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By Elizabeth Gillis
On a flight back from his recent visit to Brazil, Pope Francis told reporters he would not judge someone of faith based on their sexual preference.
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will,” he said, “who am I to judge?”
The new leader of the Catholic Church, inaugurated in March of this year, also commented on the role of women in the church. He said while the church will not allow female priests according to guidelines set by Pope John Paul II, the role of women should not be limited. He said they should be allowed to work their way up in the organization, take leadership roles and assist with services like men.
The comments were said to reporters on an overnight flight to Rome. According to reports, it all started when an Italian reporter asked the Pope to comment on allegations the Vatican monsignor Battista Ricca engaged in homosexual behavior while living in Latin America, and he touched on Italian media reports that homosexual clerics had formed a lobby within the Vatican.
“You have to distinguish the fact of a person being gay, and the fact of a lobby,” he said. “The problem isn’t having this orientation. The problem is making a lobby.”
The goal of his trip to Brazil was to motivate the Catholic youth in a country with an estimated 123 million Catholics, according to a PEW Religion study. The trip ended with a mass with nearly 3 million attendees.
In the press conference, Francis is reported to have drawn distinctions never before heard from a church leader. His comments open the door from priests who are chaste but have homosexual tendencies.
His views on these controversial issues put him in contrast with former papal leaders.
His predecessor Pope Benedict XVI is credited as the author of a document denouncing gay clergymen, something contradicted in Pope Francis’s statements.