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. what

    the pope, this comment coming from the leader of the most populated cult in the world, women in leadership in the church and leave gays alone, none of this is bibliclally based, get off your backside brothers and sisters, start praying like we are suppose to , instead of sitting and doing nothing, hello

    September 19, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
  2. One one

    Well, at least he recognizes the church's problem and is taking steps in the right direction. I wonder what he really believes, deep down inside, and how far he will go.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
  3. Chris C.

    It's easy for an organization with all male leadership to say the door to ordination of women is closed.
    How should we explain this discrimination to our daughters?

    September 19, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • One one

      As always, ...say its god's will.

      September 19, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • Daniel

      at some level, I believe all women will admit that they are created differently then men. My wife, who has a PhD is Mathematics is one of the most logical people I know, but even she recognizes that she's not capable of making the most rational, reasonable decision due to female emotion hormone overload

      September 19, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
      • Doris

        Uhh..lol.. OK, I think I'll get some popcorn and just see how this one plays out.. lol.

        September 19, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
      • sam

        Nonsense. Men have hormone swings, too. Try again.

        September 19, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
  4. MTD

    The Catholic Church? That thing still around? I remember it now. The church for the not-that-committed.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • Billy

      Oh and then there are the Protestants. Henry's champion of marriage convenience. Over 40,000 sects that can't agree on very little. That's commitment for you!

      September 19, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
      • Billy

        Correction: that don't agree on much

        September 19, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
      • MTD

        That's simply factually incorrect.

        September 19, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
        • Billy

          As in . . . . .

          September 19, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
      • Answer


        "That's simply factually incorrect."


        Since when did you religious freaks start caring for the real facts? You dipshits.

        September 19, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
  5. dcleveland

    I'm a recovering catholic.....haven't been inside a church in 30 yrs.....have stepped away from all religions because as george Carlin says..."it's the biggest bs story ever told"........but I must admit this new pope seems like he suffers from common sense...he may help the church evolve.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
    • Jack 2

      Recovering Cathoholic?

      September 19, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • ha

      George Carlin said he prayed to Joe Pesci (a devout Catholic)

      September 19, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
  6. jhnjul

    Starting to like this pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  7. Donna Coles

    As a Catholic who loved her faith, but was forced to leave due to doctrine not Jesus' word my heart sings when I hear Pope Francis speak. Please find a place for women for it was the nuns that educated me & taught me to love Jesus & each other

    September 19, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
  8. Little Betty Perkins

    So much for the Catholic religeon and the pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • Michael

      If anything, by setting such an example, he is ensuring the Catholic Church's survival. Bigotry does NOT pay. Look at how many racist churches have survived from the days of the Civil Rights struggle to now... they either got with the times or went under. Equality for LGBT people is no different in that regard.

      September 19, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
    • Billy

      So much for religion period.

      September 19, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
      • Devout Atheist

        Agreed. While this might not be the best thing for the religion (as it shows just how empty its argument and in turn believability is), it is a positive thing for the world in general and in turn I fully support it and specifically this pope.

        September 19, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
  9. Jen B.

    As a lesbian, and former Catholic who attended Catholic school my entire life up until college, this is great to see.

    The shame that most LGBT have felt their entire lives stems from the beliefs of the church, mine stemming from Catholicism. The idea that my so called “creator” would condemn me to a fiery pit full of past murderers and evil-doers because I liked women, scared me to the core. I knew I didn’t belong with them, but I truly believed in the Bible because that is all I knew. Then, I realized that the bible is a nothing more than a book we can PURCHASE and use for guidance throughout our current existence.

    Those who claim they believe in god will live a life full of contradictory and hypocritical actions. If god is our “creator” and we are made in his “image,” wouldn’t that make him a murderer, a woman, a prisoner, a molester, and EWW A SHOCKER HERE, a gay person too? I mean the world is full of these people, right? Everything in the bible was “written” by men who were uneducated and, not to mention, living during a time where their leaders were horrible people. Stop quoting this book, it was written thousands of years ago!!!!

    Nonetheless, the idea of Christian god was created to ease the fear of death and the life after our current existence. Since no one truly knows what happens when we die, we need reassurance that we will be ok. When in reality, we just stop existing. It’s scary I know, but from what I have seen so far, it happens to all of us. Whatever god you believe in doesn’t matter, because we all come from the SAME ONE. Start loving others and stop taking the bible literally. Its nuts if you think about it.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
    • Can I get an Amen, or Awoman?

      this is the best thing anyone on here has written all day. thank you!!!!!!!!!!!

      September 19, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • edgar lores


      September 19, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
    • sam


      September 19, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
    • Wesley

      It all comes down to the Resurrection of Christ. If Jesus really did rise from the grave, He proved He has power over sin and death and proves that He is the One, True God and we have to take all of what He said to be true. If He didn't rise from the grave then He either lied or He was out of his mind making a claim He couldn't back up because He clearly predicted His resurrection and claimed that He was God. The claims Jesus made prior to the Resurrection (John 14:6-7, John 10:27-30) leave us 3 options: He is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. The Resurrection proved the latter. I hope you'll turn from sin and yourself and trust in Him (repentance and faith, Mark 1:15) for your salvation. He lived the perfect life we could never live, died the death (and experienced separation from God) we all deserved to die, and conquered the enemy of sin and death that we could never conquer. By trusting in his life, death, and resurrection God looks on us and no longer sees our sin but sees Christ's righteousness. This is a Righteousness that can't be earned by anything we do. It is only obtained by God's grace through faith in Christ. And Only this Righteousness qualifies anyone to live in the presence of the One, True, Holy God. He loves you and wants to you to live with Him forever.

      September 19, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
      • Jen B.

        Forever is a word made up by humans. Time does not exist, we made it up. I am not denying the existence of Jesus as a person, but I am denying the idea that there is this imaginary land we go to when we die.

        If you have ever read a physics book, you would know that energy can neither be created, nor destroyed. We are all made up of energy, and when we die, our energy and presence lives on as you say "forever." I am ok with that.

        Also, I have read the bible front to back several times, so no need to quote it for me.

        September 19, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
        • Jesus Loves You

          The laws of Physics only applies to physical matter. There is another dimension other than the physical world and universe that you see. Jesus claims that He is the Only One who came from the Father. He describes a glimpse of heaven in the bible. The bible says... Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. Our consciousness and spirit will have a destination based on the judgment.

          Have you heard of the Shroud of Turin, the latest findings about it where the image encoded on the cloth has a 3D topographic characteristics. The striking thing is the physicists and scientists and imaging experts could not explain what form of light had created the image of the Shroud of Turin. Some believe (including myself) that the image was created by the Resurrection. The wavelength of light that created the image is out of this world. Some theoretical physicists believe that the light was form by the transitioning from the dimension of without time and the dimension with time called the event horizon.

          Research the Shroud of Turin, the latest findings are just so interesting. There is more than the physical matter that are visible. They are invisible things. Jesus who is above all created everything: visible and invisible, powers and dominions, everything and Jesus holds all things together. Death had no power over Him.

          September 19, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
    • Todd

      Finally, someone who makes sense!

      September 19, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  10. Todd

    I am no longer a practicing Catholic and find little to love about Christianity in general. However, I'm intrigued by Pope Francis who seems to be a diplomat. This is quite refreshing when compared to his immediate predecessor, Benedict XVI. Pope Francis seems humble, which is not easy to maintain given the power his position carries. It will be interesting to see how his Papacy evolves.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
  11. JA

    It's a shame this guy's in his 70s (but hey, medical technology being what it is...). Still has his flaws, but he's a vast improvement over the last pope. And he at least understands that the Church must undergo some change and moving forward into the present so it doesn't become even more irrelevant than it already is.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
    • Jack 2

      So what you're really saying is that if they adjust to and accept your perversion then they are alright

      September 19, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
      • balls mcghee

        ask yourself the same question.

        September 19, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
        • Jack 2

          I'm not the one into perversion. that's for people like you

          September 19, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
      • Rich

        RE – Jack 2
        So what you're really saying is that if they adjust to and accept your perversion then they are alright

        Have to agree w/Jack on this one...

        September 19, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
        • STFU

          Learn to read

          Pope is being accepting of people not what they do

          You and Jack are both idiots

          September 19, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
  12. Inquiry and verification in the Christian fundamentalist mindset

    Let's take a peek inside and see how it works:


    September 19, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
  13. Lionly Lamb

    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... Heck even the crushed up Hemp seeds can be used for cattle feed giving the cattle added nutritional value... It's a win-win possibility....

    September 19, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
    • Lionly Lamb

      "corporate theocracies" or corperatocracies

      September 19, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • Doris

      "Gayness among the masses is a sociological manifestation "

      Most likely not. Pick yourself up a copy of last December's Quarterly Review of Biology. (Article on Epigenetics)

      All indications are that homosexuality in humans is as normal in nature as it is in many other species.

      September 19, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
      • Lionly Lamb

        A good quote might interest me Doris...

        September 19, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • sam stone

      isn't that sweet? LL is having another vowel movement

      he sure impresses the hell out of himself with his drivel

      September 19, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
    • Jack 2

      Wouldn't those seeds give the livestock a headache? However, I don't know how I know that

      September 19, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
  14. say what?

    The Vatican and pope offer too little after too many decades of using gays as scapegoats, ruining lives, lobbying for anti-gay legislation, way tooooooo late for mea culpas.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
  15. Chris

    "Interfere Spiritually"? isn't that the role of Christian missionaries for 2000 years. Jesus interfered spiritually in the life of the Jewish leaders 2000 years ago, that's why he was crucified.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
  16. Lorraine

    My husband and I were very "practicing" Catholics........ I had 9 children and 2 miscarriages, in 10 years; "rhythm" didn't work for us... eventually, my OB/GYN said that "maybe" I ovulated more than once a month. Our last baby lived 18 hours: I was told that I could still conceive, not carry to full term... baby would die and I might die. So, what does a "practicing" Catholic do, in this situation?

    We went to a neighborhood Bible Study....... became 'Born Again' Christians, and eventually left the Catholic Church. Now, we have a close relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ... as He said, "... it is finished." We believe His perfect sacrifice, on the Cross......paid for sin; now, by the Grace of God...we are free to love Him... in return.

    Pope Francis offers the followers... great 'hope' for change: I don't know if that change will ever be enough for my husband and myself... to return to the Catholic Church.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • Devout Atheist

      I'm truly sorry for your loss, but things honestly sometimes just happen without rhyme or reason. Religion and "god" do not factor in because god isn't real.

      I don't hold it against you or others like you who are simply unable to live in a world without a god to comfort you and to help you rationalize pain, loss, and the unknown (even if I don't see the need for it or understand it myself), but I also can't wait for the day the human race has surpassed the need for this placebo, this crutch.

      September 19, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  17. Xassarit

    Andate al diablo Argentino hijo de puta.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • Papa Francisco

      Del Vaticano- Che... Dame tu culo y te enseno como lo hago aqui a Los pides, Pelotudo!!

      September 19, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
  18. Faux Neus!

    "Leave gays alone"..."I love a good banana inside my annus once and awhile"...

    September 19, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
  19. God

    Even the Pope knows I'm only a figment of your imagination.

    Perhaps its time to stop believing in imaginary gods such as myself and see the world as it is.

    Welcome to the real.

    September 19, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • Jesus

      I'm gay!!

      September 19, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
      • God

        We know...

        September 19, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • Jesus Loves You

      I feel pity for you for your vile and blasphemous act towards God. There is punishment for people who used the name of God in vain and mocked God.

      Repent while there is time.

      September 19, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
      • Joey

        your god doesn't have the balls to do anything about it, if he did he already would have.

        September 20, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
        • Proud to be catholic


          September 20, 2013 at 3:23 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.