Pope: ‘Who am I to judge gays?’

Pope Francis said Monday that he will not judge gays and lesbians, including gay priests, a huge shift from his predecessor, who sought to bar men with ‘homosexual tendencies’ from the priesthood, and another sign that the new pope is changing the church’s approach to homosexuality.

Pope Francis said Monday that he will not judge gays and lesbians, including gay priests, a huge shift from his predecessor, who sought to bar men with ‘homosexual tendencies’ from the priesthood, and another sign that the new pope is changing the church’s approach to homosexuality.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Pope Francis said in a wide-ranging news conference aboard the papal plane.

Although answering a question about the so-called ‘gay lobby’ at the Vatican, the Pope’s remarks seemed to signal a change in tone, if not in teaching, in the church’s stance toward gays and lesbians more generally.

The Pope was flying back to Rome from Brazil, where he spent the past week celebrating World Youth Day, an international Catholic event that drew millions.

Taking questions from reporters aboard the plane, the pope addressed nearly every hot-button issue facing the Roman Catholic Church–its alleged gay lobby, Vatican bank corruption, the role of women, abortion, homosexuality and his own personal security.

“Pope Francis’s brief comment on gays reveals great mercy,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at America, a Catholic magazine based in New York.

Martin said Francis also showed “greater compassion for divorced and remarried Catholics, a group that has long felt marginalised in the church, and called for a ‘deeper theology’ on the role of women in the church.”

“Today Pope Francis has, once again, lived out the gospel message of compassion for everyone.” Martin said.

The pontiff spoke on the record for an hour and a half in the back of the plane that was carrying him back to Italy after his first international trip as pope to Brazil, where he was greeted by massive, frenzied crowds at every turn.

“I’m happy. It has been a beautiful trip, spiritually speaking; it has been good to me. I'm tired enough but with a heart full of joy,” he said.

On Sunday, the mayor’s office in Rio de Janeiro said more than three million people came to Copacabana Beach for a morning mass with Francis.

Security issues plagued the trip because of Francis’ immense popularity as the first Latin America pope. His motorcade was mobbed after a wrong turn, prompting the military to raise security level and send in reinforcements to protect the pontiff, who insisted on being close to the people.

“There is always the danger that there is the crazy person, and we never know what they will do,” Francis said. “But to create a safety barrier between the bishop and its people is insane. And I’m outside this security. I prefer the risks of the madness outside, to be close to the people.”

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