In a press conference given Monday (July 29), on his return flight from his first foreign visit to Brazil, Pope Francis made a surprise intervention on the topic of homosexuality, asking “who am I to judge?”.
“They say they exist. If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalized because of this (orientation) but that they must be integrated into society,” he added.
Responding to accusations of a ‘gay lobby’ working at the heart of the Vatican, Francis quipped, “I have yet to find anyone who has a business card that says he is gay.”
He added that he thought lobbies of any kind — including political ones — were bad. “The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem,” he said.
The press conference lasted for an hour and 20 minutes, and was held during the flight back from his week-long trip to Brazil.
Pope Francis’ intervention in one of the most divisive issues affecting the contemporary Church has been greeted with a wide variety of reactions. Many have stressed distinction from his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.
Benedict XVI has affirmed that men with “deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests”, and has described homosexuality as a “defection of human nature”.
Yet, despite today’s statements, Pope Francis has also acted in unison with his predecessor to affirm his position against gay marriage and same sex adoption rights.
Earlier this month (July 5) Francis signed a joint statement with Benedict XVI, in which they affirmed the “first and foremost” importance of a “stable union of man and woman in marriage”. The statement continued that gay marriage would “seriously harm the family” adding: “At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children.”
Reports NBC World News: ‘Father Thomas J. Reece, a senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter, said that what Francis was saying was that “if a person is a homosexual and that person is trying to live a good life, it’s not our place to judge them.”
“This is very significant I think,” he said. “I think that recently under Pope Benedict there was a move to say that homosexuals could not be priests, that if they were seminarians they should be thrown out,” he said.
“I think that Pope Francis is saying something quite different here. Whether you’re a homosexual or a heterosexual the question is whether they can live a celibate life. Other things coming out of Rome were quite different, just a few years ago,” he added.
Mark Dowd, a former Dominican friar in the U.K. who left the church partly because he fell in love with a former friar, said it was “very welcome that at least he [Francis] engages with the subject.” However Dowd, who become a freelance broadcaster specializing in religion, doubted the comments represented a significant shift in the church, saying they made “a nice headline” but not much else.
“On a scale of zero to 10 about where we need to be, that’s moving from about zero to three as opposed to nine or ten,” he said.’
Pope Francis touched on a range of social questions in his discussion, including the role of women in society and the Catholic Church.
The Church has not done enough to develop “the theology of women in the church,” he affirmed. Whilst the Church has expressed itself clearly on the question of abortion, he also opined that important female biblical figures are too often overlooked.
“Mary is more important than the apostles,” he said. “One must think about women in the church. We have not done enough theology on this.”
Pope Francis’ trip to Brazil this week was greeted with a mass wave of public support. The commemorations saw visitors from all of the world gathering in Rio de Janeiro, with concerts and street parties held throughout the week. 3 million people crammed onto Copacabana beach front for Sunday mass (July 28).
Feminists and LGBT rights activists also made their presence felt throughout the week. Hundreds gathered for a same sex kiss-in outside Pope Francis’ reception ceremony in Guanabara Palace on Tuesday (July 23). 300 demonstrators came together for Rio de Janeiro’s ‘Slut Walk’ on Sunday (July 28), in which activists honed in on the role of the Catholic Church in limiting reproductive rights, and constraining free expression of gender and sexuality.
Pope Francis advised that he had not touched on these issues during his time in Brazil because he had wished to steer clear of questions of gay marriage and abortion during his trip, so as to stay “positive”.