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. Meredith S.

    Atheists were obnoxious and pathetic. No sense of humor. Always angry about something. Constantly blaming others for their problems. They are cowards. They never put a wayward fellow believer in her place.

    September 22, 2013 at 2:23 am |
    • Hypocrisy, thy name is Meredith!

      Nice hater-screed, Meredith!

      September 22, 2013 at 2:47 am |
  2. erguntok1931

    Pope is 2000 years too late. Many people were making those suggestions since beginning of Christianity but they were ignored. When a Pope says the same thing as any body with a common sense, suddenly it becomes divine inspiration! What a backwards society we became “Under the God”

    September 21, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
  3. Jason

    The best way to build a relationship with God/Jesus Christ, is to read the Holy scriptures for yourself, Hanging on every word of the Pope, isn't recommended. He's only a man and shouldn't be exalted as a physical representative of The Lord.....that's Blasphemy.

    Plus, the Roman Catholic Church will deceive many in the end times, corrupting itself with Islam and forming a one World Religion. The bride of Christ (church), will fornicate with another. This is partially why the Bible says, "many are called, but few are chosen".

    September 21, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
    • Athy

      Jason, do you believe in Santa Claus too? Just wondering because I sense a disturbing trend here.

      September 21, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
    • Reading the bible sure changed me.

      I didn’t really become an atheist until after I started reading the bible. I didn’t get very far. Man there is nasty stuff in those first 5 books. Evil, war, genocide, fratricide, ince$t, adultery, patricide, r_ape, child mole$tation and slaughter of the entire population of entire cities (every man, woman, child and even animal) in city after city … and that was the good guys, with god’s blessing.

      September 21, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
      • Romulus Remus

        Same here. I read the Bible when young, expecting some great wisdom to emerge as it apparently had to others. I found it amazing that people could actually believe this stuff, and how nasty everyone is. So I gave up on the Old Testament and plowed into the New. Similar credibility problem, less cruelty, but now there was the problem of extreme boredom.

        I have since read the scriptures of most major religions, and not a one convinced me they were true, or that they contained much in the way of wisdom.

        So reading the Bible was a good way to discredit The legitimacy of Christianity, and those we do take it as truth must have already been conformed into refusing to question it at all.

        September 22, 2013 at 3:00 am |
  4. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Catholic might be a fine thing to be, but it seems to require a belief in God. And the gods we know are imaginary. Perhaps a God-free Catholicism of people completely devoted to the well-being of the human race – the weakest and least influential most of all – would be be something one could be proud of being a part of.

    September 21, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
  5. Andy

    The Catholic church will have to evolve or die – a nice Darwinian irony.

    September 21, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Darwinian principles are inescapable, at least in such a complex system without outside intervention to keep it stable.

      September 21, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • Proud to be catholic

      Do not worry the catholic church will never die:)

      September 21, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
      • Athy

        But, like an old soldier, it will fade away. And the sooner, the better.

        September 21, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
  6. Sue = poo

    .christinanity is on the decline according to a recent pew research study.

    Eventually Christianity will fade away and will become extinct.

    September 21, 2013 at 10:00 am |
    • foray

      And, poo by any other name stinks bad.

      September 21, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • Gleesin

      Omen, sister poo! woo-hoo!

      September 21, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • Proud to be catholic

      Christianity will not fade away and become extinct because according to the promise made by our Lord to Saint Peter the first Pope that "you are peter and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it" the Catholic Church is that Church

      September 21, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        Like every other religion before it, it too will fade away :-). The fact that you're too gullible and blinded to see this doesn't change anything. Might we suggest joining the 21st century??

        September 21, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
        • Proud to be catholic

          I have joined the 21st century.Just not the atheistic anti-God anti-religion 21st century.

          September 21, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          Sorry, no god can be verified to exist...that is 2000 year old garbage, so no you have not joined the 21st century...try again.

          September 21, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
        • Proud to be catholic

          Sorry but NO

          September 21, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          No what?

          September 21, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
        • Proud to be catholic

          NO I will not try to" join the twenty first century" again.

          September 21, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          Then disconnect your computer-designed by Atheists and take your leave from society-locate a cave. Society is moving forward and leaving christianity (2 billion of you) in the dust, so you can either join us or be left behind all over some silly stories meant to con you and fool you.

          September 21, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
        • Facts Reveal

          "Then disconnect your computer-designed by Atheists and take your leave from society-locate a cave."

          Sorry to burst bubble, lad. But I'm using McBook (legacy of the late Steve Jobs).

          Aishwarya Ai Alsaud is a business woman, SOCIALITE, Philantrophist and has Islam BELIEF, most of all she didn't live and doesn't have any plan to live in a cave.

          While Buffet and Gates are known to be Agnostics NOT atheist.

          But anyway, stalin and mao have also influence in the society that's why Silverman and Dawkins are so un-American.

          September 21, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        Proud- Catholicism will evolve as society demands just as it has from the beginning. One day it will be something you would never recognize just as today your Peter and your Tomás de Torquemada would not recognize it.

        September 21, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  7. Sue

    Welcome the healing power of compassion and equal rights for all, regardless of (entirely natural) se.xual preference!

    Cast out the se.xual discrimination, racism, and hate that is part and parcel of Christianity!

    Put religion and other superst.itions behind you, into our primitive past where it belongs as nothing more than a sorry part of our history.

    Defeat the bigotry of deluded folk such as Douglas!

    September 21, 2013 at 9:41 am |
  8. william poole

    Atheism is illogical because just as God can't be proven neither can one prove that God does not exist.
    How can you prove that Sumthing does not exist? You would have to know everything. That would make you God. Nothing is modern science is 100%.
    That is why every scientific laws is tested continuously. But you can't test nothing. Therefore, you can't prove "No Thing" does not exist.
    Thus, both people who believes that God does not exist as well as people who believe that God does exist must do so on "faith".
    Therefore, atheism is the religion of the secular in which the atheist must have faith that the collective beliefs of the members of the Secular takes on the supernatural ability to overcome the limits of human logic and that the mere fact that they believe in Sumthing makes that Sumthing real.
    Science ain't got a Dog in that fight.

    September 21, 2013 at 2:07 am |
    • rick

      the vast majority of atheists do not claim absolute certainty

      perhaps you should investigate before making a-s-sumptions

      September 21, 2013 at 7:04 am |
      • Doris

        yes, rick, and then this part:

        "Therefore, atheism is the religion of the secular in which the atheist must have faith that the collective beliefs of the members of the Secular takes on the supernatural ability to overcome the limits of human logic and that the mere fact that they believe in Sumthing makes that Sumthing real."

        is beyond ridiculous.

        September 21, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • Joey

      I will believe in your god, when you prove to me he exists, until that time I am not going to waist much time thinking about it.

      September 23, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  9. Justin (Aurthor)

    It would be good to see Christianity move back toward their loving nature where it belongs. Christians are not supposed to be hateful. That in itself is a sin.

    September 20, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • Topher

      What part do you not find loving?

      September 20, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
      • rick

        The presumption that man is sinful and deserving of hell, for one

        September 20, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
        • Topher


          "The presumption that man is sinful and deserving of hell, for one."

          What isn't loving about that? Wouldn't it be hateful if I DIDN'T tell you that?

          September 20, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
        • rick

          no, it is presumption that is the hateful part

          September 20, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
      • rick

        using the law to deny others equal rights for another

        September 20, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
        • John SooS

          You're totally right! Let's eliminate all discrimination, starting with driving and voting. Who the hell are we to restrict voting to 18+?? I mean discrimination is BAD right? And operating a motor vehicle, why are we being so mean to those under 16? Everything should be equal always because equal is good.

          September 20, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
        • midwest rail

          Did it take you very long to collect all the straw ya needed for that argument, John ??

          September 21, 2013 at 5:08 am |
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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.