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Pope Francis says he won't judge gay priests

  • Pope Francis speaks during a news conference aboard the papal flight on its way back from Brazil, Monday, July 29, 2013, saying he wouldn't judge priests for their sexual orientation(AP Photo/Luca Zennaro, Pool)

ABOARD THE PAPAL AIRCRAFT — Pope Francis reached out to gays on Monday, saying he won't judge priests for their sexual orientation in a remarkably open and wide-ranging news conference as he returned from his first foreign trip.

"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" Francis asked. "We shouldn't marginalize people for this. They must be integrated into society."

Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men who had deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis was much more conciliatory in his first news conference as pope, saying gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.

The comments did not signal any change in church policy. Catholic teaching still holds that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered." But they indicated a shift in tone under Francis' young papacy and an emphasis on a church that is more inclusive and merciful rather than critical and disciplinary.

Gay leaders were buoyed by Francis' non-judgmental approach, saying changing the tone was progress in itself, although for some, the encouragement was tempered by Francis talk of gay clergy's "sins."

"Basically, I'm overjoyed at the news," said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the U.S.-based New Ways Ministry, a group promoting justice and reconciliation for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people and the wider church community.

"For decades now, we've had nothing but negative comments about gay and lesbian people coming from the Vatican," DeBernardo said in a telephone interview from Maryland.

The largest U.S. gay rights group, Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that the pope's remarks "reflect a hopeful change in tone."

Still, said Chad Griffin, the HRC president, as long as gay individuals, couples and youth alike "are told in churches big and small that their lives and their families are disordered and sinful because of how they were born — how God made them — then the church is sending a deeply harmful message."

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