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. Gerry Daley

    Finally! A breath of fresh air. Maybe the windows that John XXIII tried to open can now finally be raised up all the way.

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

      If this is fresh air, then smelling an open sewer is a rose garden.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
      • Devout Atheist

        Spoken like the close-minded (in all likelihood, bigoted) imbecile that you are.

        September 19, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  2. Nunya

    Finally a pope with a real Christian perspective...

    September 19, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
  3. Maynard

    The foundation of the church has already fallen, if it accepts the alternative lifestyles.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • snowboarder

      one can only hope.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Gays and lesbians got here the same way straight people got here. Christians like to say "we're all gods children". If so, it also applies to gays and lesbians.

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


      Skip the HYPOCRISY. There's virtually ZERO chance you believe and support everything in the Bible.

      As long as you are just PICKING from it, why not choose the extremely important Golden Rule next time?

      September 19, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
    • Billy

      You be right, M'nard!! Shrimp-eaters everywhere are hell bound as sure as the sun is now clothed in a hairy sack cloth!!

      September 19, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
    • Madtown

      if it accepts the alternative lifestyles
      Yes. Only normal people, like you, should be accepted.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  4. Ken Margo

    Is it possible we have a 21st century pope? The man has aways to go, but atleast he has started the journey. In avery small way he seems to be telling people "mind your business" on social issues and leave people alone.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  5. so then

    and what of the american and irish catholic organizations that have abortion and contraceptives as their key issue revolving around catholicism? perhaps break away irish catholics and breakaway american catholics...not sure the pope's interview will be published in canadian catholic magazines as the same sun media group controls those and that group is anti abortion, anti gay and anti contraceptives as well they are now pushing anti vaccinations!

    September 19, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
    • Observer

      The Bible NEVER mentions the word "abortion". They need to start reading it.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
      • Barney

        You're right. It say "Thou shall not kill."

        September 20, 2013 at 9:37 am |
  6. suzie669


    September 19, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      good luck with that.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • Suzie, turn off your caps lock or you will be banned from this blog.


      September 19, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
  7. Juanita

    Have respect for the Pope, Obama, gays and everyone else you religion tells you to hate. My God loves everyone.
    My Pope and my President are doing a good job. And I love my gay brother and my lesbian sister.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
  8. RettaMichaels

    Jesus had two dads...

    September 19, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
  9. Sammy

    Is this POPE is GAY too..? Catholic Church MUST give the Fundamental Right/Freedom to their priest to get marry and have a family!!

    September 19, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
  10. Let_It_Alone_Already

    I'm not Catholic, and I like the Pope's thinking. It seems that the subjects destined to permeate society are gays (and their "rights") and abortion. These are both personal choices of people and should be left alone. And, yes, for both just like with ANY decision a person makes, know that you WILL live with the consequences, good or bad.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
  11. JDinHouston

    If you are a Catholic, then obey our Pope. Lest any of us forget, the Pope is preserved from the possibility of error "when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church." Those are Vatican Council words, not mine.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
    • snowboarder

      that is a tough pill for a thinking person to swallow.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
  12. Pluto Animus

    Wow, the Pope realized gays should be treated with respect.
    He and his church only needed 2,000 years to figure this out.

    I wonder why we secular humanists have supported gay rights since the dawn of civilization.

    I guess it's because we're morally superior to Catholics.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
    • cestlavie3

      Actually, it's because both you and the pope are morally wrong.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
      • snowboarder

        it is difficult to paint those who respect as morally wrong.

        September 19, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  13. vidyashanti

    True religion is one which unites people not divide. Morality can not be enforced. If religious teaches heart and appeals to mind than only a person will change. To hate any person for any reason takes you away from GOD. This Pope is on the right path.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • snowboarder

      religion is simply another division of humanity. it never unites.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • Snnop

      To hate any person for any reason takes you away from GOD

      Read your Bible. God is always hatin'.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      snnop is right, the god in the OT is a really nasty spiteful hateful being.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
  14. ff

    Behold the apostate church. What a mess. May the LORD come quickly and fix this mess.

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

      Will that be the same lord who commanded his followers not to judge others?

      Or will it be the one worshipped by so many American christians these days – the one with the leathery wings, who thrives on division and hatred?

      September 19, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
    • vidyashanti

      GOD has given us brain. The reason – He expects us to fix problem created by us.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  15. Oscar Pitchfork

    Wow! This Pope is so cool he MUST be the Antichrist!

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

      Sure looks like. Yuk

      September 19, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
    • Jesus the Christ

      God damned church and their bigotry. I reject you all.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  16. RichS

    Catechism? How about using the Bible for once! Catholic is merely a religion and like all others is run by MAN made rules. Every compromising religion now wants to accommodate what is evil in Gods eyes and that is sin and doing what is unnatural. The first chapter of Romans is torn out of their Bible. But God knew that would happen and the end draws nearer and nearer. Even so, come Lord Jesus1

    September 19, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      Should we even use the part of the bible that tells you not to judge others?

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

      Hey Genius, who do you think wrote the Bible? God himself?? Or was it written by mortal men to the best of their recollection. The faith people put in one book of stories always amazes me.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
    • Madtown

      Catholic is merely a religion and like all others is run by MAN made rules
      Just like the bible.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      ' But God knew that would happen and the end draws nearer and nearer. '
      why would god create such a system? was he bored? because it amused him? why would any all powerful deity bother to create something that he knew in the future he would destroy?

      September 19, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
  17. Jesus the Christ

    So now the god damned church is being led by a human being? Got to Hell you bas ta rds. So many years of hatred and bigotry and now you say ...sorry? I reject you all and you are not of my church.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
    • Bryan

      Good for you, now crawl back down in your mom's basement

      September 19, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
  18. John Calvin II

    The Pope has either been misquoted by the media or he's committed apostacy from the gospel. There is no negotiating God's holiness. Whoever tries, God Himself will judge.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      God doesn't judge me; I judge god. I judge god as invisible, undetectable, and irrelevant.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:25 pm |

        Godless Vagabond
        And non-existent.

        September 19, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
      • Jesus Loves You

        Unfortunately you are just like a grass. Today looks green, tomorrow you withers. After one generation you may be forgotten and your existence on earth is just like a fairy tale forgotten and separated from God in the forever darkness and void and by that time I guarantee you God's Words will continue to transform lives and His Words will remain true. Act now while you still have time before it's too late. Repent from your sins and accept Jesus paid the price for your sins and follow Him as Lord. Accept the reality of His death is the payment for your sins. You may never know the God who created you may take the life that he loaned to you tonight. Act now while there is time.

        September 19, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • God

      Who dares to presume to know what I WANT! I reject this jesuit fake dark pope. He does not run my Church.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
  19. Des Perado

    In a related…almost-Pope Francis met gays at Sodom & Gomorrah and whups...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 5:16 pm |
  20. gloria

    Humans cannot change the rules of God. What kind of church do you want?

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

      The word of God has been changed by men for ages, do you really think the bible you read is the original?

      September 19, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
      • Simon

        I admire your attempt, Joseph, but these folks really believe in the 'unalterable word of god' approach and will ignore anything to stick to it.

        September 19, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
    • HenryB

      Well, what kind of rules of God are you talking about? Your interpretation of the Bible which was written by man without any guidance from God. Put together by some cardinals a long long time ago. The funny thing is that the literalists take everything that is written in the Bible as if it was written by people with "guidance" from God. When you do that, you have a fertile field with which you can interpret everything the way you want.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • janis

      Rules of God can not be taken from a book written by man.

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

        Janis is this my niece Janis. Did you know the Bible is written by men.

        September 19, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
      • God

        But this damned church has made it all up. The crimes of the catholic church are high and deep. This dark pope is evil and an abomination.

        September 19, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
    • Madtown

      Humans cannot change the rules of God
      I'd say you're right, we can't. We'd have to actually know what they are in order to try and change them.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • truthis

      "the word of god" is written by men and has no more authority than Santa Claus.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • Observer

      Wow! We have a pope who actually follows the Golden Rule. The papacy may have jumped forward hundreds of years.

      September 19, 2013 at 5:24 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.