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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. Dan

    Don't interfere with gays? Sure! And gays – don't interfere with marriage. See? We CAN all live in peace.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • snowboarder

      how is it that gays interfere with your marriage again?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      How does gay marriage affect your marriage?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      Troll go back and graduate high school.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • kathy0715

      Dan, how are two gays being married having any impact on your marriage?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  2. ScottCA

    Got to love how the rules can conveniently change, I thought they had their guidance from god? God suddenly decided to forgive gays after centuries of persecution and cruelty? how convenient for the catholic church to suddenly change their minds about persecuting, enacting forms of cruelty, and socially ostracising gays. How very convenient for these conmen. I am not fooled in the least by them, and no one else should be...

    September 19, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  3. ScottCA

    Got to love how the rules can conveniently change, I thought they had their guidance from god? God suddenly decided to forgive gays after centuries of persecution and cruelty? how convenient for the catholic church to suddenly change their minds about persecuting, enacting forms of cruelty, and socially ostracising gays. How very convenient for these conmen. I am not fooled in the least by them, and no one else should be.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      That's not what he's saying.
      His stance is that everybody is a sinner – being an active ho/mose/xual is no more or less sinful than being a practicing thief.
      He's trying to usher the sinners into the Catholic Church, at which point they can heap on the guilt and shame in generous portions.
      Once you get ritually drowned and engage in the cannibalistic rites of the RCC, you can no longer claim ignorance and they can brow beat you into denying your orientation.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
      • ScottCA

        Well as long as it includes generous portions of ludicrous lies about fictional deities, meant to frighten people into submission to the will of these conmen then its all good. Oh and they better be traumatizing small kids by teaching them that if they question or disbelieve their lies, they will burn for ever and be tortured by monsters.

        As long as they are abusing someone the Catholics are keeping up their duties.

        September 19, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
  4. Lionly Lamb

    How Hemp Threatens the Corporatocracy | Brainwash Update

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZE1sUwY_q0k&w=640&h=390]

    September 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  5. carryon

    Correction: CNN says "Leave gays alone," the Pope didn't say that. What the Pope did say was that gays should be "treated with respect," as any sinner would be, and expected to renounce and repent of their sin–as any sinner would be. That's not the message that CNN or gays want to hear.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Madtown

      It's not a sin to be gay, any more than it would be a sin to be left-handed. Certainly gays "sin" like everyone else, in terms of human imperfection. No one is perfect.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  6. Live your life like you want to, I'll live my life to the Lord.

    Destruction of False Prophets and evil soon. Bible prophecies are being fulfilled NOW.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  7. carryon

    Correction: CNN says "Leave gays alone," the Pope didn't say that. What the Pope did say was that gays should be "treated with respect," as any sinner would be, and expected to renounce and repent of their sin–as any sinner would be. That's not the message that CNN or gays want to hear. Its stupid that everything the Pope says is front page news due to the fact that many journalist are Catholics who disagree with everything their church teaches but won't leave it because–they are Catholics and a Catholic never leaves no matter how bad or stupid it gets.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  8. Frank

    If god existed, he would choose to be an atheist rather than associate with Christianity.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  9. RodBinNC

    This Pope is AWESOME. Some of you want him to do and say more. But at least he is saying things that are NOT Church dogma.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  10. David

    The foundation of the Church are the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20)– that you think finding balance between spiritual and political missions has anything to do with the integrity of our foundation is merely more evidence that the pope is an anti-christ and ravenous wolf who has denied Christ fully!

    September 19, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  11. 2centpeace

    My father is an Atheist. He taught its good to have a belief system, but never stop questioning.
    My mother said that God is pure love and deep understanding. She said this love is essentially the same everywhere you go. However, people are different (speak, look, eat, think, etc). God created these differences in us not to force us into a fight of who understands God correctly. God also does not want us to change or destroy the differences in each other. No, God wants us to learn, understand, care, and love each other WITH our differences. To do this, we must use our brain and heart. We must overcome ego, fear, and greed. We will then find God (pure love and deep understanding) in ourselves and each other. My lesson from my mom, "Do not try to change others, just try to understand them".

    September 19, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • Frank

      Here is the problem. Nothing pure actually exists. When we strive for "purity", we strive for the impossible. This applies to everything. We live in a real world and must have real expectations.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • MonCherie

      That's an awesome message your mother shared with you

      September 19, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
  12. ncsubvet

    Galatians 1:6-10

    September 19, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • Paul

      Josiah 4:20

      September 19, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
  13. a joke

    what a surprise a gay pope! not just a pedophile!

    September 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  14. SoldierOfConscience

    if you cant enforce your own values / scriptures then shut down the church. dont give in to the PC crowd. What next? church ok with murderers? thieves? pagans? idolat0rs?

    September 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • A Dose of Reality

      That has got to win the "Dumbest Comment of the Day' Award! Good JOB!

      September 19, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • RK

      Not sure what you mean by pagans or idolators? Everywhere I see, in the church too you see a statue of Jesus which is nothing but a big idol, if someone is praying to an idol it is their belief, who are you to judge what is right or wrong?, the biggest problem in this world is peoples arrongance in thinking that their religion is the only religion, their's is the only god, their way is high way. gays and lesbians too are God's children, if he has no problem creating them what is your problem?.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  15. Mary

    When he stops the misogyny with the ridiculous birth control prohibition, then I'll but what he s selling.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  16. Sidb1980

    Be gay if you want to. I don't care, but don't call me names or say I'm narrow minded because I don't agree. I don't agree with murder, adultery, etc. Do you hear murders and adulterers calling people names? Let us murder that's our right.... We want special rights... I agree to disagree. If you want to live your life that way do so, but don't throw it my face and make me have to deal with it. And yes, I know many Christians try to throw their faith into your face and make you have to deal with it. I get it. Ignore them so they look stupid.

    We are to just tell you about Christ, how he helped us, and that he loves everyone no matter who they are or what they have done and wants to give you eternal life if you accept his work on the Cross and that he rose again. It is up to you and the Holy Spirit to figure the rest out.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • Madtown

      Do you support people being left-handed? Because, like s@xual preference, handedness is also something that is not a choice we make.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
      • SoldierOfConscience

        its a choice. irrespective of what the popular culture tells you.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
        • sam

          Science says otherwise, and you know it. You're peddling the same old bullshit you always do. Get a new hobby.

          September 19, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • LW

      You people who lump gays with murderers and thieves are very misguided.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  17. Daddy_2010

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

    Key: the right.
    Key: live and let live [to paraphrase]

    September 19, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
  18. kirkbross

    You go girl! My extreme dislike of organized religion has been decreased by a factor of 0.000003%.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • churchstate

      You are right.. I'm actually starting to not hold the entire church in complete comptempt.

      Don't get me wrong, it's still a cult but moving away from destroying lives is a good step in the right direction

      September 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  19. zaphed

    groovy, right on. My hero. I love it when atheist take the post of pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:34 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.