Pope Francis on Monday said “who am I to judge?” gay people as he discussed one of the most divisive issues affecting the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis, who gave a press conference on his flight back from Brazil, said he had stayed away from the gay marriage debate on his trip because he wanted to stay positive.
“I have yet to find anyone who has a business card that says he is gay,” the pontiff said at a press conference in which he addressed the reports of a “gay lobby” within the Vatican.
“They say they exist. If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” he added. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalized because of this (orientation) but that they must be integrated into society.”
Francis added that he thought lobbies of any kind — including political ones — were bad.
“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.
The press conference, which lasted for an hour and 20 minutes, was held during the flight back from his week-long trip to Brazil.
The official position of the Catholic Church on the issue is that while homosexual desires or attractions are not in themselves sinful, the physical acts are.
Despite the “official position” the position in fact has treated gays as outcasts and sinners.
The Pope also addressed claims by Italian media that Pope Benedict stepped down in part over a scandal that church officials attempted to blackmail another church official claiming homosexual activities:
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.
Stressing that 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.
While these comments are indicative that the Pope intends to clean up systemic problems within the Vatican bureaucracy, he’s also hoping to address longstanding bias against gays, both in the clergy and parishioners. It’s a start, but there’s a way to go.