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. Mike in SA

    "The Church gets locked up with small minded rules." You mean like priests being allowed to marry? About the number of priests that are pedophiles? You mean like that, right?

    September 19, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  2. DarqueSide

    Finally, a pope who is truly a follower of Christ!

    September 19, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • jardary

      A true follower of Christ? You mean he is throwing a tantrum and running bankers out of town? (Matthew 21:12-13) Telling men to pluck out their eyes if they've ever looked at a woman they're not married to? (Matthew 5:28 and 18:9) Insisting that the Old testament laws still applies? (Matthew 5:17-18)

      Nah, Francis isn't a true follower of Christ. He's actually a decent human being. It amazes me how he reached the position that he did.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  3. catholic76

    I like the new Pope. He's focused on the bigger picture and most importantly on being a truly good person first and foremost.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
  4. Vesuvius

    Don't get too sensational.


    September 19, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
  5. Truth

    He's probably gay himself...

    September 19, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
    • DustyOnes

      That must be why he excomunicated a gay priest in Brazil.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
      • Sara

        Could you name the priest in this case? Thanks.

        September 19, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • wisdomVSknowledge

      Only a self-righteous Baptist would make such a comment. SHAME ON YOU.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
  6. tc

    Love, love, love this guy. Behaves and speaks like a leader which is what we need in the world, regardless of race, creed or religion. Real leadership is loving your neighbor as yourself, a concpt lost on most people.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  7. FSDDS

    Oh god, the Pope just became the South's public enemy number 1.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  8. Religion is NOT healthy for children and other living things

    I was NOT raised as a Catholic and have become a comfirmed atheist as an adult, but I REALLY LIKE this Pope! If I had EVER heard this Pope speak as a child, I may well have volunarily converted to Catholicism! He is the FIRST religious leader that I actually have deep respect for! Pope Francis is probably the BEST thing that has EVER happened to the Catholic Church! I truly love his quote:
    "We must meet one another doing good. 'But I don't believe, Father, I am an atheist!' But do good : we will meet one another there."
    This may be the single best and most meaningful religious quote I have EVER heard! It has truly moved me.

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

      You have conformed wih that belief of atheism. The same is when a person conforms with the belief of Catholicism. No matter how you look at it both atheism and catholicism are belief systems.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  9. Richard Hicks

    His entire existence is based on pure mythology.

    When he recognizes this, then his opinions will mean more.

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

      1 Corinthians 1:27
      But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
      • doobzz

        And the emperor is still naked.

        September 19, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
    • BH

      As a religious leader, he certainly has beliefs in the metaphysical, but he also advances an ethical perspective, which should be judged on their own merits and not the one who speaks them.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  10. OperationSpiritualMission

    "...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." This doesn't sit well with me when both spiritual and political missions are totally different in nature. One is from God (Spiritual) and the other is from the world (Political). How can spiritual laws find balance with political laws. Spiritual laws existed before man? Didn't most of the laws derived from the Spiritual laws?, e.g. do not kill or steal, etc... Spiritual laws are never overridden, usurped, the standards changed, because the law of men changed. God is the only authority that can change those Spiritual laws we did not initiated them, not even the Pope can change those laws.

    "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?"

    My only comment here is that you can't have double standard in the Catholic Church, although there is alot of that happening, why stop now? If the Pope wants to balance Spiritual and Political missions then he should have said that it is okay because who is he to judge? "Judging" has one meaning and "Unacceptable" is another. I think the Pope mixed the two words up.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • Stephen Bright

      Well said. Thank you for a thoughtful distinction made between spiritual and political goals, frequently (typically) in opposing camps.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  11. Sara

    I'm not a Catholic and disagree with their official thinking about hom.ose.xuality, but I do think people misunderstand the church's position on this issue. If you read the Catechism and speak to people in the church, hom.o.se.xuality is seen as a inborn life challenge that tests a person – like being born wealthy.

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

      If you are born wealthy the highest moral state would be to give your money away carefully and to live simply yourself. But the church does not "condemn" people who live with some level of wealth (greed) under these circu.mstances and who live quite well, sharing something less than they can. These rich people in large homes and nice cars are treated with sympathy and love and a recognition of what good they actually do. Those who fail on the ho.m.o.se.xuality test and choose a same se.x partner over celibacy are treated the same. They didn't pass all the tests, but so be it. These people can, in the eyes of the church, still be otherwise good and contributing members of the community who are recognized as being in a loving relationship.

      I think the church is wrong to claim that the higher moral state of celibacy over loving you same se.x partner. But same se.x couples aren't seen by the church as condemned-to-hell sinners, but as people, like all people, with some level of weakness over reaching the ideal in the face of their given life challenges.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
  12. Bob

    Dear Catholics,

    Welcome to the 21st century!

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

      Okay, why do the Catholics have to conform to you and not you to the Catholics? Do you see the double standard here? I thought equality has no double standard, but you did in fact made a double standard comment. There is no reason why you should conform to my belief and there is no reason why I should conform to your beliefs, now that is equality and no double standard.
      Do not impose your ways and ideologies to me by making laws that I have to accept your ways or get in trouble.

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

        "Do not impose your ways and ideologies to me by making laws that I have to accept your ways or get in trouble."

        The irony...

        September 19, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
        • OperationSpiritualMission

          I will not impose on you if you don't impose on me, it is clear message. There is no irony there. Not all religious people are alike.

          September 19, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
  13. Jeanne

    Finally the church is coming out of the dark ages and into the reality of 21st century life. Bravo Pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  14. Name*John

    I like this Pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  15. llatpoh

    The Pope blew it on Women. Not allowing the ordination of women is discrimination pure and simple. "Who am I to judge gay people" he says. Well – who are you to discriminate against women. The Catholic Church loses all credibility with this stance – you have lost the moral high ground and now have to lay silent as others stone and beat their women.
    What a lost opportunity. Nevermind how many followers you have lost and will continue to lose.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Lawrence of Arabia

      It's not discrimination – women have been created as Ezur Kenegdo.

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

      At least in Ireland, the vast majority of Catholic clergy believe women should be ordained. It is likely fairly high elsewhere. This seems to be a generational issue which will resolve itself as the younger priests and monks move up through the system into the power ranks.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
  16. Not the Church

    No true christian would have ever been bothering gay people in the first place. It's the christian in name only that think that stuff.

    September 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  17. Red

    At last....a pope who isn't a hypocritical d-bag.

    I hope that he takes the Catholic Church out of the dark ages.

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

      Until women are allowed equal rights in the Church (ordination), then the church is still in the Dark Ages.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
    • doobzz

      He's still a hypocrite – http://www.vatican.va/resources/resources_crimen-sollicitationis-1962_en.html

      September 19, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
  18. wisdomVSknowledge

    This is the first Pope I have been able to respect in many years. His views are common sense without all the dogma attached. He is down to earth and he obviously thinks the church needs reform... which it does!

    September 19, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  19. Honey Badger Don't Care

    Isn't that nice. He doesn't think that the bible is true and should be followed. I like this guy.

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

      That's not what he said. Be sensible.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  20. RickP

    "Only false prophets claim to have all the answers, Francis said."

    No. God also claims to have all the answers. How could he not know that?

    September 19, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Meredith S.

      He does know that. He is saying not to listen to the word of man, but the word of God.

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

      And when did you talk to God and hear make such a proclamation?

      September 19, 2013 at 3:31 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.