ROME — Striking a breathtakingly conciliatory approach to a hot-button issue that has divided Catholics, Pope Francis on Monday said that he would not 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?” Francis said, according to media reports.
His comments came in an unprecedented 80-minute press conference with reporters on his plane returning from a papal visit to Brazil for World Youth Day, in which he spoke openly about everything from the troubled Vatican Bank to the greater role that he believed women should have in the Catholic Church.
His predecessor, Benedict XVI, who retired in February, wrote a Vatican document that said that men with homosexual tendencies should not become priests. During his papal trips, Benedict responded only to a handful of preselected questions from reporters.
Reporters on the plane said that Francis had been candid and high-spirited and did not dodge questions, even thanking the person who asked about reports of a “gay lobby” inside the Vatican, and about Italian press reports that one of the advisers he had appointed to look into the Vatican Bank had been accused of having gay trysts.
Francis said he had investigated the reports and found them groundless. He added that while such a lobby would be an issue, he did not have anything against gays and that their sins should be forgiven, media reports said. He said that while homosexuals should be treated with dignity, using sexual orientation for blackmail or pressure was a different matter.
The pope also told reporters that while Pope John Paul II had “definitively closed the door” to women priests, Francis sought a “theology of women” and a greater role for them inside Catholic life, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
Since he became pope in March, Francis has been known for his style of radical simplicity and directness, an approach that seemed to go over well on his first foreign trip. While Benedict’s 2006 visit to Brazil was subdued, Francis was greeted like a rock star by throngs of faithful, and more than 1 million people — some reports said as many as 3 million — gathered for an open-air Mass on the Copacabana Beach on Sunday.
In recent years, both Benedict and Francis have tried to institute changes at the Vatican Bank, known as the Institute for Works of Religion, or its Italian acronym, IOR, so that it meets international anti-money laundering norms that are a condition for using the euro. The bank has been reluctant about revealing who its account holders were and is investigating cases in which prelates with accounts there may have been fronts for others.
Asked about the Vatican Bank, Francis said, “Some say that it’s better to have a bank, others that it would be better to have a fund, still other say to close it. I trust in the work of the people at the IOR and of the commission that’s working on it. I can’t say how it will end,” the Vatican Insider reported.
“But certainly whatever the IOR becomes requires transparency and honesty,” the pope added.
Francis also commented on the case of Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, who was suspended as an accountant in the Vatican after being arrested in June and accused of involvement in a plot to bring 20 million euros from Switzerland into Italy with the help of a former secret service agent and a financial broker, both of whom were also arrested.
Francis said, jokingly, that the monsignor had not been jailed “because he resembles the Blessed Imelda,” using an expression that means “he’s no saint,” National Catholic Reporter reported.