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. Not the Church

    The pope is still holding on to patriarchy. Women run the church. I'm sorry, but he's still messed up

    September 19, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      But he is LESS messed up than his predecessor.
      Baby steps, my friend....

      September 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
      • Not the Church

        He needs to read In A Different Voice and The Birth of Pleasure. They will spell it out for him. Then he will see it. If it's a matter of a p e n i s, women have a small penis in there too. It's not about genitals.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
      • Sara

        I'll give less messed up, but women should still run. Unfortuanately women around the world are still dating abuse men and joining Islam and the Catholic Church. You can't really look out for everyone. Some people really can't stand on their own and will turn in desparation to some very wrong answers.

        September 19, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  2. James

    Sounds like the Catholic Church is trying to protect it's priest's again !

    September 19, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Just Call Me Lucifer

      Its a sales drive to bring in more rubes for extortion.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  3. QS

    You just gotta love the passive-aggressive manner in which the religion corporation delivers its back-handed compliments to those it considers inferior.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  4. Secret to Fame

    Wanna get famous quickly? Bash Islams or Accept Gays.

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

      Or learn to speak English incorrectly. "Islams"???

      September 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
      • Secret to Fame

        Sorry, Professor.

        September 19, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • Sunil

      So What you have excepted to be famous Islam or Gay?

      September 19, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  5. Slappy_McGiggles

    It's no wonder he's saying leave the gays alone, being Catholic priests have been molesting boys for years.

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

      maybe one day people will relaize that being gay does not equal being a pediphile.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
  6. RA

    Where did they get this guy? He's spiritually bankrupt.

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

      How so?

      September 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
      • Zayah V

        Did you think because the leader of the church is enlightened that it would fix religion? Hate is about hate and whoever stands in your way of a good hating will be hated as well.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      I know, right?
      It's not like piety, humility, charity, compassion and acceptance are Christian virtues in any way.....

      September 19, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
      • sam


        September 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • QS

      So, in other words...he's the perfect leader for those who follow this religion.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  7. paul

    A lot of contradictory words , No substance, If the blind leads the blind they both fall into the ditch,
    Thats terrible what he said about jesus, apostle peter and god, Mary was jesus,s earthly mother, who gave birth to him on earth and raised him, Jesus was the Word, the Light, the Life, the Bread of life, the Liberty, He said I came to preach to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to set at liberty those that mourn, to open the prison gates, to comfort the homeless,

    September 19, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  8. RE

    This is gping to really upset a lot of conservabigots.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • Jack 2

      Who cares what the pope thinks, he heads the largest group of gays in the world.

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

        You spelled pedophile wrong.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
        • Jack 2

          If you're male and you put another male in your body you ARE gay. The age of the male being young doesn't make you less gay...what a farce. Do you really think most people are as brainless as you are?

          September 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
        • doobzz

          No, that's not true. Pedophilia is a crime. Being gay isn't.

          September 19, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
        • Joey

          No, Jack I believe you are more brainless than doobzz, and most other people in the world as well.

          September 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  9. Brampt

    Many Warren Jeff's in the Vatican...

    September 19, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  10. Dan Dougherty

    I love Pope Francis!!!! Thank you, your Holiness.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  11. Apple Bush

    Homophobes should have to spend a day as Gay to find out what it is like. The bullying, name calling, people like the Christians and Muslims saying you will burn in hell, etc. etc. They have to develop a thick skin and smile and ignore much of this intolerance. It is a violation of their human rights.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • cooluser

      Just imagine what it must be like if you have no legs!

      September 19, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        cooluser, I apologize but I have a difficult time understanding your posts.

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

          Weel, being gay is nothing compared to what other people have to deal with. Gays need to stop feeling for themselves.

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

          @ crackuser

          Do tell.

          September 19, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Still don't follow the logic skippy. Maybe you should attend your classes more regularly.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  12. cooluser

    Frankly, the gay thing and the church thing, together with the pope, can go to hell. Sick and tired of both non-issues.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • doobzz

      Crummy troll is crummy.

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

        You are crummy and a dummy!

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

          I know you are but what am I? LOL.

          September 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  13. Janice

    Yeah, but let me miss Mass on Sunday noe time through my own fault and I am going to burn in hell for eternity.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
  14. This pope is a disgrace before God

    Interesting how CNN was anti-Catholicism, anti-Jesus, anti-church, pro-atheist before this new pope began embracing gays. Just look at the articles where CNN tries to paint an image that it is okay to reject God. Now they want you to accept God, the Pope, and gays. Especially gays, because that's what CNN's staff is.

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

      Oh, you seem fun.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • doobzz


      No, no, no! I don't wanna! You can't make me! You're not the boss of me! Waaahh! YOU'RE ALL GAY!!

      September 19, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
      • This pope is a disgrace before God

        I wish you would confront me like this in real life. I'll show you what I really mean, if you want to know.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
        • Sea Otter (Leader of Allied Atheist Alliance)

          No thanks.. We're flattered at the offer, but not all of us are gay...

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

          Sure, let's do lunch.

          September 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • Red

      Using "God" to justify hatred is the ultimate form of blasphemy.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
      • This pope is a disgrace before God

        So stop doing it.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • may40

      The liberal way. They're only tolerant to those who think like them. This pope may be a "good" person but as a man of God he really should speak of what the Bible says about sin and not his opinion. Goes to show that most Catholic leadership has not a clue what the Good Book says. We shouldn't judge but if someone asks what does God say about such and such then you are to go directly to the Bible not man's opinion! This pope also said that you don't need to believe in God, but just obey your conscience and that'll get you into heaven. Why be a Catholic then? So the Jesus' death on the Cross was in vain? I see. Breaks my heart that he's leading many astray. Very sad.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • tc

      Glad you are here to give us the inside scoop – conspiracy theory much?

      September 19, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Oh Boy

      As a Catholic I am so impressed with this Pope. Disgrace before your God? Which of your Gods are you referring to because you are certainly not a Catholic. There are a bunch of right wing bible thumpers who would love to have you but then again there is nothing Christian about them either except there embarrassing use of the word.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Jack 2

      You nailed it! gays are in high positions and push their agenda. I've been kicked off sites for just not agreeing with the gay agenda.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  15. Bill

    This could easily cause a second large schism in the church. I applaud his holiness's efforts, but they may be too early.

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

      We can only hope.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:21 pm |

    "The church has sometimes locked itself up in small things," the pope said, "in small-minded rules."

    This is basically the history of the Catholic Church for the last 1700 years.....IT'S CALLED MICRO-CONTROL....if you don't do what we say you will not get into HEAVEN....and they've always done it using SHAME, GUILT and FEAR on the IGNORANT.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  17. John

    The pope is not condoning gay behavior the bible is quite clear on it but it is also clear about removing the beam from your own eye instead of trying to remove the splitter from someone else’s eyes or "Judge not lest ye be judged" and of course He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone. Who are we to condemn, Pope and the church are teachers not judge, jury and executioner.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:20 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.