Pope Francis spoke with reporters this morning in an extraordinary, impromptu press conference on board his plane on the way back to Italy from Brazil.
The National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen Jr. writes that the 76-year-old Pope stood the whole time and never refused a question, even thanking a reporter who asked about charges of homosexual conduct against his appointee to reform the Vatican bank.
And when Francis was asked about the Vatican’s alleged “gay lobby,” the Pope replied that while a lobby might be an issue, he doesn’t have a problem with homosexuality itself, telling reporters “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?”
Gary Meier, an openly gay priest in St. Louis, Missouri, says the statements by Pope Francis this morning are “affirming,” and an improvement over then-Cardinal Bergoglio’s previous statement that gay marriage is the work of the devil.
Meier is one of a handful of priests in the U.S. who have publicly said they are gay.
Last June, Meier told his parishioners that he would take a leave of absence, after telling his archbishop that he could no longer teach the Roman Catholic church’s stance on homosexuality.
- National Catholic Reporter: Pope on homosexuals: ‘Who am I to judge?’
- Gary Meier/Huffington Post: My Prayer for the Church
- John Allen Jr., senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. He tweets @JohnLAllenJr.
- Gary Meier, an openly gay priest in St. Louis, Missouri. He tweets @gmamstl.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. Coming up, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will join us on the new Mideast peace talks.
YOUNG: But first, what exactly did Pope Francis say today? Well, we know what he said. When asked by reporters aboard his plane about gays in the Vatican, he said: Who am I to judge them if they're seeking the lord in good faith? But what did he mean? We're going to hear from one of the few openly gay priests in the U.S. in a moment.
But first, John Allen, longtime Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. John, what was it like when the pope made those comments?
JOHN ALLEN: Well, Robin, you're absolutely right. I was aboard that plane. But I can promise you I was not bored on that plane. We were given a heads-up just really moments before the plane took off from Rio de Janeiro that Francis would be coming back. We were told by some of the Vatican personnel that he would spend ample time with us, but in Vatican-speak that usually means 15 minutes.
What we got instead was an hour and 20 minutes. The pope did not have any notes, and he did not duck any questions. This covered a wide range of topics, from your hot-button issues such as abortion, homosexuals, to more sort of mundane matters of idle curiosity, such as what was in that black bag that he carried for himself up the steps of the papal plane. So it was a remarkable experience, Robin.
YOUNG: Well, OK, what was in the bag?
ALLEN: What he told us is basically a change of clothes, his prayer book and a couple of novels that he's reading. Even the pope has airplane reading with him.
YOUNG: Well, but to the comment to gays and that he should not - who am I to judge them? Some might say you are the pope, and the pope at least symbolically has been judging them by barring gay priests and also in the catechism, of course, homosexual acts are called acts of grave depravity because they close the sexual act to the gift of life. So what exactly was the pope saying?
ALLEN: Well, I mean, at one level, you're right, it's sort of a curious remark because one would think that the pope is sort of in the judgment business. But I think what Francis was trying to do here is not so much change the church's teaching as change the tone because also in the catechism, which you quoted a moment ago, it also makes the point that homosexual persons need to be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity. In other words, the church's problem is not with the person, it's with the behavior.
However, I suspect that many gays and lesbians will tell you that they haven't always perceived a message of respect and compassion from the Catholic Church. Instead, what they have often perceived is precisely judgment. So the signature touch of the Francis papacy, I think, is a dramatically new tone without dramatically new teaching.
YOUNG: Well, he was asked if one of his own monsignors, someone who is tasked with reforming the Vatican Bank, is a member of the so-called gay lobby that pulls strings inside the Vatican. What was his response to that?
ALLEN: Well first of all, Francis denied, basically, that there is such a thing as a gay lobby in the Vatican. He jokingly said that if it exists, it's not stamped on anybody's Vatican ID cards. But, you know, to the point of the question about this monsignor, a guy by the name of Monsignor Battista Ricca, charges were aired a week ago that while Monsignor Ricca was a Vatican diplomat in Uruguay, he was a member of the kind of gay culture there, that he had a live-in lover, that he visited gay bars and so on.
In response to the question, which again Francis did not duck, he said that when those charges were aired, he conducted a preliminary investigation and found, in Francis' words, there was nothing to the charging.
YOUNG: And just to be clear, John Allen, just a quick context; the pope may be speaking about a softer tone, if not a policy change. The previous pope, Benedict, barred men with deep-seated homosexuality from being considered for the priesthood. You don't think we're hearing here an opening, an acknowledgement of gay priests in the priesthood because all priests are expected to be celibate.
ALLEN: The truth is that 2005 document, that said that men who have a predominately same-sex attraction should not be admitted to seminaries and therefore not become priests, has always been very spottily and unevenly applied on the ground. And I think what Francis was saying today is that he is on the side of those who would take a moderate and pragmatic approach, rather than a rigid, ideological approach, which is in its own way a much more sort of welcoming and tolerant position.
What we did not hear is in any occasion that he plans to issue an edict reversing the previous one.
YOUNG: Yeah, that's John Allen, longtime Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, aboard the plane with the pope as he returned from Brazil. John, thanks so much for speaking with us.
ALLEN: It's a pleasure, Robin.
YOUNG: Let's bring in Reverend Gary Meier. He took a leave of absence from his parish in North St. Louis, Missouri, last year after telling his archbishop he couldn't teach the Roman Catholic Church's stance on homosexuality because he is gay. He is also author of the previously anonymous book "Hidden Voices: Reflections of a Gay Catholic Priest."
So Father Gary, what do you make of the pope's comments?
REVEREND GARY MEIER: I agree with a lot of what John was saying, that it is a different tone. I think what's creating such a buzz about it is the fact that we haven't heard this tone of rhetoric coming from any of our hierarchy in years.
YOUNG: And why is that important to you? You wrote a piece in the Huffington Post a couple days about his trip to Brazil.
MEIER: I did, saying that my prayer for the church is that the pope would apologize to the LGBT youth for the previous church's stance and the way it's, you know, treated.
YOUNG: We know many gay young people are suicidal. Do you think it would make you a better shepherd to your flock if in counseling them you could acknowledge your own feelings, even if you don't act on them?
MEIER: Well sure, that's the harm that the church's teaching causes when you call it a grave depravity. The truth is that homosexuality is a gift from God.
YOUNG: By the way, we mentioned you've taken a leave of absence. Do you worry that you're going to be defrocked with, you know, these kinds of comments, or do the pope's comments today maybe give you hope that you might be allowed to stay in the church?
MEIER: You know, that's an interesting point. So there is maybe a gleam of hope, a little bit of hope there, that, wow, maybe there is a place for somebody like myself to be in ministry. So yeah, maybe there is a little bit of hope.
YOUNG: Gary Meier, a Roman Catholic priest, on leave after acknowledging he is gay. He is also author of the book "Hidden Voices: Reflections of a Gay Catholic Priest." Father Gary, thanks so much.
MEIER: You're welcome, Robin, thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.