July 29th, 2013
08:48 AM ET

Pope Francis on gays: 'Who am I to judge?'

By John L. Allen Jr. and Hada Messia, CNN

Aboard the Papal Airplane (CNN) - Pope Francis said Monday that he will not "judge" gays and lesbians, including gay priests, signaling a shift from his predecessor and offering another sign that the new pope is committed to changing the church's approach to historically marginalized groups.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis said in a wide-ranging news conference aboard the papal plane.

Though he was answering a question about the so-called "gay lobby" at the Vatican, the pope indicated a change in tone, if not in teaching, in the church's stance towards gays and lesbians more generally.

The pope was flying back to Rome from Brazil, where he spent the past week celebrating World Youth Day, an international Catholic event that drew millions.

Taking questions from reporters aboard the plane, the pope addressed nearly every hot-button issue facing the Roman Catholic Church: its alleged "gay lobby," Vatican bank corruption, the role of women, abortion, homosexuality and his own personal security.

But it was the pope's remarks on homosexuality - the fact that the head of a 1 billion-member church said that it's not his place to judge gays - that caused the widest stir.

"Pope Francis's brief comment on gays reveals great mercy," said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at America, a Catholic magazine based in New York.

"Today Pope Francis has, once again, lived out the Gospel message of compassion for everyone," Martin said.

The pontiff spoke  for an hour and a half in the back of the plane that was carrying him back to Italy after his first international trip as pope to Brazil, where he was greeted by massive, frenzied crowds at every turn.

"I'm happy. It has been a beautiful trip, spiritually speaking; it has been good to me. I'm tired enough but with a heart full of joy," he said.

Here are the highlights from his press conference.

On the 'gay lobby' and homosexuality

The pope addressed the issue of an alleged "gay lobby" within the church. Hints that the Holy See contained a network of gay clergy surfaced last year in reports about a series of embarrassing leaks to Italian journalists.

The "Vatileaks" scandal factored in Benedict's shocking decision to resign this year, according to some church experts, as it impressed upon the 86-year-old pontiff that the modern papacy requires a vigorous and watchful presence.

"There's a lot of talk about the gay lobby, but I've never seen it on the Vatican ID card!" Francis said.

"When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized. The tendency (to homosexuality) is not the problem ... they're our brothers."

The problem, he said was, lobbies that work against the interest of the church.

In 2005, during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican issued directives barring from the priesthood men "who are actively homosexual, have deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called 'gay culture.'"

Francis' brief remarks seem to signal a sharp shift from that policy.

On women

The pope also spoke out about the role of women in the church, saying it needs to be deeper and not end. But he brushed aside the possibility of ordaining women as priests, saying the church had spoken on the matter: "The church says no. That door is closed." He did say that more work needed to be done theologically on the role of women in the church.

On abortion

Pope watchers have noted that Francis said little to nothing about abortion on his trip to Brazil. Abortion is illegal in Brazil, except for cases in which the health of the mother is at risk. Laws were recently changed to allow abortions in cases in which the child would be born with certain life-threatening birth defects.

The pope said he had nothing to say on the trip about abortion because the church teachings against it were clear and this trip was the time for "positive" news.

On divorce

"I believe this is a time of mercy, a change of epoch," the pope said when asked about divorce. He said the group of eight cardinals tasked with reform will explore the issue of whether divorcees can receive Communion, which they are currently barred from doing.

On the Vatican Bank

The pope conceded he was unsure what to do with the Vatican Bank, which is known by its acronym IOR.

"Some say that it would be better if it were a bank, others say that it should be a foundation. Other say to shut it down. These are the suggestions going around. I don't know. I trust the commission's members that are working on the IOR. But I wouldn't be able to tell you how this story is going to end."

And as for what was in the black leather bag he carried onto the plane? A razor, a prayer book, a diary and a book about St. Theresa, but, the pope joked, "Certainly not the keys to the atomic bomb!"

He said he carried his own bags because, "It's normal, we have to be normal. We have to be accustomed to being normal."

CNN's Eric Marrapodi and Daniel Burke contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Abortion • Brazil • Catholic Church • Pope Francis • Vatican

soundoff (3,302 Responses)
  1. Agnostickids

    For god so loved the world....

    That he kept the knowledge of his son a secret from the Western Hemisphere until 1492...

    July 29, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • I do not like country music, hip hop, romantic comedies or holistic medical practices.

      I imagined someone who posts comments here every day, day after day, all day long, you'd find something more original and witty to post. But no. It's the same broken record of ranting incessantly with absolutely no solution. Atheists and agnostics alike distance ourselves from people like you, and for good reason. Yeah, we get it. You think you're superior to everyone else. Time to give it a rest. You're the only one that thinks so highly of yourself.

      July 29, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • parentsatwork

      Yes,they were blessed,but,as a kid im sure you wouldn't understand.

      July 29, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • tubes

      Europe is in the Western Hemisphere.

      July 29, 2013 at 11:24 am |
      • David

        Only the Atlantic coast... lol

        July 29, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  2. Al

    When the soul gets to the final destination, that's when the judging shall take place. No one on earth has the absolute right to judge for none are perfect, and everyone can translate the word of the bible to suit their needs or wants. In the end the man upstairs will be the one to let you know if you did right by him or not.

    July 29, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • rplat

      Not so . . . if you didn't make value judgements then how would you know if your doing good for the Lord? The Pope's response is a cop out at best.

      July 29, 2013 at 11:20 am |
      • CalaPink

        Christians are to discern...not judge.

        July 29, 2013 at 11:46 am |
  3. JCC Jr

    Religions are behind at least 95% of the historic wars throughout history and the root of overpopulation, poverty, ignorance, and the list just goes on and on.

    Religion as practiced by humans will be the undoing of humans.

    It's only a matter of time.

    July 29, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • AE

      A lot of wars are fought over property disputes. I blame real estate agents.

      July 29, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • easy4you2say

      Disagree. How did you make that calculation to reach 95 % as conclusion ? Read the book " The Black Book of Communism" by Courtois. HERE ARE THE ESTIMATED NUMBERS OF THE VICTIMS: 65 million in the People's Republic of China, 20 million in the Soviet Union, 2 million in Cambodia, 2 million in North Korea, 1.7 million in Africa, 1.5 million in Afghanistan, 1 million in the Communist states of Eastern Europe, 1 million in Vietnam, 150,000 in Latin America (mainly Cuba) and 10,000 deaths "resulting from actions of the international Communist movement and Communist parties not in power." Courtois claims that Communist regimes are responsible for a greater number of deaths than any other political ideal or movement, including Nazism. The statistics of victims includes executions, famine, deaths resulting from deportations, physical confinement, or through forced labor. Courtois claims that Communist regimes are responsible for a GREATER NUMBER of deaths than any other political ideal or movement, including NAZISM. The statistics of victims includes executions, famine, deaths resulting from deportations, physical confinement, or through forced labor.

      July 29, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
      • Capt Nemo

        Religious wars far predate the 20th century. The difference in the 20th century is that we got much better at killing in wholesale lots (and industrial scale) so the numbers are bigger, that's all.

        July 29, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
  4. Angel

    As Christians, we are not here to judge. I think the pope is on track here.

    July 29, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  5. Emoje

    Catholics and republicans are the now 'despised and reviled". A conservative viewpoint is most often NOT all inclusive. Many do not hold the gay people in contempt but accept and love them as always and forever equal. Too bad that people need some groups to bash and bully. It is unfortunate that those who have been bashed and bullied for their beliefs have learned nothing and turn then to the same behavior towards others. Everyone has an opinion and I certainly respect one's right to that opinion. There are many many very kind and loving Catholics and republicans.

    July 29, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  6. mike

    Pope better be careful...he's on the verge of avoiding the long standing church tradition of hypocrisy.

    July 29, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  7. steelerguin

    It is not for the pope to judge, but at least he should uphold the faith and teachings of the Catholic church which his comments fail to do.

    July 29, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • brian b

      actually, you're incorrect.

      he explicitly says that if someone seeks god, and lives a holy life, there's nothing to judge, which is completely in line with current catholic teachings.

      this is a great step forward for the catholic church- something over 2000 years old moves very slowly, and i am confident that eventually their policies will align with the concepts behind their teachings, which are love, acceptance, and tolerance.

      July 29, 2013 at 11:18 am |
      • newsrell

        So the current pope contradicted 2000 years of practice of his own church, and a docile follower spiined it into "great step forward". When will women be treated equually as men ? Is it ok with you right now ? When will you proclaim it another "great step forward" ? When the next pope change the rule again ?

        July 29, 2013 at 11:30 am |
        • Landru

          If those 2000 years of teaching were wrong...............

          July 29, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
  8. Felix Sinclair

    What most Christians don't want to hear: "Stop being such a d**k and pretending you're doing it on God's behalf."

    July 29, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • Todd

      In general that is correct. Normally it isn't religion that causes all the problems in the world, it is all the people who want to cause problems and use religion as a convenient excuse to gather more people to the cause.
      Jesus was ask what was the most important commandments he gave 2.
      1. Love God with all your heart.
      2. Love thy neighbors as you love yourself.
      How many times do people use #1 as an excuse to break #2

      July 29, 2013 at 11:25 am |
  9. flatpicker

    Who cares what the pope says about gays! It's terrible that 3% of the population control what's in the media. Who gives a Rats a$$ if the pope doesn't judge gays. Their actions judge themselves!

    July 29, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • JCC Jr

      Yuppers ! We really did a good job of taking him hostage and forcing him to say these things.

      You're welcome.

      July 29, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • ellid

      Given the choice between him and the above, I'll take the Pope any day. And I'm not even Catholic.

      July 29, 2013 at 11:18 am |
  10. Understanding This Matter

    For more on this subject matter, there is a great article. http://matthewvines.tumblr.com/

    July 29, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  11. mike

    Expect more child abuse from the priests. This is why organized religion cannot be trusted. If the Pope cannot judge perverts, then it should close shop.

    July 29, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  12. BS calling you out

    Wow the Pope sounds like a human being

    July 29, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  13. Dawn Givasheet

    Do whatever the fokker you want once you pay your gahddammed property taxes instead of making individual American homeowners subsidize your massive, ornate crystal cathedrals "teaching" misogyny and anti-science unAmerican medæval dogma.

    July 29, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  14. Postage

    The Pope doesn't represent God. The Catholic Church has proven that over the centuries:
    Crusades, Inquisitions, Burning people at the stake that would own the Bible, support of wars (ie WWI, WWII), alliance with Nazi Germany (Reich's Concordat). I believe in God, but the Pope and the Catholic Church is not it.

    July 29, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  15. jpw2001

    A lot of the Catholic Church's problems would disappear if they would only allow priests and nuns to marry.

    July 29, 2013 at 11:11 am |
  16. Postage

    The Pope doesn't not represent God. The Catholic Church has proven that over the centuries:
    Crusades, Inquisitions, Burning people at the stake that would own the Bible, support of wars (ie WWI, WWII), alliance with Nazi Germany (Reich's Concordat). I believe in God, but the Pope and the Catholic Church is not it.

    July 29, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • Jacal

      I concur with comments on history of Church & popes; Cruzades, Inquisition, violence, unholy alliances, greed, extortion, inmoral, incestuous practices. child abuse, and imbedding pagan traditions and religious practices has been going on since before the cruzades. All practiced and tolerated by the church. For centuries the church has ignored, over ruled the Bible teachings Romans 1:24-27; ICor 6:9-11. This church and all its offshoots are part of Rev 17:5 "Babylon the Great, the great harlot which God himself intends to judge and have forever destroyed.

      July 29, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  17. Seth

    Vatican backtracking and correction in 3...2...1...

    July 29, 2013 at 11:10 am |
  18. Bob

    Watch it Francis – it you continue like this, they're going to take away your membership card.

    July 29, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • JCC Jr

      Yeah. Look how they took away John Paul I's membership! 😀

      July 29, 2013 at 11:19 am |

    Pope on gays: 'Who am I to judge?'

    Funny...the Catholic church has been judging and BURNING GAYS AT THE STAKE for 2000 years....this POPE should do stand-up...using dark comedy.

    July 29, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • SixDegrees

      Really? When was the last burning? I missed it in the media.

      July 29, 2013 at 11:10 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.