Pope Francis stated in his most in-depth interview so far on the Roman Catholic Church, published Thursday, that he affirms the social views of the Church, including on homosexuality and abortion, but believes that other issues should also gain focus.
Francis told interviewer, the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civilta Cattolica, that he did not believe the Church should only focus and speak on hot-button issues. "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible," said the Pontiff in the recently published interview.
"I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context."
The Pontiff said that he affirmed the views of the Church regarding the social issues, identifying himself as "a son of the Church." "The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time," he said.
Francis said in the interview that the catechism, or the Roman Catholic Church's official doctrine book, condemns homosexual acts, but he called on the Church to love gays and lesbians, who "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity."
In a much quoted sentence from the interview, Francis said, "Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spirtually in the life of a person."
Francis' remarks came as part of a lengthy interview the Pontiff did with Spadaro, a fellow Jesuit, over the course of three interviews in August conducted in Francis' apartment in Rome. The interview, done in question and answer format, was published Thursday by several Jesuit publications including La Civiltà Cattolica, Thinking Faith, and America.
The Pope's remarks have already been interpreted by some LGBT activists as setting forth a new more gay-friendly agenda for the Catholic Church. Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), said in a statement released Thursday that the Pontiff's remarks are a "reset button" on LGBT issues. "With these latest comments, Pope Francis has pressed the reset button on the Roman Catholic Church's treatment of LGBT people, rolling back a years-long campaign at the highest levels of the Church to oppose any measure of dignity or equality," said Griffin.
"Now, it's time for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to catch up and drop their opposition to even the most basic protections for LGBT people. Otherwise, they risk being left far behind by American Catholics and this remarkable Pope."
A similar reaction came in late July when Francis, fresh off a trip to Brazil for World Youth Day, said he could not judge Catholic priests who identify themselves as homosexual. "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?" said Francis to reporters on board a plane returning from Brazil. "The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalized because of this (orientation) but that they must be integrated into society."
However, Francis also denounced the gay lobby in the July conference, stating that the "problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem."
Other topics mentioned in Spadaro's interview included the Pontiff's reasons for becoming a Jesuit, his experience in Church government, and his thoughts on Second Vatican.
Francis was also asked about the role of women in the Church, especially in light of demands by some to allow female ordination or an end to the mandated celibacy policy. While he said that the "door is closed" on women's ordination, he also said, "Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church."
"We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church."