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July 29th, 2013
12:21 PM ET

Pope on gays: A shift in tone, not substance

By John L. Allen Jr., CNN

(CNN) - Reaction to Pope Francis’ comments about not judging gays has broken along two lines: Either this is a groundbreaking reversal by the head of the Catholic Church, or it’s basically just a guy talking on a plane.

The truth is, it’s neither. What it really amounts to is a significant shift in tone, though not in substance.

Francis made the remark in the course of a free-wheeling, unscripted press conference at the end of his July 22-28 trip to Brazil for the Church’s “World Youth Day.”

Among a wide variety of other points, he was asked about a so-called “gay lobby” in the Vatican.

“When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby,” he said in reply. “If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized.”

Officially speaking, that’s nothing new.

It’s always been on the books in the Catholic Church that homosexual persons are to be treated with love. The Catechism, the official collection of Catholic doctrine, states that gays should always receive “'respect, compassion and sensitivity.”

The church’s problem is with behavior, not persons.

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

It’s true that in 2005 the Vatican issued a document saying that men with a predominantly same-sex attraction should not be admitted to seminaries, and therefore should not be ordained priests. However, that policy has been unevenly applied, and in any event it refers to eligibility for the priesthood, not to human dignity.

In terms of perception, however, many gays and lesbians would probably say they don’t always hear a message of respect and compassion from Catholic leaders. Instead, what they often seem to hear is precisely judgment. At that level, Francis is setting a new tone, one of acceptance and welcome, without reversing any doctrinal positions.

There is no indication, for instance, that Francis intends to upend the Church’s opposition to gay marriage. He confirmed the Catholic understanding of marriage as a union between a man and a woman in a recent encyclical letter, the most important form of papal teaching.

The same point – new tone, same teaching – applies to his comments on the plane about women and abortion as well.

He confirmed the ban on women priests, and on the abortion question he said that the teaching of the Church is well known, but that he wants to offer a positive message.

That insight may help explain why, during the first 120 days of his papacy, Francis never actually used the words “abortion” or “gay marriage.”

It’s not that he lacks pro-life convictions; in Brazil, he spontaneously invited two parents who refused to abort a child with a severe brain deformity to join him at a Mass, as a way of congratulating them for their choice.

However, Francis also understands that the Church’s positions on sexual morality are probably the best-known and most-discussed aspect of its teaching, while he wants to lift up other matters – the defense of the poor, outreach to the marginalized and forgotten, and building a “culture of encounter” against what he described in Brazil as a “throw-away” society.

That’s the Francis effect – he’s not changing doctrine, he’s changing perceptions. For a Church that sometimes struggles with an image problem, that alone may count as a revolution.

John L. Allen Jr. is senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and senior Vatican analyst for CNN.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Homosexuality • Pope Francis

soundoff (229 Responses)
  1. Tim

    He is simply stating what is in the Catechism.

    July 30, 2013 at 6:37 am |
  2. LORD BARRINGTON

    He is a phoney.

    July 30, 2013 at 1:30 am |
  3. Andy

    We're moving in the right direction. This is the first pope where I don't actually believe he's a paedo.

    July 30, 2013 at 12:31 am |
  4. Lee

    It must be the only way he's going to be able to keep priests.

    July 29, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
  5. Baal

    It's an old guy talking on a plane. Nothing else.

    July 29, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
    • fintastic

      Of course, he's just another man..... the pope said this, the pope said that.. what a load of crap!

      July 30, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  6. mbsmith91

    You aren't a thief if you stop stealing even though you are tempted to continue stealing.

    July 29, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • Stevie49

      But you are left-handed even if you force yourself to use your right hand. Because genetics.

      July 30, 2013 at 2:08 am |
  7. FamousTJ

    As a woman, I wonder how long I can tolerate staying with a Church that dismisses women as unworthy of the priestly vocation. They will not even discuss it. And the reasons they give are "tradition" (another word for bigotry), and something about the "different roles" of men and women. Are they saying that the female soul is less capable of holiness than the male? I am at a loss to understand their entrenched bigotry. I find it hard to set foot in the Church these days...

    July 29, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • Felix Sinclair

      Gods and religions are man-made in the literal sense.

      July 29, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
      • 1logicalchristian

        I don't believe in religion either, but this website made a good point on the existence of a God. Just food for thought: http://www.logicalchristian.com

        July 29, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
        • Deez

          "God", "a deity", or any form of "invisible super-human" is all made up by man. NOT knowing something (such as the beginning of the universe, for example) is never proof of knowing something ("God did it").

          July 29, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
      • jschmo123

        How do you know?

        July 29, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
      • nclaw441

        Or are they?

        July 30, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • John

      Consider listening to Mother Theresa on the subject, or Pope Francis himself who just said the other day that Mary was more important than the Apostles...God chose to be born of a woman and this woman has immense importance in Heaven. She is the model for women religious. But Christ sent forth only the Apostles to carry out his ministry of evangelization. The Church has no authority to ordain women because Christ did not choose women for that purpose. Please consider looking more deeply into Marian theology and helping restore the role of sisters and nuns in the vital mission of God's Church on Earth.

      July 29, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
      • QuintoBlanco

        That makes no sense. Christ never used an airplane for transport, nor did he use a television to reach the masses. So according to your logic the church has no authority to use an airplane or to broadcast a message of faith by radio or television. Priest should travel on foot or on a donkey and shout a lot.

        Your statement is also dismissive of Christians who are not Catholic, but who accept women as clergy.

        I have read a few theological explanations on why women can’t be priests, but they sound contrived, based on bias and are filled with conjecture.

        July 30, 2013 at 4:11 am |
    • oldethymer

      Quit complaining and find some religion that will make you a priestess.

      July 29, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • manangdi22

      Where does it says that the Church dismisses women? Once again, twisting words, if you don't know anything about the Catholic Church, you have no right to any opinion about it!

      July 29, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • James

      "Oh, poor me. I can't become a priest(ess) in the Catholic Church. Waa, waa, waa." Lady, go join some witches coven and dance around in the woods. That should satisfy your deep spiritual needs. I'm so sick of you Liberals in the Church who think the Church needs to measure up to YOUR standards. Who the hell are you? As Benedict said, the Church will need to get smaller before it gets bigger. That was his polite way of saying people like you need to just LEAVE.

      July 29, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
      • QuintoBlanco

        If that was what Benedict meant and I’m not sure he did, at least he was polite about it. Whereas you are being rude an obnoxious. And probably deeply unhappy.

        July 30, 2013 at 4:13 am |
    • Karen

      They are saying that women are not supposed to instruct men spiritually. God gave women the task of teaching children and other women – but not men. That never changed.

      July 29, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
    • Even Steve

      Being a priest should not be seen as the height of holiness in the Church. Any lay person can always be "holier" than a priest and there have been many lay saints. Being a priest is not like a rank in the military where the church is an army. It's just a job or role.

      July 30, 2013 at 2:06 am |
    • Chancy

      Women have the ability to create, harbor, and nurture life. Can men please have the right to guide life spiritually without you wanting that too? Just food for thought.

      July 30, 2013 at 6:55 am |
      • beyond the arc

        If women create, harbor and nurture life, isn't it perfectly logical that WOMEN are the best spiritual guides?

        You seem to be concerned for men's role. Men (generally but not exclusively) are the leaders in this world. They (that is, we) don't know much about that other world. Men are good at planning and methods. Women are good at fairness and goodness.

        July 30, 2013 at 10:04 am |
        • Chancy

          You see it as a gender issue. Like so many other people do. and there is nothing wrong with it. I see it as a division of labor. We dont want to be spiritual leaders just because we can, we do it (or should do it) out of love for women. Being a spiritual leader isnt only being able to guide but also protect against all evil (both natural and unnatural if you believe in that). And it is because we do not want our most valuable asset in the front lines of battle that we take over while you do the other heavy lifting. Is that not fair?

          Today's society is too preoccupied with wanting to lead that we forget how or why to follow.

          July 30, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • lngtrmthnkr

      I think they have a hard time changing their minds because they are taught to rigidly follow their dogma.They are trapped under this gigantic machine that is the tradition and rigidity of their church.They can't think out side the box or they would be called heritics and be excommunicated.

      July 30, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • shekkai gonzales

      @famousTJ ... my dear, I am a woman too ... i believe you need deeper soul searching!

      August 11, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
  8. Awesome

    I don't believe in religion but this Pope is really a game changer and a really nice person. I hope the masons or the people around him don't kill him as most people around him don't follow the 10 commandments. Usually they kill the good guys who become Pope.

    July 29, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
  9. Michael

    It's astounding the great lengths right-wing Christians go to explain how "Do not judge" actually means you can still judge others as long as you say it's not you but God who judges.

    This article is a prime example of Bible thumpers desperately trying to justify their hatred of others.

    July 29, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
    • mbsmith91

      We don't hate others. Just you.

      July 29, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • nclaw441

      Michael, I find it equally amazing how many folks can read "Do not judge" and take from that there is no such thing as sin.

      July 30, 2013 at 10:46 am |
      • fintastic

        There is no such thing as "sin" because sin is a concept from a book of mythology.

        July 30, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  10. Will

    This is a huge change....both in perception and substance......the wave just got a lot higher.

    July 29, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
    • Eric B

      Woman still cant be priests and gays are still sinners what exactly changed he simply said he wasnt the one to judge them meaning they will still be judged.

      July 29, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
      • Michael

        Still desperate to stay in your closet.

        Remind us again, how does "do not judge" mean we can judge???

        F N i d i o t.

        July 29, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
      • The Jesuit

        A) Women shouldnt be priests.
        B) He follows the bible. The word of god- show me where it says gays can marry.

        July 29, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
        • midwest rail

          That's WONderful. Now show me where in the Consti-tution iy says they can't.

          July 29, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
        • Baal

          Yeah, the patriarchs had many wives. Solomon had 300. You have 300 wives ? Yeah for biblical marriage. Wife, and her slave, and their slaves. That's the ticket.

          July 29, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
        • fintastic

          Hate to break it to you but the bible was written by man, not a make believe god.

          July 30, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
  11. motionlessinpink

    "That’s the Francis effect – he’s not changing doctrine, he’s changing perceptions. For a Church that sometimes struggles with an image problem, that alone may count as a revolution."

    Mr. Allen,
    I want to suggest that you print this rather arrogant article out and put it in your desk drawer. Then in about five years pull it out and read it. It does not surprise me that you fail to see the changes that Pope Francis is bringing to the Church. It is painfully obviously that you know nothing about the Roman Catholic faith from the many errors in your article. But, that'sOK, It fits right in with the other articles about the Roman Catholic Church on the "Belief Blog" or perhaps should it be the Non-Belief Blog. Bless your heart.

    July 29, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  12. Ramellose

    This post format is hopeless. I have had 9 posts here and everyone has been moderated out. They were all well written, polite but, obviously, the views expressed were not to the liking of the moderator. So much for free speech! This is my last one as I can't be bothered reading these post formats or trying to join in the discussion.

    July 29, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • Will

      I have yet to hear a bible thump that was polite.

      July 29, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • Progress

      I agree. The censors are a bit aggressive tonight.

      July 30, 2013 at 1:41 am |
    • myweightinwords

      Chances are that your posts contained words that contained word fragments that the filter is set up to block. Most often these are "tit" as in consTITution and insTITution, "cum" as in doCUMent, "ass" as in ASSume and the one that always hangs me up is "vag" as VAGue.

      There is, however, a rather lengthy list of similar word fragments....hopefully someone can repost the list.

      For what it's worth, you can use html tags to get around it, as I did above, or simple place a "." or "-" in strategic locations to break the word fragment up.

      July 30, 2013 at 10:07 am |
  13. theinexperiencedyouth

    Reblogged this on uggggh.

    July 29, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
  14. lionlylamb

    The unshackled freedoms beckoning the civilities of pride infested indignations around moral servitudes dare disregards the very peacefulness of liberty's libations and tolerances for the commoner’s sakes... Life can no more wash itself clean and as its dirtiness piles up the bigot's shovels are implicated and made ready while hypocrisies dump trucks back up in station-keeping places of ambiguities lusts... Society's wayward garbage haulers these dumping trucks are... The eating of this thing and drinking those other things excrete upon social decadences the urine and fecal wastes of the socially diseased... Some dare yell out, :There is no God" yet deep down many do fear Him and the only way such God haters can float above their owned fecal streams are in deniability's chastisements... "Carry on" I say.... Carry your owned self on and leave me out of one’s waywardness idolatries...

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lWzTvdtEx0&w=640&h=360]

    July 29, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  15. ME II

    Anyone else read the ti.tle initially as

    "Pope on gays: A shift in tone, no substance"

    July 29, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
  16. Tracy Carpenter

    Wonderful news- this man may actually do more good for the Church than anyone before him. If the church doesn't become the beacon on compassion it should be, it will fail in it's mission. Who are we to judge, indeed?

    July 29, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
    • Dippy

      Its, not it's.

      July 29, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
      • ME II

        Shouldn't that be:

        It's "its". It's not "it's".

        July 29, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
        • Gisela

          For crying out loud!
          Listen to Dippy, he knows his grammar!

          July 29, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
        • Dippy

          Or: it's not "it's", it's "its", isn't it?

          July 29, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • Nocternus

      The Bible says "judge not lest thee be judged" that does not mean that no one besides GOD can judge people. The bible is all about judgement and the judgement of others. Judge not lest thee be judged refers to not judging others by a standard that you are not willing to be held to. Is the Pope saying that he cannot judge gays because he himself is gay? I have several gay friends and they are descent people. I however do not pretend that they are going to heaven.

      July 29, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
      • Will

        and I do not pretend that you are a caring and giving person who will go to heaven.

        July 29, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
      • Maria

        You are the typical self righteous religious hypocrite who has another thing coming...HELL

        July 29, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
      • myweightinwords

        So...if you judge a gay person based on what the old testament law says, does that not also open you up to being judged by that same law?

        Hope you're keeping all of those rules straight.

        July 30, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  17. secular

    Incredible and astonishing the news from Brazil, a trip by a man called Pope that was chosen by Man, given powers by Man, put in such high pedestal by Man just to be worshiped like an angel sent from heavens, wow, when they say religion gains its power from the vulnerable and weak they were not kidding, the ones behind this powerful religious movements in this case the Christian Catholics, they know exactly where to go to gain their power, going after the youth and try to brain wash them before it is too late...

    July 29, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
    • John

      Well we have this Scripture see, and a lot of people over the years have found it to be credible for a variety of reasons. And there's this strange account of a figure known as Jesus, who on many occasions in this Scripture indicated he was of divine origin - in other words, God, or an aspect of God, together with a Father and a Holy Spirit. Strange as it may seem, this figure, Jesus Christ, picked mostly humble fisherman and the like to follow him as apostles. And to one of them, as recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew (16:18), he said, "I call you Peter. And on this Rock I found my Church. I leave you (Peter) the Keys to the Kingdom. Whatever you bind on Earth shall be bound in Heaven. Whatever you loose on Earth shall be loosed in Heaven." He also promised that the "gates of Hell" would not prevail agains the Church. Peter went to Rome and served as its first Bishop. Recorded history shows that there has been a Bishop of Rome since the time of Peter in succession, except for a few times in history where the papacy moved geographically. The Catholic Faith is that the Pope is the successor to Peter, who was given all that power by Jesus Christ as the leader of the Apostles, who were also given power (to bind and loose,, Mt. 18:18, to forgive sin Jn. 20 19-23) Now, if as you say, this figure known as Jesus Christ was merely a man then it is true the Pope was "chosen by Man." But if it is true what so many people believe - that Jesus Christ was divine, an aspect of God himself - then the Pope was not merely chosen by man, but his office was established by God. This is an important question, and one should stop to consider how it could be possible that an organization could last so long without some supernatural help. Many Protestants say it is diabolical help. We Catholics respectfully disagree...we believe the Catholic Faith is True and that the Church is what Jesus says She is.

      July 29, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
      • John

        And truly it should be noted that this Church and its first Popes you think so little of existed for a few hundred years BEFORE the Church (yes, the Catholic Church) canonized (selected and ordered) the books of the New Testament and established the Bible. So we, as Catholics, do not rely on Scripture alone as the sole source of knowledge about Jesus or the early Church, because the Bible is a product of the Catholic Church guided as it was by the Holy Spirit. We give great heed to the writings of the Church Fathers who knew the Apostles and knew who Jesus was and what he intended in founding this Church. He chose Peter for a special role, and that role has been filled ever since. 3,000,000 on the beach in Brazil? Who can do such a thing? The Church is a supernatural society established by God for the sanctification of individual souls and the Pope is the lawful successor to Peter, the man Christ chose to lead it. God bless!

        July 29, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
        • Baal

          The canon was VOTED, non-unanimously into the canon. The "church" had nothing to do with it. Eusebius cut down the number of circulating gospel, with the justification being "There are 4 winds, and the earth is standing on 4 pillars". That was his reasoning, for cutting the number of 4 gospels down to 4.

          July 29, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
        • mbsmith91

          You fail to mention that the Roman Catholic Church is one of many branches of the Church of Jesus the Christ. You believe that your church is catholic in that it is THE church of Jesus. If there were indeed divine selection of Popes, then there would not have been more than one pope serving at the same time as revealed by history. You also forget the Eastern Orthodox Church, just as catholic as the Roman Catholic Church. While the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is indeed a holy man, he is just that, a man. Billy Graham is a man, and just as chosen by God. I respect the Roman Catholic Church, but I also respect the Russian Orthodox Church, the Southern Baptist Church, etc. The exclusivity ended with 95 theses.

          July 29, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
      • Baal

        Wrong. Jesus never said that. that was no such thing as a church in his day. If he would have said "Upon this rock I will build my church", they would have said, "Your what". The Greek word used is "ecclesia". There is no Hebrew of Aramaic equivalent. Thus it would not be possible Jesus ever sad that. Peter also was not the first bishop in Rome, (historians have proven that), and there was no such thing a s a "pope" for many centuries. Nor did Rome hold pre-eminent authority for centuries. Take a history course and actually learn something about your cult.

        July 29, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
        • mbsmith91

          The Roman Catholic Church is definitely not a cult. I'm trying to think of just one positive thing to say about Baal but I simply can't.

          July 29, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
      • Baal

        And you actually think the succession goes through the popes who had wives, gay lovers, mistresses, kids, and grand kids ?

        July 29, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
        • beyond the arc

          Just above, you mistakenly said, "That was his reasoning, for cutting the number of 4 gospels down to 4." You might want to amend it.

          July 30, 2013 at 10:17 am |
      • secular

        Exactly my point, you are all quoting here from the bible but bible was not written by Jesus (that is not to say that if it was written by Jesus himself it is the word of god but that is for another time and discussion) bible as history tells us written perhaps by as many as 40 different authors??? and you are following it blindly, you see that is my problem with religion I cannot see a book written by Man guide me through my life and keep myself in denial that it is the word of God and then you tell me that I don’t even have the authority to question it.
        I believe in science with evidence about the laws of the universe and not a book written with no evidence and rely solely on faith and then you want me to turn around and teach all that to my kids, that is not happening.

        July 30, 2013 at 10:44 am |
      • lngtrmthnkr

        Peter would have trouble recognising the present day church from the one started shortly after Christ.It has been manipulated greatly through the centuries and no longer resembles the church of pentecost.

        July 30, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • Naomi

      Interesting that everything you apply to the Pope - chosen by Man, given powers by Man, put in such high pedestal by Man just to be worshiped like an angel sent from heavens, gains its power from the vulnerable and weak, knows exactly where to go to gain their power, going after the youth and try to brain wash them before it is too late... also applies to president Obama. I wonder where you stand on that.

      August 2, 2013 at 3:29 am |
  18. John

    The author writes, "... in any event it refers to eligibility for the priesthood, not to human dignity." What, I respect you so long as you accept limitations that don't hinder me? Don't bother. I am not even gay and I find that a bit offensive.

    July 29, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  19. edgar lores

    Why does Catholic make this arbitrary distinction between the behavior and the person? The behavior is the person. If you make a disconnection between the two then you are saying a person cannot be responsible for his behavior. You reach the logical absurdity that a man who kills another man cannot be adjudged a murderer.

    July 29, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • CommonSensed

      Expecting logic from religion is not a foundation for a solid internet discussion.

      July 29, 2013 at 5:22 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.