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. Moose Feathers

    The problem with the gay lobby is trying to find the elevators. You walk right past them. Someone needs to let the building's interior decorator know that fuchsia doors do not provide sufficient contrast against Gerbera pink walls. No, no.
    This would never be allowed at mother's house. Omigawd!

    August 3, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • Elena

      Gerbera pink??? why not bulabula pink?

      August 4, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
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    August 1, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
  3. Laura

    This article provides inaccurate information in the section on divorce. In the Catholic Church, divorcees are NOT barred from receiving communion. A person who has committed a mortal sin is barred from receiving communion, and being civilly divorced is not a mortal sin in itself.

    July 31, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
    • Saraswati

      It is, I believe, true, in the case of voluntary divorce for the sake of increased happiness. Exceptions are made if the divorce isn't your choice (you were left) pr there was abuse or you have to divorce to keep you kids or whatever...but I think these would be the minority of modern divorces, although perhaps not if you included having been cheated on by a spouse. I'm not sure if that's enough to make it OK?

      August 1, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • ME II

      But isn't being civilly divorced and having any other se.xual relationship sinful. In other words, if one gets a civil divorce they must remain chaste, until they or their spouse dies., right?

      August 1, 2013 at 10:29 am |
      • Saraswati

        Even if they remain chaste I believe it's a grave sin if it is considered abandonment – which it is unless it was done to protect the family from bankruptcy or abuse.

        August 2, 2013 at 7:45 am |
    • Keith

      You know, this is right up there with STATIC CLING, who gives a damn?
      What we really need is for this guy to name more SAINTS, now that IS important.
      Doesn't the world have enough SERIOUS problems without wringing ones hands over Mickey Mouse arguments like this.
      For crying out loud.

      August 4, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  4. LogicalBeliever

    As a practicing Catholic, I was not particularly surprised by the Pope's comments – there was nothing new in what he said – albeit the style and tone was no doubt refreshing to the world media. The Catholic Church has always taught that only God judges (i.e. decides a soul's eternal destiny). The Church also has always taught that gay active behavior is sinful, but only God will ultimately judge. The Pope is doing a great job of conveying this very traditional view and teaching in a way that more people can understand.

    July 31, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
    • Observer


      Does the church also support the Bible when it comes to slavery and beating children?

      July 31, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
      • Mark

        Translations are not always accurate. When the Israelites had "slaves," they were simply servants. You can not compare this to American slavery as we know it.

        August 3, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
        • Observer


          The Bible says it's fine to beat your beloved "servants".

          Please read a Bible someday.

          August 12, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • LogicalBeliever

      Show me the scripture passages that endorse and promote enslaving others and beating children and we can discuss

      July 31, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
      • Observer


        Sorry. I presumed you had read the Bible.

        July 31, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
        • LogicalBeliever

          I have – and your response is exactly what I would expect from someone who has not read the Bible yourself, but has a lot of sweeping generalizations about it. A couple of things to point out, though, in regards to the Catholic approach to Scriptures. 1.) Catholics view the teachings of the Church and the Bible equally 2.) Catholics do not have a literal approach to scriptures like many evangelical Christians do 3.) It was actually 2 Catholic early councils (i.e. Carthage and Hippo) that decided the collection of books which became the Bible. That all being said, if you are cherry-picking obscure scriptures which you think seem to uphold slavery or beating children while the Church actively teaches against that and interprets the scriptures otherwise, you really have a very weak argument.

          July 31, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
        • Observer


          So you have alreadly set up your excuse: Catholics don't take the Bible literally. That phony excuse will cover everything.

          Let's see if you HAVE read the Bible:

          What is the punishment if a slave owner breaks the arms and legs of female slaves and they don't die in a day or so?

          July 31, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
        • thehorror

          Ugh… It's really annoying when ppl such as yourself, albeit with 'good intentions' make reference to "the Bible" to entice a discussion about Christian theology without making ANY distinction between the Old Covenant & New Covenant. You do realize there is a huge difference between being Jewish and Christian... right? And furthermore, that even different denominations hold different positions concerning the relevance of Old Covenant laws in light of the doctrine of Grace through Christ? If you're truly trying to make a point that you think is worth making for the advancement of reason, than that distinction is imperative; but if you're just trying to be a smart aleck, then failing to be more specific is just plain sloppy on your part, considering all the ways your point can backfire.

          Btw, why not at LEAST pick topics that haven't been done before – something like, oh I dunno, that the New Testament was clearly anti-Democracy/Pro-Monarchy and that if we followed a strict adherence to it we most likely wouldn't be allowed the free speech & open forum to even debate these topics?

          August 2, 2013 at 5:12 am |
        • poopmeister

          So, as a religious faction, why not condemn parts of the Bible instead of making excuses for why they exist? I never got that; the Gospels were picked through and manipulated back then to serve a function, why don't they do that again. The record will always be there, but maybe it's the time that the church says that in this new day and age, those docturines just don't hold water and need revision.

          August 4, 2013 at 9:46 am |
        • Observer


          It is the SAME GOD in both testaments.

          What is your point?

          August 12, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
      • Me II

        "Show me the scripture passages that endorse and promote enslaving others and beating children and we can discuss"

        "1.) Catholics view the teachings of the Church and the Bible equally 2.) Catholics do not have a literal approach to scriptures like many evangelical Christians do"

        Why ask for scripture citations when the "teachings of the Church" can override it anyway?

        August 1, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • atthechurch

      Great answer. Clear, short and charitable. Thanks.

      August 1, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
  5. Jesus-Loves-Gays-But-NOT-The-Sin

    OK, not sure why my comments aren't showing up

    July 31, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • In Reply

      'Cause you're a Moron whom no one wants to listen to, that's why!

      July 31, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
    • ISI

      Had mine taken off too...CNN disagrees with sound biblical doctrine

      August 1, 2013 at 12:56 am |
      • ISI

        My repost after it was taken off...This has nothing to do with judging a person but more to do with what Jesus says about spiritual restoration dealing specifically with sin in John 8:6-11 JESUS said to the adulterus woman..."But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”...Jesus' powerful statement...go and leave your life of sin! JESUS also said in Matthew 18:15-22..."If your brother sins go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as Gentile and a tax collector."
        We may not like what Jesus said but true believers obey the savior, shepherd, the King of all Kings, Lord of Lords, the Alpha and Omega...that's all the pope had to say...yet he did not point to the one who will one day wipe away our tears and give us eternal life ...lol

        August 1, 2013 at 1:11 am |
        • Jesus-Loves-Gays-But-NOT-The-Sin

          Great repost, ISI... mine were never recovered, though I tried to post them several times

          August 1, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
      • Jesus-Loves-Gays-But-NOT-The-Sin

        I can see that! Too bad, the TRUTH will make us all free!

        August 1, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
      • Proper Perspective

        One needs to know and be fully aware of the fact that John 8:6-11 is speaking only to Adultery with regard to a Married Straight couple. Jesus' answer was not speaking to Gays and Lesbians. The person involved was not a Lesbian. He knew full well that same-gender oriented people are Born that way therefore their intimacies and what they do is inherent in them and unchangeable and they cannot therefore be chastised for it unless they become promiscuous which would then equally apply to Straights. That Scripture you used is strictly applicable only to Straights who commit adultery (i.e., when married) and not to Gays.

        August 2, 2013 at 11:10 am |
      • Keith

        No, CNN just doesn't want religious ideology spouting their usual insane garbage.

        August 4, 2013 at 6:32 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.