This has been a stunner of a week. I’m still reeling.
It started with the closing of World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, where Pope Francis’ closing Mass on Copacabana beach drew an estimated three million participants. Many of them were enthusiastic young people. He encouraged them to go home and shake things up, “make a mess.”
He set the first example.
He was asked about gay priests and gay Catholics.
Gay people should be integrated into society instead of ostracized, Pope Francis told journalists. Answering a question about reports of homosexuals in the clergy, the pope answered, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
One question centered on recent reports in Italian media that accused the Vatican Bank’s Monsignor Battista Ricca of having an affair with a Swiss Army captain. In response, Francis said he looked into the reports but found nothing to support the allegations.
The pope also used the occasion to expand on his June remarks about a “gay lobby” in the Vatican, clarifying that “he was against all lobbies, not just gay ones,” the Italian news agency reports.
“Being gay is a tendency. The problem is the lobby,” ANSA quotes the pontiff saying. “The lobby is unacceptable, the gay one, the political one, the Masonic one.”
The pope’s view of gays is being seen as diverging from his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict 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.”
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well,” Francis said, according to . “It says they should not be marginalized because of this but that they must be integrated into society.”
During the news conference on the 12-hour flight home, the pope was also asked about women’s role in Catholicism.
Pope Francis reiterated that the Church will not ordain female priests, saying that the stance was “definitive.” But he also said that the question of how to reflect the importance of women had not yet been answered fully.
“It is not enough to have altar girls, women readers or women as the president of Caritas,” he said. “Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests,” he said, in the same way that “Mary is more important than the apostles.”
Conservative and ultra orthodox Catholics, once they regained consciousness, attempted to spin the Pope’s words by asserting what he actually meant was in defense of Catholic teaching on homosexuality and chastity.