Pope Francis said Monday that he will not “judge” gays and lesbians – including gay priests – signaling a shift from his predecessor and offering another sign that the new pope is committed to changing the church’s approach to historically marginalized groups.
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis said in a wide-ranging news conference aboard the papal plane.
Though he was answering a question about the so-called “gay lobby” at the Vatican, the pope seemed to signal a change in tone, if not in teaching, in the church’s stance towards gays and lesbians more generally.
The pope was flying back to Rome from Brazil, where he spent the past week celebrating World Youth Day, an international Catholic event that drew millions.
Taking questions from reporters aboard the plane, the pope addressed nearly every hot-button issue facing the Roman Catholic Church: its alleged “gay lobby,” Vatican bank corruption, the role of women, abortion, homosexuality and his own personal security.
But it was the pope’s remarks on homosexuality – the fact that the head of a 1 billion-member church said that it’s not his place to judge gays – that caused the widest stir.
“Pope Francis’s brief comment on gays reveals great mercy,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at America, a Catholic magazine based in New York.
The pope addressed the issue of an alleged “gay lobby” within the church. Hints that the Holy See contained a network of gay clergy surfaced last year in reports about a series of embarrassing leaks to Italian journalists.
The “Vatileaks” scandal factored in Benedict’s shocking decision to resign this year, according to some church experts, as it impressed upon the 86-year-old pontiff that the modern papacy requires a vigorous and watchful presence.
“There’s a lot of talk about the gay lobby, but I’ve never seen it on the Vatican ID card!” Francis said.
“When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency to homosexuality is not the problem … they’re our brothers.”