January 12, 2016 at 12:08 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Pope Francis discusses gay priests comments in new book

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Pope Francis in a new book written by Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli explains his 2013 comments on gay priests. (Photo by Jeon Han; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Pope Francis in a new book discusses his 2013 comments in which he said gays and lesbians should not be judged or marginalized.

“I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized,” said Francis, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

Francis during a July 2013 press briefing told a reporter who asked him about gay priests that “who am I to judge?”

The National Catholic Reporter said Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli last July asked Francis about the aforementioned comment during an interview for his book that is scheduled for release on Tuesday.

“I am glad that we are talking about ‘homosexual people’ because before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity,” Francis told Tornielli, according to the National Catholic Reporter. “And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: Let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love.”

The National Catholic Reporter further reports that Francis said he prefers “that homosexuals come to confession, that they stay close to the Lord and that we pray all together.”

“You can advise them to pray, show goodwill, show them the way and accompany them along it,” the pontiff says in Tornielli’s book, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

LGBT Catholics react cautiously to book

Francis made the initial comments about gay priests less than five months after he assumed the papacy. LGBT Catholics and other advocates at the time told the Washington Blade the sentiment was indicative of what they saw as a “change of tone” from previous popes.

“While the pope’s comments don’t fully clarify his approach to LGBT people, these new remarks do highlight some important points about his thinking on lesbian and gay issues,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based organization that advocates on behalf of LGBT Catholics, in a statement he issued in response to Francis’ latest comments.

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Antonello Sannino, president of Arcigay Naples, an Italian LGBT advocacy group, poses for a picture on March 21, 2015, as Pope Francis travels through the Naples, Italy, neighborhood of Scampia. (Photo courtesy of Marco Cacciato Insilla)

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a group for LGBT Catholics, largely echoed DeBernardo.

“Pope Francis really is trying to be pastoral, and to frame a church that is welcoming to a wide variety of people,” Duddy-Burke told the Washington Blade on Monday. “I believe he wants people to come in, and that change will follow. There is definitely a change of tone from what the Vatican has put out over the last 30 years.”

DeBernardo in his statement specifically highlights “what is not mentioned by the pope” in Tornielli’s book.

“He does not speak about condemnation or moral evaluations,” said DeBernardo. “Clearly, this pope is not as obsessed with sexual activity as his previous predecessors have been.”

Critics: Church teachings remain unchanged

Francis has said the church has grown “obsessed” with marriage rights for same-sex couples, abortion and other social issues. The Argentine-born pontiff who is the former archbishop of Buenos Aires has also met with several LGBT people during his papacy, including a transgender man from Spain who said his fellow parishioners rejected him after undergoing sex-reassignment surgery.

The Vatican’s critics maintain church teachings on homosexuality, marriage rights for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific issues has not changed under Francis.

Preliminary results indicate a Vatican-backed referendum on whether to repeal Slovenia’s same-sex marriage law passed last month by a 63-37 percent margin.

A long-awaited report on the family that Catholic bishops released in October 2015 describes unions between same-sex couples are not “even remotely analogous” to “God’s plan for marriage and the family.” The document also criticizes the extension of marriage rights to gays and lesbians as a precondition for developing countries to receive financial aid.

The State Department and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are among those who have criticized Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo for repeatedly using homophobic slurs to describe gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster. A Chilean newspaper last September published emails between two cardinals from the South American country that show they sought to block a gay man’s nomination to a papal sex abuse commission.

Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa, a Polish priest who worked for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that implements church teachings on homosexuality and other issues, in October 2015 came out as gay. The Vatican subsequently fired him from the position and suspended him from his teaching positions at two papal institutions.

The Vatican around the same time downplayed Francis’ D.C. meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs. The pontiff while in the nation’s capital had a private audience with a gay man he once taught in his native Argentina.

“I’m not happy with the pope’s words,” Charamsa told the Blade. “These words confirm a big church manipulation of the homosexual question.”

Duddy-Burke said she is somewhat frustrated by what she described as “the underlying assumption reflected in” Francis’ comments to Tornielli. She told the Blade the pontiff says “our sexuality/gender identity is an experience of ‘darkness’ or suffering.”

“There is no acknowledgment of identity as blessing, or as a way to experience grace,” said Duddy-Burke. “There is no understanding that it is the oppression and discrimination we encounter that causes pain and suffering.”

Duddy-Burke spoke with the Blade a day after Jeffrey Higgins, a former part-time music minister at Mother Seton Roman Catholic Church in Germantown, Md., and his supporters gathered outside the Montgomery County parish to protest his termination last November because he is married to a man.

The Archdiocese of Washington upheld Higgins’ firing on the grounds that he violated church teaching on marriage.

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Jeffrey Higgins, second from right, joins a group of his supporters outside Mother Seton Roman Catholic Church in Germantown, Md., on Jan. 10, 2016. The Archdiocese of Washington upheld Higgins’ termination as the parish’s cantor after it became known that he was married to a man. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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