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. Wayne McClellan

    So where does this leave such politicos as Santorium. Does he follow the Pope and the Church or does he follow the Cons and the Cons religion

    September 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  2. Jake

    "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". This translates to;

    Women are not going to have any authority to make decisions, but us men will listen to them, so that they don't feel inferior.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • doobzz

      Well, they'll pretend to listen.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  3. Peter

    2000 years too late, my friend

    September 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  4. Robyn


    So nothing has really changed.

    There are still a long laundry list of people
    that the Church considers less than people.

    It's just that this Pope doesn't spit in their faces
    like the last Pope did after telling them they are subhuman.


    September 19, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
  5. Muslim

    Actually, the gays should leave us alone.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
  6. Darlene Buckingham

    Too little, too late: the RCC has been preaching misinformation for centuries. Unless there is a full turn-around, including respecting the sacred feminine energy, and valuing ALL life this is a feeble attempt to regain the prestige of the RCC.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
  7. magnum12

    The catholics believe that the pope is the spokeman for God. Well I assume that God has already told the pope of His postion on those topics, which is the present policy of the church on those social issues. Is francis suggesting that God has soften His stance. If so, how does that make God an unchangeable being as taught by the catholics.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • deep blue

      I'm not Catholic, but I am fairly certain that Catholics do not believe the pope is a prophet.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • ChristJones

      Catholics do not teach GOD is "unchangeable" Read the catechism.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  8. Russ

    If Francis believes it is a sin, it is unloving to ignore people who are hurting themselves.
    If Francis believes it is not a sin, this lacks the integrity of boldly stating the truth to liberate an oppressed group.

    Either option is very troubling – especially for a Pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • lolol

      Maybe you should have run for pope, since you obviously think you can do better.

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

        @ lolol:
        1) I'm not Catholic for a reason. I don't think there should be a Pope.
        2) my critique works equally well *for a Catholic,* even the Pope himself.
        shouldn't he be answerable to his own articulated standards?

        September 19, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • sam

      Hurting themselves? Really? That's cute.

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

        @ sam: go with the premise. so you agree with the latter option, but the point was that BOTH groups should be upset with the Pope's stance. it's mealy-mouthed half measures either way.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  9. Ojref

    Pope: No, I will not. I refuse. I will annoy every gay I see.

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

      Be prepared to be laughed off the planet, then.

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

      Even though you can't tell the majority of them simply by looking. How are you going to determine if they are, use your stellar intellect?!

      September 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • My Own Private Idaho

      While I appreciate your urge to purge, you'd never know I was gay if you saw me on the street. Are you only gonna annoy the flaming ones?

      September 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  10. gmenfan54

    Finally...a Pope that is not living in the "Dark Ages".

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

      Yes, he deserves a standing ovation for inching towards the 1700s.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  11. gmenfan54

    Finally... a Pope that is not living in the "Dark Ages".

    September 19, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  12. mc

    "The world is my country, to do good is my religion"
    Thomas Paine

    September 19, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  13. This pope is a disgrace before God

    Why does CNN claim the pope is "beloved"? Show proof of it. Define love. You could say Charles Manson is beloved, you could say Hitler is beloved. No, you choose to say the Pope is beloved because he is being politically correct instead of spiritually righteous. Hypocrites you always were, and always will be.

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

    - " 'I am a sinner,' the pope answers."
    Question for Catholics – ( although I reserve the right to critique the response )
    Does the RCC officially support / defend the Adam and Eve story ( for lack of a better word ) ?

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

      I was taught in school & in chruch it is a story & not to be taken literally.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Brother Maynard

      Actually looking for the official RCC position on it

      September 19, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  15. Freddie

    The gay priests need to leave the little boys alone.

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

      You spelled "pedophile priests" wrong.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  16. JiminNM

    Preach the Word of God without reservation lest you be guilty of not fulfilling your responsibility and cause someone to fail to repent.

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

      Amen brother

      September 19, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • Lawrence of Arabia

      Amen to that.
      1 John 3:4
      1 Corinthians 6:9-10

      September 19, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • ME II

      Wow... just wow.

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

      You've already failed. I have no need of repentance to your god or any other god.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  17. This pope is a disgrace before God

    The pope reminds me of when you are younger, that kid who everyone goes along with even though he makes no sense, and his ideas are not originally his.

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

    Sorry for the repeat comments... Apparently there was a computer glitch.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
  19. 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 discip.les of all nations? How can you make discip.les if you're NOT willing to interfere with someone's "spirituality?" That's exactly what Jesus did when He confronted Jud.aism!

    September 19, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • martiniano

      And you say this based upon what authority? You know Jesus said this and how do you know it? You read it in a book that was edited by pagans, revised to win over the pagan romans so they could be ruled? THAT is your authority?

      September 19, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • StafCoyote

      One should not try to be more Catholic than the Pope, it is poor form. Of course, American "conservatives" among both the prelature and the laity will waste no time presuming to instruct this Pontiff on where he is "wrong."

      September 19, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
      • Lawrence of Arabia

        I do not presume to be better than anyone sir, but I can point out where the pope has erred using scripture.
        "Unless I am convinced by scripture and plain reason, my conscience is held captive by the word of God."

        September 19, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
        • kt

          Scripture as dictated by Constantine and the Nicean Council, who felt they had the authority to determine which of the many gospels of the time were the "word of God" and which were heresy, pretty much destroying all of the gnostic gospels that would undermine the centrification of "spiritual" power into the hands of the church and therefore the state? Would those be the scriptures you're referring too? Why am I just a little hesitant to put all of my eggs in that basket?

          September 19, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • fred

      Right, and Jesus was nailed to the cross with few changing their spiritual ways as even Peter denied Him and all 11 ran for the hills in fear. What happened was when the Holy Spirit came and the power of God was unleashed in the 11 and then 3,000 at Pentecost. It was the power of God through the Holy Spirit not Peter, Paul etc. but that power working through them and in them.
      Perhaps the Pope was referring to dependence on God when it comes to matters of God (spiritual things) so that we do not think to highly of our efforts.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • Dave

      Christ NEVER preached confrontationalism. He gave but two requirements; Love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself. He showed that living the life is as important as describing the attributes of the life. The Universal Church loses it's way in absolutes that do not allow for the sinner to accept salvation. Let us just strive to do good...and allow the example to speak.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:43 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.