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. Josh

    Apparently he thinks we shouldn't prosecute them for molesting children either

    September 19, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
  2. JMK

    CNN editors take the Pope's comments out of context in order to paint their own pet social issues in broad strokes for a front-page headline. Didn't see that one coming.

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

      If you hate CNN so much then go read something else. Say Fox News...seems right up your alley.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
  3. Bill, NY

    WOW! This is a true man of God. Humility, grace, wisdom, kindness, understanding, loving, forgiving and acknowledging that he personally is not God. This is the type of Pope the church has needed for some time now. To admit that first and foremost he is a sinner just like the rest of us. If his deeds follow his words, it will be a blessing for Catholic people all over the world.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
  4. Bubba

    The Pope is bringing the Catholic Church into the present. Who in the GOP has the courage to do the same? No one, because the GOP is completely void of real courage.

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

      The GOP is void of courage...and, oh yeah....completely irrelevant.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  5. Sea Otter (Leader of Allied Atheist Alliance)

    The Wise One: Maybe some otters do need to believe in something. Who knows, maybe just believing in God...makes God exist [thoughtful, solemn pause]
    Sea Otters: Kill the Wise One! KILL THE WISE ONE!
    [The Wise One is slaughtered by a mob of otters]

    September 19, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
  6. Jim Ross

    "MORE ON CNN: The pope said what? Six stunners from Francis"

    September 19, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
  7. Lawrence of Arabia

    "It is not possible to interfere spiritually with the life of someone."
    I whole heartedly disagree... And so does Paul... And so does Jesus...
    If that were the case, then what's the point of evangelism? Is he somehow claiming authority over that of Jesus when He told believers to go out and make disciples of all nations? How can you make disciples if you're NOT willing to interfere with someone's "spirituality?" That's exactly what Jesus did when He confronted Judaism!

    September 19, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • Ian J

      Jesus was about tolerance, acceptance, forgiveness, and peace. He was not the judgmental, hateful, bigoted sort of person that so many ardently religious people seem to be.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
      • Lawrence of Arabia

        The Bible says that Jesus was about repentance. And He went about preaching that in different ways to different people, to the Pharasees, he was a lion, calling them hypocrites to their faces while standing in large crowds of onlookers. To the woman at the well, He taught with a warm heart and a compassionate tone, and to the lame man by the pool of Bethesda, He was firm, but fair.

        One thing that Jesus was never, was tolerant of sin. Neither was He accepting of a sinful lifestyle. I don't find that anywhere in the Bible.

        In the same way, we must be loving, but firm and even stern against sin, for the outcome of a sinful lifestyle should drive us to preach the truth in love, and the truth involves condemnation for unrepentance.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  8. Eric

    Leave Gays alone? might as well- they are all going to hell.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Eric, you are an ignorant pig of a human being. There are a lot of your type in heaven strangely.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • Sea Otter (Leader of Allied Atheist Alliance)

      ...and man are they going to be happy when YOU get there Eric... they'll be lining up on you prison style...

      September 19, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • tlm

      But not before you....hell is waiting for evil people such as yourself.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • boocat

      If you believe "God" created all things, then that means "God" created gay people too. Now try to rationalize your hate-mongering....and one more thing....there is no "hell."

      September 19, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • Shawn

      Gods thoughts are not our thoughts nor are His ways our ways.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  9. Apple Bush

    Atheist of darkness sleep your eternal sleep for even the particles you leave behind will be present for the end.

    You would not want to be alive for such a thing, but to know your matter will be part of the other side of reality.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  10. Scott Campbell

    This pope seems to recognize problems and address them in a logical manner. We can not put our head in the sand on Gays, abortion etc as we must deal with this and not hope it will go away. The government should not get involved in issues that are between the person, their pastor and the Lord. If a person wants euthanasia, an abortion, or a gay marriage the course should be directed by the pastor, Lord and the person when they appear in Heaven one day and answer to their doings on the earth.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  11. This pope is a disgrace before God

    Both the United States and the Catholic Church have been corrupt for a very long time. Finally, people began to embrace it's leaders when they are ready upon the world their own lawless mouth pieces. I guess it takes a while to find someone foolish enough to take the job.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  12. Lawrence of Arabia

    "It is not possible to interfere spiritually with the life of someone."
    I whole heartedly disagree... And so does Paul... And so does Jesus...
    If that were the case, then what's the point of evangelism? Is he somehow claiming authority over that of Christ when He told believers to go out and make disciples of all nations? How can you make disciples if you're NOT willing to interfere with someone's "spirituality?" That's exactly what Jesus did when He confronted Judaism!

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

      what's the point of evangelism?
      There really isn't a point. It's essentially a set of opinions, based on information that is not available to everyone, meaning it can't possibly be relevant to everyone.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • conrad

      I think what he was trying to say is that our judgements of other people are not equal to God's judgements. We don't have the authority or capacity to impose an everlasting punishment or judgement on others. You may go out an evangelize, but ultimately each person's spiritual life is between him/her and God. Some people like to take on a very literal, harsh interpretation/enforcement of the teachings in an apparent effort to assume the role of God, but there is plenty that tells us that in the final hour God is so poweful, loving, and knows our hearts better than anyone and may in fact forgive everyone of everything. Nothing says he can't or wont – in that sense we truly have no ability to interfere with the quiet spiritual life that unfoldes secretly in each person ... and it isn't our business. God gave us one job ... to love each other.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm |


    September 19, 2013 at 3:08 pm |

      Caps lock off, please. Or you will be banned from this blog.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  14. Jim Jefferson

    I am disappointed in the Pope

    September 19, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • magicpanties

      I am disappointed in the quality of your farts.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
  15. Dave

    and leave Paris Hilton alone. . .

    September 19, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
  16. barbarabarham

    Finally-a pope that preaches love and tolerance. Isn't that really what Christianity is supposed to be all about?

    September 19, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • Laura

      Exactly! I think this is the mentality held by most Christians – but there are still too many who (in my opinion) are either ignorant or hateful when it comes to this particular topic. They give the rest of us (and our faith) a bad name.

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

      When will he include the thousands of children who were molested by priests in his latest love fest?

      September 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • AE

      Yes. God is the judge. Not us. Jesus was concerned with our hearts and our intentions, not what religious customs and sociological standards we honor. Help others, don't condemn them. Don't worry about their private life. God is fully capable and able to help them change if they need change. If you want to ban women and ho.mos.exuals from serving in your church go ahead. But get out of the way of Jesus' followers because we have some work to do.

      September 20, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  17. Paul

    I am a christian and I believe that a man and woman is a better relationship but the gays are not the problem of the world. The banks and the financial system is the real evil in the world. Christians are being diverted from the real evil to fight gays who are not responsible for the problems in the world. Watch the video "The money changers" on youtube and you will understand the source of all evil in this world.

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

      Greed is really the root of all evil, and banks are just a vehicle for it. Before them, people were killing each other for horses, and before that, yams. Banks are just terrifyingly efficient at destroying economies when they get too greedy.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  18. AZ

    A thinking person must like the reference to “small minded rules”! Our Senate talks and talks guns, abortion, gay rights, each a small segment of the population while not a single debate or bill has been offered up on the economy or jobs. Harry would do well to listen Francis

    September 19, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • Kiska K

      So would Boehner.

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

        True Boehner would benefit but the house has addressed jobs and the economy and the Senate has not.

        September 19, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
  19. Andrew

    Mad respect for this man sticking to his guns, and for a respectable cause to boot.

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

      Raise your standards. He's a criminal, hiding child molesters.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
      • AZ

        OH? got a name?

        September 19, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
  20. lolCAT2000

    "Leave the Gays alone"
    Indeed an epochal event that the Pope even mentions gay people in different terms than those used by St.Paul and Leviticus!
    On the other hand these are very gradual steps.
    "Who am I to judge" and "Leave them alone"... sounds a little like "They are not part of our group, we shouldn't care for them... Let them live their lives, they'll see where they end up".
    This is still miles away from something that could be addressed as "responsible pastoral care for gay/lesbian/transgender" etc.
    But at least it's a babystep out of the quasi-medieval darkness of Benedikt's view of the topic.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • Kiska K

      I don't interpret it that way. I think "who am I to judge" is just that, and "leave them alone" doesn't mean leave them to their own devices to (presumably to wind up in hell) but, rather, stop persecuting them, stop disenfranchising them, stop excluding them, stop treating them like second class citizens.
      This pope's remarks are a light-year leap in the right direction and I consider his remarks to be more than just baby steps. You gotta realize – any change in the Catholic church is akin to turning around a battleship. A very big, slow battleship. That it's even willing to attempt a turn is amazing.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:19 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.