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Pope Francis: Church does not want to condemn gays

'We must always consider the person,' new pontiff says in wide-ranging interview

Is Pope Francis charting a new course for the Roman Catholic Church?

In a wide-ranging interview with the editor-in-chief of Italian Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica, Pope Francis elaborated on previous comments he made about homosexuality on a flight back to Rome, saying that the church doesn’t want to condemn gays.

“During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says," the pope explains.

“Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.”

The pontiff added, “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation.”

Pope Francis’s statements are in stark contrast to those made by Benedict XVI, his predecessor, who deemed homosexuality to be an “objective disorder” and “a strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.”

According to the current pope, the dogmatic and moral teachings of the church “aren’t all equivalent,” and the church’s ministry “cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently."

The interview with Francis, which took place last month on behalf of a number of Jesuit journals, also covered topics like the influence of the Second Vatican Council, the role of women in the church, the pontiff’s experience with government earlier in his career, the assumption that he is an “ultraconservative,” and his philosophy about the look and role of the church.

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people,” he says. “We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”

Francis commented on the numerous complaints he’s received from conservatives in the church, calling for investigations and the disciplining of priests, nuns and bishops. He said such matters are better handled at the local level or else the Vatican offices risk becoming “institutions of censorship.”

In response to the interview, one New York Times reader says he thinks the pope’s statements are “merely a pragmatic attempt to enlarge the Roman Catholic Church by creating a ‘big tent.’

“There is a realization that the Roman Church is shrinking and will continue to do so if nothing changes. The risk of course is that conservatives become alienated and fracture from the main body.”

Still another commenter wrote, “I applaud Pope Francis for taking a seemingly more tolerant attitude towards issues like homosexuality, abortion and birth control. There are way more important and pressing issues for the Catholic Church to be concerning themselves with. In fact, the church would better serve the poor by being a strong advocate for family planning as a way to reduce poverty, unplanned pregnancies and, ultimately, abortions.”

Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin welcomes the pope’s latest statements as a sign that the pontiff has “pressed the reset the button on the Roman Catholic Church’s treatment of LGBT people.”

Griffin added, "Now, it's time for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to catch up and drop their opposition to even the most basic protections for LGBT people. Otherwise, they risk being left far behind by American Catholics and this remarkable Pope.

“At a moment when Pope Francis is re-dedicating the Church to tirelessly helping the poor, it's unacceptable for American bishops to continue wasting millions of parishioner dollars on harmful anti-LGBT political campaigns that target members of their own flock,” Griffin said.