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. doobzz

    I just hope the Catholics take a pass on the smelling like livestock part, otherwise people will confuse them with the southern state fundies.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  2. Brian

    Cue all of the Bible Belters... "Wait... WHAT?"

    September 19, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  3. jorge washinsen

    Nothing surprises us anymore,especially from the church.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  4. Hell and destruction are never full

    More from CNN
    Lynda Carter spins into 'Two and a Half Men'
    Sara Gilbert realized she was gay while dating Johnny

    September 19, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  5. Lord Toronaga

    I wouldn't let Pope Frank near my children especially my son. The entire Catholic Church is a gay organization and pedophile Cabal. Go away forever.....

    September 19, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  6. Steven CaboWabo

    I'm an atheist, and I like this guy, I really do.
    I don't think anyone should blindly follow what is written or said by others.
    I also encourage people to ask questions and seek information, not seek only those questions and seek information that gives the answers they want or expect to hear, but look at all of the information and then reconsider and update yourself based on the variety of information. Note that I don't consider information to be anything that people make up (religious or atheist).

    September 19, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • John Prezioso

      I am with you S. CaboWabo. I am somewhere between atheist/agnostic but I really admire this pope. Finally the Catholic Church has a leader that preaches the tolerance that Jesus in the Bible stories had. Too bad this pope wasn't around in the 11th century – the horrific Crusades could have been avoided!

      September 19, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
      • Jack 2

        You guys are drinking too much tequila

        September 19, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • Hell and destruction are never full

      "............I don't think anyone should blindly follow ..................." How can they follow if they are blind?? Motion detector tech has advanced that far?? Ticks go after CO2.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
  7. penick

    BEST pope we have had in a long time. He seems to understand the human condition. However, the society has started to come unglued. We no longer want to understand the effect of religion on the collective.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
  8. ozziex

    I agree, you can see it two ways. Comfort in their sin and face the consequences or live in the dark. The choice is theirs not ours.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
    • Steven CaboWabo

      You just make a very judgmental statement filled with your own person opinion and presented it as if it were truth, versus just your opinion.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  9. Third Noah



    September 19, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...


      Right, keep them apart because that is how a priest can show his faith. If you lock the priest away so as not to be tempted i'm sure that shows how strong his faith is. So let us all just ban those things we don't want to be tempted by like abortion and pre-marital s ex. That way we can show God how strong our faith is, by never having to be tempted by anything...

      I find it funny that so many Christians want to inject their religion into secular law as if once something is illegal they will no longer be tempted. More than 80% of the abortions in America are recieved by women who profess to be Christian, do they really think if they ban abortion those 80% will then magically have enough faith to resist getting a back alley abortion? Really?

      September 19, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
      • OperationSpiritualMission

        Where did you get the information aboout 80% of abortion are commited by Christians? I am very interested in this new knowledge that Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion activists haven't used this data. If your information comes from credible sources then this will open a new chapter in this life. Seriously, I can help to further this agenda.

        September 19, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
  10. janos nagy

    Liberal pope Ortodox GOD?

    September 19, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  11. Tari Torch Sweeney

    I'm not even Catholic, and the first time I heard this Pope, I liked him. Now? I LOVE him! He's incredible. They need him right where he is – to stop all the BS and start the church into the 21st century.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • OperationSpiritualMission

      You are right! The church need to change because God changes his mind like us. Next, I think they should change and do what the government and the people say and do. The church should use profanity as well, why not? After all, it is the 21st Century, profanity is part of life, right?

      September 19, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
  12. LB Colorado

    No problem leaving the gays alone, but do you mind telling them the same to leave the straight people alone. They are up in your face at every turn. Don't want to say anything Sir, but you do not work for the people – hope you actually remember that. I like this pope too, but he is now treading on dangerous ground, not of your ground or mine, but he knows which ground he is treading on. Remember the ONE that you actually do work for. People are people and should be treated with respect, but to do what they want, well you do remember Saul – right?

    September 19, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • John

      Who said being a christian was easy? We should not expect others to turn the other cheek but as christians we should expect ourselfs to turn the other cheek. I think the gay behavior is a sin and it clearly states in the writing that it is. I pray for enlightenment from those who stray from the word of god not condemn them, after all I am not their judge I am just a man who works and deals with his own sins to become a better person

      September 19, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
      • Shawn

        Just die already you naive fool.

        September 19, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
      • Lionly Lamb

        sired John

        Gayness among the masses is a sociological manifestation and should be treated as such... It was and is and will ever be a manifestation of human contingencies... There are far more important issues now facing the business "corperatocracies" and that is Hemp versus Crude oil... Hemp has no psychoactive ingredients unlike its cousins the Cannabis Plants and Hemp can be grown almost anywhere and needs no chemical fertilizers nor insecticides to grow... The oils that can be crushed from the Hemp Seeds has a myriad of uses similar to all the current products made from crude oils and the Hemp Oils contain no toxic carcinogens like crude oil products have...

        September 19, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
    • Mike

      Gays are up in your face at every turn, are they? Is there a gay man shaking his butt in your face right now?

      September 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
      • SoldierOfConscience

        Yeah they are – g @ y special right # 123 – to shower with people they are attracted to in the military when straight people are not allowed to.

        this is just one example. there are many special rights they have sought and have been given.

        September 19, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
        • Joey

          Don't worry nobody is attracted to you so you can stop worrying.

          September 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • Michael

      Last time I checked, we gays weren't making laws to tell YOU who you are and aren't allowed to sleep with, to tell YOU who you can and can't get married to, to tell YOU that you can't be openly straight/Christian in the military... no, that was you guys making laws against us.

      Oh, and you finished off your classy (detect the sarcasm?) post with comparing us to a man who murdered people for their religious beliefs. Here's a news flash, just because you aren't able to create laws against people that you hate DOES NOT MEAN YOU'RE BEING PERSECUTED. The bitterness and arrogance of your post is astounding.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  13. Not Too Hard to Understand

    One small step for man. One giant leap for a backwards, 15th century belief set.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
  14. bluedogboy

    That loud thud you heard was Pope Benedict hitting the floor after he read this article.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
  15. Bobby Dias

    When he was a beginner priest 40 years ago, he was bossy Italian-raised Jorge who said to me that everybody hated him because he tried to take over their lives-would I teach him to be nice like other priests? I said yes and after maybe a thousand short sessions I knew I had succeeded. I taught him "Who am I to say?" and how to ask for help llike he did when he came out on the balcony the very first time. Nice Father Jorge is now Nice Pope Francis.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
  16. Lionly Lamb

    Does the Pope and His papacies endorse humanities needs for industrial Hemp to replace our world's usages of carcinogenic and toxic crude oil products..? What is the Pope's feelings regarding medicinal usages of the Cannabis Plants which are now being found favorable by many nations and states..? There is a big difference between Hemp and Cannabis...

    September 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
  17. Dionysus

    Find your OWN way toward God. When you subscribe to any of these religions, you're giving it all away! Feed your mind with knowledge, explore the edges, and create your OWN beliefs and value systems.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • Calvin

      So you basically admit – you're into making up your own god. Whatever.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
      • Dionysus

        No. 'God' as in omniscients. I never said anything about 'making up your own god'.

        September 19, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
    • Vince

      "there is no way to the Father, but through me." -Jesus

      September 19, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
      • Dionysus

        Reclaim your mind.

        September 19, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
  18. cooluser

    Some people are born gay, some blind. Both suck.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • doobzz

      And one person was born you. You suck.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
  19. dee3

    What's with the gay bashing? Don't you religious zealots have anything better to do?

    September 19, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  20. Hell and destruction are never full

    Americultians don't need or want a pope. They have the Big O and his bride, the Feds.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
    • midwest rail

      An lol?? by any other name
      Is still, so sadly,
      Clinically insane.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:20 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.