In an unprecedented move Pope Francis told reporters on Monday that he would not judge gay men who enter the priesthood after he was asked a question during a free-wheeling and spontaneous exchange with news reporters aboard his plane as he returned to Rome after a week-long official visit to Brazil.
“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 whether there was a gay lobby operating inside the Vatican. He joked that there has been “a lot of talk” about a gay lobby but he had “never seen it on the Vatican ID card.”
His position is in remarkable contrast to that of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who wrote that homosexual men should not become priests. Benedict retired in March.
The 20-minute news conference aboard the chartered Alitalia Airbus A330 took place with 75 correspondents from 14 countries, who had traveled with Francis to cover his first official visit abroad since he was elected in April.
The hearts of the Brazilian people are very big. They are kind people who love to party and, who even in suffering, always find a way to do something good."
Before taking questions, 76-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina acknowledged that he “was very tired” but happy with his experience in Rio de Janeiro, where his trip culminated over the weekend with the celebration of the biennial World Youth Day.
“The hearts of the Brazilian people are very big. They are kind people who love to party and, who even in suffering, always find a way to do something good. The happiness Brazilians hold is contagious.”
The pope played down the confusion over security when he arrived in Rio on July 22. Thousands swarmed his vehicle as it entered the center of the city after the driver had reportedly taken a wrong turn.
“There has been a lot of talk here and there about security. But there was not one incident; everything was spontaneous. I am thankful I didn’t have a lot of security around me because I was able to get close to the people, hug them and greet them, without any armored car.”
The pope opted for a small Fiat Idea with a reduced number of bodyguards to escort him as he made his way to the governor’s palace, instead of the armored Popemobile employed by his predecessors. The following are excerpts from his news conference.
Question. In these four pontifical months, you have created various commissions to reform the Vatican Curia. What types of reforms do you have in mind? Do you have any plans to abolish the Vatican Bank?
I don’t know how the [Vatican Bank] will end up. Some say that it is better if it remains as a bank; others want it to become a charity fund, while there are still others who want it closed."
Answer. Everything is based on two fronts. First of all, I am reforming everything that the cardinals said needed reform during the general congregations [meetings before preparing for a conclave]. I remember they were asking for a lot of things, and thinking it was going to be a task for someone else to undertake. The second front is opportunity. I planned on undertaking the economic part next year because it was not the most important thing we need to work on. However, that schedule has changed due to the circumstances that you all know about [the Vatican Bank scandal], and that are topics of public discussion that must be confronted. I don’t know how the [Vatican Bank] will end up. Some say that it is better if it remains as a bank; others want it to become a charity fund, while there are still others who want it closed. I hear so many opinions. I don’t know; I am putting my trust in those who are working on this. In any case, whether it remains a bank, or becomes a fund or whatever, there must be transparency and honesty.
Q. You have not spoken about abortion or same sex marriage. In Brazil, a law has been passed that extends abortion rights and another one that supports same sex unions. Was there any reason why you didn’t speak on these issues?
A. The Church has expressed itself perfectly over these matters; I didn’t think it was necessary for me to return to these subjects. Just as I didn’t speak about swindling, lying and other things that the Church has a long-standing doctrine on. It wasn’t necessary to speak about these things, only the positive things that open the way for youths. Also, young people know perfectly well the Church’s position.
Q. What should be the role of women in the Church? What do you think of the ordination of women as priests?
A. Like I told the bishops about the participation of women in the Church: we talk about whether they can serve as altar boys, presiding over Cáritas, and teaching Catechism … there has to be something more; there has to be a deep theology for women. As to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and has said no. Pope John Paul II spoke of it in a manner that is final. That door is closed. But I want to tell you something concerning this: the Virgin Mary was more important than the apostles, bishops, deacons and priests. The role of a woman in the Church is more important than the bishops and the priests. How is that so? Well, I think we have to try to explain this better. I think there is an explicit lack of theology over this.
Q. What is your relationship with Benedict XVI? Does he help you?
As to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and has said no. Pope John Paul II spoke of it in a manner that is final. That door is closed"
A. The last time there were two, or even three, popes they did not speak to one another because they were fighting over which one of them was the real pontiff. There is something that defines my relationship with Benedict: I love him a lot. I have always loved him because he's a humble man of God and a man of prayer. I was very happy when he was elected pope. When he resigned, it was a great example [...] some say to me, how is it possible to have two popes in the Vatican? I heard a beautiful phrase that it's like having your grandpa at home; someone who is wise, venerated, loved and listened to. If I have a problem, something I don't understand, I can ask. On the Vatican leaks scandal, for example, he explained everything with simplicity and a spirit of service.
Q. When the Vatileaks scandal broke, did it scare you?
A. No. I am going to share an anecdote with you about the Vatileaks report. When I went to see Benedict after my election, and after we prayed in the chapel at [Castel Gandolfo], we met in his office and there was a big box and one envelope. Benedict told me: in this large box here are all the statements that the witnesses have given. And the summary and final conclusions are inside this envelope. And here it says, this, this, this… He had it all in his head. But no it didn’t scare me; it is a big problem, but it didn’t scare me.