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. Jim Jefferson

    How irresponsible of him

    September 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • Yo Babby

      Ya, cuz you know more about everything than everyone. The pope is beneath you. lol.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
  2. Kevin

    I personally do not have any problem with GLBT community. But I've seen some gays married straight women and and ruined their lives and that made me feel really sick. GLBT, please leave straight women alone!!!

    September 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • Ian J

      Your personal life experiences aren't necessarily indicative of some broader reaching truth. There's no epidemic of gay men deceiving straight women into marrying them.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
    • kt

      Maybe those marriages were people trying desperately to fit in to a society that has often had no place for them. Imagine how painful it must be to have to hide who you are and pretend you're someone or something else because you won't be accepted as you are. It's damaging on both sides.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • doobzz

      Did you ever stop to think about why a gay person might marry a straight person?

      September 19, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
  3. nc1965

    Well, for centuries the Catholic church allowed gay men (priest) to slam altar boys up the -a s s-, it's about time that they publicly embraced them....figuratively speaking of course.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • doobzz

      Get your brain out of 1965. Gay and pedophile are not synonyms.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  4. ann

    does he believe in child molesters?

    September 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  5. SkepticalOne

    I'm starting to like this guy and I don't do that easily when it comes to heads of churches.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
  6. Bobbie

    Finally a pope with a message I can agree with!

    September 19, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • Esteban Herrera

      Which means he's not doing his job. Then again, Catholicism=/=Christianity.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        Depends on who you ask. There's no way to prove it, either way. This isn't math or chemistry, you know. Just opinions.

        Since there is no standard way to measure who is and who isn't a Christian, or even a way to determine whether any Christian doctrine is true at all, Christianity=/=truth.

        September 19, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • Dave

      Me too, except for the deity business.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  7. This pope is a disgrace before God

    God will send this imposter to hell.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • SkepticalOne

      The voices in your head are not God.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • Yo Babby

      lol. Hate much?

      September 19, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
      • doobzz

        Spell much?

        September 19, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  8. Lenny Pincus

    Weird to hear a RC religious leader sound like Jesus. They usually sound like John Birch.

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

    I liked Pope Francis from the moment he was first introduced. Why should anyone interfere with LGBT individuals ? These people are also human and should be treated equally... period. My wife and I started going to this church, and the second weekend, the pastor yelled "Gays and lesbians are an abomination !". Needless to say, we never went back. We had two neighbors that were gay, and they were the nicest people you'd want to meet.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • This pope is a disgrace before God

      You like him because he's a liar and he represents the true corruption of the catholic church.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
      • Religion is NOT healthy for children and other living things

        Your bigotry and hatred are very sad and unnecessary! YOU are obviously NOT a true follower of Christ in any way, shape or form! Does it not bother you that a confirmed ATHEIST has to point this out to you? You should be ashamed.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • Jack 2

      Your neighbors are gay and they're the nicest people you could meet? You barley know them. Believe me, they are some of the most self centered people in the world if they are gay.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
      • sam

        Jack...you fantasize more about gay people than actual gay people do. Get that checked out.

        He 'barley' knows them? Are you sure you're rye about that?

        September 19, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
      • Jack 2

        Sam...I think you're the one with the problem. I'm out here protectour children and the morals of this country. I think you are a practicing gay. your default accuzation of saying I'm fantasizing is just the usuall mindless reply. Oh , and excuse me for mistyping. I know you've never done that. You are the one that backs perversion and probabaly does it yourself. People like you are the dirtbags of society

        September 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
        • sam

          How do you find time to play on the internet when you should be polishing your foil hat?

          Dumbass. 'Protecting our children'. What a joke.

          September 19, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
        • doobzz

          "I think you are a practicing gay."

          LOL, LOL!!!

          September 19, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  10. Umm, no

    This fool asked the question "Who am I to judge?" Are you serious? The pope is going to pose a question to the sheep? I thought this clown was supposed to be taking care of God's flock before He returns for final judgement of sin. This pathetic imposter should be judging while the final judge prepares His Day of Final Judgement.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • Ol' judgy mc judge judge

      man, judgmental much?

      September 19, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  11. FastEddie

    The culture war is over and the good guys won. Sorry, evangelical wack jobs, you're on the losing side.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  12. cooluser

    Considering that most of the clergy has been gay for generations as is well know, he's just admitting it.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  13. Val

    A breath of fresh air! Viva Il Papa!

    September 19, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • doobzz

      When will he tell us that Crimen sollicitationis was a mistake?

      September 19, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  14. Laura

    First, people are upset because the Catholic Church condemns gay people, hates gay people, etc. Now, the same people are still unsatisfied when the Catholic Church says not to judge gay people, but to accept them. Makes no sense. Live and let live.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • Michael

      These people must be the ones that live in your head, that you make up to justify your contempt for groups that you don't like. I have been nothing but appreciative of Francis' comments towards the gay community. He's a breath of fresh air compared to what came before.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
      • Laura

        Have you read the comments, Michael? They are still unsatisfied and just downright insulting. I don't really have contempt for anyone, in fact. And I also don't really view people in "groups" – I look at them as individuals, or at least I try to.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • sandra

      sorry it is gainst my religion to accept there life style i do nor disrespect the ones i know but they also respect how i feel from the religious point of view . they can not help who they love as long as they do not mess with me they are ok .

      September 19, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
      • Laura

        No one can make you like their actions. But so long as there is a mutual respect for the person, then I still say live and let live.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
      • In Santa we trust

        And that doesn't make you question your religion?

        September 19, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  15. NahUh

    He needs to be impeach, now!

    September 19, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
  16. Umm, no

    I would be more impressed with this pope if he stood up for the truth and said it like it is, gays are WRONG.

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

      No-YOU are wrong.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  17. JLS639

    There is nothing new here. The pope is saying don't be a jerk in a long-winded way. Clergy and worshipers who already behaved this way will listen and those that did not, I think, will not. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
  18. John Calvin II

    The Pope sounds like he's committed apostacy.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
  19. Tim

    You know, he seems like a nice guy. I could care less about his church, but he's a nice guy.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • Athy

      Could care less, or couldn't care less? Which is it? You have me confused.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  20. joe

    I am not Catholic or even particularly religious but – Man do I like this Pope – What an enlightened person – It's amazingly refreshing to find someone so enlightened in the church especially someone in authority. It gives me hope that as a religious organization that it can adapt to accommodate an enlightened view of the rest of the world and stop persecuting people in the name of itself. You can encourage people to have faith you can’t force them to have it. Why it takes someone in the “church” to be enlightened to realize that is an incredible mystery to me.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:59 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.