In a statement that would be interpreted as conciliatory, Pope Francis said he would not be the one to judge priests over their sexual orientation. He made his comments on Monday in a news conference after a week-long tour of Brazil.
According to AP, in a candid conversation with journalists that lasted about 80 minutes, Francis responded to a question about allegations made by an Italian news magazine that a trusted aide and senior church official was involved in a gay scandal and that some church officials were being blackmailed over gay activities, saying the allegations have been investigated and authorities have found no evidence to back them up. He said: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"
He said the allegations concerned "matters of sin, not crimes like sexually abusing children." According to Francis, as far as church teaching was concerned, if anyone sins and confesses his sin, he is forgiven. He said: "We don't have the right to not forget."
Reuters reports that answering a question about "gay lobby" in the church, he said: "You see a lot written about the gay lobby. I still have not seen anyone in the Vatican with an identity card saying they are gay."
Francis reaffirmed the church teaching that homosexuality is a sin. But he said gays should not be judged or marginalized and that efforts should be made to integrate them into society. He referred to the Catholic Church's Catechism that says homosexual orientation is not sinful but that homosexual acts are.
He said: "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. 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."
Some media reports have alleged that Pope Benedict XVI resigned over gay scandals that hit the Church. Benedict signed a document in 2005 that said gay men should not be appointed as priests.
AP comments that the forthright manner in which he addressed the issues suggested he was anxious to address them once and for all so he can face the challenges of the planned reform of the Vatican bank and church bureaucracy with undivided attention.
He also broke protocol to comment on the widely-reported story that he was seen carrying a black bag as he boarded the plane to Rio. According to AP, he said it was not unusual for him to carry a bag while travelling. He joked: "The keys to the atomic bomb weren't in it."
He explained that the bag contained his razor, his prayer book, his agenda for the trip and one of his favorite books about St. Terese of Lisieux. He explained that it is normal for him to carry a bag while travelling.
His tour of Brazil ended at Rio's Copacabana beach at a gathering for the Catholic World Youth Day which reportedly attracted a crowd of three million.
Commenting generally about his visit to Rio during which he breached normal Vatican security protocol by using an open-sided car instead of his bulletproof popemobile, and specifically about a widely reported incident in which his car was mobbed by fans, he said: "There wasn't a single incident in all of Rio de Janeiro in all of these days and all of this spontaneity. I could be with the people, embrace them and greet them — without an armored car and instead with the security of trusting the people."
Acknowledging the risk that a "loon" could have attacked him, he said the risk was worth the opportunity to get close to the people as he did not subscribe to the idea of a bulletproof wall between the shepherd and his flock.
Reuters reports he said: "Security lies in trusting people. It is true that there is always a danger that a loony person might try to do something, but there is also the Lord."
During the interview, Francis also reaffirmed the Church's ban on Catholic women as priests, but said he favors women participating more in administration and pastoral activities. According to Reuters, he said: "We cannot limit the role of women in the Church to altar girls or the president of a charity, there must be more... But with regards to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and says 'no.' Pope John Paul said so with a formula that was definitive. That door is closed."
The position of the Catholic authorities is that women cannot be ordained because Jesus chose only men as his apostles.
Speaking about his predecessor Benedict XVI, he said it was "like having a grandfather, a wise grandfather, living at home." He said he regularly seeks his advice but that he was not under his influence or control.
Speaking about the case of the Vatican official, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, who is serving a prison sentence after being found guilty of attempting to smuggle $26 million from Switzerland to Italy, Francis, according to Reuters, said: "There are many people (in the Vatican) who are saints but there are those who are not very saintly... and it pains me when this happens. There is this monsignor in jail. He didn't go to jail because he resembled a saint... these are scandals that do damage."
AP reports Francis said he is considering a trip to the Holy Land next year as well as trips to Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
He also said that because of the risk of traveling on icy roads in Poland, the canonizations of Pope John Paul II and John XXXIII planned for December 8 will likely be postponed until after Easter.