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. publicdole

    As are all the BS rules. Nothing but a con job to instill fear into the ignorant to open up their wallets in fear of hell.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  2. Schep

    Good PR, pope. Good pope. Now sit. Stay. Staaaaaaaay.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
  3. brasstacs

    Even the pope is caving in to liberal PC...Next he'll be lighting up a joint.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  4. Wisdom

    The Pope is gay just like the rest of those priests. Read 50 Years in The Church of Rome, and read Alberto Rivera ex Jesuit priest.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  5. Sherri

    The man (and he IS just a man) is a hypocrite. He says women should play a key role. But also says women can do secondary or inferior. Well, we've heard that before. Secondary and inferior mean just that. Inferior. So the Catholic church does not consider women equal. It is 2013 and women are still taking secondary and inferior status. I am not Catholic, but if I was, I would boycott this church so fast your head would spin. Let the men do the inferior roles. Until women are regarded as equal, they should not participate in this hypocritical organization. Use your talents where you will be appreciated. As equal.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • Daddy_2010

      It's a choice.
      Move on.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • Beth

      As a former catholic, I know that the pope can only do so much. His power isn't limitless. The doctrine that bans female priests is a core belief- one that not even the pope can change. If he so much as attempted, he'd be removed faster than he could do anything. What's so extraordinary about this pope is that he's focusing on female roles within the church at all

      September 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
      • My Dog is a jealous Dog

        Are you implying that he would be assassinated, or is there an actual procedure for removing the pope, like impeachment? Sorry I am not familiar with the internal procedures of the Vatican. Maybe I should be asking Bill Deacon, our favorite authority on all things catholic.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • Forrestal

      You're perfectly within your rights not to go there. No one's say you have to accept or attend.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • Live4Him

      Your post makes you sound like you're committed to the sin of Eve.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  6. New and Improved Bob

    Stand up for women next, Pope. Then the poor. Then Hispanics. Then Blacks. Then the poor – again. Then the children....

    September 19, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  7. Cinny

    The media runs with this junk putting words in the mouths of others assuming as usual. True we are not to judge blah blah blah we all do. The point is stop taking things out of context. We all have the right to choose how to live our lives. Jesus loved any sinner. He is the judge. Our consequences of this life will be dealt with. Ugh judgment judgment so sick of the word!!!!

    September 19, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  8. FajitaBob

    I really do love this Pope. He has done so much good in such a short time. But I must have missed the part where he said leave gays alone. Or was that just added by the C N N editorial staff? I, of course, believe all people should be allowed their personal freedom, and this has been part of the Church's teaching. But the Church also does say some things are right and some are wrong. That's not a judgement on people, but it is a judgement on actoins.

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

      Turning those beliefs into laws that discriminate against people IS a judgment against them, and it's something that churches have supported until relatively recently. Many of them still do, unfortunately.

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

        Michael: Churches do not create laws. If you want tohe government to marry you, go take it up with the government. The churches you are railing against, only want to follow their own rules. If you do not belong to a church, their rules do not apply to you. For the record, no legit church has said they disagree with civil unions, but that they don't want to be forced to perform them. just as you may not want to be forced to do something. Imagine if you didn't eat meat, but the law said now everyone must eat meat.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
        • sam

          Nice attempt to dodge. Churches whip their parishoners into supporting bullshit like prop 8, donating millions to affect someone else's life when it doesn't even change anything in their own.

          September 19, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
  9. JOHN

    Who is the idijit that designed this website?

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

    Why this is front page news is beyond me. No one cares what the poop thinks unless you're catholic so peddle his views on some catholic website.

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

      Linda: obviously you care. As do a LOT of people. You really are full of hate, aren't you? Heal thyself, woman.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • Ronzo

      On the contrary, many people DO care what the head of the Catholic Church thinks. But, of course, you knew that and your post is just a bigoted rant.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  11. Schep

    He want people to smell like sheep? huh?

    September 19, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      "I swear officer! I was just trying to push this sheep through the fence with my hips..."

      September 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  12. 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 2:28 pm |
    • Lionly Lamb



      September 19, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • Jay in Florida

      That's a pretty good paragraph. I had teacher of literature who warned us never to write in figured speech, as it was ambiguous. But what is most funny about my memories of my teacher is that he warned us against embellishing the language because we were too prone to make mistakes, and because usually... an embellished paragraph would only impress whoever wrote it. In this case, you've fantastically impressed no one but yourself. Congratulations on being your own hero, in your own mind.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  13. Reality

    And Francis still holds on to the inanity of original sin !!! But then, he has no choice as eliminating said sin would cause all kinds of theological disasters. ( Baptisms not needed, no Immaculate Conception, no Assumption, mythical Adam and Eve finally get the needed boot from the mythical paradise and limbo gets a well deserved listing as Dark Age craziness).

    September 19, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  14. New and Improved Bob

    Finally, a Christian Pope..

    September 19, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  15. ncsubvet

    2 Timothy 4:3-4

    September 19, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
  16. tony

    There is no absolute 100.00000000000000000000000 . . . 000000000000000000 % proof whether there is a god or no god., nor whether there are unicorns or not 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 2:27 pm |
    • Jesus Loves You

      If you will only open your eyes then you will see...

      Look around, everything you see , even your very life was created by Him. How anything in this world can be of existence without a creator. When you see an artwork, could you deny that there was an artist who created it. Everything you see, your system in your body, digestive system, nervous system, DNA and everything. These are billion times more complex than an artwork that you could see in a gallery. How could you deny the Almighty Creator?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
      • What is going on? FREEDOM

        I was created through myself. God never got me to where I am today. My abilities, my intelligence, and my strength got me to where I am.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
      • Matt Foley

        You must be new here.


        September 19, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • Live4Him

      What's really silly is a post like yours. You claim that there is no proof, while acting as if there is sufficient proof by posting on this article concerning such God.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
      • Deflator

        No one has ever produced any proof of a god or gods, ever. If you think you have some, please share.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  17. Cruzkit

    I think the Pope understands that the Church must change or die... If you look at the history of the Church you will understand that it has changed before and will do so again. Will women become priests? With gay people be aloud to join the Church without restrictions? With priest be able to marry? Today-No. In the future-Probably.

    Beware that other things are also changing-Christianity is a tree with to many branches-(Mormons/Protestant etc.) it will need to consolidate and I see the Catholic Church leading the way in this manner.

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

      You need to read the whole article and not the distortion that CNN has conjured up.


      September 19, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
  18. New and Improved Bob

    Too bad Rick Warren wasn't Catholic when his son was alive.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  19. John

    First of all, Jesus was never like the Pope we have right now. Jesus was never afraid of telling the woman accused of adultery to go and "sin no more." He was never afraid of asking the "woman at the well" to "loose the guy she has right now" and many other examples. The Pope should know better than to smile at "unions." At the garden of Eden, God blessed Adam and Eve and said to them "be fruitful and multiply." Gays and Lesbians can't do this naturally. That's why Sodom was doomed coz these unions are essentially "anti-men." They can't bring forth men!

    September 19, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • Cunning Stunts

      1) Soddom & Gamhora had nothing to do with Gay people.
      2) There was Adam & Lilith, before Adam & Eve.
      3) If you believe in the Adam & Eve story, all of mankind comes from incest.
      4) Get off your soap box.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  20. hopiex12013

    For something that does not exist, atheists sure do talk about God a lot.

    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.