September 19th, 2013
11:01 AM ET

Pope Francis: Church can't 'interfere' with gays

By Eric Marrapodi and Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editors
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(CNN) - Pope Francis said the church has the right to express its opinions but not to "interfere spiritually" in the lives of gays and lesbians, expanding on explosive comments he made in July about not judging homosexuals.

In a wide-ranging interview published Thursday, the pope also said that women must play a key role in church decisions and brushed off critics who say he should be more vocal about fighting abortion and gay marriage.

Moreover, if the church fails to find a "new balance" between its spiritual and political missions, the pope warned, its moral foundation will "fall like a house of cards."

The interview, released by Jesuit magazines in several different languages and 16 countries on Thursday, offers perhaps the most expansive and in-depth view of Francis' vision for the Roman Catholic Church.

The pope's comments don't break with Catholic doctrine or policy, but instead show a shift in approach, moving from censure to engagement.

Elected in March with the expectation that he would try to reform the Vatican, an institution that many observers say is riven by corruption and turf wars, Francis said his first mission is to change the church's "attitude."

"The church has sometimes locked itself up in small things," the pope said, "in small-minded rules."

"The people of God want pastors," Francis continued, "not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials."

MORE ON CNN: New interview shows why the pope is so beloved 

The interview was conducted by the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit journal based in Rome, over three meetings this August at Francis' apartment in Rome.

The pope approved the transcript in Italian, according to America magazine, a Jesuit journal based in New York that initiated the interview and supervised its translation into English.

Advance copies of the interview were provided to several news organizations, including CNN.

Jesuits from around the world submitted questions to Spadaro. Francis answered them with the frankness that has become a hallmark of his young papacy.

To begin the interview, Spadoro bluntly asks, "Who is Jorge Mario Bergolio?" - Francis's name before he was elected pope.

"I am a sinner," the pope answers. "This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

The pope didn't mention any particular sins, and Catholic theology holds that all humans are sinners, a consequence of Adam and Eve's original transgression. Still, a pope describing himself foremost as "sinner" is striking.

MORE ON CNN: The pope said what? Six stunners from Francis

Offering new glimpses of his personal life, Francis said he prays at the dentist's office and felt trapped in the Vatican's traditional papal apartments. (He moved to a smaller one in a nearby building.) He has a taste for tragic artists and Italian films and keeps the will of his beloved grandmother in his prayerbook.

But it was the pope's vision for the church's future  - painted in broad strokes - that's sure to rile or inspire Catholics, depending on which side of the church they sit.

Here are some highlights:

On Women

In July, Francis said, emphatically, that the "door is closed," on women's ordination, a statement that disappointed many Catholic liberals.

But that doesn't mean the church should consider women secondary or inferior, Francis said. "The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions," he told Spadora.

Francis also called on Catholics to think hard about the function of women in the church.

"Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed," the pope said. "The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role."

On Homosexuality 

When Francis was a bishop in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he received letters from gays and lesbians who said they were "socially wounded" by the church, he said.

"But the church does not want to do this," Francis said in the interview.

The pope then recalled his comments in July, when he told the media aboard a flight to Rome, "Who am I to judge" gay people?

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

"By saying this, I said what the catechism says," the pope told Spadaro. The catechism, the Catholic Church's book of official doctrine, condemns homosexual acts, but says gays and lesbians "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity."

"Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person."

Francis said that someone once asked him if he "approved" of homosexuality.

"I replied with another question," he said. "`Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being."

Abortion, gay marriage and contraception 

Some American Catholics grumble that Francis has been largely silent on signature Catholic political issues.

"I’m a little bit disappointed in Pope Francis that he hasn’t, at least that I’m aware of, said much about unborn children, about abortion, and many people have noticed that," Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, said earlier this month.

Francis said that he's aware of the criticism, but he is not going to change.

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods," he told his Jesuit interviewer. "I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that."

But the pope said the church's teachings on those issue are clear, and he clearly believes in those teachings, so what else is there to say?

"It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time," Francis said.

False prophets and quick decisions

Only false prophets claim to have all the answers, Francis said.

"The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt," he said. "You must leave room for the Lord."

But church leaders, including himself, haven't always practiced humility, the pope admitted.

Many of the bad decisions he made while leading Catholics in Argentina came about because of  his "authoritarianism and quick manner of making decisions," the pope said.

That won't happen again, Francis said, as he begins to steer the church in a new direction.

He didn't offer an exact course, but he said change will come. Sooner or later.

"Many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time," he said. "I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time of discernment."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Church • Culture wars • Gay rights • Pope Francis • Vatican

soundoff (3,625 Responses)
  1. ed dugan

    The first pope to make any sense in a long time. However, the catholic church, and certainly a pope, is totally irrelevant today except for practicing catholics who haven't had an original thought since they dunked, or whatever the hell they do with that "holy" water. I wonder how it tastes with a good scotch? Hey, a new drink, scotch and holy water on the "rocks". We could call it the St. Peter.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  2. bembh

    What, the Pope says, "I am a sinner" and that's headline news? Seriously. You expected him to say something different?

    If he had said, "I am not a sinner," now THAT would be headline news!!

    September 19, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
    • Charlie

      I thought the exact same thing. Why the headline? "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God".

      September 19, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
  3. Bill Tweakin'

    Sometimes I give myself goose pimples when I look in the mirror.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  4. montyross

    For a Pope so concerned with the poor in his previous position he sure spends a lot of time talking about the "one percenters".

    September 19, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  5. treasure

    according to the "national america of statistics" 87% of all catholic priest have molested children, mostly altar boys. If their priest molest their flock molest. I would not let my boy within 20 yards of a catholic. When I see them I say to my children "run, run go to a safety place"

    September 19, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • Frank

      very insightful and well thought out!

      September 19, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Bill

      Check your facts!

      September 19, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
  6. columbus

    Centuries of Catholic dogma aren't likely to change as quickly as things do in modern social media.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • Mr Everyman

      To Columbus: As canon law, the dogma against abortion has only existed since 1917. The dogma is less than 100 years old. Prior to 1869 the Roman Catholic rite followed an "animation" view that allowed abortion in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy. This dogma was followed for at least 1,486 years vs 96 years.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  7. Mr Everyman

    Jesus spoke Aramaic or "old Hebrew." Definitions of spiritual things would be consistent with the concepts of that language. The self or soul in that language exists from birth to death. In Greek culture and thinking the soul often exists from fertilization to death. Our translations of the New Testament are from secondary Greek manuscripts. They convey Greek meanings, not original Aramaic meanings. The result is a Greek prohibition of abortion that is not present in Hebrew culture or for Jesus. Proof of this is in Numbers 5: 21-28 and, John 3: 5-6. The first records ritual abortion done by ancient Jewish priests. The second records the conceptual view of people being born of flesh and then Spirit, as Jesus stated. The Church should follow Jesus vs Greek philosophy and end the prohibition of abortion.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      especially since there is an abortion recipe in the bible.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:15 pm |

        Godless Vagabond
        And how to beat slaves and punish adultery.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • PSAztec

      I don't think you have the whole of scripture in your thought, Mr. Everyman. Psalm 139 has some great words on this matter: 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book."
      before one of them came to be.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
      • Mr Everyman

        "All the days ordained to me were written in your book, before they came to be." talks about life in Eternity and life once a person is shaped or formed. The crowning touch in a formation is the soul given at birth. That is the meaning of Psalm 139.

        September 19, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • Bootilicious

      Mr Everyman just likes the idea of abortions. Surely from a pure moral argument you can understand that your life began when the egg was fertilized. We could get into semantics of when it really begins, but it is fact that you are a product of one sperm connecting with one egg at that moment. It is really a simple idea...if you agree with abortion just be happy with the argument that you do not care if life is ended after that.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
      • aldewacs2

        Actually life begins when the prospective father gets that twinkle in his eye and the prospective mother has that raised eyebrow and that luscious smile.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  8. Brother Maynard

    "Be shepards with the smell of your sheep ... "
    Ok, I get that I'm a 21 century guy, and that my knowledge of sheep and sheep herding is basically zero.
    But what the heck does that mean? sould like I should roll around in sheep du.ng.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • Dave

      You have to be from Wales to understand...

      September 19, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • HenryB

      I think he means that priests should understand their flock and live among them. I don't think it has anything to do with rolling around with the sheep.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • Andre

      "Never slap a man while he's chewing tobacco."

      September 19, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
  9. furianxo

    The pope saying he is a sinner is the same as saying "I'm Human." –great news CNN

    September 19, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • Time For You To Grow Up...

      Not quite... Remember that only religious people can 'sin'...

      September 19, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  10. Awakenex

    Glad I'm done with organized religion...what a bunch of pompous as-ses these pontificated clowns are...nuff ridicoulousness!

    September 19, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
  11. casperparks

    Peter was not the first pope. Catholic church did not exist until roughly 535 AD. Twisting history and lying does not change the facts. Again, there was NO POPE until roughly 535 AD, give or take a couple decades. It is time historians called the Catholic church out on that lie.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • Chubbs

      Actually, Peter was the first Pope.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:55 pm |

    Let's see how stupid this whole "original sin" thing is. ... A baby is born, but 2 days later the unthinkable happened and it dies. Now that the baby died a sinner without absolution therefore it is going to hell. But wait!! The Catholic chirch conveniently invents something called 'limbo" where all of the unbaptized babies go. This place is mentioned no where in the Bible (not that I can find anyway) it's just made up to make people feel better.

    Now, if you follow an absolutely absured like of reasoning about "original sin", the onlything the baby did was to be born. Therefore, being born is actually a sin. And even more absuredly a woman by having an abortion is actually stopping the baby from sinning! Now I don't really think that but it shows how absured this whole thing really is.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • Dippy

      Absurd, not absured.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Kate

      The idea of "limbo" is an old teaching. It's not something that people think is true anymore. I'm 100% for people voicing opinions- and there are obvious holes in the logic of the church in some places. But make a solid argument. Limbo is done- the idea of the aborting a fetus to avoid original sin is an "ends justify the means" argument that no church supports. There is an astronomical amount of cover up and corruption in the church- that's your better argument.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
      • doobzz

        "The idea of "limbo" is an old teaching. It's not something that people think is true anymore."

        Well, that's a relief. When I was five, a nun told me I was going to hell because I asked her why unbaptized babies had to be separated from god's presence.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Kevin

      Limbo isn't a doctrine and never has been. It's a kind of folk belief or way for theologians to say they don't know. There's just no clear guidance from Scripture or Tradition to say. Such innocents are in God's hands. Plus, limbo was never thought to be a place of punishment but one of natural happiness since such a child is not culpable.
      A priest friend once described the situation like this. Your father inherits a billion dollars but spends it all leaving nothing to you so you grow up impoverished. Is that your fault? No but you still suffer the consequences. Same thing with original sin.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
  13. Mary L

    A lot of people nowadays feel that the idea of worshipping this being called "God" is an ignorant, blind and narcissistic belief in a book called the Bible. While Christians do believe to a somewhat large degree in the context of the bible, what we take from it most is the message, specifically the message in the New Testament (Christians). What I find a bit odd is that atheists and many Christians make one critical mistake- believing they OWN knowledge. The bible says a lot of things, as do science books, and yet they differ in that the bible contains not only context but also insight, where science contains facts and questions. A Christian who says they believe something because the bible says it, is in my mind not a true Christian. The bible is not only an historical source (contains historical event as well as “myths” and parables), it is also a work of moral "knowledge". This knowledge does not belong to the one who READS the bible, just as it didn't belong to the one who WROTE it. Science attempts to explain the rational through the obtainment of knowledge. Scientists who do not believe in a concept of a higher being do not because they too believe that the knowledge that they deduced, found, obtained is now theirs. But knowledge is just knowledge- not truth. Being able to see knowledge does not mean you are the one responsible for the NATURE and CREATION of that knowledge- that is the role we assign to God. If we WERE purely rational creatures we could explain our irrationalities in a universally rational way- but we can't. And so logic would say that we are not rational even if the universe appears to be rational. Therefore the universe of which we, and our irrationalities, must by definition not be truly rational. A rudimentary example is the mere existence of "contradictory" sciences such as physics and philosophy. If the world were completely rational, such seemingly contradictory studies would not exist.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • edward

      My question to you is, How did the bible come together? Do you know who wrote it? What writings didn't appear in the bible that are deemed not inspired by God? Are you sure people's bias did not affect transcriptions and translations? Have you learned Greek and Hebrew to understand the original writings? Do you know enough about first century thinking and belief to understand what the original language the first manuscripts are actually saying? Do you in fact know what the message of the bible is and is the bible in your hands in fact connected to God at all?

      Now you equivocate and compare how science and religion say things. However, it is a completely bad comparison. Science does not make any claims as to truth. What it does do is that it looks at the observable data and makes observations about that data and tries to make predictions based on what is observed. Many times if not always what science's claims to know is thankfully replaced by better science.

      Religion on the other hand, is having blind faith in 2000 years of humanity having passed on to you the purported inspired words of prophets. Yet, you have no idea who these people are personally, so you can not vouched for their reliability. You can only hope and dream that they got it right. In other words religion is based on ignorance and not knowledge.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
      • Mary L III

        That is the whole point, religious faith is "knowledge" of a divine being. As you said, the means that science obtains knowledge is through observation and experimentation. The way religion or spirituality obtains knowledge is through the bible/ religious text based on personal experience and individual experience. I do not know Hebrew nor do I know what motivated the authors of the bible to write what they did. But what I do know is that they wrote it and it stayed for thousands of years. If what they wrote was purely imagination, then it does not make sense. It is entropically favorable to reason, and much more so than to imagine, hence the process of creating a fantasy is secondary to and more strenuous than to reason observed facts. If this is so why did it take so long to develop our current level of reason and religion or belief in a deity that we supposedly cannot see or observe last so long? I don't know but my scientific nature compels me to observe and try to account for this irrational event. As to the bible, the words that were written I know little of how they came to be written, yet as I use reason to interpret their meaning I find them relatable and applicable to personal experience as well as comprehensive analysis. And the veracity of the bible is exactly my point. As a religious person one cannot believe that the bible dictates everything, because God is not a work of paper and man made words. It is just a mere glimpse at how the people who wrote it interpreted or maybe even experienced this being called "God". As to science, science is as informed as religion, as both build upon something. Science is way overrated (I'm a scientist btw)- it is simply a way to explain our current perception of reality. Even the genius atheist Stephen Hawkins in his book "Grand Design" cops to this. So science is much like religion, one has faith that the sensory information (which is highly modified by the nervous system) can conceive an accurate reality (which is not fully accurate) that we can then try to explain to the best of our ability. This knowledge gathered from this process is then given after much analysis the name of a theory that is supposed to be true in order to build upon. Yet even in this process, of which we take much misplaced pride, our previously known "truth" can be change upon new inquiry. This knowledge is a "truth" unlike what you said, as when it becomes a theory we are accepting the fact that it works for the situation observed., a situation that according to the "power" of observation must be true.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • snowboarder

      that whole comment was a load of huey!

      September 19, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  14. Just Me

    I'm a sinner too Pope Francis. I mastubate ever so often to avoid sleeping with the wrong person. I know it's a sin, but considering what I can catch out there if I played around and got bitten by some deadly bug, i.e. HIV, this is one sin I can live with. May God forgive me. 🙂 It's not easy being human and single.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • Ted

      God said to keep whacking off because it's the only action you're going to get.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
  15. laura

    The church has no right to judge gays and lesbians. Their own MALE clergy have a real fascination with young BOYS. Gay pedophiles??? Those who live in glass houses should not judge.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • Trevor

      The "church" is Christ and not a group of men (the Vatican) or one man (the Pope)... Christ most certainly has the authority and right to judge and condemn...

      September 19, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
      • Cunning Stunts

        Still looking.
        Cant find a single word from Jesus about Gay people.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  16. Mlou


    September 19, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
  17. Bootyfunk

    the bible is very clear that h.omos.exuals are an abomination and are to be put to death. disgusting book.
    i'm wondering how the pope gets around that little detail.
    or is it that the pope can see the winds have shifted on g.ay issues and he doesn't want the church to get left behind.... again.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • doobzz

      In a couple of decades, the RCC will be claiming it was the driving force behind gay rights.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • Amanda

      The bible also says that it is an abomination to eat shell fish or allow your wife to wear pants. They have an easy time over looking lots of stuff.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • Scott H

      The thing that bothers me the most is the Bible DOESN'T say that. It says that gay acts are an abomination IN CONTEXT of trying to ensure the survival of the human race. This means when we're not struggling to survive, its not an abomination, and it says this in two ways. One, because it didn't come up before in context of any situation until this one in leviticus, and two, if gay people are to procreate when we are at risk of not surviving as a race God certainly has no problem with gay people existing to begin with. Not only do we all interpret passages that subjigate women and condone slavery as out of time, we also strictly insist passages about gay people mean that for all time behaving as gay is an abomination when the passages by no means state this is a decree to follow for all time. The longer this goes on and the more the church digs it's heels in on the issue, the more the sin of pride. They just don't want to reverse course, say they were interpreting the Bible in a horrific way against a group of people, and move on in harmony with everyone. It's hypocritical.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • 47yearoldlifelongcatholic

      i'm just curious....people say that that is in the bible – – – but can you tell me exactly where? I don't remember ever being taught any verse in the bible that says that in my 12 years of catholic school

      September 19, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
      • Amanda

        "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them" Leviticus 20:13.

        Also, "A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them." No wizards allowed (Lev. 20:27)

        Do you guys really take this stuff seriously?

        September 19, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  18. guest

    I believe this Pope is making the serious mistake of trying to please everyone; in the end no one will be pleased. I don’t kow if the media has taken some of his remarks out of context (which is common for the media) but what is reported does make the Pope seem to be stupid. Nonetheless, I believe this pope may try to make “world changing” decisions that I will not agree with.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • Doris

      And when it comes to opinions on "objective truths" that lie on shaky ground at best, what is religion besides finding a club that you agree with?

      September 19, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
    • CosmicC

      Here's a thought: Rather than rely on a report on the interview, read the interview.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  19. Apple Bush

    Imagine being a child
    Crossing the line without knowing
    Just for being who you are
    What confusion would be hard wired?
    A developing brain, healthy and ready
    Sabotaged as a child
    To the inevitable end.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
  20. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    " .. its moral foundation will "fall like a house of cards." Um .. I believe that happened every time a child was molested by the churches local moral authority .. and then again when they covered it up and left the victims ignored and damaged. So Pope Francis, give up on your claim to moral foundation .. that ship has sailed.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
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About this blog

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.