Pope Francis on Monday said gay men and lesbians should not be judged or marginalized.
“If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and is of good will, who am I to judge him?” he told reporters in response to a question about gay priests as he returned to Rome after his week-long trip to Brazil for World Youth Day as La Nación, an Argentine newspaper reported.
Francis’ comments come amid renewed calls to welcome gays and lesbians back into the church following Pope Benedict XVI’s abrupt resignation in February.
“You are made in God’s image and likeness,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos during an interview in March. “We want your happiness… and you’re entitled to friendship.”
Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic late last month referred to James “Wally” Brewster, an openly gay man whom President Obama nominated to become the next American ambassador to the Caribbean country, as a “maricón” or “faggot” in Spanish during a press conference.
Francis himself seemed to echo Dolan’s call during his comments to reporters.
“The Catechism of the Catholic church explains this in a very clear way,” the pontiff told reporters. “It says that these people should not be marginalized. They should be integrated into society.”
Majority of Catholics back same-sex marriage; hierarchy remains opposed
A Quinnipiac University poll in March found that 54 percent of Catholics support marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is among the Catholic state executives who have signed same-sex marriage measures into law.
Catholic hierarchy continues to oppose the issue in spite of this increased support.
“Marriage exists obviously we believe by the will of God because the sexual orientation between men and women tends to create babies,” Father Leonard Klein of the Diocese of Wilmington (Del.) said before Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed a bill into law that extended marriage to same-sex couples in the state.
Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence (R.I.) in May also spoke out against the issue in a letter to Rhode Island Catholics before Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed his state’s same-sex marriage bill into law.
“Like many others, I am profoundly disappointed that Rhode Island has approved legislation that seeks to legitimize ‘same-sex marriage,’” Tobin wrote.
Francis, who was among the most prominent opponents of efforts to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in his native Argentina, also spoke out against what he described as the “gay lobby” within the Vatican. These comments came in response to questions over the reported homosexuality of Monsignor Battista Ricca, whom the pontiff last month appointed to oversee the Vatican bank, that began to emerge last week in the Italian press.
“When one encounters a person like this, one have to distinguish between the act of being gay and lobbying, because no lobby is good,” Francis said. “The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying.”
The Archdiocese of Washington did not have an immediate comment on Francis’ statements.
“He’s articulating well in a beautifully tender way the traditional teaching of the church,” Dolan said during an interview on “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday. “While certain acts may be wrong, we will always love and respect the person and treat the person with dignity.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, an LGBT Catholic organization, told the Washington Blade she welcomes what she described as a “change of tone from the very harsh and damaging rhetoric” of Benedict and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
“We hope it translates into similar expressions of openness among bishops and cardinals here in the U.S. and in other countries,” Duddy-Burke said. “The best news would be if the Pope indicates a willingness to begin a dialogue with LGBT Catholics and our families about our experience in the Church and in our societies. He’s shown humility in walking with other marginalized groups. We’d hope it would extend to us, as well.”
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin struck a similar tone.
“While Pope Francis’s words do not reflect a shift in Church policy, they represent a significant change in tone,” he said. “Like his namesake, Francis’s humility and respect for human dignity are showing through, and the widespread positive response his words have received around the world reveals that Catholics everywhere are thirsty for change.”
Esteban Paulón, president of the LGBT Federation of Argentina, highlighted the pontiff’s opposition to same-sex marriage in Argentina.
“A profound self-criticism on the part of the church hierarchy about the position it has historically taken with regard to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people is essential,” Paulón said in a statement. “Let’s not forget that this same pope that today said don’t judge us the same man who called for ‘a holy war against the devil’s plan’ to block the same-sex marriage law. These types of declarations, coming from the top of the Catholic church hierarchy, only promote hate and discrimination.”