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. Just the Facts Ma'am...

    Now if only he would announce that the Catholic Church WILL interfere with pedophiles, especially those within the Church...

    September 19, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
  2. John Calvin II

    He's erroneously using the language of humilty to cover over a comprimise with gross sin thinking that it will somehow enable the church to not loose Europe and America. However, negotiating with sin is like a hunter sitting down to negotiate with a bear. The bear will always win.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      And judging others directly violates biblical teaching.

      Pick a side. Yours. Or god's.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Cautious Hunter

      Good point; everyone should be afraid of malevolent Gay Bears... I've heard they're very hairy.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  3. CFMcBlob

    Catholics believe EVERYONE is a sinner form birth. This isn't news.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • JJ

      Actually, that's Christian doctrine. You are born a filthy disgusting sinner deserving to burn for eternity in the eternal lake of fire and you can only be saved from eternal torture by believing in their god and one of thousands of dogma.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
      • stillwaiting aka Basho1644

        Yep. Amazing, isn't it?! How can this not be recognized, immediately, for what it patently is: a complete crock of BS!

        September 19, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Awesome

      And your point?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  4. Lonewolf

    I think we finally have true man of faith as Pope!

    September 19, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • marylikeHismama


      September 19, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  5. richunix

    For Truth:

    Not sure if reverting back to medieval torture device in determining if you’re a witch or consist fear that if you don’t believe in the one true faith we won’t burn you at the stake alive (if you convert at the last moment, then we garrote you). Sure lets go back to the good old days of fear, hate and war over who is right and condemn those who are not.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • steelerguin

      Rich, I didn't see references to medieval torture as a new direction for this pope. Did I miss something or are you just making that up?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  6. Brampt

    Pope Francis was saying something like this: " we are losing many clients, and our wealth is shrinking, so it doesn't matter if your a fornicator, gay, of an assassin we need you before we go broke!

    September 19, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • JJ

      Or even an atheist! If you can drop cash in the til then you're welcome into the cult and will be in heaven.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
      • Billy

        Gosh – do they take PayPal?

        September 19, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • Bob

      I think you've nailed it.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • jomcgw

      No, he saying focus on love and compassion and not judgement and intolerance.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  7. Wisdom

    This articles sucks. He's leading the Church in a New Direction, but he wouldn't say. HA! At least I know which way the Lord wants me to go, and it has never changed.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • Billy

      Let me guess, to Tipperary?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
  8. Grow Up theists

    Grow up .... there is no GOD and religion is man made.. That is a brutal truth.. deal with it..

    September 19, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Grow up atheists

      Grow up .... there is no PROOF there is no deity. That is a brutal truth. Deal with it..

      Seriously, this pope seems to be a nice guy with his head on straight. You two don't see things the same way, but deal with it.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
      • LinCA

        @Grow up atheists

        You said, "there is no PROOF there is no deity. That is a brutal truth. Deal with it.."
        There is also no proof that the Tooth Fairy doesn't exist, or the Easter Bunny. If you believe your god is real, you would be a complete hypocrite if you would deny the existence of any other imaginary creature.

        If you want your belief in your imaginary friend taken seriously, you will have to provide the evidence for it. Without you providing evidence, your bullshit claim it exists should, and will be rejected.

        Your infantile beliefs in your imaginary friend are no more rational than a belief in the Tooth Fairy. Deal with it.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
        • stillwaiting aka Basho1644

          Thank you, sir. Unfortunately, these people wouldn't recognize reality if it were to bite them on the nose.

          September 19, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • Tony

      Science is HOW god made the universe. God made man and woman to love each other. If god appeared and said obey life wouldn't be a test for the after-life. Anything goes would not be a test for the after life. When atheists die they want no god and that is what they are going to get.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
      • borgplate

        Afterlife? Why must there be an afterlife. Why can't a person die and just be gone?

        September 19, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
      • Which God?

        Tony, where you trying to write intelligently?

        September 19, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
      • cedar rapids

        ' If god appeared and said obey life wouldn't be a test for the after-life.'

        Why would there be a test for an after-life? what possible purpose would it serve? And why would an all knowing god need to test anyone?

        September 19, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • STFUplease

      Maturity and wisdom is realizing you don't have all the answers and that other points of view must be considered. Don't for one second think you have it all figured out. In other words, take your own advice and GROW UP, you insolent child.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
      • richunix

        Religion has the lest, requires no proof or any scientific exam

        September 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Don

      "Grow up .... there is no GOD and religion is man made.. That is a brutal truth.. deal with it.."

      Now there's a comment based on pure speculation. What evidence do you have that there is no God? What proof do you have? Since I already have that answer, I'll just tell you what the answer is. None. You don't have any evidence that God does not exist. Yet I have witnesses of people who have been touched by him. I have the heavens and the earth and my conscience to tell me what the truth is. I have logic on my side. I have the testimony contained in scripture. Why not allow me to worship as I deem appropriate, and I won't scream to you how you're going to hell? Sound fair?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:03 pm |

        Godless Vagabond
        Don, you sound thoroughly bible washed. How did you ever get that way?

        September 19, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
      • Bill

        "What evidence do you have that there is no God? What proof do you have?"

        The lack of proof He DOES exist is, in and of itself, the proof that he does not.

        Your request for proof in the negative is a logical fallacy as nobody can ever PROVE something DOESN'T exist to a non-omnipotent being.

        Science has "magical" ways of proving things: like carbon-dating to measure the age of fossils, or our eyeballs and historical records to show Darwinian Natural Selection in action (and now even E. Coli bacteria that grow on citrate in an oxygen rich environment... impossible in the wild).

        You have "magical" ways too: burning bushes, floods, walking on water...

        The difference, of course, is the fact that we still have that E. Coli in a dish, living it up in lab controlled environment that is inhospitable to what we know as E. Coli while your burning bushes are decidedly absent.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
        • stillwaiting aka Basho1644

          Correct. Perfect. Let's hold them to the presentation of actual EVIDENCE. Show me a "burning bush", or a severed arm magically growing back after prayer, or any clear manifestation of the supernatural in the real world, and I will immediately reconsider my position of non-belief. I'm still waiting, after 59 years!!

          September 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
        • Justin

          Something I’m aware of atheists saying is a person is just imagining their prayer was answered any time they say that it was. Due to that, something I've asked some atheists is, if that is the case when a person who agrees with the teachings of churches such as Catholic Churches & has accepted Christ as their Lord & Savior prays, how did the following happen: In the past, every 4 or so days, I would have 1 – 5 epileptic seizures within 18 or so hrs. But one day they just stopped..., & 9 or so months later I still hadn’t had any. Then, as usual, I went to church, but this time a Christian family I know from another time zone was there. That day I learned that 9 or so months back… they had had my name added to the prayer list of the church they normally attended. A week & a half or so later though my seizures started back up. Then, 4 or so weeks after... they started back up, I learned that, after the family got back home, they had my name removed from the church's prayer list due to how well they heard I was doing. By the way, also take note that them having my name removed from the prayer list the Sunday after they spoke to me, & me having another seizure a half a week or so (in other words, 4 or so days) after that means the 4 or so day cycle started back up as soon as they stopped praying for me.

          Years back my nose was running & my stomach was aching. Days later this was still going on & I asked God to heal them. Immediately... after I asked Him to do that the pressure in my stomach began letting up &, within 3 or so seconds, all of the pressure was gone. This brought tears to my eyes. Due to that I went & blew my nose again. After that I inhaled... & my nose was completely open. Ten or so minutes later though I told my mom about this. I told her about it to give myself credit for saying the prayer instead of telling her about it to give God the glory... & immediately my nose & stomach got back into the condition that they were in prior to me praying.

          Years back I was saying a prayer. Normally, at the end of a prayer, I would say, "in Christ's Name, amen." But this time I wanted to say, "in Jesus Christ's Name, amen," to say that Jesus is Christ. So... I said, "in Jesus Ch...," &, before I could get the rest of it out, I busted out in tears because I strongly felt God's presence.

          Jesus is the God the Son. Agreeing with this as well as agreeing with the other teachings of churches such as Catholic Churches... & accepting Him as your Lord & Savior (which I did around the middle of '95) is the only way to receive eternal life.

          P. S. I would rather accept Christ &... atheists / people who say that you're born repeatedly & nothing bad will happen to you & last forever... be correct than practice one of those beliefs, Christianity be correct, & me... consciously burn in hell forever. Make a wise decision. You're better Saved than sorry.

          September 20, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
      • cedar rapids

        ' I have logic on my side'

        no you dont, there is no logic in claiming 'it was magic'

        September 19, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • g2-f2e06389c9447ec15f6aee4d594372c1

      Says who, you? Well, thanks for clearing that up for me. I'll be sure to come back to you for answers to all life's major questions.
      P.S. People like you are no better than the extremely-religious. You claim to have all the answers when you know nothing!

      September 19, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
      • joe

        P.S. People like you are no better than the extremely-religious. You claim to have all the answers when you know nothing!
        Wrong. The lack of a God–at least a God in the Christian or Jewish or Muslim sense has been proven over and over and over. That's why it take faith–faith is believing despite the evidence to the contrary.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      There is no proof that there are no Gods. There is no proof that there are no unicorns. There is no proof that there are no leprechauns. There is no proof that there is no Care-a-Lot where the Care-Bears live.

      What do all these things have in common? They all use the Christian defense of "Hey, if you can't prove my God doesn't exist, that means he must be real." which is totally fallacious and would mean that CareBears, leprechauns and Unicorns are also real. Maybe if you follow a rainbow, catch a leprechaun and steal his gold and buy a ride on a Unicorn to Care-A-Lot you can ask the CareBears to call God and ask him to send us even the smallest shred of evidence for his existence...

      September 19, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • Mark

      If you really want to understand the catholic church, and the spirit behind it, visit be4thefire.com. Check out the Vatican exposed link, and all other videos as your heart desires. Remember, the same spirit that built the Vatican is working through this Pope. Watch the videos, and decide for yourself if the Pope is spreading false doctrine that will lead people into Hell.

      If you watch these video's, remember, it is the Glory of God to conceal things, and the Glory of Kings to reveal them. It's kind of hard to deny God when you see what's being revealed.

      September 20, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  9. mulangira


    September 19, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  10. Lori

    I am discusted that this is the feautured news article on CNN. 2013 and we can't move past fairy tale hocus pocus. Learn something valueable.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      "Learn something valueable."

      It's "valuable" and "disgusted"...

      September 19, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • Do you feel better now?

      Maybe learn to spell?

      September 19, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  11. Just the Facts Ma'am...

    So if the leader of the KKK stood up and announced that people of color and imigrants should be welcomed in American homes and familys, would that then clear any stigma from the organization that has persecuted minorities and non-whites for generations? Do they all of a sudden get a pass and can join in with the groups that have been fighting for civil rights for decades? I think not. Likewise, the Pope may be giving an inclusive message now, but the history of the Catholic Church and their blood stained hands can not be washed away so easily.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • You're Almost There

      By that logic, neither can most cultures that have been around for generations, i.e., the U.S. You must have forgotten about how we violently stole North America from them.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  12. HA25

    Mary, you're on a good path but I think a few mistakes.
    I don't know any Athiest who claims to own Knowledge. You say that word like it is one thing – you either have it or you don't and only one can own it at any given time. But to prove my point – if God were to appear on earth and declare himself in a booming voice heard in every head around the world simultaneously- there's not an Athiest out there that wouldn't believe. Athiests want proof not belief and don't believe without proof.

    As to this:
    "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..."
    This is not a cohesive thought. First you have to prove that purely rational creatures could have irrationalities and that they would be expected to explain them. That explanation may require more than 'being rational' or even 'reason' – it might require omniscient knowledge. You'd also have to define irrationalities – which is the core of your problem. Then you make the jump that a rational universe requires everything in it to be rational (proof?) and finally therefore even though you haven't proven we are irrational – you conclude the universe is irrational.
    I guess I'm saying – that's an irrational argument..

    September 19, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  13. Bob

    This is the major front page news story?

    September 19, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  14. howiehandles

    I'm a lapsed Catholic, sicked of decades of sticking their noses in the political crap, as well as all the pedo stuff. However, this pope might get me back to the flock. Time will tell, but I like what I've seen so far.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
  15. What is going on? FREEDOM

    heheh. Now I bet all those Christian extremists are going to run to the hills now.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
  16. cacique

    Of that we can be sure, we are all sinners. However, you may be an exception if you believe so...

    September 19, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
  17. Demigod Vadik, CA

    I am a man enough to admit when I'm wrong, and I was wrong about this Pope...

    ...I really like this guy...

    September 19, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
  18. Jakes_Momma

    I'm not catholic or even religious for that matter – but I like this Pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  19. Old Boot Dave

    I am an Anglican and I really hope and pray that this pope has a long life – because we currently have a holy, living saint in Francis. Even to non-Catholics, this man provides inspiration and hope. I had always believed that no pope could ever top Pope St.John XXIII in successfully reaching out to the world beyond the Catholic Church – but I think we've found someone who may end up being even greater.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:47 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.