“We shouldn’t marginalize people for this. They must be integrated into society”, said the pope. His comments came during his first news conference as pope aboard his plane returning from his first papal trip – to Brazil in celebration of World Youth Day.
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” he asked.
The pope was remarkably open during the 82-minute exchange with reporters, answering every question asked, including queries on the role of women in the church, the troubled Vatican bank, and the so-called “gay lobby” in the Vatican.
Though the pope’s remarks did not signal a change in church teaching that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered”, the shift in tone toward gays is being viewed as an encouraging sign by many gay leaders, who see it as a step in the right direction.
Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay rights group in the United States, issued a statement saying the pope’s comments “represent a significant change in tone.”
However, HRC president Chad Griffin cautioned that so 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.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the gay rights group New Ways Ministry, said he was basically “overjoyed at the news”, noting that “for decades now, we’ve had nothing but negative comments about gay and lesbian people coming from the Vatican”.
In answering a question about a “gay lobby” – a group of gay clergymen who influence Vatican policy – Francis joked that “a lot is written about this gay lobby. I still haven’t found anyone at the Vatican who has ‘gay’ on his business card. You have to distinguish between the fact that someone is gay and the fact of being in a lobby.”
The pope also said he wanted women to have a greater role in the church, though he admitted “the door is closed” to ordaining them as priests. Image/Reuters