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 D

    Pretty words and empty rhetoric. When the RCC stops using its financial and social might to oppress LGBT people I'll believe we're actually getting somewhere. Until that happens this is just PR spin.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
  2. Twist

    Wow! I'm wildly impressed. I don't get religion, but this man is an angel!

    September 19, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • ldkjralkejrel

      He still supports discrimination against women and lgbt people. He's taken a small step in the right direction but he is no angel.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
  3. Jeff


    September 19, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
  4. edog355

    Amazing how gays, less than 5% of the population, get so much air-time.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      There's a considerably higher representation in the clergy, so the Pope feels compelled to speak on it. That may not be the only reason. Oddly, it seems this Pope is a decent fellow trying to make good use of his strange office.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "Amazing how gays, less than 5% of the population, get so much air-time."
      Guess what? As soon as there is equality, this will be a non-issue. The sooner the discrimination ends, the sooner the news coverage will cease.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
      • Hell and destruction are never full

        Nope, yer stuck with Pandora's box being non-virginal. At first it was, "We want the gubmint outta the bedroom!!" Now it's, "We want to have our bedroom in da parade! Vote for us!!"

        September 19, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
  5. William

    You all love getting your EARS TICKLED. The pope can change his own standards to please people but GOD'S moral standards will never change. This church was created by men not GOD. Read the encyclopedia to find the origin of the catholic church and all its manmade beliefs. GOD gave us free will for a reason, to find out who really loves and respects him.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
    • Madtown

      but GOD'S moral standards will never change
      Could be. Problem is, we don't know what they are! They're certainly not in the bible, if that's what you refer to. Gays are certainly not living against God's moral standard if that's what you refer to, because God created them this way!

      September 19, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
      • SonofG

        God did not created gay people, and yes his moral is written on the bible....but to know them you have to read it, God created men and women that's it nothing else, satan did create gay people....

        September 19, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • Dean

      I am assuming you are referring to the Roman Catholic Church and not the Holy Catholic Church............

      September 19, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • Monsu

      Um, you realize the Bible was written by men too, right?

      September 19, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  6. Honey Badger Don't Care


    "you cant replace something with nothing. that is what is wrong with atheism."

    You first need something in that equation. You have NO reliable evidence of a god, NONE.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
  7. JayDavid

    What's this world coming to when a godly person with Jesus in his heart can't beat up or shoot gays, women or members of minority groups?

    September 19, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      I know, christians are so persecuted and cant do what the bible tells them that they should be doing.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
  8. Not Too Hard to Understand

    I love sheep. Wanna know why? Two words: Lamb Vindaloo.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
  9. FloridaTipo

    Well, it's about Time!

    September 19, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
  10. openfielder

    They are RIGHT, they should not interfere with gays because every sense the rentin of the VEIL they (the CC & THE V) no longer have a job-position. They can say what the SCRIPTURES say about this.....

    September 19, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
  11. Will

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

    "Sometimes"? "Locking itself up in reasonless, baseless, small-minded rules" perfectly sums up how the Catholic Church has operated for the past 2000 years.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
    • Joe Seattle

      And you're an expert?

      The church hasn't had a monopoly on small-mindedness or heavy-handed rule-making.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
      • doobzz

        How do you know he isn't an expert and he never said the church had a monopoly on bad behavior.

        Weak attempt to him on the defensive.

        September 19, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  12. johnny57

    When the catholic church comes out with statements like this it is usually for one reason. They are on a membership drive again.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
  13. rufus

    Funny choice of words to say the Church won't "interfere spiritually." Does he mean the Church will mess with gays in other ways?

    September 19, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  14. Bill Davis

    PEDIFILES &Gays we love you

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

      early g @ y right people supported N A M B L A

      September 19, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  15. idierukevbe

    please oo since the pope cant judge gays people,do the pope condem the practises of gay.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
  16. Air

    This pope will come out of the closet soon. Just wait and see.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
  17. Chicago

    Here come the atheists. So lacking confidence in their own belief system that they are compelled to criticize the beliefs of others. How sad it must be for these negative posters to go through life showing little or no respect for their fellow human beings. If there is one thing I have learned in all my years its that the person who stands up and claims to be so much smarter or superior than another typically turns out lacking in intelligence and self confidence.

    September 19, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      Lacking confidence in the belief system? If that were so true why are we on here telling trolls like you that God doesn't exist? That sounds like a ton of confidence.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • Joe

      There has been no catholic church since Vatican II.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
    • Michael

      1) Atheism is no more a belief "system" than monotheism and polytheism are.

      2) The only confidence that I see lacking here is coming from a person who thinks that nobody should be allowed to critique his religion.

      3) "How sad it must be for these negative posters to go through life showing little or no respect for their fellow human beings. "

      You mean like how Christian churches have traditionally treated gays, thus leading to the controversy of the pope's statement?

      4) "If there is one thing I have learned in all my years its that the person who stands up and claims to be so much smarter or superior than another typically turns out lacking in intelligence and self confidence."

      And this is coming from the person who claims to have found the one true religion.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
    • Will

      I'm a CHRISTIAN (read: NOT a member of the Roman "Catholic" "Church") and I find your satanic "church" ridiculous. How does that suit you?

      September 19, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
    • stillwaiting aka Basho1644

      Nope. We just believe in humanity and reality, and find offensive the affront given those by unsubstantiated beliefs in the supernatural. So, we have the confidence to stand up and speak out against that affront. Please present one single shred of evidence for anything supernatural. After 59 years, I'm still waiting.

      September 19, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
  18. jorge washinsen

    Is it sheep we are smelling?

    September 19, 2013 at 4:28 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.