ABOARD THE PAPAL AIRCRAFT (AP) - Pope Francis says he won't judge priests for being gay. He told reporters aboard his plane today, "We shouldn't marginalize people for this. They must be integrated into society." The pontiff said, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"
His comments came in an unusually open and wide-ranging news conference as he flew back to Rome from Brazil, where he made his first foreign trip as pope.
Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict, had signed a document in 2005 that said men who had deep-rooted homosexual tendencies shouldn't be priests. But Francis says gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.
The comments don't signal a change in church policy. Catholic teaching still holds that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered." But the remarks represent a shift in tone, and an emphasis on a church that is more inclusive and merciful instead of critical and disciplinary.
On other subjects during the 82-minute exchange with reporters, Francis said he wanted a greater role for women in the church, though he insisted they can't become priests. He also revealed that he is thinking of traveling to the Holy Land next year. And he said the planned canonizations of Pope John Paul II and Pope John the 23rd will likely be delayed, perhaps until the weekend after Easter, because road conditions in December would be dangerously icy for people from John Paul's native Poland traveling by bus.