Pope Francis: I won't judge gay priests

In a wide-ranging interview, the Pope also touched upon the status of women in the church

Pope Francis celebrates the last mass of his visit to Brazil, at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro (Luca Zennaro/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis appeared to soften the Catholic Church's stance on gays Monday, saying that he wouldn’t judge priests for their sexual orientation, a marked departure from his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis asked in response to a question about homosexuality in a wide-ranging news conference after his first foreign trip as leader of the Catholic church.

Whereas his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests, Pope Francis was much more conciliatory. He said gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.

The pope also touched on the status of women in the church.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, while he said that the church under Pope John Paul II had "spoken and said no" on the status of ordaining women as priests, he did emphasize their overriding importance in the church.

He lamented the lack of "a truly deep theology of women in the church," and reminded reporters that the church was more influenced by Mary, the mother of the Jesus, than the all male apostles.

The pope's remarks came Monday during a plane trip back to the Vatican from his first foreign trip in Brazil.

Francis did not dodge questions during a candid, hour-long news conference, even thanking the journalist who raised allegations reported by an Italian newsmagazine that one of his trusted monsignors was involved in a scandalous gay tryst.

The pope was also asked about reports suggesting that a group within the church tried to blackmail fellow church officials with evidence of their homosexual activities, allegations that some observers believe contributed to Benedict’s decision to resign.

While stressing Catholic social teaching that calls for homosexuals to be treated with dignity and not marginalized, Francis said it was something else entirely to conspire to use private information for blackmail or to exert pressure.

Francis said he investigated the allegations according to canon law and found nothing to back them up. But he took journalists to task for reporting on the matter, saying the allegations concerned matters of sin, not crimes like sexually abusing children.

And when someone sins and confesses, he added, God not only forgives but forgets. “We don’t have the right to not forget,” Francis said.

Source: Al Jazeera and Associated Press

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