Pope Francis once again is shifting the tone of discussions on church doctrine to promote a more inclusive approach to Catholicism, this time with candid remarks about gay and lesbian people and women’s place in the church.
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis told reporters during an informal press conference July 29, adding that gay and lesbian people “shouldn’t be marginalized.”
His comments, made aboard the papal airplane en route from Brazil to the Vatican, came in stark contrast to those of his predecessor. Benedict XVI wrote in 2005 that homosexuality is “an intrinsic moral evil” and that men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” should not become priests. While practicing homosexuality is still considered a sin by the church, Pope Francis’s remarks leave room for Catholic leaders to welcome celibate gay priests.
Francis also addressed the position of women in the church. He said that while the door is closed on ordaining women as priests, he aims to define a “new theology” of women’s involvement in Catholicism.
“We cannot limit the role of women in the church to altar girls or the president of a charity, there must be more,” Francis said.
Interestingly, PRRI data shows there is currently support for both a female and gay priesthood, with a majority of Catholics in favor of both ordaining women and ordaining gay and lesbian people as clergy.
Seven-in-ten Catholics report that women should be eligible for ordination as clergy with no special requirements. Among all Americans, a similar number (71 percent) voice support for the ordination of female clergy. A majority (54 percent) of Catholics also favor allowing the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy, although a significant minority (37 percent) are opposed to such ordinations. Half (50 percent) of Americans agree that gay and lesbian people should be eligible for ordination as clergy with no special requirements, while fewer than 4-in-10 (38 percent) disagree.
Francis spoke following his visit to Brazil for World Youth Day, which marked his first trip abroad as pope and culminated in a Rio de Janeiro beach Mass that brought out at least 1.5 million people and included a flash mob led by dancing bishops.