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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. gager

    A problem with all religions is that personal boundaries are not respected.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:51 am |
  2. skinny jim

    Sure, sure, once again its humans that shape religion. Its not what God says its what it means to the pockets of these lazy putrid scoundrels that call themselves the Vatican.
    Proof over and over that religion and God is man made

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

      I agree that religion is man-made, but that doesn't mean the divine doesn't exist. I lived as an agnostic when I was a teenager for a few years and came to the conclusion that there is indeed, a God (a short-hand for the divine/life-force, etc.). The problem is not in recognizing this; the problem is the human interpretation and the license it gives some people to hate others and commit horrible acts.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • ready1923

      When has God said anything other than 'love your neighbor' and 'judge not lest you be judged' which is EXACTLY the point the Pope is making. He can't judge gays, only God can.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  3. Will

    Wow. I left the church many years ago and I don't really think about coming back. But damn, this guy is awesome.

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

      Me too.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  4. Antwoine

    This Pope is a Pope of the people. He does not allow the church governing body to dictate his thoughts. Instead... he insists on leading with an almost reckless abandonment to more traditional church dogma and replace it with good old fashion, non-judgmental brotherly love based on biblical principles in its purest form. He is making me feel like a better Christian.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • billyb0b

      You don't need biblical principles to be a good human being and treat others fairly......religion is the biggest obstacle in moving forward.

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

        No one ever said you did. You can be a good person without being religious and you can be a bad person without being religious.

        September 19, 2013 at 11:56 am |
        • billyb0b

          That was profound. I do like how you focused on the non-religious. "You can be a good person WITHOUT being religious and you can be a bad person WITHOUT being religious."

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

          Well yeah, because you focused on the non-religious. "Not needing religious principles" is another way of saying "non-religious." I could say it another way too – you can be a bad person and be religious or you can be a good person and be religious. What's your point?

          September 19, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
        • billyb0b

          My point, that you originally failed to grasp in the original post by Antwoine referenced this amazing decision based on biblical principles. Therefore, my remark was to say that common sense dictates you don't need biblical principles to make these type of decisions....common sense also dictates that you can have good and bad individuals that are religious and or non-religious, but I am not sure why that would need to be inserted into this discussion....once again, common sense.

          September 19, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  5. M.A.P.

    Well, he's doing a good job of "rebranding" the church. It's still all a big lie and a cult though.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • You're Almost There

      yer ser smert, erhmagerd.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:51 am |
  6. Michael

    It's refreshing to have a pope that understands common sense and humility. Francis is genuine, and the RCC has needed a pope like this for a LONG time. I don't agree with everything that he says, but at least he seems honest, sincerely humble, and sincerely kind. I could call this pope my friend. I could not say that of the previous popes that have presided during my lifetime.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:49 am |
  7. justmeinvegas

    I like the way this pope thinks and speaks. Rigid conformity to arbitrary interpretations of Christ's teachings have never won over anyone. Christ didn't condemn sinners or those that disagreed with Him neither should Catholics or any other Christian denomination.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:49 am |
  8. Stephen

    "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."

    I don't get it. If women aren't secondary or inferior, why can't they be priests? You can't have it both ways.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:48 am |
  9. jeff forsythe

    Today's morals have declined so quickly that it has become difficult for people to distinguish the difference between right and wrong, good and bad. Falun Dafa, Falun Gong, is a heart and mind cultivation practice, and we believe in truthfulness, goodness and tolerance. There are one hundred million adherents Worldwide and the practise is completely free. http://www.falundafa.org. Thank you for your consideration.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:48 am |
  10. Well so be it, but neither should they have a right to force their opinions on those who do not believe in gay marriages or relationships. It goes both ways, Christians just try to show them that their lifestyle is a sin, but they try to silence us while

    Well so be it, but neither should they have a right to force their opinions on those who do not believe in gay marriages or relationships. It goes both ways, Christians just try to show them that their lifestyle is a sin, but they try to silence us while expecting to have a voice in what they do and how they live. I rebuke that in Jesus' Name, it ain't gonna happen!

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

      Seriously? You hate mongering bigots expect tolerance???????!!!!! Do you know what irony is? GET REAL!!!!

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

        Tolerance is not good enough for people like that... they want their tyranny to be cheered and applauded by the very people whose rights they're fighting to take away. Anything less and they start screaming that you're "persecuting" them, despite the fact that they're the ones creating laws to discriminate against the "undesirables."

        September 19, 2013 at 11:57 am |
      • Jesus Loves You

        Catholics claim they are Christians and Christ's followers. Jesus did not preach tolerance. Jesus' claim is absolute. He said I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him. The bible states marriage is only between a man and a woman. Unfortunately, the pope wants praised and likeability from men and women and gays rather than following the will of God.

        September 19, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      ' Christians just try to show them that their lifestyle is a sin, but they try to silence us while expecting to have a voice in what they do and how they live'

      you start off with a lie (oops a sin there mate) because christians dont 'just try to show them there lifestyle is a sin' they deliberately try to introduce bills banning gay marriage, try to push movements that condemns and tries to control. There is no 'just' about it.

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

      "Christians just try to show them that their lifestyle is a sin" WHO THE HELL are you to tell someone that their lifestyle is a sin?
      "but they try to silence us while expecting to have a voice in what they do and how they live" Why should they not have a say in what they do and how they live? What the hell is wrong with you???

      My imaginary friend things that your lifestyle is wrong. So, with your logic, I should shove that down your throat and get mad when you don't want me to. Don't you think you would try to silence that crap? And don't think think you'd expect to "have a voice in what [you] do and how [you] live??

      You are in need of help. I hope your "god" can intervene.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
      • Jesus Loves You

        Jesus loves you and believe Him while there is time because your life is over and in your eternal destination you would wish you could turn back the clock and know more Him.

        September 19, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
  11. NickZadick

    fairy tale galore!!

    September 19, 2013 at 11:47 am |
  12. brian haley

    ..........if I say something bad about the LGBT community...they may stop sending money to the church...

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

      Yes, because gays and their ilk make up SO much of a church's members/parishioners. Their percentage is very miniscule. Nice try, however, it's a big FAIL.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • Michael Girouard

      No self-respecting member of that community would support in any away, shape or form that church. I don't know why anyone does.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
  13. patrick

    why does the media always twist the pope's words around?

    September 19, 2013 at 11:47 am |
  14. OldSchool

    Religions are quickly realizing that people are waking up to their irrational and divisive tenets, and that they cannot sustain themselves without adapting (evolving?) to the rapidly advancing world. The question is, at what point will they have been required to dilute their principles so much as to make them entirely irrelevant? It won't be too much longer....

    September 19, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • ready1923

      What makes you think we are diluting our principles? The Pope didn't say anything that is in conflict with the teachings of the church.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • counselor39@hotmail.com

      Ahh, Old School, therein lies the issue.
      Does G-d exists for people ? or do people exist for G-d ?
      Atheists arrogantly chant "there IS no G-d". Everyone understands that and moves on; it is the "others" who are not so easily dismissed, for THEY are invidious. They, in their arrogance state that G-d (and religion) MUST change for them. (We dont want to hurt gays, so, let's just change church doctrine to remove the prohibition of the gay lifestyle), instead of "ok, I understand the doctrine prohibits the gay lifestyle. I am gay, so, in THAT respect, I can sin, but STILL be a good Christina." why ? because EVERYONE sins. If you jaywalk, that is NOT a license to steal. To BE a law abiding citizen, you do not have to obey all laws all the time. There IS a difference between being a good person who does some bad things, and a "bad" person. ACCEPT that laws (religious and secular) exist and ACCEPT that you dont follow them all, instead of just pretending that the laws yuu dont like, dont therefore exist.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:59 am |
      • anon

        Atheists don't claim that there is no god.
        They simply acknowledge that there's no good reason to believe one exists given the lack of evidence to support the claim that one does.
        I don't believe in faeries either, but I don't claim that there are no faeries. But that there's no rational reason to believe they do.

        September 19, 2013 at 12:15 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 9:23 am |
      • rusty66

        OK. We GOT it. Now STOP spamming all these boards with the same TIRED message of hate.

        September 20, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
  15. cwiz

    In other words, Christians still view it as wrong and are in their full right to express they view it as wrong, as well as vote against it. But they shouldn't harass people. It's what I've been saying for years.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:47 am |
  16. NickZadick

    When are Americans going to stop believing in a 2000 years old book of myths and fables? Popes are responsible for the starvation of millions of children that the church encourages they have instead of abstinence and condoms in places where parents cannot offord to have them!

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

      Exactly.

      The Church is nothing more than a business. And things like Birth Control and Gays take away from their population growth, which would take away from their INCOME.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  17. MightyMoo

    Best Pope I ever saw, seriously this guy is doing things for the Church what should have been done long ago.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:46 am |
  18. Sue Moss

    A breath of fresh air.

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

      This pope appears to be sharply dividing from the last one, praching a role of inclusiveness as opposed to "ideological purity". and exclusion. yes, it is a breath of fresh air, let's hope they also stop harrassing American nuns.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:54 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.