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
[twitter-follow screen_name='EricCNNBelief'][twitter-follow screen_name='BurkeCNN']

(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. Happy Happy


    September 19, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
  2. Sharkmann

    Until he approves of birth control, he will still be an idiot. Most of the problem we face today in this world are caused by the fact that we have too many people on this planet.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm |

      Godless Vagabond
      And too many catholics.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
      • kippyafd

        How does the number of Catholics affect YOU?

        September 19, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
        • doobzz

          They vote, that's how.

          September 19, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • Doris


      September 19, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
      • Emma

        Cup Noodle

        September 19, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • jose frio

      and every now and then you read a comment like this, and all you can do is shake your head in disbelief...speaking of the shallow end in the gene pool and idiots why don't you do the world the same favor you are preaching about

      September 19, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
    • John

      One does not need birth control to avoid having children. One needs only self control. Those who cannot avoid rolling in the hay like animals have problems beyond just not having birth control.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
    • Dan

      Actually, it's a scientific statistical fact that properly managed, the planet could easily support 200 billion people. If you believe there are too many, guess what?.. you're part of that problem.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
      • Doris

        But it's not properly managed, is it?

        September 19, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  3. Jess

    And I love how people think being sheep is a good thing. Following blindly. Jesus is a shepherd...Do they not realize shepherds guide their flocks of sheep protectively and safely...To the slaughterhouse?

    September 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      "Do they not realize shepherds guide their flocks of sheep protectively and safely...To the slaughterhouse?"

      You forget that they keep them captive for years so they can shear off their profits until they get a bit older and are ready for the table...

      September 19, 2013 at 1:35 pm |

        Godless Vagabond
        I prefer them younger, myself. New Zealand raises the best, if you can find them.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
      • guest

        Sheep may be captive in this country, but in other countries the feed where there is no fences, and times past the shepards "led" their sheep, the did't follow or herd them.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  4. Sick Rantorum

    I hate how southern christians took the "love your sheep" thing too literal.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • churchstate

      You know why scottish people wear kilts? They can hear a zipper a mile away.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
      • Just the Facts Ma'am...

        You know why Kiwi's marry women? Cause sheep can't cook...!

        September 19, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
      • Church of Suicidal

        That's the same reason why the Greeks invented the toga.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • 616

      Ah stereotypes, the last bastion of the moronic. Good job Sick.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
  5. CosmicC

    I think this guy is rocking too many boats. Taken in the context of the monolithic church, what he has said is a huge shift. No, the church won't ordain priests or marry outside of the gender binary today, but you can see a potential path towards great change. The next thing you know he'll start spending the some of the wealth of the church on the poor. I may just be a naive atheist, but I like this guy. I'm worried because people who shake the trees he has grabbed hold of tend to live short lives (think Ghandi, King, Lennon).

    September 19, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  6. Wisdom

    The Pope is right! Who is he to judge?! GOD is the judge, and we know how GOD judged.

    1 Corinthians 6:9-10
    9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
    10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

    Romans 1:27 – And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    Jude 1:7 – Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • Bill & Ted

      Be excellent to each other!

      (At least we know that some real people, even if only actors, said this.)

      September 19, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • shante's dad

      I am pleased about that, but now I have to kill and own slaves and whatnot.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • churchstate

      We tend to have a good working knowledge of the age, size and history of the Universe and the idea that a being would create the entire thing – with 400,000,000,000 galaxies, EACH with 100, 000,000,000 starts and even more planets, then sit back and wait 13,720,000,000 years for human beings to evolve on one planet so he could “love them” and send his son to talk about sheep and goats in Iron Age Palestine makes no sense to us.

      The answers usually proffered for what we see as basic logical flaws in Christianity – “you have been blinded by your lack of faith” “God moves in mysterious ways” “God is outside the Universe” or “our minds are too small to understand the greatness of God” are never satisfying to us. We see a retreat to mysticism as the first refuge of the cornered fool.

      The common argument, “well, what caused the Big Bang?” with the implication that, because we have only theories and no iron clad explanation for the Big Bang yet, [the Christian] god must have caused it – does not make sense to us. “I don’t know” does not equal “god” to us, much less the Judeo-Christian god. We feel the answers to such a question are much more likely to be found in Einstein’s equations, quantum physics, large particle accelerators and radio telescopes than in Genesis Chapters 1 through 20. We’re crazy aren’t we?

      We do not see miracles in things like tornadoes missing a certain trailer in a trailer park, cancer going into remission or Tim Tebow winning a football game.

      We understand that Christianity is one of many, many religions in the World, and we don’t think that we were lucky enough to have been born in the one part of the World that “got it right”.

      We tend to have a basic knowledge of history and know that there is nothing magical or special about the supposed history of the Jews, gospels, letters, apocalyptic story (Revelations) and other materials that found their way into the Bible, in that they are largely indistinguishable from the other mythology and religious writings of the time and region.

      Human beings are terrified of their own deaths and we see the various religious beliefs that try to “wish it away” such as reincarnation, living happily ever after in Heaven with Jesus, having your own Mormon planet etc. as nothing more than childish stories for the more naive, timid minds among us.

      We do not see morality as predicated upon a belief in the supernatural. We accept that one can be moral without believing in the supernatural and that doing so is no guaranty that one will conform to the norms of society that people call “morality”.

      “You can’t prove God doesn’t exist” is not a convincing argument to us, as in inability to disprove something is a far cry from it being true. We cannot prove that the Hindu gods Shiva or Vishnu do not exist either, nor Santa Claus for that matter, but that is hardly a reason to believe in them. It is almost always impossible to prove a negative in this sense.

      When one looks at the various Christian beliefs that were once firmly believed – Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood, people living to be 700 or 900 years old, the Red Sea splitting, water turning into wine, talking snakes, a man living in a whale’s belly, people rising from the dead, Jesus driving demons out of people and into pigs – but which are now acknowledged by most thinking people to be mere mythology, it is pretty hard to give a lot of credibility to what’s left.

      It is hard not to consider Christianity as based on circular reasoning. Most Christians believe in God because the Bible says so, then turn around and say they believe the Bible because it is the word of God. To draw an analogy, “I believe Obama is a great man because his biography says so, and the reason I believe his biography is that it is about Obama, who is a great man.”

      In short, the more one comes to understand mother nature, the less reason there is to believe in a god and the more one understands human nature, the more one sees why so many of us still do.

      So, the next time you proudly proclaim that you know the secrets to life, death, the origins of life on Earth and the origins of the Universe, because your parents or priest taught you some comforting stories from late Bronze Age Palestine as a ten year-old, you might like to consider where your beliefs fit into the bigger picture

      September 19, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
      • 616

        Yay, more of Dyslexic doG's copy/paste.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  7. Eric

    Wow! Love this guy! Though I'm not catholic I hope he makes a difference in getting the church away from man made rules and traditions (religion) and start focusing on God's word (the truth)!

    September 19, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  8. Jon


    September 19, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  9. joshua

    See dr owour first.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
  10. Jess

    Ah, yes. They fear the tax-free money they rake in will diminish even more so they continue to bend things to suit themselves. Which has always been the case, but still. I fully agree it is far healthier to not be bigots, but the fact that they bend their alleged 'perfect word of' their deity to suit their own needs and current times and how eager people are to go along with it, tells you how real such beliefs are to begin with.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
  11. joe

    The idea of an omnipotent omniscient God reinventing Itself and coming to the planet as its own son to get something done is just absurd. The reality is that if an omnipotent omniscient God wanted something it would already be done because that's what omnipotence and omniscience means.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • cooluser

      Unless you are a masochist and enjoy getting the crap beaten out of you.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  12. 616

    Crap, only been out for less than a day and it has 17 pages already. Good going Pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • doobzz

      I think we're just relieved there's not another Rick Warren article.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
  13. churchstate

    Still on the front page? The majority of Americans are becoming less and less religious.

    Less than 50% now and it's about time.

    Nothing like a group of old men upholding male traditions and keeping women in the dark ages as usual. Not to mention completely ignoring science.

    Whats that? the world is only 6,000 years old?

    A widely accepted cult is still a cult

    September 19, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • 616

      "Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). "

      Educate yourself with something called facts before you run off your mouth.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
      • sam

        Belief in god is not the same as 'religious', though.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
      • CosmicC

        "Nones" are on the rise, but being a "none" does not necessarily mean they don't believe in god, only that they don't consider themselves a member of a particular religion. 40-50% of "nones" do believe in at least one deity.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
      • Brad-Ashe

        But Religion and Belief are not the same.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • jason

      I think G W Bush deserves the credit for de-jesusifying a lot of Americans and 100% of Iraq

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

      Science? Actually Copernicus, Charles Lyell (father of geology) and the man who discovered the Big Bang Theory were all members of Catholic religious orders.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
  14. cooluser

    Well, the question is, do we allow mentally sick people pretending they are normal?

    September 19, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • churchstate

      Mentally sick.... you mean gay?

      I hope all your kids turn out to be gay.

      delusion |di'lo?oZH?n|
      an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder: the delusion of being watched.

      Top Ten Signs You're a Christian in Name Only
      10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
      9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
      8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
      7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Al lah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
      6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
      5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
      4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
      3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some id iot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christian
      2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
      1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, catholicism and church history – but still call yourself a Christian

      September 19, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • cooluser

      They didn't. Either way, facts are facts. Gays are mentally sick people. That cannot be disputed.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
      • Walter

        Clearly being gay is not normal, but that does not mean mentally ill.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • Time For You To Grow Up...

      Everyone who believes in talking snakes is mentally ill...

      September 19, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'Well, the question is, do we allow mentally sick people pretending they are normal?'

      we cant stop them, religion is protected in the US.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  15. shante's mom

    May God bless him and everyone else that is interested. I think at last, we (Catholics) have a true Saint and visionary in the Vatican. It has been a very long time that we have had anyone with some thoughtfulness and insight and real holiness. We are all created in God's image, let us not forget that.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:24 pm |

      No, we're not. We're created by evolution.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
      • Javi

        We are not even "created". We are a direct product of evolution. The Universe was not "created". It formed. Likewise, we were not "created". We evolved.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • shante's dad

      bitch I toll you to git off my gaddamn computer, WHAM. Thanks God.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • susie


      September 19, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  16. CNNhatesfreespeech

    I really don't care if you're gay. Just don't parade your gayness around like its a good thing.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      So true, just like religion is a personal thing .. please keep it that way and out of my laws and public schools!

      September 19, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • ME II

      I really don't care if you are religious, just don't parade it around like it's a good thing.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Fair enough IF you promise not to parade your ignorance around like its a good thing. Deal?

      September 19, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • Actually

      It's a fabulous thing!

      September 19, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • guest

      ...or a common thing. it is neither good or common even though they would like it to be so.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
      • Lilith

        ".. even though they would like it to be so." Where do you get the idea that "they" would like it to be so? You're projecting your ideas on others, "they" don't care what you do as long as you leave "them" alone.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • doobzz

      I don't really care that you're stupid, just don't vote.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • Cunning Stunts

      On one hand, you call yourself CNN hates free speech.
      On the other hand you are telling somebody they are NOT free to be themselves because it bothers you.
      Hypocrit much ?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  17. Elena

    If Pope Francis does not feel he can judge, how can he hear confessions? Judging is his JOB! Next on the chopping block: Insisting that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ discriminates against non-Christians and the RCC should do away with such "old-fashioned" bigotry."

    September 19, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • guest

      Yes, and I wonder if the Pope smells like his sheep?

      September 19, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
      • doobzz

        I'm sure one of his body parts does.

        September 19, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      And here I though confession was about forgiveness.
      I'm glad you've clarified that its about the priest judging their parishoners.
      After all, where's the fun in religion of you can't go around condemning this and that from a fiery pulpit.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Meredith S.

      Judging is NOT his job.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  18. If I had a hammer... I'd whack you in the morning

    This man is bigger than the church he represents.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:23 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.