Pope Francis, in an interview for a Jesuit publication in the U.S., said the Roman Catholic Church's obsession with preaching against marriage for same-sex couples and reproductive freedoms was harmful to the church and its ministry.
The pope, while not changing church doctrine in any way or issuing any directives on church teachings, also said the church has the right to express its opinions but not to "interfere spiritually" in the lives of LGBT people.
Francis said, "It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently."
He also said: "Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel."
Francis' comments to Civilta Cattolica contained no change in church teaching, but to some they represented a shift in tone and stood in contrast to the priorities of his immediate predecessors. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were both intellectuals for whom doctrine was paramount, an orientation that guided the selection of a generation of bishops and cardinals who, in countries like the United States, have put themselves on the front lines in opposing abortion and gay marriage. They now find themselves being asked to preach more to those who have fallen away from the church and offer them a compassionate welcome home.
There's been a lot of response to the pope's remarks – positive, critical, guarded and skeptical.
In the day after the first reports of the interview, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force collected reaction from members of its national religious leadership roundtable.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA said, “We find much to be hopeful about, particularly in the pope’s firm desire that the church be a ’home for all people,’ and his belief that God looks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people with love rather than condemnation."
She continued, in part, "LGBT Catholics and allies will rejoice in the pope’s call for church leaders to focus on being pastors rather than rule enforcers. We hope that the bishops will heed this call and immediately end their anti-LGBT campaigns, the firings of church workers for who they are, the attacks on people who challenge or question official teachings, and the exclusive and judgmental rhetoric that comes too often from our pulpits."
Francis DeBernardo, the executive Director of New Ways Ministry, said, "Pope Francis' interview in an American magazine signals a new dawn of hope and promise for LGBT Catholics and their supporters. Pope Francis' words and example have opened up new opportunities for the Catholic Church to welcome and dialogue with LGBT people. His words will give courage and hope to thousands of pastoral ministers and Catholic faithful who have been doing this work for many decades, but who have often received penalties and discouragements from church leaders who did not share this pope's broad vision. His message signals a new day for a Catholic Church that is welcoming to all."
At NGLTF, faith work director Rebecca Voelkel said, “As a Christian pastor who understands the heart of the gospel to be justice and love for all God’s children, it is with gratitude that I receive the news of Pope Francis’ remarks. They mark a dramatic shift in tone whose impact is both welcome and needed. For too long, the Catholic Church’s ability to work on important justice issues has been marred because of the demeaning and abusive statements and actions toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and toward women who grapple with reproductive choices. As LGBT people die from violence around the world and women die from lack of access to reproductive services, Pope Francis’ statements may lead to life-saving changes."
A representative with Light of Reform Mosque and Muslims for Progressive Values, Imam Daayiee, responded with the statement, "I am glad to hear the pope's comments and I am prayerful the Islamic faith will also adjust its focus as well."
The Rev. Nancy Wilson, the moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches, an early faith-based leader in the LGBT community, said, "Every crack in the door, or window, every generous, even if ambiguous, hint of openness from Pope Francis is encouraging –and we know will make many in the Vatican and the hierarchy nervous! More cause for rejoicing! That the Pope would take even a nuanced position in opposition to the slammed door policy of the last decades, is welcome, welcome, welcome."
John Gustav-Wrathall, a senior vice president of Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends, said, "Pope Francis' statement is part of a growing trend among religious leaders in the most historically conservative denominations. We're seeing similar efforts among Evangelical leaders and among leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to rein in institutional homophobia and make LGBT members feel more welcome."
The Rev. Robin R. Lunn, executive director of the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists, added, "I am thrilled that the new pope is taking this opportunity to speak about his vision for and of the church, particularly as it relates to the more recent hyper-focus on issues of sexuality and reproduction. I believe that there are many within the progressive Baptist community around the world who will welcome the leadership that Pope Francis is offering on being the church for all and not a chapel for a few."