Pope Francis has had a busy week at World Youth Day in Rio as he visited his slums and prisons, blessed the Olympic flag and brought three million people to Copacabana Beach for a final Mass on Sunday morning.
Now he has made another headline, this time when the pontiff said, "Who am I to judge a gay person?"
While taking questions from reporters on the plane back to Rome, Francis spoke about gays and the reported "gay lobby." According to the Wall Street Journal, the Pope's comments about homosexuality came in the context of a question about gay priests.
The pontiff broached the delicate question of how he would respond to learning that a cleric in his ranks was gay, though not sexually active. For decades, the Vatican has regarded homosexuality as a "disorder," and Pope Francis' predecessor Pope Benedict XVI formally barred men with what the Vatican deemed "deep-seated" homosexuality from entering the priesthood.
"Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?" the pontiff said, speaking in Italian. "You can't marginalize these people."
John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter reported on the meeting as well and said the Pope also addressed the question of the Vatican's reported "gay lobby".
He hasn’t run into significant resistance to reform inside the Vatican, and joked that if there really is a “gay lobby” he hasn’t yet seen it stamped on anyone’s ID cards.
Father James Martin, S.J. who is an admirer of Francis, said that the pontiff's comment about gay people is consistent with the rest of his papacy.
"One of Francis's hallmarks is an emphasis on mercy, which you see in that response. That mercy, of course, comes from Jesus. And we can never have too much of it."
The pope did not offer much hope for those advocating for women Catholic priests, according to Allen at NCR, saying: Pope John Paul II “definitively … closed the door' to women priests.
More from the Associated Press:
ABOARD THE PAPAL AIRCRAFT — Pope Francis reached out to gays on Monday, saying he wouldn't judge priests for their sexual orientation in a remarkably open and wide-ranging news conference as he returned from his first foreign trip.
"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" Francis asked.
His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis was much more conciliatory, saying gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.
Francis' remarks came Monday during a plane journey back to the Vatican from his first foreign trip in Brazil.
He was funny and candid during a news conference that lasted almost an hour and a half. He didn't dodge a single question, even thanking the journalist who raised allegations reported by an Italian newsmagazine that one of his trusted monsignors was involved in a scandalous gay tryst.
Francis said he investigated and found nothing to back up the allegations.
Francis was asked about Italian media reports suggesting that a group within the church tried to blackmail fellow church officials with evidence of their homosexual activities. Italian media reported this year that the allegations contributed to Benedict's decision to resign
While stressing Catholic social teaching that calls for homosexuals to be treated with dignity and not marginalized, Francis said it was something else entirely to conspire to use private information for blackmail or to exert pressure.
Francis was responding to reports that a trusted aide was involved in an alleged gay tryst a decade ago. He said he investigated the allegations according to canon law and found nothing to back them up. But he took journalists to task for reporting on the matter, saying the allegations concerned matters of sin, not crimes like sexually abusing children.
And when someone sins and confesses, he said, God not only forgives but forgets.
"We don't have the right to not forget," he said.