During a press conference on the way back from World Youth Day, Pope Francis addressed a number of issues, including marriage (not what you think), the role of women in the Catholic Church, and reserving judgment on gay people. (Quotes from National Catholic Reporter, full article available here).

  • On marriage, the pope spoke of the need to find ways to welcome divorced and remarried Catholics into the life of the church, a theme he has mentioned before. He said the topic is a priority for his 8 Cardinal advisors: “When the council of eight cardinals meets Oct. 1-3, one of the things they’ll consider is how to move forward with the pastoral care of marriage. Also, just 15 days ago or so, I met the secretary of the Synod of Bishops, and maybe it will also focus on the pastoral care of marriage. It’s complicated.”
  • Regarding the role of women, the pope expressed the need for a “theology of women in the Church,” but said that a previous pope has said no to women’s ordination: “On the ordination of women, the church has spoken and said no. John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed.”
  • Finally, when asked about gay priests, Francis seemed to dismiss the idea that being gay was worthy of judgment or condemnation: “If [gay people] accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … they’re our brothers.”

On Facebook, the Jesuit writer James Martin wrote that the pope’s comment on gays, “reveals great mercy. That mercy, of course, comes from Jesus Christ. And we can never have enough of it.” In addition to mercy, Francis’ comments also provide hope, hope to those who live on the margins of the church. In a special way, those who live without—without money, without recognized dignity, without full embrace from institutions of power—are called to live prophetic lives. But sometimes being offered some hope from the powerful, in this case Pope Francis and the church, is needed in order to keep moving forward with the struggle. Francis’ comments, however offhand and however easily dismissed they will be by traditionalists, are worth celebrating.

But there’s got to be more.

I’ve joined the chorus of those praising this truly palpable breath of fresh air in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis is welcomed change in style. How will his bishops here in the US react, especially to the comments about not judging gays, finding roles for women, and welcoming back the marginalized? The Pope, it seems, will lead by example. Will his bishops follow? What concrete steps will Catholic leaders take to change the atmosphere of the church?

A friend IM’ed this morning, asking if this news was a big step for the church. Yes and no, I said. Yes, it’s certainly huge that a pope has spoken about gays in a nonjudgmental, loving way. The pope’s words may inspire others to alter their own speech and behavior. No, because we wait for change, for signs that this is indeed more than an off the cuff remark. But for now, I’ll stick with yes. Yes, this is hope, and hope is huge.

Categories: Beliefs, Culture, Institutions, Politics


Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O’Loughlin writes about religion and politics from Washington, D.C., paying close attention to the role of the Catholic Church in public life. His writing has appeared in Religion & Politics, the Jesuit magazine America, on BustedHalo.com, and in Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership.


  1. A lot of people have been waiting to see just where the new Pope really stands in light of the current gay-rights/gay-marriage juggernaut. He has made himself crystal clear when it comes to helping the poor and eschewing papal finery, but now it’s time for him to clearly tell the world where he really stands (and doesn’t stand) when it comes to the gay stuff.

    So far, the Pope continues to avoid giving exact answers (and that includes today’s remarks about “gay priests”), but apparently he knows he’ll have to take some risks and give some straight answers, sooner or later.

    • Ronald Sevenster

      From the core of unchangeable Church doctrine is clear enough that there never can be or will be a catholic gay marriage. Neither can there nor will be a redefinition of homosexual activity as mortally sinful. The friendly tone of Pope Francis has a pastoral objective, which is not to exclude people unnecessarily, but attract them to the Church, where they can find the opportunities of repentance and of pursuing a lifestyle which respects the commandments of God.

      The Pope’s saying that the homosexual inclination is not sinful should be interpreted according to the axioms of catholic moral theology. It just means that a person who unwillingly experiences same-sex attraction is not blameworthy. It is without doubt, however, that this attraction is a distortion of the natural order, which finds its deeper root in the general human condition of Original Sin. Although Original Sin itself is removed through Christ’s redemption, the damaging effects remain.

  2. As a former member of the Roman Catholic body who is continuing his journey in the Catholic faith via the Evangelical Catholic Church, I am happy to hear a more pastoral turn of a phrase from Pope Francis. I believe that it should be clear that there is a profound difference between accepting priest who are gay and accepting gay priests. When and only when the Pope and Roman Catholic Bishops end their lobbying against marriage equality and equal civil rights for gays and lesbians will the mantle of marginalization be lifted from the body of the Roman Catholic Church.

  3. I find myself especially drawn to Francis’ call for a deep theology of women, because that just does not exist. I have been active in the Catholic church for over 20 years, and have sometimes gone where other women haven’t. The conversations with male counterparts, however, are not very fruitful because they are always held in the context of a male anthropology and spirituality. An exploration of this ‘deep theology of women’ by women primarily and respected by all, will open the hearts and minds of generations of women and men yet to come.

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