Pope Francis

Candid Pope defends gay priests, admits to problems within Vatican

Pope responds to reports of 'gay lobby'' in Vatican, says again ban on women priests is definitive

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 July, 2013, 11:40pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 July, 2013, 1:59am

Pope Francis reached out to gay clergy yesterday, saying he wouldn't judge priests for their sexual orientation in an unprecedented 80-minute news conference as he returned from his first overseas trip.

Speaking with journalists on the plane bringing him back from a week-long visit to Brazil, Francis also said the Catholic Church's ban on women priests was definitive, although he would like them to have more leadership roles in administration and pastoral activities.

He expressed pain over scandals at the Vatican bank during a remarkably forthright press conference, his first since being elected in March to replace Benedict, the first pontiff to resign in 600 years.

Francis said there were saints in the Holy See but also "those who are not very saintly".

The airborne conversation with journalists covered issues as varied as the pope's insistence on low-key security to his desire to slip out of the shackles of the Vatican to go for walks.

The pope then arrived back in Rome after a triumphant week-long tour of Brazil which culminated in a huge gathering on Rio de Janeiro's famed Copacabana beach for a world Catholic youth festival, which organisers estimated to have attracted more than 3 million people.

While Francis criticised discrimination of gays he also made clear the Catholic church's universal catechism, which says that while homosexual orientation is not sinful homosexual acts are.

If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?

"If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?" the pope said.

"The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalised because of [their orientation] but that they must be integrated into society," he said, speaking in Italian.

"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.

Francis was answering a question about reports of a "gay lobby" in the Vatican, after it suffered a string of scandals over corruption in the administration of the Holy See.

"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," he joked.

Addressing the issue of women priests, the pope said: "The Church has spoken and says 'no'. Pope John Paul said so with a formula that was definitive. That door is closed," he said, referring to a document by the late pontiff which said the ban was part of the infallible teaching of the Church. It was the first time he had spoken in public on the subject.

"We cannot limit the role of women in the Church to altar girls or the president of a charity. There must be more," he added.

The Church says it cannot ordain women because Jesus willingly chose only men as his apostles. Advocates of a female priesthood say he was acting according to the customs of his times.

Many in the Church, even those who oppose a female priesthood, say women should be given leadership roles in the Church and the Vatican administration.

The long session on the plane was highly unusual in the history of the modern papacy for both its candour and breadth.

Unlike his predecessor Benedict, who knew in advance the few questions journalists would be allowed to ask, 76-year-old Francis imposed no restrictions as he fielded 21 questions.

He spoke of reforms he had initiated within the Vatican, which has been tarnished by a series of scandals. The Vatican bank is the target of several Italian money laundering investigations.

Francis said the bank must become "honest and transparent" and that he will listen to the advice of a commission he has set up on whether it can be reformed or should be closed altogether.

Francis referred directly to Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a Vatican prelate arrested last month on suspicion of attempting to smuggle €20 million (HK$206.02 million) into Italy from Switzerland.

"There are many people (in the Vatican) who are saints but there are those who are not very saintly ... There is this monsignor in jail. He didn't go to jail because he resembled a saint ... these are scandals that do damage," he said.



Papal quotes on flight from Brazil

HE WON'T JUDGE PRIESTS FOR THEIR SEXUAL ORIENTATION: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"

HE BENDS TO HIS BODYGUARDS ON PAPAL SECURITY: "I'd like to walk in the streets. But I know it's impossible."

NO IMMINENT TRIP TO HIS NATIVE ARGENTINA SINCE HE'S JUST RETURNED FROM BRAZIL: "A Latin American pope, his first trip to Latin America? Arrivederci."

CHURCH SHOULD BUILD BIGGER ROLE FOR WOMEN — THOUGH NOT AS PRIESTS: "We must go further in the explicitness of the role and charisma of women living in the church."


HE'S TIRED AND HE HURT HIS SCIATIC NERVE USING A BAD CHAIR: "It was so painful. So painful! I wouldn't wish it on anyone."

HE LIKES HIS ADVISERS TO CHALLENGE HIM: "I like it when someone tells me 'I don't agree.' This is a true collaborator. When they say 'Oh, how great, how great, how great,' that's not useful."

HE LOVES RETIRED POPE BENEDICT XVI LIKE A GRANDFATHER: "The last time there were two or three popes, they didn't talk among themselves and they fought over who was the true pope!" Having Benedict living in the Vatican "is like having a grandfather — a wise grandfather — living at home."

Associated Press