Pope Francis says he won’t judge gay priests

By Eric Lyman

ROME – Pope Francis said Monday that he won’t “judge” gay priests, which Vatican analysts say may be the opening for a more conciliatory attitude toward gay members of the church.

“What is important here is the way the Holy Father was willing to discuss all topics in an open dialogue,” said Alistair Sear, a priest and church historian.

Pope Francis: "If someone is gay ... who am I to judge?"
Pope Francis: “If someone is gay … who am I to judge?”

It was not immediately clear how the new pontiff’s statement would impact church policy: the church is already open to gays, even in holy orders, as long as they do not perform homosexual acts.

But experts said Francis’ remarks were still significant because they mark the first time a pope had spoken so openly about the topic.

The pope’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, authored a document that said men with homosexual orientations should not be priests. Francis appears to be softening that position.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” the pope said, speaking to reporters on an overnight flight as he returned to Rome from a week-long trip to Brazil.

Francis discussed the issue after a reporter asked about a report in an Italian magazine that a Vatican monsignor named Battista Ricca engaged in gay sexual relationships years ago while living in Latin America. The pope said a preliminary Vatican investigation of Ricca had found no wrongdoing.

Francis then went on to discuss a range of topics from having former pope Benedict XVI living so close by (“It’s like having your grandpa at home, someone who is wise, venerated, loved, and listened to,” Francis said, according to a preliminary transcript released by the Vatican), to the role of women in the church (“On the ordination of women, the church has spoken and said no,” the pope said), to whether or not Dec. 8 will indeed be the date in which Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II would be canonized

“The problem is all the people who will want to come from Poland … many will take buses and by December the roads are iced. We have to rethink the date,” he said.

But by far, Francis’ most attention-grabbing statements came when asked about Italina media reports of a “gay lobby” inside the Vatican.

“When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby,” the pope said. “If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency (to be homosexual) is not the problem. They are our brothers.”

Alessandro Di Antonio, an officer with the National Union of Gay Italians in Rome, welcomed Francis’ remarks.

“It is such a great relief to hear a pope of all people talk about gay issues in a non-judgmental way like this,” Di Antonio said. “I wish all Catholics would follow this lead.”

The pope ended the first foreign trip of his papacy Monday, a trip centered around World Youth Day, where he urged young people to build a better world and construct an inclusive “civilization of love.”

“The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some,” Francis said while celebrating Mass for more than 3 million Catholics crowding Copacabana beach. “Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away.”

In the nearly week-long trip to Brazil, the pope put forward his priorities: showing solidarity with the poor, getting priests out of their parishes and closer to the people, and re-evangelizing regions where Catholics have abandoned the church.

World Youth Day is a gathering of young Catholics every two or three years started by Pope John Paul II in 1987. In Brazil, he addressed event volunteers – mostly young people – in central Rio, where he spoke of traditional values and challenged them to be “revolutionary,” “go against the current,” and “rebel against this culture of the provisional.”

Contributing: David Agren in Rio de Janeiro, John Bacon in McLean, Va.

(From USA Today)