Pope Francis says gay people should not be marginalised but integrated into society, although the Catholic church still considers homosexual acts sinful.
In a broad-ranging 80-minute conversation with journalists on the plane bringing him back from a week-long visit to Brazil, Francis also said the Roman Catholic church’s ban on women priests was definitive, although he would like them to have more leadership roles in administration and pastoral activities.
He expressed pain over scandals at the Vatican bank during a remarkably forthright news conference, his first since being elected in March to replace Benedict XVI, who became the first pontiff to resign in 600 years.
Francis said there were saints in the Holy See but also “those who are not very saintly”.
The airborne encounter with journalists ranged over issues as varied as the Pope’s insistence on low-key security to his desire to slip out of the shackles of the Vatican to go for walks.
He arrived back in Rome on Monday after a triumphant week-long tour of Brazil which climaxed with a huge gathering on Rio de Janeiro’s famed Copacabana beach for a world Catholic youth festival, which organisers estimated to have attracted more than three million people.
Francis defended gays from discrimination but also referred to the Catholic church’s universal catechism, which says that while homosexual orientation is not sinful homosexual acts are.
“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” the Pope said.
“The catechism of the Catholic church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalised because of this (orientation) but that they must be integrated into society,” he said, speaking in Italian.
“The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem,” he said.
Francis was answering a question about reports of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican, after it suffered a string of scandals over pedophile priests and corruption in the administration of the Holy See.
“You see a lot written about the gay lobby. I still have not seen anyone in the Vatican with an identity card saying they are gay,” he joked.
Addressing the issue of women priests, the Pope said, “The church has spoken and says ‘no’ … that door is closed.” It was the first time he had spoken in public on the subject.
“We cannot limit the role of women in the church to altar girls or the president of a charity, there must be more …,” he said in answer to a question.
The church teaches that it cannot ordain women because Jesus willingly chose only men as his apostles. Advocates of a female priesthood say he was acting according to the customs of his times.
Many in the church, even those who oppose a female priesthood, say women should be given leadership roles in the church and the Vatican administration.