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

    "Kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man, keep them alive for yourselves."

    Moses – Numbers 31:17

    July 29, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  2. bojangle

    Over 3 million young people crowd the miles of Copacabana beach for a life-changing Mass; a real testament to the hunger for Christ that still burns in the hearts of young people, and CNN goes bananas over a comment made by Pope Francis that is in accordance with church doctrine?

    July 29, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • midwest rail

      That mass, and the accompanying crowd, was a prominent story. Any excuse to complain, eh ?

      July 29, 2013 at 10:38 am |
  3. Goose66


    July 29, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  4. Steampunk

    Thank you Pope. Why is everyone so freaked out about gays??? – It's not like they're sucking the ecomomy dry, shooting kids with stray bullets, or anything to hurt the general population! Focus on other so-called sins that actually affect us all, such as greed. Yours truly, a straight noncatholic.

    July 29, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  5. opinion8it


    July 29, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  6. Revealing Truths

    The Holy Bible does not speak about Gays and Lesbians, as per learned scholars, and certainly not to condemn them! (http://www.ecwr.org/) But people, with their own fear and prejudice of being attracted to a member of their own gender, have used certain Scriptures so inappropriately that it has caused many to suffer and many lives to be lost on account of it. They must forever now hold what they have done in their conscience unless they ask God for forgiveness.

    July 29, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  7. Gary DiNardo

    John Allen said the pope was taking questions for over an hour. This is a pope who fancies himself the new St. Francis of Assissi and none, NOT ONE, of these professional journalists thought to ask this guy about the church and animals?

    July 29, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  8. derrick

    the guy has a book on st Theresa but he doesn't have a bible???? Really pope no BIBLE? That's probably why he can't judge gays cause he hasn't ever read the bible.

    July 29, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • ron

      He probably knows the Bible inside and out.

      July 29, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • Matthew

      Why would he need a Bible? He can probably recite the Bible! No paper copy needed.

      July 29, 2013 at 10:45 am |
  9. ed

    The pope is Human and by no means God. He answered correctly.
    I believe that the reason why there is so much chaos on earth right now is due to the lack of faith in God these days. He (God) has pretty much stepped back and is allowing Evil to do it's will on earth due to our lack of faith and belief in him. There will come a time where we will all know the Truth and at that time it will be too late.

    July 29, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • OwMySkull

      Wake up, Ed. More people have been killed through history in the name of religion and "God".

      July 29, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  10. GetReal

    Forgiveness is one thing...Acceptance of deviant behavior is all together different!

    July 29, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • YeahRight

      "Acceptance of deviant behavior is all together different!"

      The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of SocialWorkers, together representing more than 480,000 mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be “cured."

      Like their heterosexual counterparts, many gay and lesbian people want to form stable, long-lasting, committed relationships. Indeed, many of them do and that large proportions are currently involved in such a relationship and that a substantial number of those couples have been together 10 or more years.

      Research demonstrates that the psychological and social aspects of committed relationships between same-sex partners closely resemble those of heterosexual partnerships. Like heterosexual couples, same-sex couples form deep emotional attachments and commitments. Heterosexual and same-sex couples alike face similar issues concerning intimacy, love, equity, loyalty, and stability, and they go through similar processes to address those issues. Research examining the quality of intimate relationships also shows that gay and lesbian couples have levels of relationship satisfaction similar to or higher than those of heterosexual couples.

      A large number of gay and lesbian couples raise children. Children and teenagers whose parents provide loving guidance in the context of secure home environments are more likely to flourish – and this is just as true for children of same-sex parents as it is for children of opposite-sex parents. Based on research findings, mental health professionals have also reached a consensus that the quality of relationships among significant adults in a child’s or adolescent’s life is associated with adjustment. When relationships between parents are characterized by love, warmth, cooperation, security, and mutual support, children and adolescents are more likely to show positive adjustment. In contrast, when relationships between parents are conflict-ridden and acrimonious, the adjustment of children and adolescents is likely to be less favorable. These correlations are just as true for children of same-sex parents as for children of opposite-sex parents.

      Assertions that heterosexual couples are inherently better parents than same sex couples, or that the children of lesbian or gay parents fare worse than children of heterosexual parents, have no support in the scientific research literature. On the contrary, the scientific research that has directly compared outcomes for children with gay and lesbian parents with outcomes for children with heterosexual parents has consistently shown that the former are as fit and capable as the latter and that their children are as psychologically healthy and well adjusted as children reared by heterosexual parents.

      July 29, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • Get Real Indeed

      Therefore, let's truly Get Real and address the real problem of the opening of legs for the fun of it and the millions of abortions that inevitably follow. Let's also address the high rate of divorces and lost children in the process. Let's also address the Herpes virus running wildly among Straight people, and the list goes on and on. Let's look at these things first before you look at someone else.

      July 29, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • Capt Nemo

      There are also those who believe that inflexible, judgemental thinking and hatred of those who are defined as "different" is deviant behavior.

      July 29, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  11. naiemahmad

    Has the Pope accepted defeat, since he has gay priests who have been molesting little boys who have grown up to be big gay boys now..poor little boys, and poor parents..who sent them to learn about God , and the priest molested and abused
    the young children..this is a tragedy!

    July 29, 2013 at 10:34 am |
  12. Holly

    I am not catholic but I have never judged. I believe it's God's place so I was overwhelmed with even more admiration for this new Pope by this remark.

    July 29, 2013 at 10:34 am |
  13. Jim MCDonald

    Francis is a good man, bringing the message of love and hope to many people. May his days be healthy and many.

    July 29, 2013 at 10:33 am |
  14. Agnostickids

    Christians believe the earth was populated by one single incestuous family...TWICE (Adam and Eve, Noah and his daughters...)

    July 29, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • GetReal

      Noah and his sons had wives........Geeze! At least read the book!

      July 29, 2013 at 10:32 am |
      • Marlena

        Love that response.

        July 29, 2013 at 10:33 am |
        • Agnostickids

          What, you support incest Marlena?

          July 29, 2013 at 10:35 am |
      • Agnostickids

        OMG. Em...so SORRY! Noah and his sons and Noah and his daughters single handedly populated the earth! That's still incest.....

        July 29, 2013 at 10:33 am |
        • lifeproducer

          If you believe evolution, you believe we all came from a common ancestor as well.

          July 29, 2013 at 10:36 am |
        • Agnostickids

          @ lifeprod...and yet my common ancestor wasn't produced by incest...curious....

          July 29, 2013 at 10:37 am |
        • GetReal

          You have confused Noah.....with Lot and his daughters and them raping their Dad...

          July 29, 2013 at 10:38 am |
        • Brad

          The story of Adam and Eve is just that, a story. The Catholic Church certainly doesn't teach that the creation story should be taken literally.

          July 29, 2013 at 10:40 am |
        • lifeproducer

          Agnotickids...if there was an original pair in evolution, it was just as incestuous from that point forward.

          July 29, 2013 at 10:54 am |
      • use your brain

        Where did the wives come from? We're told every one drowned in the Flood (except Noah and his family).

        July 29, 2013 at 10:37 am |
        • Agnostickids

          If you read the bible, you'll notice that Noah's sons were joined on the boat by their wives....a myth, but it's important to know your myths...

          July 29, 2013 at 10:38 am |
        • GetReal

          They went on the boat "BEFORE" the flood!

          July 29, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • neoritter

      "Agnostic" you keep using that term, but I don't think it means what you think it means.

      July 29, 2013 at 10:46 am |
  15. gmenfan54

    Pope Francis understands we are "all" God's children.

    July 29, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  16. Big_D

    Pope Francis gives me hope that real faith isn't dead. Rejoice all in the joy of knowing that we are all children of God. Time for healing and a return to faith in God. Thank the Lord the position is not being used to condemn people but grow faith.

    July 29, 2013 at 10:30 am |
  17. Sue

    Wow. Just wow. There is hope for the masses moving forward after all.

    July 29, 2013 at 10:30 am |
  18. Tim

    That wasnt the view the Inquisition held in centuries past.

    July 29, 2013 at 10:30 am |
  19. Agnostickids

    Why don't I go to church?

    The same reason you don't go Unicorn hunting...

    July 29, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • Brad

      There's no approved season for unicorn hunting in my state. Unicorn's are considered a protected species.

      July 29, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  20. gmenfan54


    July 29, 2013 at 10:29 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.