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. astrodomus

    I will predict this guy won't be in office long.............like some other popies. he is ruffling the power feathers the wrong way......

    September 20, 2013 at 12:23 am |
    • Halaka

      I agree. Just imagine the feelings of cardinals and bishops who enjoy power before ( ex. they can’t use luxury cars anymore). They are even obliged to live simply and to serve the people. No more castle and sit of importance. Thus they are all after the throat of this pope. For him to last another year is already a miracle to me.

      September 20, 2013 at 12:42 am |
  2. lvsingleton

    I find this strange, not because of the impact it has on the gay community but the impact it has on the catholic faith. Catholics love their rules so for him to focus more on allowing people to find their own personal relationship with a God that the Catholic faith has spent forever putting in a box of rules is ground breaking from a Catholic religion point of view.

    September 20, 2013 at 12:12 am |
  3. holly wood dood

    the only question i have is, what is the catholic church's total wealth??? (cash, land holdings etc).......they claim to care about the poor and suffering.....why don't you sell off all of that property around the world and help instead of begging for money at every possible chance????

    September 20, 2013 at 12:04 am |
    • drh1214

      I am a volunteer at my local church. I help tutor inner-city kids with their school work at our outreach center in the middle of the ghetto. I have yet to come across a group who gives back more to their community than the church. We bought our own buildings and we run our own programs. If we are tax exempt its probably because we actually give a darn about our community instead of complain on the internet about how "rich" the church is.

      September 20, 2013 at 12:23 am |
  4. Mack

    Catholics: Now what? Your supreme leader (behind God, his son, and a supposedly holy ghost) has told you to leave the gays alone? By raise of hands....how many have now changed your mind and now accept the gays and would be really good friends with an openly gay person? Zero...yeah, that's what I thought. Twisted "logic" you all follow over there.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
    • ScottLL

      Are you saying that we should criticize someone for setting a tolerant agenda? At the same time you are showing how intolerant the gay community is. The bottom line, are you saying it is good to be intolerant?

      September 20, 2013 at 12:38 am |
  5. Bill Simms

    Pope is a funny word.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
  6. Reality

    More education for Francis and as-sociated ilk:

    (from Professor JD Crossan's book, "Who is Jesus" co-authored with Richard Watts)

    "Moreover, an atonement theology that says God sacrifices his own son in place of humans who needed to be punished for their sins might make some Christians love Jesus, but it is an obscene picture of God. It is almost heavenly child abuse, and may infect our imagination at more earthly levels as well. I do not want to express my faith through a theology that pictures God demanding blood sacrifices in order to be reconciled to us."

    "Traditionally, Christians have said, 'See how Christ's passion was foretold by the prophets." Actually, it was the other way around. The Hebrew prophets did not predict the events of Jesus' last week; rather, many of those Christian stories were created to fit the ancient prophecies in order to show that Jesus, despite his execution, was still and always held in the hands of God."

    "In terms of divine consistency, I do not think that anyone, anywhere, at any time, including Jesus, brings dead people back to life."

    September 19, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
  7. albert

    It's interesting that none of his quotes are backed by the Bible. Apostasy lives in the Catholic Church.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
    • Observer


      Just like EVERYONE else, he picks and chooses from the Bible. He apparently CHOOSES not to go along with the Bible and support slavery, for instance.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
    • Doris

      But that's what Christians are famous for – each having a different take on the "Word".

      The fabulous 40,000+ sects of insanity.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
    • Stanley Haas

      The Pope is not making any changes in the teaching of the Church or in Doctrine. He is only saying what he believes the Church, of which he is the leader, should be focusing it's attention on instead of what it has been focusing on. Peace, love, and the poor are his priorities, not gays, lesbians, abortion, contraception, etc. which many in the Church have been focused on for years.

      September 20, 2013 at 12:20 am |
  8. BKoh

    Good thing he's not a bigot and only silently thinks about how everyone will burn in hell for eternity. I will not be able to sleep better at night.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
  9. Bryan Kirchoff

    Sigh... in typical marketing fashion, the headline gave the Pope's words specific meaning that, upon reading the actual words he used, was not there. I honestly believe media shelves personal biases for the most part, but CNN makes it hard to defend that position sometimes.

    The Pope's words are not implying a change in doctrine, simply a change in tone and topics for emphasis People insist that if the Catholic Church would just loosen up on its stodgy morals, it would become more vibrant. Yet, progressive churches that have actually adopted these principles are in precipitous decline, in some cases losing nearly 50% of their membership over the past five decades, and nor are they necessarily bursting at the seems with new applicants for ministry.

    Bryan Kirchoff
    St. Louis

    September 19, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
    • Athy

      Then let's hope the Pope is successful. A 50% drop in membership is nothing to sneeze at.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
    • Dippy

      Seams, not seems.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
    • Chaos

      "I do not view Redskins as a racial term."

      You either ave reading comprehension problems or some mental block where you refuse to accept reality.

      September 20, 2013 at 12:02 am |
  10. Bunny Hoo Boo


    September 19, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
  11. Bunny Hoo Boo

    My neighbor looks like Jesus.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
    • Athy

      So does my dog's ass.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
      • Bunny Hoo Boo

        I mean, my neighbor looks like Jesus Garcia-Hernandez. At least, that was the name he used last week.

        September 19, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
        • Athy

          Oh. My mistake. My dog's ass looks like Jesus Jones, my gardener.

          September 19, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
  12. Gr8biceps

    I bailed out of the Catholic Church decades ago and am much happier and at peace as a result. That said, I find this pope to be impressive – doesn't judge and is respectful to others. Hmmm, isn't that what Jesus preached?

    September 19, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
    • Athy

      So, being a catholic gave you stress? I ask this seriously with no malice. I've never been religious, but have attended catholic weddings, etc. Lots of ritual and symbolism. Not my cup of beer.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
      • so

        point being, agreed, i'm thinking, so, since returning to my faith i feel much better. don't you?

        September 19, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
      • so

        point being, agreed, i'm thinking, so, since returning to my faith i feel much better. don't you? yeas

        September 19, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
      • so

        point being, agreed, i'm thinking, so, since returning to my faith i feel much better. don't you? yeas amen

        September 19, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
        • Athy

          So, you seem a bit redundant.

          September 19, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
  13. Bunny Hoo Boo

    Skid mark.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
    • so

      sam stone loves observer

      September 19, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
  14. Michael Logan

    Should be called the mock the Pope and disbelief blog.

    September 19, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
    • Ripley

      he is a fine Christian, and thusfar, the best Pope we have ever had.

      September 19, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
      • Athy

        How many popes have you known, Rip?

        September 19, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
  15. Bunny Hoo Boo

    I thunk so !! Therefore, I is !

    September 19, 2013 at 10:58 pm |
  16. Time For You To Grow Up...

    The pope is just another old guy who dresses funny...

    September 19, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
    • Athy

      Agree. Religion is kind of a costume party, isn't it?

      September 19, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
  17. brian

    "Pope Francis said"

    We know how much credibility that phrase has.

    September 19, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
  18. Ex Christian

    I am sooooooooooooo over organized religion.....You all can Go to Hell! Hypocrites, Bigots, GOP, Tea party fools, etc... Leave me the Hell alone..I do not need your approval, your prayers, not a thing. Religion was invented to keep uneducated people in check. You all are puppets, squandering your lives..and for what..a freaking pipe dream.

    September 19, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
    • Athy

      I agree, Ex, but you gotta go easier on the capitalization.

      September 19, 2013 at 10:56 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.