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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. Roman

    This pope is a wolf in sheep's clothing. He is popular with the world, but he is preaching false doctrine. When he tells Athiests they can go to heaven without believing in Jesus Christ, then he is going against the teachings of Christ.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • sam

      That's not what he said. You have no idea what you're talking about.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  2. "The Chruch does not have the right to interfere spiritually in the lives of gays and lesbians"

    Does that mean that the Church ALSO does not have the right to interfere POLITICALLY with the lives of gays and lesbians as well?

    September 19, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • EdL

      Does 'The Church' have the right to interfere with pedophiles?

      September 19, 2013 at 11:35 am |
      • Brent

        This pope is awesome. He has the religious zealots going nuts. It really does make for an entertaining afternoon reading comments.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
  3. boyamidumb

    I suggest dumping the world TOLERATE and replacing it with the word Acceptance.

    Tolerate implies and indicates that we put up with something only because we have to.

    Acceptance suggest that we try to understand something and acknowledge that the differences – whatever they may be, as long as they do not cause harm to another, or limit another's chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    Dump TOLERANCE. Accept ACCEPTANCE

    September 19, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • Your definition means *I* don't have to accept Christians

      Since, by your definition, they cannot do harm and still expect to be accepted. THEY DO HARM.

      Therefore, I do not have to accept them, OR tolerate them. I'm in a WAR with them on several fronts. Their violence towards gays and women, poor people who need birth control, and their brainwashing of our children MUST STOP.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  4. military

    Jesus did not have to balance his spiritual mission with his political one. Authentic Christianity has no political mission. If your Christian church as a "political mission", keep searching.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • Doris

      I have been to an Authentic church yet, and I have been to many different types of Christian churches over the years. Let me get out my new phone book. Maybe I need to catch up.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • larsonst

      I am neither Catholic or gay but this is why I like this pope. Only took two millennia to get this far but go team!

      September 19, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  5. Maurice R

    Nevertheless Pope Francis is making me feel welcome once again to the Catholic Church despite the inability of many in not believing in his sincerity. The policy of engagement is infinitely better than the old standard of rules & sermons.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • So little Maurice feels WELCOME

      Meanwhile in the real world, the Church sits on TRILLIONS of dollars of real estate and art treasures – and watches poor children starve.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:46 am |
      • doobzz

        while hiding child molester priests.

        September 19, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  6. The Dead Critic

    God already knows who his TRUE followers are, and those who will seek him out in the future. When the final number is reached......the world will end, and a new beginning will appear. Those seeking their OWN ROAD(s) apart from God will simply disappear forever.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:29 am |
    • snowboarder

      that really does sound pretty crazy.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:38 am |
      • Crazy? The whole religion is nothing BUT crazy!

        Come on... You have a problem with the Rapture, but all the OTHER crazy things in the Bible are OK with you?

        September 19, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • sam

      Read this post back to yourself out loud, and then wonder why people go out of their way to avoid you.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • Brent

      Right, I just seen seen Seth Rogen who is a Jewish beat the rapture. I am not afraid of your "god."

      September 19, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
  7. Topaz

    *He died for our sins, was buried and rose on the 3rd day. Believe he did this and put faith in the name of Jesus and you will have eternal life. This is the gospel*:)

    September 19, 2013 at 11:29 am |
    • NickZadick

      Yep! that's what is written in your big book of fairy tales... too bad it's just myths and fables!

      September 19, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • And if you're a GOOD little boy or girl, Santa will bring you PRESENTS!

      Both your statement and mine are equal in their description of a "transaction" between "good little boys and girls" and a supernatural fictional character.

      Next thing, you'll be telling us the Tooth Fairy is real, too, and is currently dating the Easter Bunny.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  8. Jack

    I dont believe this

    September 19, 2013 at 11:29 am |
  9. SixDegrees

    Liking this Pope quite a bit so far.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Keksi

      Anti-Christ Pope.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:29 am |
    • The truth is out there

      I agree. I'm Mormon. He's the best Pope to come along yet. Lots of great ideas to shake things up and get their church back on track.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:30 am |
      • Dana

        I love Mormons. They are all so nice and so wonderful. Even though I disagree with some of your beliefs, the mormon church was the only church that helped me when I needed support.

        September 19, 2013 at 11:35 am |
        • NickZadick

          I have also heard they are very friendly and family driven... too bad they can't achieve this without resorting to a book written by a con artist...

          September 19, 2013 at 11:42 am |
        • Yes, I hear their Magic Underwear is quite snug in all the right places

          So much for Mormon Support.

          September 19, 2013 at 11:51 am |
        • norman

          Nick, come on, just because your chosen fairy tale book is older, doesnt mean it isnt fake too...at least think "My Momma done told me its real" aint very conmvincing...

          September 19, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
        • NickZadick

          I completely agree...sorry if I sounded like I favor one fairy tale above another!

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

      I agree.
      As a Catholic who has disagreed with the Church for most of my adult life, this Pope makes me hopeful for the future.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:33 am |
      • Keksi

        This Pope is anti-Christ Pope.

        No wonder there was lighting during inauguration.

        September 19, 2013 at 11:42 am |
        • norman

          thats just electrons in the air, dumdum...what next? eclipse is god's wrath?

          September 19, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
        • Kevin

          If there wasn't "lighting," nobody could see it.

          September 19, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • NickZadick

      No pope at ALL would be better for all humanity!

      September 19, 2013 at 11:37 am |
  10. UG

    Popes are dummy dum dumbs.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • KP

      Your comment makes it very clear who the dum dum is.....

      September 19, 2013 at 11:35 am |
      • Jesus said you would burn in hell for calling someone FOOLISH

        It sure is funny how you hypocritical Christians simply will NOT submit to your Savior's commands to not judge.

        MATTHEW 5:

        "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca, (Worthless) is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell."

        So, K P, are you ready to burn for eternity in the fires of hell? ARE YOU?

        September 19, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  11. Welch

    Just another one of man's fairy tails being made up along the way.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  12. Jack

    "Only false prophets claim to have all the answers." How refreshing. Anyone of any intellect knows this. All those running around pounding the bible and spewing ultimate truths are nothing more than false prophets. The real intellects wrestle with doubt. The real holy men & women wrestle with doubt.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  13. Herman Melville

    “Now, as I before hinted, I have no objection to any person’s religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don’t believe it also. But when a man’s religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in, then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him.” Ishmael – From Moby-Dick.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • Jack

      One of my favorite writers. There is genius speaking.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:29 am |
    • Amanda

      Not a big fan of Moby Dick, but this passage is one that has stuck with me. I think now, it is "high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him."

      Thanks for reminding me of this 🙂

      September 19, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  14. Sussay

    Why this man sounds like an actual Christian

    September 19, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • Daniel P. Hanover

      Hopefully, he will "see the light" and become a Lutheran as God intended. 🙂

      September 19, 2013 at 11:37 am |
  15. Mork

    finally a pope with a shred of humanity

    September 19, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • Daniel P. Hanover

      He must be a closet Protestant. 🙂

      September 19, 2013 at 11:38 am |
  16. Sara Sievers

    He's a great Pope...unless you care about women. The door closed to allowing women real power, authority and a voice in the church is a mar on his otherwise admirable young papacy. This is a decision he will come to regret, and given what we know of him to date, will change.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • Mitt Romney

      Women can't even drive. The only thing they can spread is their legs.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:34 am |
      • KP

        Oh yes...that's right you must not be able to get women...therefore you must write classless comments.

        September 19, 2013 at 11:37 am |
      • John Calvin II

        You're exactly right Mitt. He hints, with similar words, that they need the proper balance between politics and the spiritual, but in saying that he's already playing politics. No no. The church, and the Pope, needs to stick to the truth of the Word of God and THAT will affect the entire world, including politics. When ever the church comprimises with the world, the ministry has already failed.

        September 19, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • John Calvin II

      Tush sayeth Sara!!! All hail Sara!!! She is now speaking the inspired Word of God. We now need to add a new book the cannon of scripture, after the book of Revelation! Actually Sara, the only problem with that is that the great Apostle John wrote in the last book of scripture, the book of Revelation, "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book." That IS the word of God. Neither you nor I nor even a Pope is to add to them. It is it the height of arrogance, and it is an evil heart, that thinks that our human opinions are better than the eternal Word of God.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • CoughCoughHack

      The old guys decided that feminine temperance isn't worth the emotional drama. I doubt if the NEW pope was in any position or disposition to disagree. It seems that he is however grasping the reality of the church within the context of the real world. It doesn't take a very big stretch to see that what he is standing by is sufficient within the moral obligations of his spiritual requirement. If his stated points are genuine then this man may very well be the most significant pope of all time. And just so you know. The further away from me you get. The farther you will have to go to ever be anything close to correct. I only have Aces.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
  17. howudothat

    Hoping they will accept and support SCIENCE next

    September 19, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • Justin

      Catholics have accepted and supported science for genreations.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:32 am |
      • doobzz

        They support it as long as it doesn't contradict what's best for the RCC.

        September 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • Mariefour

      ? Jesuits are some of the most renowned scholars in history, not to mention that they basically created the Catholic education system, which extends to include some of the best hospitals in the world, where I'm pretty sure the top-notch doctors are cool with science. You might be thinking of fundamentalist or Evangelical Christians, but Catholics love us some science. We go to school for the "how" and to church for the "why"

      September 19, 2013 at 11:33 am |
      • Robert James

        Not to mention, the following scientists were devout Catholics: Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Mendel, and a Belgian bishop named Georges Lemaitre, who proposed the "Big Bang Theory" (not the one with Sheldon Cooper, the other one).

        September 19, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • JustAGuy

      What a stupid comment. How is the modern Church, at all anti-science?

      September 19, 2013 at 11:33 am |
      • norman

        wow-youre an idiot-condom use saves lives-the rejection of that has doomed MILLIONS in Africa

        September 19, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
        • LawDog

          That's not a scientific dispute. No one disputes that condoms work. There is a dispute (in which I, like probably 98% of American Catholics side with you) about the morality of using condoms. Anyway, your likely view on abortion has likewise doomed MILLIONS from life too, so it evens out. In any event, that's not a scientific dispute, it's a dispute over "means" justifying "ends." As many have noted in these comments, post-Galileo, the RCC has not been anti-science. Maybe you confused "Roman Catholic Church" with "Republican Convention" or something 🙂

          September 19, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • Anon

      Actually they have. A big misconception is that the roman catholic church does not believe in evolution. They do support the theory of evolution and point to it as the how and not the why.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:37 am |
      • cedar rapids

        Actually they dont. The church's viewpoint on it is that they say they do not see any problem with believing in evolution as a means by which god populated the earth with life. They dont actually come out and say yes evolution is correct.

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

      There is no contradiction between faith and science.....TRUE science.....

      September 19, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
      • Amanda

        LOL!!

        September 19, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
      • Brent

        Oh you have to explain what you mean by "true science". I can not wait to hear back.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:42 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 9:19 am |
  18. Cas

    Religion is a sham.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:26 am |
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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.