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. Not the Church

    OK, Mr. Pope guy...one thing that really stinks about the church is that women really take a hit and the illusion of men over women definitely exists...so, can you lose that please? thanks.

    And priests really should be able to get married. Separate their finances if inheritance is the issue. Jesus was a little anti-family, but maybe he was just young (or gay?). Anyway...his hatred of women is a bit too obvious. Perhaps a sign of the times when patriarchy was pretty strong.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      I've heard many a Christian defend their stance on women by saying "Women must be treasured, as the bible says, they are the weaker vessel and Christian husbands should treat them as a co-pilot..." which is all well and good until you ask why can't women who work hard enough ever become the pilot? To which their argument falls to the ground in a sniveling retreat of "Well, God made man to be the head of the woman, so that's why men get to make all the final decisions..." which amounts to "Because God said so!" with no actual reason or logic to back it up.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
  2. larry kouns

    once again the socialists and Marxists believe all religions go through Rome, Provo or Tom Cruise's living room. A major portion of the Protestant branches of Christianity have believed one should love the person but hate the lifestyle. But for our 'forward thinking' associates in the media to get that would mean they have to open their eyes and minds to an unfortunate truth.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  3. Timothy

    Many people will hate this, but the more I hear about this pope, he is just creepy, he is either gay himself or a pedophile.

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

      Wow, really? I could say the same about you, since you know about him as much as we know about you.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  4. Jack 2

    You people have been duped by this gay rights farce. This is a selfish perversion that has been glorified by the gays in the media. Aids has killed millions from this perversion and everyone ignores it. There's aids in our blood supply at a higher rate than you think. why should these people have special rights to practice their perversion?

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

      Hey dumbass – gay people are banned from giving blood, so I guess it's those dirty straights that have all the AIDS.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
      • Jack 2

        You're the one that's not smart. Where do you think it started and how can they know if a person is lying to them. You sound pretty naive. Calling someone a name like over the internet that is pretty whimpy of you.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          HIV did not start as a gay disease.

          September 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
        • sam

          AIDS was transferred when some idiot cut himself while hunting bush meat.

          Get an actual education. Until then, you're a dumbass.

          September 19, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  5. andylarue

    For the athiests in the crowd, although there are many aspects of any church that are distasteful and ridiculous, the are aspect of any church that are beneficial to society. First there are many people that have no hope and I am not talking about religion, what I mean is hope for there future and for the "planet". The church gives some people a sense of belonging that they cant get anywhere else. This gives them hope and allows them to interact with other and possibly give and get help. Forget about the idea that the church is only there to make money. There are many good and great people that count themselves among the religious. Some people only go for the community aspect of religion and some are there because they have an inate need to help others. So before you totally discredit religion think about the good it does, the hope it bring to people and its ability to change peoples lives for the better.

    I myself am a moral person and I am not religious but I do beleive that it serves a worthy purpose.

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

      It's "atheists," not "athiests."

      September 19, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  6. ann

    Why wouldn't the Pope approve of gays? After all most of them are gay and child molesters!!

    September 19, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  7. robertholt

    A church of any denomination that tells gays that being gay is ok, is interfering spiritually in their lives. It's one thing to have gays attend church. It's another to lie to them and tell them that their lifestyle is ok. A good church will speak the truth in love and tell them that what they are doing is wrong.

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

      Dollars to donuts, I doubt your 'lifestyle' is okay either.

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

      If the Church were to say that Christmas is no longer a Holy Day Of Obligation would these people rush to put out an article?
      I think not.
      But if the Pope says anything that can be twisted into an approval of their perversion they burn up their word processors to get it in print.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • JWT

      How is their life wrong ?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  8. Luis

    The interview is 16 pages long, and the pope said many, many things. However he did not said "leave gays alone" what is stated on the headline, CNN is spinning the news as usual. It's not even the most important or shocking part if the interview.

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

      He's astounding many people. If only he could get over that prejudice about women being priests he'd be a real breath of fresh air which is what the Catholic Church desperately needs.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  9. DerpDDerperson

    I'm an atheist. That said, I recognize the role that religion plays in society and I've decided that, as far as my own beliefs are concerned, it is a necessary thing. For all the wrong that religion has done throughout history, I shudder to think what would have become of us if vast swathes of humanity didn't have their faith to cling to. Going further, I kind of like this pope guy, sticks to his guns on some issues but shows some real forward thinking in the statements I've read.

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

      I'm with you. I think he wants the best for everyone, as he sees it, and within the confines of the Catholic faith. This is one guy who's not going to hide scandals.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  10. confused

    I knew this would drive the right nuts.. ops

    September 19, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  11. Doc Vestibule

    "The people of God want pastors," Francis continued, "not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials."
    I think he nailed it right there.
    His predecessor was a career bureaucrat.
    He was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the author of the 'Crimen Sollicitationis', which outlined how the church is to handle accusations of se.xual impropriety against clergy (swear everyone to secrecy upon penalty of excommunication, move the priest to a new parish).
    The RCC earned its reputation as an inst/itution primarily concerned with the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its as.sets.
    The new guy is doing a good job of helping to change that perception.
    He is publically trying to exemplify core Christian virtues like humility, charity and compa.ssion. He isn't afraid to dine with publicans and sinners or to wash the feet of the poor.
    He's a PR boon for the Vatican – and God knows they need it! (pun intended)

    September 19, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  12. Tad

    Well Hallelujah! This Pope sounds to me like he is a Christian [you know, a follower of Christ]!

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

      Why, because he approves perversion. Sounds to me like he's sellout like Obama when he flip flopped for votes. This popes opinion means nothing. He's not a god or a messenger from god. He's in a made up position

      September 19, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
      • sam

        Go back under your bridge, right winger troll.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
  13. G

    2Ti 4:3-4 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

    Mat 7:15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.

    Rom 1:20-22 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools,

    1Jo 2:15-17 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

    Many Christians these days are weak or misinformed. The pope is no exception. Weak. Be humble, repent, and regain your strength. Christ is the only way to salvation.

    And as for those whom do not believe, your words here will bear witness to your own blind hatred of people and teachings you do not understand. May God open your eyes.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      How can you be sure that it's not you who is the false prophet?

      September 19, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
  14. Jack 2


    September 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  15. Jay

    Wow – one might think the Pope was a Democrat (closer to a modern democrat than a modern Republician).

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

      err no, it's called simple human decency

      September 19, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "Wow – one might think the Pope was a Democrat (closer to a modern democrat than a modern Republician)."
      If he isn't careful, he'll shift so far to the left that he'll be almost like Jesus.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Cy Mann

      Wow, cool Pope, may actually give Catholicism another shot.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  16. BOB

    New headline.....


    Who gives a rat's axx? Why is this headline news?

    But at least, CNN, you toned down the font a bit today. So there's that.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  17. Johnny 5

    Say Beetlejuice three times and that'll get rid of your sins.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  18. Reality

    "The people of God want pastors," Francis continued.

    But there is no god or gods so what are the people to do? Pink slip their pastors for starters.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  19. David

    As an atheist. I love how society gawks at what the Pope says about gay rights more than what he says about God. You religious people need to get your priorities straight.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      Religion: the original reality TV ... without the reality!

      September 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
      • Just the Facts Ma'am...

        with 1000 times the gossip and flawed people judging other flawed people...

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

      Nothing wrong with Faith, maybe you should get your "priorities" right instead.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:25 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.