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. Mark

    Persecuting people for being born with a birth defect never made sense. Imagine a law forbidding people born with cleft lips from getting married. Bizarre and unfair.

    And to the whining conservative Catholics: you have no choice. You have surrendered your intellect to your faith, and now your faith has made a corporate, politically-motivated decision that, for once, is actually in the interest of human rights. It's very much like slavery and every other painfully slow correction of the scripture. Will you become as backwards as the American South in response, pathetically promising to 'rise again'? I hope your low culture dies more gracefully.

    July 29, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • GrowUp

      Are you equating being gay with being born with a birth defect?

      July 29, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
      • iRex

        Eh, bad wording, but being gay is like being born left handed. There is nothing on the outside that shows that someone is left handed, but inside they know its who they are.

        July 29, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
        • GrowUp

          Agreed. 🙂

          July 29, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
      • Mark

        My earlier answers have apparently not been posted. It is only a defect in the strict biological sense: for a gene inside their body, not necessarily for anyone else. The bottom line is that people born with birth defects are blameless. Forgetting the genes, it's just like being left-handed.

        July 29, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • jazzmanjimmy

      I can't believe they let this reporter report this story. Divorced Catholics are NOT banned from communion. Only those who remarry while their former spouse is alive. Until there is an annulment they are still married in the church's eyes and the person would be committing adultery unless the 1st marriage could be annulled based on a lack of form or will of the parties. CNN should be embarrassed by this.

      July 29, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
      • Thomas Woo

        Well, thanks for the info.

        July 30, 2013 at 1:05 am |
  2. GodGrief

    Creed Approves this message.

    July 29, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  3. JustSaying

    Shakingyhead: Not judging is one of Jesus' teachings as well. "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." (John 8:7).

    I am an atheist – yet, this Pope commands respect for his inclusive views and efforts to reach out to the marginalized. I appreciate the way he lives his values – he is a great example for all.

    July 29, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • QS

      I'm a little worried that even many Atheists commenting here seem to have bought into the gimmick.

      This Pope hasn't said anything different than any other Pope before him, except that rather than outright condemning gay people he has simply softened that condemnation slightly to mask the still very real loathing of gay people that exists within this religion.

      He essentially said that it's not his place to judge, but that because gay people are gay they will still have to answer for that "sin". Nothing new to see here other than a lousy attempt at a new spin on an old theme!

      July 29, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
  4. GnatB

    Wait a sec. A leader of the catholic church following the teachings of the bible? What's next, no longer having followers refer to members of the clergy as "Father"?

    July 29, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  5. S. Bernal

    Thanks God Rick Santorum is not he Pope!

    July 29, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  6. GodGrief

    "Who am I to judge".... Um, you're the Pope, right? Is that not what you guys do? #wafflepope

    July 29, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • ogre12

      no it is not.

      July 29, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
    • Jerry

      Who am I to Judge?
      This is the most Christian thing anyone who truly believes in a God can say.
      Thou shalt not Judge and starting with the Pope who's just a man doing Gods work I give him 2 thumbs up for not being "I am holier then thou" unlike the rest of the Christian hypocrites.

      July 29, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • GrowUp

      No that is not what they do. They amass fortunes and wield power in the name of God.

      July 29, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • Mr. Know it all


      July 29, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
      • Dippy

        Turn off your fucking caps lock. You write like a fifth grader.

        July 29, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  7. Megan

    This new POPE is excellent 🙂 Women to be ordained as priests coming soon to a pagan-idol-worshipping house of Gods near you...

    July 29, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • Jerry

      Megan you dirty ole Soonka you!

      July 29, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
  8. TheScampiCat

    Bravo, papa!

    July 29, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
  9. GrowUp

    I particularly like the way the Pope stomps his feet and wags his fingers at others about the poor. Meanwhile, he eagerly solicits the poor for "donations", jets around in his "Papal Plane" and travels from one Catholic palace to another, all filled with priceless art, gold, silver, jewels, crowns, wines and ornate garb. Kinda hypocritical don't ya think?

    July 29, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
  10. James

    Oh great !

    July 29, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
  11. topcat

    i dont think this will change the west boro baptist church any.

    July 29, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
  12. marcohern

    Do you smell that my brethren? T'is the smell of progress...

    July 29, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • james

      it does smell all right but more like hypocrisy and fear of man.

      July 29, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
      • Shane

        It smells more like people are no longer putting all of their trust in an ancient book that is demonstrably wrong in many areas, and is actually starting to move towards what is right.

        July 29, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
      • Tara

        Does this hypocrisy smell the same as the one banning the consumption of shellfish? Or is it more like the one equating a wife to a domestic slave, bought and sold?

        July 29, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • ThehonestMan

      That is the smell of bu tt S e x. to all it is gross, but no one wants to say it.

      July 29, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
      • james

        Thank you.

        July 29, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
      • sam

        Stop pretending you haven't been campaigning for Yankee Candle to make that scent for every room in your house.

        July 29, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
  13. Colin

    The interesting thing is the point at which a practice, in this case ho.mo$exuality, once banned by religion, becomes so commonly accepted by a society as to be incorporated into that society's religion. Given that we create our gods and assign to them the personalities we select, I'm guessing this would be a great thesis for a sociology student. At what point does a god have to "change its mind" or risk losing so many adherents as to be irrelevant. The Christian god already has changed his mind on genocide, murder, r.ape , the subjugation of women and slavery.

    July 29, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • denver

      You could certainly make a compelling argument that we create Gods in our own ever-shifting image rather than our culture being derived from the whims of Gods. People have done it. What's fun is watching the logical hoops people have to jump through to rationalize why an infallible, eternal being changed his mind.

      July 29, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
      • Megan

        CLASSIC POST 🙂

        July 29, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
      • devin

        Actually, it is only the fallible, mortal being who has changed his mind in this case.

        July 29, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
        • denver

          Who is this god that he can create and entire working universe but he can't clearly articulate matters of doctrine. One day he's willing existence into being and the next he's stuttering and communicating with confusing syntax.


          July 29, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  14. Shakingmyhead

    Uhmmmmm, you are the POPE, that is who you are to uphold the word of God. We love the people, but not the sin...sound slightly familiar? I wonder in what context he was speaking....I am glad he didnt say to lynch, maim, harm them..but really "Who am I to judge?"...well, I think "judging" is not what he should do ..but being truthful about Biblical instruction in a loving manner might be expected. LOL

    July 29, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • GrowUp

      Don't shake that head too much. It's not properly attached.

      July 29, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • denver

      The irony of your complain is that, for Catholics, the Pope is by and large an infallible one-stop-shop for the interpretation of scripture. If he says that he or other Catholics shouldn't judge gay, then there's really no room for argument.

      The ability to argue with other members of your faith about theological matters in a democratic way is pretty much why Protestants exist.

      July 29, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • QS

      Oh yes, gay people the world over feel the "love" from religious people, I'm sure!

      Religious people, if they weren't already, have become the epitome of "with friends like these, who needs enemies".

      July 29, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
      • skarphace

        Many gay people are religious themselves. If this wasn't true, then we wouldn't be having this discussion in the fist place. The gays who are not religious don't care what the Pope says. The gay people who are religious want to be accepted by others of their faith. This is why religion is practiced in the first place: acceptance.

        July 29, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
        • QS

          And those gay religious people are just as delusional as the straight ones. Religious guilt, sadly, is a powerful thing that can affect even those who recognize that their own religion despises them, enough so that they stay within that religion despite knowing how the rest of their religious community really feels about them.

          Acceptance within a cult is not something that anybody, gay or straight, should be striving for. But again, that guilt-trip that religions use as a weapon on people to get them to feel ashamed of themselves for no reason is a powerful weapon...the one thing I've found that can defend against that weapon is logic.

          July 29, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
      • GrowUp

        Religious people, the world over, have become the epitome of extremism.

        July 29, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
    • Sophia

      Well said!

      July 29, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
  15. Colin

    Christianity is the belief that an infinitely-old, all-knowing being, powerful enough to create the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, has a personal interest in gay folks' $ex lives.

    Atheism is the belief that the above belief is completely fvcking ridiculous.

    July 29, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  16. denver

    Well, "yay" for not bashing gays but "boo" on refusing to ordain women. A refusal to progress socially will continue to marginalize religion in America.

    July 29, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
  17. TLORop

    It seems the catholic church is catching up with reality.

    July 29, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  18. Colin

    If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filth river, mutilating my child’s genitals or kneeling down in a church believing that a being is somehow reading my inner thoughts and prayers, I am likely driven by:

    (a) a deep psychiatric issue;

    (b) an irrational fear or phobia;

    (c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse; or

    (d) my religious belief.

    July 29, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  19. GetReal

    I'm beginning to think that this Pope loves the spotlight more than the church or its doctrine... I mean Church Beach party in Brazil? And now....."What, Me a Judge?"

    what's next......Bible skydiving?

    July 29, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
    • flying spaghetti monster

      That would be awesome! I'm imagining the pope paragliding down, white robes flapping in the wind, as he lands triumphant on the altar before the crowd! Heck, I might start thinking there was something to this god garbage if there was a bada$$ pope like that!

      July 29, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
      • GrowUp

        He has the ruby slippers. He can fly around like Dorothy!

        July 29, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  20. demoguy1

    Not a religious person but starting to really like this pope

    July 29, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
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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.