He has nothing against gay priests, but the new Pope remains opposed to the ordination of women.
In a candid 82-minute in-flight press conference during his return trip from Brazil, Pope Francis said he will not judge priests for their sexual orientation.
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” he asked.
His comments represents a significant shift in tone to the Vatican’s traditional position on homosexuality. Benedict XVI, his predecessor, 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 Pope’s comments were made after he was asked about Italian media reports suggesting that a group within the church tried to blackmail fellow church officials with evidence of their homosexual activities.
Stressing that Catholic social teaching calls for homosexuals to be treated with dignity and not marginalised, Francis said it was something else entirely to conspire to use private information for blackmail or to exert pressure.
Asked what role he foresaw for women, Pope Francis said the Catholic Church needed to develop a more profound role for them, but added “the door is closed” to ordaining women to the priesthood.
Francis spoke lovingly of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, saying that having him living in the Vatican “is like having a grandfather, a wise grandfather, living at home.”
He was less charitable with the Vatican accountant, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, who has been jailed on accusations he plotted to smuggle £18m (€20.8m) from Switzerland to Italy and is also accused by Italian prosecutors of using his Vatican bank account to launder money.
Francis said while “there are saints” in the Vatican bureaucracy, Scarano was not among them.
Asked if closing the bank was a possibility, Francis said: “I don’t know how this story will end.”
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