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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. mfh1957

    He used the word sheep, he got that right.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:44 am |
  2. Michael

    look in all reality gays and lesbians will be accepted into society...is it biblically acceptable? no not at all...to be honest to give gays and lesbians the idea that they will be welcomed into the house of God is just wrong and they need to be told the truth of where there afterlife actually lies instead of sugar coating it...churches need to stop being so political and tell them the truth that their future is Hell...read Romans chapter 1 of the bible....read revelations 21:8. Stop lying to them

    September 19, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • Doris

      So in your OPINION and from YOUR INTERPRETATION, you think the Pope is off course. Have anything at all to back that up? You might want to include which of the 40,000 sects of insanity you hail from.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • tb63

      Blah blah blah.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • Squeaky

      So, you follow the bible to the letter? I don't think so. So stop pushing your thousand year old ideas on everyone else and let them live the lives they want to live, cause let me tell you what, the bible also says that you shouldn't judge people, and that's what you are doing here. So prepare to burn in hell you bigot.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • Michael

      it's a shame that your name is Michael also. like the pope said, if they are searching for the lord and has good will, who are you to judge? are you God?

      September 19, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • GEORGE

      Really? You know nothing about Christ's message then. It is about love and redemption and acting towards others with kindness. Romans and Revelations were written hundreds of years after Christ was on earth. Hatred and the fear of hell are not Christian values

      September 19, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • Joanie

      Michael. You're one nasty hating person. You will go to hell that's for sure. God loves everyone, even the gays and lesbians. But He doesn't have place in heaven for hateful people like you.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • emintey

      Michael, I think you ought to let God be the judge, you arent. I dont think God really cares who a person lies with, he does care about the content of their character.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • epeck

      Slow down there, Champ. The name of the Book is R-E-V-E-L-A-T-I-O-N. (There was only one.) Your position would be stronger if you concentrated on finding support from the Gospels. (You'll have a hard time with that, though. Christ wasn't really part of the brimstone and treacle crowd.)

      September 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  3. BigMama

    As a former Catholic I think this guy is a goof. Does he have any core values? Does he follow the church teachings? Does he follow the 10 commandments? Like the Rev Jesse Jackson says "If you don't stand for something then you'll fall for anything" I think he is the later.

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

      Many seem to think he is precisely following church teachings. You might want to detail how you think he is not.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • NickZadick

      A lot of people fall for these myths and fables!

      September 19, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • J Robinson

      "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." A flashy bit of rhetorical bling. But, in substance, it is totally illogical and irrational. The premise does not imply the conclusion, at all. And if it did, it would be a recipe for anarchy.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  4. Catholics are not Christians, but they play them on Sundays...

    That the entire church takes marching orders from an old man who is out of touch is just sad...

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

      all churches are sad... basing your life on fairy tales isn't very wise!

      September 19, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • Nabob

      "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."

      September 19, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  5. walt

    he had to be South American... fresh blood was needed!

    September 19, 2013 at 11:43 am |
  6. jaana

    doesn't cnn know anything about the catholic church.. stupid liberal rag.. this has ALWAYS been the case.. those who didn't know it or didn't realize it didn't do their due diligence.

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

      Agreed. But the Catholic Leaders have not advertised this in many many years, Catholic means universal and accepting of all.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • D

      Then go over to the Fox news rag where they will tell you the lies you want to hear.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  7. SV

    Maybe what American Catholics need is a Tea Party-like offshoot. You can elect Rick Santorum as your pope. LOL

    September 19, 2013 at 11:42 am |
  8. billyb0b

    Of course they shouldn't interfere....what their attention needs to be focused on is the fact that the majority of their priests are fondling and tea bagging young boys.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:42 am |
  9. Brad

    He's a regular Confucious

    September 19, 2013 at 11:42 am |
  10. If I had a hammer... I'd whack you in the morning

    damn it ...I love this man, he is a shaker and a mover of men. The church will rise to his occasion and be better for it. He embraces love regardless of belief and reaches out to both the antsiest and gays.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • joey

      and 2nd mile

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

      This pope is a wolf in sheep's clothing; preaching false doctrine. If we don't need Christ for salvation, why need Christianity?

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

        He's a phony.. craves attention.

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

        The answer is simple: You don't. You only think you do because that's what you were raised to believe. Most humans are not Christians, and find the bible, a funny, old, irrelevant book, that's way past it's time of significance.

        September 19, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • jardary

      Don't get too attached. I don't think Francis is long for this world. You can't upset the status quo like he has without being "removed."

      I'm thinking of starting a pool and running some odds.

      Poison?
      Knife?
      Col Mustard, in the Observatory, with the Lead Pipe?

      September 19, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  11. joey

    they have had enough practice

    September 19, 2013 at 11:40 am |
  12. Joe

    The Roman Catholic Church. The worlds oldest, most successful corporation. Selling you salvation and redemption. Brilliant!

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

      and divine KY products for alter boys, and i dont mean kentucky

      September 19, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • pointless1

      I've got some snake oil if you're interested?

      September 19, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • Valentina

      It's not their's or anyone else's to sell. Salvation is a free gift and you don't need to be a member of a church to recieve it.

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

      Absolutely right. They tell you that you're ill and are commanded to be well.
      The concept of sin is invented to give you an imaginary cure: savoir through Jesus.
      In the 21st century with the knowledge at our hands by scientific research via technological breakthroughs. There's no longer any excuse to cling to bronze age myths created by illiterate men.
      We know through archaeological excavations and other methods, that Moses and the myths surrounding him never occurred. That Genesis is completely scientifically illiterate. That stars were here, and indeed required to explode long before this world existed. We know that the Gospels were written decades after the supposed events surrounding the execution of the criminal (claimed by the then Romans) eccentric Jewish preacher. And that the gospels themselves contradict each other according to dates of events, times, and locations as well as what actually occurred on them. It's astonishing that people still cling to these age old myths. For non-believers it's as ridiculous as meeting someone who still clings to the belief in classical Greek myths about Zeus, Poseidon and Apollo. Simply because they were raised to believe in it.
      I really do pity them.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  13. Johny Iliveupstairs

    I'm thinking the only people who read these articles are atheists.

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

      Not just Atheists. I'm agnostic and it's fun to watch the squabbling.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • NickZadick

      Nah.... we wouldn't come if there were no religinuts to ridicule!

      September 19, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  14. Beatrice

    It seems to me this pope does not read his bible. Plain and simple. Romans 1:24-27 and 32

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

      And just how do you interpret those words there, Bea? And which of the over 40,000 sects are you from?

      September 19, 2013 at 11:41 am |
      • Beatrice

        It is written in black and white. No interpretations. Also first century christians were called a Sect. Acts 24:5 and 15 and 28:22

        September 19, 2013 at 11:49 am |
        • Beatrice

          Sorry. it is Acts 24:14

          September 19, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • Wow

      seems to me that you are the "church lady" and probably commit lewd and lascivious acts when alone and you think no one notices.. I think you will spend eternity in hell for the sick things you do and think.

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

      I'm sure if you point that out to the Church, they'd gladly remove the Pope and put you in his place. Clearly you know much more than he does about this kind of thing.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • Roger that

      I suppose you also support slavery?

      September 19, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • Anthony

      thank you for pointing out exactly what is wrong will religion

      September 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • Michael Girouard

      I don't think you get to be pope without reading the bible. Perhaps, as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, his reading of scripture is more enlightened than yours. By the way, I'm not remotely Roman Catholic, or even Christian. But even I know, in that very large Christian congregation, the pope gets the last word, not you.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:30 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 9:22 am |
  15. Tutuvabene

    The Catholic Church is too hierarchal with the Pope and cardinals making all the decisions about doctrine. Too bad there is no laity involvement in the creation and defining of Catholic doctrine.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • rusty66

      Christian DOCTRINE is immutable; the INTERPRETATION of it is NOT.

      September 20, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
  16. jardary

    You know, Francis needs to shut up. Seriously, he seems like a nice guy. I don't think the Church has assassinated a pope for a few decades, but I'm sure they haven't forgotten how.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • JustAGuy

      lol what??

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

        The more he talks... the more he says to upset the status quo.

        The status quo doesn't like being upset. That's the sort of things that can get you removed from office. Since an appointment as pope is a life appointment, that means removal via murder. He certainly wouldn't be the first.

        Many people believe JP I was assassinated. Gregory V was poisoned.

        I'm sure if the church could manage playing whack-a-mole with pedophiles they can handle slipping poison into Frankie's wine.

        September 19, 2013 at 11:44 am |
        • a reasonable atheist

          I remember Benedict's assassination like it was yesterday... Oh wait, he just stepped down and is still alive, residing in the papal palace.

          September 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
        • a reasonable atheist

          I remember Benedict's as.sas.sination like it was yesterday... Oh wait, he just stepped down and is still alive, residing in the papal palace.

          September 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
        • jardary

          Benedict just protected pedophile priests. He didn't challenge core Catholic beliefs like hating the gays.

          September 19, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
  17. RandyB

    As an atheist, I am happy to see a major leader in the Christian world acting more like the Christ they tout came to a world of sinners and loved them so much as to sacrifice his own life. It seems that most evangelicals I have experienced could learn from this Pope on what it really means to be a Christian. The hypocrisy of American Evangelicals is overwhelming.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • Scott

      It is pretty overwhelming, I agree.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • Jesus Loves You

      Look around, everything you see , even your very life was created by Him. How anything in this world can be of existence without a creator. When you see an artwork, could you deny that there was an artist who created it. Everything you see, your system in your body, digestive system, nervous system, DNA and everything. These are billion times more complex than an artwork that you could see in a gallery. How could you deny the Almighty Creator?

      Jesus said. He is knocking to the door of your heart and if you open that door and let Him in you will dine with Him but if you reject Him you are choosing your only eternal destination. Choose between life and death. You are a human and your ancestors were not apes and monkeys.

      Do not look unto the imperfections of Christians. Christians are all sinners just saved by Grace.

      Jesus died on the cross for your sins and He rose again from the dead. It is your choice to accept His gift of salvation or not but I hope you would as you will never know that your time may be shortened. You never know you may die today.

      Time is short, while there is time. Seek life, seek Jesus. He already paid the price, the only thing you need to do is accept.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  18. churchstate

    Never forget.... every sperm is sacred.

    Id iots

    September 19, 2013 at 11:38 am |
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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.