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. mzh

    4:1 – O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer.

    20:14 – Indeed, I am Allah. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • poodingo

      Ask mohammed to smell his fingers. Mmm that's the smell of 72 MALE virgins.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • Maria Delaluz

      Allah is an idol. Repent and turn to the Triune God of the Christian Bible for forgiveness, frien,d before it is too late. May the Lord open your eyes to His glory.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
      • cedar rapids

        allah is just arabic for god, they follow the same biblical deity.

        September 19, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
  2. Jack 2

    gays are confused and want to be with the same but they want us to do the counciling. that's like someone robbing a bank but the victim has to serve the time.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • midwest rail

      You're either trolling for reactions, or the least educated person on the internet. Take your pick.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
      • sam

        He's been doing it all day. He's obsessed with thinking about gays.

        September 19, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
        • Jack 2

          I guess you 've been on here to know. i'm not sitting back while you guys ruin this country and our children. Get used to it. I'll be here.

          September 19, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
        • sam

          LOL Ruin this country and our children...where the hell do you live, that these gay people are ruining you and your kids? Jesus Christ, what a psycho.

          September 19, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
        • doobzz

          "ruin this country and our children"

          What a fake ass fool. Come out of the closet, Jethro. You'll feel better.

          September 19, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
      • Jack 2

        You guys hate it when you have oppsition.

        September 19, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
        • Dippy

          What's "oppsition?"

          September 19, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
    • Jack 2

      hey doobzzz. That's the default reply from all you gays. Haven't you come up with anything better than that yet? When you guys run out of your default answers you have nothing but perversion to stand on.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
      • sam

        C'mon, troll, say something original. I'm sorry you haven't met just the right boy who can find your prostate yet, but it'll happen. Try christianmingle.com, that's a sure bet.

        September 19, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
      • doobzz

        You've got a purty mouth.

        September 21, 2013 at 1:30 am |
    • Jack's mom

      maybe someone spiked your chik-fil-a or something, you need to chill

      September 19, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
      • Jack 2

        Hey, mom. I love that place and the guy that runs it. He's no sellout

        September 19, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  3. Jack 2


    September 19, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
    • sam

      You failed. Don't you have a funeral to picket, or something?

      September 19, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
      • Jack 2

        don't you have someone else to stalk?

        September 19, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
        • sam

          Let's get this straight (ironic word choice in your case)...you post incredibly small minded bullshit over and over, then when someone calls you out on it, that's stalking?

          Brilliant mindset. Paranoid, see scary gay people everywhere, think the country's being ruined. You are some prime entertainment. What else is in your repertoire, tough guy?

          September 19, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
        • Jack 2

          How'd tough guy get thrown into this. I don't act tough on the internet because I'm more experienced than that. however,intellectually and physically I'm sure I'm way ahead of you. You lame un-intelligent postings give you away

          September 19, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
        • sam

          LOL Ah, what a wit.

          September 19, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
  4. Des Perado

    In a related…almost-Pope Francis met gays at Sodom & Gomorrah and what he had to say
    Was lost in the hellfire and brimstone from God because Francis and gays just…went away !!!

    September 19, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  5. joe

    The church is about as relevant as whoever over in Europe is royalty–which is to say not relevant at all. I mean get real. Nobody cares what some Church says unless you're in it.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • Enough

      Millions of Catholics and many other Christians care!

      September 19, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  6. Jesus

    Pope, please kill yourself, you disgusting freak.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • Yogi


      September 19, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
  7. Jesus

    I hate the Catholic church.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Love your enemies?? Oh, no, wait, that's what god tells US to do; he tortures his forever in a pit of fire. What a d!ck.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
  8. Sid

    Leave gays alone? they never leave anyone alone; and they target you and your children to spread their immoral behavior

    September 19, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • Madtown

      You must be real attractive, to gay men.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
      • Jack 2

        Unlike you I'm sure he doesn't care what the perverts think.

        September 19, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • sam

      Show us on the doll where the scary (imaginary) gay person touched you.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  9. Phily

    How dare CNN paraphrase the Pope in its misleading headline. "Leave gays alone" has a completley different message and connotation that what he intended. You are just adding to the confusion about the church.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
  10. bgg1175

    Me to the Pope and Catholic Priests: Leave under age boys alone!
    This Pope is injecting himself in the gay issue like Obama. We know Obama is gay beyond any doubt. Its starting to look like this Pope is too and has feasted on some young boys!

    September 19, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • Closet

      Get out of here bgg1175.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  11. relmfoxdale

    How miserably depressing that this is considered novel and interesting.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
    • reldra

      It was interesting enough for you to read it and comment. It is interesting to Catholics. It is interesting to scholars. Why is that depressing? I am not Christian and I found this, even though it doesn't pertain to me, I found it uplifting.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
  12. abdallah777

    ((( O mankind! Say No God But Allah, Achieve Eternal Salvation )))

    " Laa ilaaha illallah " (There is none worthy of worship except Allah.)

    ( I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger )

    ( Introduction to Islam )....

    September 19, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      The bit about Muhammed kind of catches in one's throat. Hard to swallow.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
  13. Jesus

    I want gays and the pope to leave me alone.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • Juanita

      Really you think you are Jesus. I am Catholic and guess what my God loves everyone and is not a hater like all of you.
      Go ahead and slam the Pope, Obama and others who are doing you no harm. God is watching.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
      • Jesus

        You are right, and God is going to send you to hell.

        September 19, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
  14. Tom

    The pope has clearly identified himself as the false phophet

    September 19, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • Madtown

      Yes, it's very clear.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
    • Francis

      MSM and liberal lunatics treat him like he's a god. Pope Francis waved to a boy. Pope Francis called Starbucks. Pope Francis paid for his own coffee. Pope Francis took a $#!T and wiped his own @$$$. who cares #turnoff

      September 19, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  15. Jesus

    Pope: Leave me alone.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
  16. Jim

    Leave alter boys alone

    September 19, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
    • Jesus


      September 19, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
  17. TzTerri

    Next thing you know the Pope is going to admit that the earth is round and not at the center of the universe

    September 19, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
    • doobzz


      September 19, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • Bryan

      Wise up and think before you speak. The Catholic Church throughout history has been a leader in the sciences, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, universities, et al. Thank you for showing everyone your ignorance.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  18. fourjz

    Jesus Saves Acts 2:38

    September 19, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
    • Madtown

      "Who's Jesus?"

      – your human brother who God opted to place by birth in an area of the world where he'll never learn about christianity

      September 19, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
  19. Jon

    About time we had a pope who cares about ALL of "god's" children and not just the ones that fit his twisted image of what "god" wants. I guess Bill Maher is right. The pope is an atheist. Kudos to the pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
    • huskiemom

      First off, Bill Maher is never right. Pope Francis simply stated that atheist will be redeemed by God. It doesn't make atheist right nor does it make Pope Francis an atheist. Instead of blasting a person for being gay, he is saying that as long as that gay person has the love for God and Christ in his/her heart, he/she should also be doing the Lord's work. It's not all glitter make up and tight shiny, black shirts for gay men! Also, that we shouldn't judge people for who they are! Judge people by their actions or inactions.

      Talk to someone who knows, not someone who judged and condemns harshly(Bill Maher).

      September 19, 2013 at 5:12 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.