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. beth

    I love this Pope. He is such a breath of fresh air and is so humble, open and kind.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • dope pope

      Yeah he really is. Its almost like he's too normal and and has his head on too straight to be even be a part of this whackjob cult. Im convinced he's trying to destroy it, which would rule by the way.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  2. Jesus

    Luke 6.37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned"

    September 19, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
  3. Jesus

    Luke 6:37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned"

    September 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • Frank

      I hope Jesus was condemned to burn in hell for the lies he spread.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  4. justino

    this has nothing to do with the God of the Bible

    September 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  5. Frank

    God hates flags!

    Who cares where someone comes from? They all deserve to be treated with dignity. Fight for immigration reform!

    September 19, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  6. Could it be that people are leaving the Catholic Church and in need of other funds?

    I've heard of people leaving the Catholic Church by large numbers. Maybe this is a way to find new people new found money.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  7. Reality

    Dear Francis,

    Your words fall on deaf ears. Why is that?

    The Apostles'/Agnostics’ Creed 2013: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (references used are available upon request)

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

      If the Pope is going to leave you alone, you should do the same for Catholics and all Christians on earth. Practice Humility.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
      • sam

        Kind of hard to avoid you noisy buggers. You breed like rabbits.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • Marci


      September 19, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • Theunknown

      I would like to see these references

      September 19, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
      • Reality

        From Professors Crossan and Watts' book, Who is Jesus.

        "That Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, as the Creed states, is as certain as anything historical can ever be.

        “ The Jewish historian, Josephus and the pagan historian Tacitus both agree that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea. And is very hard to imagine that Jesus' followers would have invented such a story unless it indeed happened.

        “While the brute fact that of Jesus' death by crucifixion is historically certain, however, those detailed narratives in our present gospels are much more problematic. "

        “My best historical reconstruction would be something like this. Jesus was arrested during the Passover festival, most likely in response to his action in the Temple. Those who were closest to him ran away for their own safety.

        I do not presume that there were any high-level confrontations between Caiaphas and Pilate and Herod Antipas either about Jesus or with Jesus. No doubt they would have agreed before the festival that fast action was to be taken against any disturbance and that a few examples by crucifixion might be especially useful at the outset. And I doubt very much if Jewish police or Roman soldiers needed to go too far up the chain of command in handling a Galilean peasant like Jesus. It is hard for us to imagine the casual brutality with which Jesus was probably taken and executed. All those "last week" details in our gospels, as distinct from the brute facts just mentioned, are prophecy turned into history, rather than history remembered."

        See also Professor Crossan's reviews of the existence of Jesus in his other books especially, The Historical Jesus and also Excavating Jesus (with Professor Jonathan Reed doing the archeology discussion) .

        Other NT exegetes to include members of the Jesus Seminar have published similar books with appropriate supporting references.

        Part of Crossan's The Historical Jesus has been published online at books.google.com/books.

        There is also a search engine for this book on the right hand side of the opening page. e.g. Search Josephus

        See also Wikipedia's review on the historical Jesus to include the Tacitus' reference to the crucifixion of Jesus.

        From ask.com,

        "One of the greatest historians of ancient Rome, Cornelius Tacitus is a primary source for much of what is known about life the first and second centuries after the life of Jesus. His most famous works, Histories and Annals, exist in fragmentary form, though many of his earlier writings were lost to time. Tacitus is known for being generally reliable (if somewhat biased toward what he saw as Roman immorality) and for having a uniquely direct (if not blunt) writing style.

        Then there are these scriptural references:

        Crucifixion of Jesus:(1) 1 Cor 15:3b; (2a) Gos. Pet. 4:10-5:16,18-20; 6:22; (2b) Mark 15:22-38 = Matt 27:33-51a = Luke 23:32-46; (2c) John 19:17b-25a,28-36; (3) Barn. 7:3-5; (4a) 1 Clem. 16:3-4 (=Isaiah 53:1-12); (4b) 1 Clem. 16.15-16 (=Psalm 22:6-8); (5a) Ign. Mag. 11; (5b) Ign. Trall. 9:1b; (5c) Ign. Smyrn. 1.2.- (read them all at wiki.faithfutures. Crucifixion org/index.php/005_Crucifixion_Of_Jesus )

        Added suggested readings:

        o 1. Historical Jesus Theories, earlychristianwritings.com/theories.htm – the names of many of the contemporary historical Jesus scholars and the ti-tles of their over 100 books on the subject.

        2. Early Christian Writings, earlychristianwritings.com/
        – a list of early Christian doc-uments to include the year of publication–

        30-60 CE Passion Narrative
        40-80 Lost Sayings Gospel Q
        50-60 1 Thessalonians
        50-60 Philippians
        50-60 Galatians
        50-60 1 Corinthians
        50-60 2 Corinthians
        50-60 Romans
        50-60 Philemon
        50-80 Colossians
        50-90 Signs Gospel
        50-95 Book of Hebrews
        50-120 Didache
        50-140 Gospel of Thomas
        50-140 Oxyrhynchus 1224 Gospel
        50-200 Sophia of Jesus Christ
        65-80 Gospel of Mark
        70-100 Epistle of James
        70-120 Egerton Gospel
        70-160 Gospel of Peter
        70-160 Secret Mark
        70-200 Fayyum Fragment
        70-200 Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
        73-200 Mara Bar Serapion
        80-100 2 Thessalonians
        80-100 Ephesians
        80-100 Gospel of Matthew
        80-110 1 Peter
        80-120 Epistle of Barnabas
        80-130 Gospel of Luke
        80-130 Acts of the Apostles
        80-140 1 Clement
        80-150 Gospel of the Egyptians
        80-150 Gospel of the Hebrews
        80-250 Christian Sibyllines
        90-95 Apocalypse of John
        90-120 Gospel of John
        90-120 1 John
        90-120 2 John
        90-120 3 John
        90-120 Epistle of Jude
        93 Flavius Josephus
        100-150 1 Timothy
        100-150 2 Timothy
        100-150 T-itus
        100-150 Apocalypse of Peter
        100-150 Secret Book of James
        100-150 Preaching of Peter
        100-160 Gospel of the Ebionites
        100-160 Gospel of the Nazoreans
        100-160 Shepherd of Hermas
        100-160 2 Peter

        3. Historical Jesus Studies, faithfutures.org/HJstudies.html,
        – "an extensive and constantly expanding literature on historical research into the person and cultural context of Jesus of Nazareth"
        4. Jesus Database, faithfutures.org/JDB/intro.html–"The JESUS DATABASE is an online annotated inventory of the traditions concerning the life and teachings of Jesus that have survived from the first three centuries of the Common Era. It includes both canonical and extra-canonical materials, and is not limited to the traditions found within the Christian New Testament."
        5. Josephus on Jesus mtio.com/articles/bissar24.htm
        6. The Jesus Seminar, mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/seminar.html#Criteria
        7. Writing the New Testament- mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/testament.html
        8. Health and Healing in the Land of Israel By Joe Zias
        9. Economics in First Century Palestine, K.C. Hanson and D. E. Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, Fortress Press,
        20. The New Testament Gateway – Internet NT ntgateway.com/
        21. Writing the New Testament- existing copies, oral tradition etc.
        22. The Search for the Historic Jesus by the Jesus Seminarians:
        23. Jesus Decoded by Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco (Da Vinci Code review)jesusdecoded.com/introduction.php
        24. JD Crossan's scriptural references for his book the Historical Jesus separated into time periods: faithfutures.org/Jesus/Crossan1.rtf
        25. JD Crossan's conclusions about the authencity of most of the NT based on the above plus the conclusions of other NT exegetes in the last 200 years:
        26. Common Sayings from Thomas's Gospel and the Q Gospel: faithfutures.org/Jesus/Crossan3.rtf
        27. Early Jewish Writings- Josephus and his books by t-itle with the complete translated work in English :earlyjewishwritings.com/josephus.html
        28. Luke and Josephus- was there a connection?
        29. NT and beyond time line:
        30. St. Paul's Time line with discussion of important events:
        31. See http://www.amazon.com for a list of JD Crossan's books and those of the other Jesus Seminarians: Reviews of said books are included and selected pages can now be viewed on Amazon. Some books can be found on-line at Google Books.
        32. Father Edward Schillebeeckx's words of wisdom as found in his books.
        33. The books of the following : Professors Marcus Borg, Paula Fredriksen, Elaine Pagels, Karen Armstrong and Bishop NT Wright.
        34. Father Raymond Brown's An Introduction to the New Testament, Doubleday, NY, 1977, 878 pages, with Nihil obstat and Imprimatur.
        35. Luke Timothy Johnson's book The Real Jesus

        September 19, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • Ed

      You forgot the most important fact of Jesus's life, he arose from the dead on the third day and stayed on this earth for 40 day before ascending into heaven. Without this fact, he would have been just another good mortal man who lived and died. Without the resurrection, the Christian faith is as mere dust and weeds, for it showed Him to be God and the existence of a new life for all those believing in Him. Amen.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
      • Reality

        Saving Christians from the Resurrection Con Game:

        From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

        Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

        To wit;

        From a major Catholic university's theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:

        "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
        Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

        Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

        Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

        The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

        Only Luke's Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

        "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."

        With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

        o An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,
        o "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

        o p.168. by Ted Peters:
        Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. "

        o So where are the bones"? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, covered with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
  8. Roman

    This new pope is a wolf in sheep's clothing; teaching anti-Christ doctrine.

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

      Hey Roman, let's go bowling!

      September 19, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • dannyC

      Actually he's teaching what Jesus said instead of all the other posers in the bible.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • questions

      Ok Rick Santorum, we knew you were gearing up for a fight with dems, but now the catholic church??? lol, what a loser.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  9. Ferathka

    Dont matter what anyone says. The haters are still gonna hate....because that is the only thing they know how to do.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
  10. Douglas

    Thank you Pope Francis for affirming what I have been saying all along.

    Gay intimate relations are inconsistent with Bible teaching...but we need to reach out and
    assist our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in their pursuit of salvation.

    Encouraging celibacy, not forcing it, is a first step toward reconciliation.

    Viva Il Papa!

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

      Gay intimate relations are inconsistent with Bible teaching
      Which is the same as saying: ".....relations are inconsistent with the OPINIONS of the HUMAN authors of the bible."

      September 19, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Jesus

      Luke 6 37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned

      September 19, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
      • ALB529

        Telling people what thus said the Lord is not judging. The act of punishing someone for breaking the law is judging.

        September 19, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • ME II

      The history of the world is inconsistent with Biblical teachings.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  11. ScottCA

    Got to love how the rules can conveniently change, I thought they had their guidance from god? did their deity suddenly decide to forgive them after centuries of persecution and cruelty? How convenient for the catholic church to suddenly change their minds about persecuting, enacting forms of cruelty upon, and socially ostracising them. How very convenient for these conmen. I am not fooled in the least by them, and no one else should be.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • Paul

      The rules have not changed. Jesus was very clear – he said don't judge. Perhaps you should try that approach.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
      • doobzz

        So Jesus said one thing and for the last 2000 or so years the RCC has done the opposite. Got it.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
        • ScottCA

          Con men who change their interpretation whenever they feel like it.

          I thought the popes teachings were guided by god, I guess gods not all that good at communicating with the pope.

          September 19, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
  12. JOHN

    I wonder if the Priest that went ballistic because I told him in Confession that I got my hand in Geraldine's shirt at the drive in wasn't playing with Teenage boys after hearing confessions.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  13. Total Existence Theory

    God is Love.


    September 19, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • snowboarder

      that is an odd definition of god.

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

      that is one kooky website.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  14. Jon Dane

    Now I'm beginning to see how and why this guy got elected. He's just along for the ride.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  15. Big_D

    Wow he is closing my distance from the church. It is nice to see a Catholic Pope that is spiritual not political again.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  16. Maggie

    The Pope is trying to not alienate anyone because the Catholic Church is losing members right and left and few men are going into the priesthood. He figures if he's kind and soft spoken that will be enough. Well, I don't agree...nothing has changed, all the Church's doctrines remain the same. I believe many priests were and are Gay whether they admit it or not, and women are treated as second class citizens. The Church has one option,
    change their policies or die a slow death.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • Sam

      That's two options?

      September 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  17. eric

    Pope: Start prosecuting pedophile priests.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • JOHN

      Believe me they are doing just that QUIETLY.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  18. Lionly Lamb

    How Hemp Threatens the Corporatocracy | Brainwash Update V


    September 19, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  19. DFisher

    This is probably more public relations then anything else – the church has a long, long, long way to go in taking substantive actions to support the Pope's words.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:41 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.