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. JOE B

    Our fossil record is proof God exists. Evolution banks on transitional forms, that we started as one celled creatures and worked our way up. Unfortunately, the fossil record shows a different story. That is, all species were always the same. That a human didn't come from ape. That snakes didn't come from birds or vice versa. More proof is that DNA show the lineage of each species and shows that everything was always as it is.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • chubby rain

      A) Every creature that exists currently or has ever existed is a transitional form.
      B) DNA shows the exact opposite.

      Put down the Bible (if you even read it), pick up an introductory biology textbook.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm |

      Godless Vagabond
      You need to do more reading, Joe. And work on your comprehension as well.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • tb63

      And the earth is flat too, right?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • LinCA

      @JOE B

      Your local community college has science classes that can cure your ignorance.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      that was your attempt at sarcastic humor right?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      I am guessing that was sarcasm Joe because if you are serious then it is scary that you are allowed outside.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Phattee

      What "fossil record" are you looking at exactly? The one in the pamphlet you picked up at church?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Rebbe Bupkis

      I did not not know that.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  2. R.M. Goodswell

    cant rule on gays either way? – really? is this God's position? I ask because this guy's Church just spent two thousand years railing against at best, killing at the worst, gays and other unholy heretics. Your God used to send floods, diseases, bugs and angels at the drop of a hat for just such 'offenses'.

    Guess God has to roll with the times too. Must be hell being omniscient and omnipresent but cant see even two seconds down the road.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • Religion is not required, but it is dangerous

      You can't have it both ways. Don't complain that the church is out-dated and then complain when they change. I'm an atheist with many gay friends, and I don't like the way they've been treated either. I'm just saying: people demand change, and then they complain anyway. I'm not joining his team, but I'm listening. He may be the best thing for the Catholic church in a long time... or he may be full of it. We'll see.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
      • R.M. Goodswell

        I was just pointing out the absurdity – They can change all they want – or not ...they still would have the same train wreck of a history.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • R.M. Goodswell

      oh and I never complained about them not changing....frankly I don't care if they do or not.

      Religion is BS across the board....I don't want it to change, I want the whole bloody con gone.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  3. MaryM

    Finally, A Human compassionate Pope. Its about freaking time

    September 19, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  4. publicdole

    Bottom line is leave both gays and priests alone. Isn't that redundant?

    September 19, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  5. JoshO

    "There's one in the spotlight - he don't look right to me! GET HIM UP AGAINST THE WALL!"

    September 19, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  6. Vetzero

    I have pledged my coat of arms and sword, my entire existence to Christ, His church... and this Pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
  7. Sense

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

    Thank You

    September 19, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
  8. Shorty

    The pope should start out by telling priests to leave young boys alone!

    September 19, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  9. Dyslexic doG

    Jesus was just David Koresh 2000 years earlier. A sociopathic conman with a good story and lots of charisma. All this foolishness, without a shred of proof, has sprung up from there.

    utter, mind numbing nonsense.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • Bob


      September 19, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
    • Bock

      He raised teh dead, he made blind eyes see, – David Koresh never did any of that, David couldnt even turn water into wine! There is no comparision!

      September 19, 2013 at 2:17 pm |

        Godless Vagabond
        Nobody can raise the dead, and only a surgeon can make a blind person see. You having trouble with realism, Bock?

        September 19, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • TheThinker

      Jesus turned organized Religion of the day, with all its political power, and said a couple things:
      1. Religion is not about rule-following, it's about love.
      2. Religion is not about owning or governing empires, it's about giving to God what is God's.

      Noteworthy: Jesus' message changed, then overtook the Roman Empire peacefully (if you don't count the Christians murdered by Roman intollerance). Then Ghandi used Christ's teachings and peacefully overcome the British Empire at its peak. Then Martin Luther King used Christ's teachings to peacefully overcome racist America.

      Uh, news flash: Jesus and His teachings are rock solid. Internet haters never know anything anyway. 😀

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

        'Noteworthy: Jesus' message changed, then overtook the Roman Empire peacefully (if you don't count the Christians murdered by Roman intollerance)'

        sorry but it did not take over the roman empire peacefully. It took an emperor who converted and then forced christianity on the populous as the official religion, and then invaded other countries in order to do the same.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • Justin

      Did you figure that out based on your magic crystal ball that looks into the historical past?

      Or are you making convenient assumptions that confirm your opinions?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Tom

      What an ignorant thing to say, and I'm not even Christian. Have you ever read the new testament? The actual person of Jesus (that we know) is by far the most redeeming aspect of Catholicism.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • Lionly Lamb

      Still trying to not sell the steak but sell the sizzle..? The meat of your nature is but a narrow minded sham meant to be pleasing to the palettes of the unwary and uneducated weaklings who have relinquished their psychic connotations toward becoming automatons of social ambivalences ever being herded toward whatever is willed upon their simple minded pleasures... This world is "toxified" with an overabundance of carcinogens brought about thru all crude oils and their carcinogenic byproducts waylaying a myriad of sicknesses and illnesses just by coming into contact with such byproducts made from "carcinified" crude oils...



      September 19, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • Lionly Lamb



      September 19, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • stillwaiting aka Basho1644

      Precisely. Please save us from these people and the BS with which they've been fouling the world for millenia now.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  10. grandpareggie

    Makes a person wonder what the Pope is covering up now....

    September 19, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  11. joe

    MAN do I like this Pope – what an enlightened guy – actually makes me think that organized religion has a prospect for the future in an enlightened society of the 21st century. GO POPE

    September 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  12. Giggidy

    I agree, leave gays alone. And wish they would leave us alone as well. They not only demand the city hold a gay pride parade, the demand we and Our families march in it. Why can't they "leave us alone"?

    September 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Michael

      Name the city where gays have DEMANDED the city to hold a gay pride parade (what's stopping the city from saying no?) and also where families are being pressured into going. Come on, it shouldn't be hard to name. I won't hold my breath, though.

      Another "Christian" bearing false witness. Most likely, if you're attending those parades, it's to march your children down there and tell them to yell obscenities and proclaim hatred for those participating.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • sam

      Gay people try to make you march in parades?? Where the hell do you live?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Alane

      Who is demanding that you and your family participate in a Gay Pride Parade. This sounds made up.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • FreeThought

      I imagine the solution to that is to not go to the parade and try to deal. Much as I ignore St. Patrick's Day idiocy, and other non-believers have to deal with various Easter and Christmas parades (funny how those are perfectly ok in your book).

      September 19, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • Cunning Stunts

      Did they use a cattle prod on you, or held you at gunpoint ?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  13. tony

    Of course There is no absolute 100.00000000000000000000000 . . . 000000000000000000 % proof whether there is a god or no god., nor whether there are unicorns somewhere in the universe.

    But there is overwhelming evidence of the laws of physics not being tampered with for the last 13 Billion years, and zero evidence of a deity actually doing anything. So one case is almost infinitely more likely than the other.

    Which kinda kills the silly argument that you can't prove the non-existence of god as being an equivalent value counter to the request to prove the existence of a really, really, unlikely god.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Boch

      No evidence of God doing anything? Read the bible! He parted the red sea! He made time stand still! He even made a donkey talk!

      September 19, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
      • jcguy25

        What proof do you have that God parted the red sea? Because it says so in the Bible is NOT proof. The Bible is a collection of writings by men, interpreted by men, and compiled by men.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
      • tony

        Then he also "parted" the seas to make the recent Tsunamis which slaghtered 250,000 innocents. And you want to worship that thing?

        September 19, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
      • James

        If i walked into some of the more conservative christian churches in my area, and since i live in the deep south that's about all of them. I held up a sacred text which I said is in truth called the Quran, and said this is the truth I have ready it. The book tells me so, it claims to have one god who tells us how to live our lives, where we came from, and what happens to us after we die. All you need to know in life is contained within this book of truth. I suspect i'd probably be shot, or told to leave the the least. They wouldn't believe me any more than I do. So why should reading a different text called the Bible be any different. what makes it the truth over any of these other books I wonder.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:33 pm |

        Godless Vagabond
        I think Boch is pulling our sarcasm chain.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • raforrester

      How can you prove that the laws of physics haven't been tampered with? I see evidence of God every day, on a local, personal, inescapable level. The fact that you don't see it means nothing. You could be blind or unwilling to see it.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
      • tony

        And not biased instead of checking for the causes of the effect you see. Like finding out lightning does come from Thor's spears

        September 19, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
        • raforrester

          I always question whether I am biased, and whether something that happens is scientifically based, and I have plenty of scientific training at the masters and PhD level to question it with. I'm not talking about things that are simply mysterious. They happen all the time in scientific contexts I'm talking about things in which science isn't even a factor. But I know a mere posting will not persuade you. Try reading the book, "Proof of Heaven." It is an account by a neurosurgeon who was brain-dead in a coma for a week and had experiences that he knows he could not have had based on his brain activity.

          September 19, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • Live4Him

      Obviously, you believe there is a God – else you wouldn't waste your time posting on an article concerning this God.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
      • cedar rapids

        another example of poor logical thinking there.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
      • Michael

        What else does this Bizarro World logic apply to? If someone posts in a topic about ghosts or alien abductions, does that mean that they believe in those things as well?

        If a crazed right winger pooh-poohs global warming in a post, is that evidence that the crazed right winger believes in global warming?

        September 19, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • Carolynn

      You of the Athiest Religion, who deny God and spout your doctrine to take hope away from the world. We know who you serve and see your chains. But, for those of us who know there is God and there is hope and we look forward to the day you know this for yourself.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  14. AV

    I am annoyed that CNN went from a headline that said, "I am a sinner" and changed it to "Leave gays alone". This is annoying, because one is a direct quote; the other is not. One expresses honest admission of fallibility and humility. The other misrepresents and undermines the overall message.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • JOHN

      "I am a Sinner" doesn't advance the agenda.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  15. Sid

    so why stand for anything? might as well fall for everything; so murders, atheists, gays, abusers, etc are all going to heaven?? and we cannot judge or discern what is right or wrong?? the pope has no clue as to what the Bible means or stands for

    September 19, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • kathryn


      September 19, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • Bob

      Since the bible is so inconsistent and self-contradictory, no one else knows "what it means or stands for" either. Just like every other religion, his just picks and chooses what it wants out of it.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • snowboarder

      of course, because not standing for what you think they should stand for means they don't stand for anything. what a dunce.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • SoldierOfConscience

      Spot on Sid. ch1ld m0lesters. Murderers. Theives. everyone is OK.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  16. Patrick

    In just a few years the quality of comments on articles like this has deteriorated quite dramatically. It isn't even worth trying to have a conversation here anymore; all you do is make poorly spelled declarations and condemnations. Public education in this nation is a failure, the evidence is right here.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  17. marylikeHismama


    September 19, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  18. Just an American

    The catholic church is so last century. They are irrelevant to the new paradigm that is unfolding. So they have a jesuit pope that is acting like a human, fools...

    September 19, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
  19. AtheistHuman

    "Leave gays alone"... So our priests can molest them instead. Good one pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
  20. bitnar

    I am no longer a catholic due to the required all or nothing acceptance of doctrine. However, I find this pope very interesting. "The people of God want pastors," Francis continued, "not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials." That's a good start.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:08 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.