can find a verse in the Bible to "prove" pretty much anything you want to see proven. Including that it's okay to sell your daughter. The tail goes with the dog, folks.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      They also seem to be blind to the verses that explicitly command them not to judge others.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • Live4Him

      1 Timothy 1:9-10 We also know that the law is made ... for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine

      This verse exposes your lies and hypocrisy – you're picking and choosing the verses you want.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
      • cedar rapids

        '1 Timothy 1:9-10 We also know that the law is made ... for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.
        This verse exposes your lies and hypocrisy – you're picking and choosing the verses you want.'

        As are you. The bible was used to justify slavery for a long time.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  17. Bill

    As an atheist, this man is inspiring.

    Your values don't need to match those of everybody you meet for you to accept them as human beings. You don't have to agree with their decisions to invite them into your life, and benefit from their presence.

    Most of all, "Who am I to judge?", sums up my like of Pope Francis the most. "I am a sinner" applies to Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics, and Wiccans across the board. NOBODY is perfect. Your sins are not "less evil" than anybody else's, regardless of what you judge to be a sin. You are not better, or more important, than anybody else. It is EVERYBODY's job, ALL THE TIME, to make the world a better place.

    It makes me glad to know that, if not now then soon, I can count on the Catholic Church itself as a true ally in this regard.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
    • stillwaiting aka Basho1644

      I agree with most of your statements. However, the Catholic Church cannot - nor can any theistic religion - be an "ally" until it gives up its unsubstantiated, dehumanizing belief in a fairy kingdom.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  18. jaybigness

    I appreciate the fact that this pope is trying to undo all of the hypocrisy of the church's teachings. There is a lot more to go. He needs to start with admitting that the bible is man made. He also needs to discuss the discrepancies between the Bible and modern sciences and admit that some things in the bible are incorrect.

    The Catholic church should remind their followers that the bible teaches to turn the other cheek, forgiveness, and judge not unless ye be judged themselves. When spare the rod and spoil the child means beat a child into fearing god, there is a translation issue.

    Lastly, is the issue of divorce. Catholics do not believe in divorce. A man can beat his wife within an inch of her life, and she is supposed to take it and pray the beatings away. There is a problem.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
    • TheThinker

      The Bible is not considered to be man-made per-se.
      Humans have written it, but all the writings were considered to be Divinely-Inspired; in Hollywood terms: The Holy Spirit possessed the writer.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
      • Cunning Stunts

        Maybe the writer needs an excorcism.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  19. flambeauxfire

    I like it.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:00 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.