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. not a real word

    He is basically saying that we, as a children of God, are not to judge one another and love all. But... the Catholic church ain't changing nothing about is b/s doctrines.

    So???? Maybe the next pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      The dogma won't change. No pope has that ability. Some teachings might change. It's helpful to know the difference. The article gives and introduction to that thought process.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  2. Mark

    The Bible does not tell us not to judge. In fact we ARE to judge (right from wrong, good from bad, etc) and there is not one human on the planet that does not judge each and every day. What the Scriptures DO say is that we will be judged in the same manner that we judge others. Look it up. Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37, John 7:24, Leviticus 19:15

    September 19, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • ShakingMyHead

      1 Corinthians 5:1 through 6:11 says the following: Serious sinners should be judged and removed from the congregation. It lists the sins and tells the congregation how they will NOT inherit the kingdom. The best is that if the sinners STOP the sin they will be welcomed back.
      The Pope does have the responsibility to JUDGE inside the congregation but he and the rest of the leaders do nothing as the rest of the churches of the world. That's why this world is so confused as to right and wrong.
      Read it for yourself and make an honest assessment.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
      • Mark

        Yeah, I'm tracking with you. What that is talking about is the reservation as God being the only one that can condemn a persons soul. At the same time, we are called to recognize sin. That is what is taking place in 1 Corinthians 5. It is instructions for purging the church of those that are not willing to conform. In the Art of War by Sun Tzu, he states of those that are not like minded to, "dispose of them quickly." Point being that the principle doesn't change. So should the church conform to the believers or should believers conform to the church? I think that if the individual does not like what the church represents, don't go there. Simple. No need for all the fussing and crying. God will be the judge of both parties in the end, right?

        September 19, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  3. aureliamarie

    I think what the Pope is basically saying, is, do whatever you want to do, and it's nobody's business what you do. And don't worry, we'll all end up in Heaven. What kind of doctrine is that? Who is the originator of that doctrine? Certainly not the Lord.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • ready1923

      Maybe you should read the article again.....you got it REALLY WRONG!

      September 19, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • Angel


      September 19, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • WMW

      Too bad Aurelia, the Pope is NOT in your dark space under some prehistoric rock. Since when do you and other unenlightened sheeple have a hot line to god?

      September 19, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
  4. Vince

    A lot of people won't like that. Maybe a Tea Catholics movement will start. They can make Canadian born Cuban Ted Cruz their pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
  5. matteroffact

    Instead of bringing the world in accordance with the word of God as a Pope's job should be, he's got it all reversed...bringing the church in line with this profoundly sinful world. The only thing I agree with this 'inordinate' Pope is when he said he's a 'sinner'.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • Lucifer

      LOL... and of course.... YOU are not a sinner? This is why most christians are considered idiots. When you had a pope blasting gays all the time, you loved him. Now that you have a pope who doesn't tell you what you want to hear, suddenly he's a loser. Seems there is only one loser here.... YOU

      September 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
      • Gary

        Its the moral fool not the intellectual fool that says there is no God..... Randall Niles.

        September 19, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • norman

      wrong and dumb-you know how many millions of lives woudl be saved in Africa if the church approved of condoms? MILLIONS of lives-there is NOTHING in the fairy tale book about condoms-why let these people die?

      September 19, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • Roger that

      So the RCC should stick to the Bible and not only hate gays but also condone things like slavery and ra pe?

      September 19, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • Wasthatreallynecessary

      And judging someone so harshly is also a sin. Got that!

      September 19, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • ready1923

      What does the Pope have wrong? Did Jesus condemn the woman caught in adultery? His words were “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” and "Then neither do I condemn you,” “Go now and leave your life of sin.” The Pope has simply said we should not condemn gays, he is not suggesting that what they do is not a sin

      September 19, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • My Dog is a jealous Dog

      No one is apparently above the "no true Scotsman" idiocy- not even the Pope.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  6. derek

    Yes, the Pope is right, he is a sinner, the same as everyone else. The bible says everyone is a sinner.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
  7. Jack

    Check His computer, I bet he is a Sinner....

    September 19, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Wasthatreallynecessary

      I'm sure we would see it in your computer too Jack-off.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  8. rob

    Hes just a man, why do people always treat Popes as if they are a God,

    September 19, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • disanitnodicos

      I ask the same thing about Karl Marx.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Whateva

      Well, Since he's supposed to be the last one according to their own prophesy, I'll give him some room to get his agenda in order. He's actually correct in many respects when it comes to the proper interpretation of morality. Actually an improvement despite the fundamentalists that would degradate his position based on false assumptions of how he should be and what he should be doing. I'm not one of his followers nor will I ever accept Jesus as the Messiah, I guess I missed not only his pre-mission anointment, but also missed the purpose of his message, since redemption isn't acquired by faith alone. You can check that if you want. I'm not out to try and prove or disprove anything. But for the second time in the entire history of the catholic church. I think you people have finally gotten another Pope worthy of his salt.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  9. disanitnodicos

    The degeneracy of our society runs deep.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  10. Horus predates Jesus

    Born of a virgin, Isis. Only begotten son of the God Osiris. Birth heralded by the star Sirius, the morning star. Ancient Egyptians paraded a manger and child representing Horus through the streets at the time of the winter solstice (about DEC-21). In reality, he had no birth date; he was not a human. Death threat during infancy: Herut tried to have Horus murdered. Handling the threat: The God That tells Horus’ mother “Come, thou goddess Isis, hide thyself with thy child.” An angel tells Jesus’ father to: “Arise and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt.” Break in life history: No data between ages of 12 & 30. Age at baptism: 30. Subsequent fate of the baptiser: Beheaded. Walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, restored sight to the blind. Was crucifed, descended into Hell; resurrected after three days.

    You should worship Horus maybe. He pre-dates Jesus.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Christians pay attention, we can do this all day

      Attis of Phrygia

      Attis was born on December 25 of the Virgin Nana. He was considered the savior who was slain for the salvation of mankind. His body as bread was eaten by his worshippers. He was both the Divine Son and the Father. On “Black Friday,” he was crucified on a tree, from which his holy blood ran down to redeem the earth. He descended into the underworld. After three days, Attis was resurrected.

      ANY similarities?? This predates Jesus.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • Mark

      So you bought into the New Age Thessalonian lie have you? If you really want to understand the catholic church, and the spirit behind it, visit be4thefire.com. Check out the Vatican exposed link, and all other videos as your heart desires. Remember, the same spirit that built the Vatican is working through this Pope. Watch the videos, and decide for yourself if the Pope is spreading false doctrine that will lead people into Hell.

      September 20, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  11. TheAntiChrist

    Yes sir you are. The biggest one of us all. May GOD forgive you of trying to take his place.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  12. all talk - no action

    ALL TALK – No action but further hate.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  13. David

    The reason I don't go to church anymore Is because I have not found one that actually practices Galatians 6 verse 1. I mean really practices helping people overcome their "SINS"

    September 19, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  14. mike

    How did a guy this sane get to be pope.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  15. wow

    this pope seems very open minded and not the least bit malicious toward anyone. I hope he gets through to a lot of people.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • rob

      A wolf in sheeps clothing?

      September 19, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
  16. Poor Richard

    Next up from Rome: Non-interference in the lives of pedophile priests. Oh wait, we already have that. I would invite Francis to dust off his bible if he has one, and read Romans 1. We set aside the scriptures at our great peril.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • wow

      what are you babbling about? ever hard of new testament?

      September 19, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • The truth is out there

      He's already stated that he will support prosecution and will not allow the church to hide them.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
      • doobzz

        He may have said that, but his recent actions re: the alleged child molester diplomat from the Dominican Republic show that it's business as usual.

        "We won't interfere" is a far cry from "Here are our records so these alleged child molesters can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law".

        September 19, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • a reasonable atheist

      You best not set aside the scriptures about the proper age to sell your daughter into slavery, consuming shellfish, or murdering infants, either.

      September 20, 2013 at 1:02 am |
  17. ALL TALK - no action

    No action but further hate.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  18. Stephen Staats

    This pope actually saved the Catholic church buy being humble and more current on social issues. Next, you need to get women to the same status of men.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • Kenman

      A real man of God does not have a "current" interpretation of Scripture; the Word is, was, and will always be what it was when it was spoken! It does not mean a thing that it is 2013, God doesn't follow OUR lead!

      September 19, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
      • stevef00

        So Kenman....I'm guessing you support slavery since it was talked about so much in the bible? Get real.....

        September 19, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  19. ALL TALK - no action

    When he puts his words into actual POLICY that the ENTIRE Church starts adhering to, ONLY THEN will I believe his words.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:02 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.