- Pope Francis striking a conciliatory stance toward gays during an extraordinary 82-minute exchange with reporters aboard his plane returning from his first papal trip, to celebrate World Youth Day in Brazil.
"We shouldn't marginalize people for this. They must be integrated into society," Francis said
"Certainly (the church) can not exclude people that have that attraction.. but ...he talked about 'people of good faith'. And by that I think he means those that are willing to accept the teachings of the church and live a chaste life,"
- Rev. Martin Moleski, S.J.
Hear more with Moleski and Msgr. Bill Gallagher of St. John Vianney in Orchard Park
While his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, responded to only a few pre-selected questions during his papal trips, Francis did not dodge a single query, even thanking the journalist who asked about reports of a "gay lobby" inside the Vatican and allegations that one of his trusted monsignors was involved in a gay tryst.
Francis said he investigated the allegations against the clergyman according to canon law and found nothing to back them up. He took journalists to task for reporting on the matter, saying it concerned issues of sin, not crimes like sexually abusing children. And when someone sins and confesses, he said, God not only forgives - he forgets."We don't have the right to not forget," he said.
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While the comments did not signal a change in Catholic teaching that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered," they indicated a shift in tone under Francis' young papacy and an emphasis on a church that is more inclusive and merciful rather than critical and disciplinary.
Francis' stance contrasted markedly with that of Benedict, who signed a document in 2005 that said men who had deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests.
Francis also said he wanted a greater role for women in the church, though he insisted "the door is closed" to ordaining them as priests. In one of his most important speeches in Rio, Francis described the church in feminine terms, saying it would be "sterile" without women.
Gay leaders were buoyed by Francis' approach, saying the change in tone was progress in itself, although for some the encouragement was tempered by Francis' talk of gay clergy's "sins."
"Basically, I'm overjoyed at the news," said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the U.S.-based New Ways Ministry, a group that promotes justice and reconciliation for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and the wider church community.
"For decades now, we've had nothing but negative comments about gay and lesbian people coming from the Vatican," DeBernardo said in a telephone interview from Maryland.
The largest U.S. gay rights group, Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that the pope's remarks "represent a significant change in tone."
Still, said Chad Griffin, the HRC president, as long as gays "are told in churches big and small that their lives and their families are disordered and sinful because of how they were born - how God made them - then the church is sending a deeply harmful message."
In Italy, the country's first openly gay governor, Nichi Vendola, urged fellow politicians to learn a lesson from the pope.
"I believe that if politics had one-millionth of the capacity to ... listen that the pope does, it would be better able to help people who suffer," he said.
Vendola praised the pope for drawing a clear line between homosexuality and pedophilia. "We know that a part of reactionary clerical thought plays on the confusion between these two completely different categories," he said.
Francis did not shy away from controversial topics, including reports suggesting that a group of gay clergymen exert undue influence on Vatican policy. Italian news media reported this year that the allegations of a so-called "gay lobby" contributed to Benedict's decision to resign.
"A lot is written about this gay lobby. I still haven't found anyone at the Vatican who has `gay' on his business card," Francis said, chuckling. "You have to distinguish between the fact that someone is gay and the fact of being in a lobby."
The term "gay lobby" is bandied about with abandon in the Italian media and is decidedly vague. Interpretations of what it means have ranged from a group of celibate gay priests who are friends, to suggestions that a group of sexually active gay priests use blackmail to exert influence on Vatican decision-making.
Stressing that Catholic teaching calls for homosexuals to be treated with dignity and not marginalized, Francis said he would not condone anyone using private information for blackmail or to exert pressure.
On his return flight from Brazil, Pope Francis gave a remarkably open and wide-ranging news conference in which no question was off the table, an unusual break from the tradition of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
< Pope Francis speaks to journalists on July 29 during a news conference aboard the papal flight on its way back from Brazil. (AP Photo/Luca Zennaro)
On Gay Priests: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis asked. “We shouldn’t marginalize people for this. They must be integrated into society.” Francis said gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.
On his decision to forgo typical papal security and the bulletproof popemobile, Francis said “I could be with the people, embrace them and greet them – without an armored car and instead with the security of trusting the people.” He said he preferred taking a risk than submitting to the “craziness” of putting an armored wall between a shepherd and his flock.
What’s in the bag? : Francis also addressed the fascination stirred by photos of him carrying his own black bag while flying, an unusual practice for a pope. “The keys to the atomic bomb weren’t in it,” he joked. He said the bag contained a razor, a prayer book, his agenda and a book on St. Terese of Lisieux, to whom he is particularly devoted. “It’s normal” to carry a bag when traveling, he said. “We have to get use to this being normal.”
- Next Trip: He said he is thinking about traveling to the Holy Land next year and is considering invitations from Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
- The planned Dec. 8 canonizations of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will likely be changed - perhaps until the weekend after Easter - because road conditions in December would be dangerously icy for people from John Paul's native Poland traveling to the ceremony by bus.
People wave as Pope Francis arrives to celebrate the World Youth Day's final Mass on the Copacabana beachfront, as Brazilian Navy frigate ships navigate off the shore in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, July 28, 2013. Many of the youngsters on hand for the Mass spent the night on the beach, an all-night slumber party to end the Catholic youth fest, with pilgrims wrapped in flags and sleeping bags to ward off the cold. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
Bishop Richard Malone has issued a statement:
It is important to understand that when we hear the Pope saying he cannot “judge” gays, he is talking about the persons, not behavior. He is talking about priests who may be homosexual, but is assuming that they are chaste. And if they have sinned, they are repentant and now chaste. Priests make a lifelong commitment to live a chaste celibate life, and candidates for the priesthood need to be able to live a life of chaste celibacy, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual. If someone is not capable with God’s help of living a lifelong commitment to celibate chastity, he should not be a priest.
The Roman Catholic Church does not define or label people in terms of their sexual orientation. The Church is open to all people and recognizes their innate dignity as children of God. The Church also believes that all sexual activity, properly and exclusively, belongs within the marriage of a man and a woman. Outside of that context, sexual relations are viewed as being objectively immoral. The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2358 says that homosexual persons “must be accepted with compassion, respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination must be avoided.” Homosexuals are welcome in the Church and encouraged like all to live a chaste life.