Pope Francis Extends Message of Tolerance for LGBT People, Women and Abortion

In a stunning interview released by Jesuit journals in 16 countries on Thursday, Pope Francis continued his message of tolerance towards LGBT people. Clarifying earlier remarks on gay clergymen (“Who am I to judge?”), Pope Francis noted that his statement extended to all gay people, not just priests. Although no change in policy has been proposed, the Pope’s remarks further signal a significant departure in tone and style from predecessors.

In the interview with Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor of Rome journal  La Civilta Cattolica, Pope Francis said that he had received numerous letters from lesbians and gays who said that they were “socially wounded” by the church. “The church does not want to do this,” said Pope Francis. Expressing concern over the threat that social issues like abortion, contraception, and marriage equality present to the future of the Catholic Church, he stated, “We have to find a new balance, otherwise… the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

America magazine cover showing Pope Francis

Cover of America, the national Catholic review journal responsible for the English translation of Pope Francis’ interview.

Throughout the interview, Pope Francis admonished the church several times for its narrow focus on social issues, noting that the church’s teaching should not be a “disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.” He said, “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”

As James Martin, editor at large of America, pointed out, Pope Francis’ statements harken back to the traditional theology of a “hierarchy of truths,” a kind of ladder of beliefs in order of their importance. For example: if a Catholic disagrees with an individual sermon given by their priest on a particular biblical passage, that is less serious than, say, disagreeing with the church’s fundamental teaching that Jesus is the son of God. Pope Francis is not saying that the church has changed its teaching on homosexuality; only that it is of lesser importance than other church teachings, and that LGBT people can still be accepted as Catholic. “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 spiritually in the life of a person,” said Pope Francis.

Pope Francis waving and looking friendly

Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday, September 18. (Tiziana Fabi, AFP, Getty Images via LA Times)

On the issue of abortion, Pope Francis said that discernment is key. When applying the teachings of the church, the most important thing is to help people move forward in their Christian lives, motivated to do better. “When we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. 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,” said Pope Francis.

Pope Francis clearly rejected the ordination of women to the priesthood, but he did urge the church to further investigate the role of women. “The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions,” said Pope Francis. “Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role.”

As before, it remains to be seen how the rest of the church responds to the Pope’s message. (In the past two months, we’ve seen a little bit of good news and a whole lot of intolerance.) Based on Pope Francis’s remarks, many Catholics feel optimistic about what lies ahead. Said Pope Francis, “Many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time. I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time of discernment.”

Dr. Arthur Fitzmaurice, Resource Director of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry, is enthusiastic to have a pope who feels the same way he does. “He said that we must heal the broken and not begin any conversation with condemnation.  That is exactly how CALGM operates, setting the table for all who are looking for a place in the Church and not refusing anyone access to the love of God or the love of a faith community,” said Fitzmaurice. “We hope Pope Francis’ remarks will begin the healing process for many gay and lesbian Catholics who have felt alienated by the Church.”

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Laura Mandanas

Laura Mandanas is a Filipina American living in Boston. By day, she works as an industrial engineer. By night, she is beautiful and terrible as the morn, treacherous as the seas, stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love her and despair. Follow her: @LauraMWrites.

Laura has written 210 articles for us.


  1. I’m interested to see what impact the pope’s words will have throughout the church. It’s not much, but it’s a positive change in a better direction.

  2. this is huuuge for Catholics tho, all the stuff he’s been sayin :) it’s historical, everything about his papacy, he’s really changing things and is getting a lot of heat from the conservatives

    “Catholic progressives are wondering if we’re dreaming and going to wake up soon,” said John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, a liberal advocacy group in Washington. “It’s a new day.”

  3. I so hope this contributes to changing the minds of everyday Catholics, that have up to now, not been accepting of homosexuality.

    • I agree. I hope that this might change the hearts and minds of people like my grandparents, who cling so tightly to dogma that they miss out on the big picture. (Like how they almost voted for Kerry in 2004 because they didn’t like Bush II’s big bloody wars, but ended up not because of the whole abortion thing. IRONY)

      Honestly, as a bitter ex-Catholic I’ll probably never be 100% happy with anything the Church does (that’s why I left, kids) but I’d prefer this to the fire and brimstone we’ve been seeing in recent years.

  4. Fun fact: Gayness didn’t make me leave the Church. Their stance on women did. While I’m happy to see that Pope Francis wants to bring on more women in an advisory capacity, I just don’t understand the logic in denying women the priesthood. I don’t buy into the whole “we have different callings because of our genders whee” thing in the big bad world, so I’m not really willing to take it from religious groups, either.

    • You’d think because of the vital significance of the Virgin Mary in the Catholic (and Orthodox) church(es) that they would be more respectful of women in authoritative positions. I remember as a kid being taught that only men could be priests because Jesus was a man, ergo to follow him as a shepherd you had to be the same gender??

      • I think it has to do with the fact that Mary was the Holy *Mother* and therefore all women are called to motherhood and nurturing roles and blah blah.

  5. Still on the fence about our new Pope but I appreciate that he has not called people from the LGBT community ‘abominations.’ This is a HUGE step for not just the LGBT community but also for the Catholic church. I wonder how many people are reacting violently to his words? We still can’t deny the fact he’s the POPE of the Catholic church and I know it won’t be immediate for us to see significant changes in regards to religion and the LGBT community. He’s been much more open minded but like I said he’s the Pope and somewhere deep down he’s still probably conservative but I will bow down and say ‘good job’ to the way he says things in a much kinder way.

  6. I feel like he’s basically saying, please stop asking us why we hate LGBT people and women, it’s very distressing and it makes uslook bad – *besides*, that’s really not the point of our church. The Pope isn’t as much extending a message of tolerance, as asking us to tolerate the church’s bigotry – there’s no change in policy.

    • This, a hundred times over. Anyone who gets upset about allies wanting cookies for not being bigots should be upset at this.

      The Pope wants a cookie here. Being from a catholic tradition doesn’t make it more impressive when you stop being so prejuidced. He’s not even working or expressing a desire to change policy. His words may be heartfelt, but I’d be surprised if they registered with homophobes.

      • You know, I pretty adamantly criticize some of the Church’s teachings on these issues (okay basically all of them.) But I don’t have a problem praising the pope for this. Even if Pope Paquito secretly wanted to change all church doctrine to openly accept not just LGBT people but homosexual “lifestyles”, what do you imagine he could do? Rewrite Church teachings and expect the Vatican to give him a thumbs-up? It’s not that simple. It’s not as if he became pope and immediately acquired limitless power over the entire Church.

        You could argue, then, that if the pope was really in such dis-accord with Church teachings then maybe he should have pursued a different role in the church–one that would permit him to be more liberal. But on the other hand, if he wants to make top-down change, I think this is the way he needs to go about it, that is, baby steps, but from the head honcho.

        Is this interview going to turn the hearts of every closed-minded homophobe? Doubt it. Will there be people who are iffy on the issue who hear his words and see them as a “go-ahead” from their religion that it’s okay to let their stance evolve? Absolutely. There are people who use religion to justify their bigotry and there are people who believe so wholly in their faith that they cannot bring themselves to take a position that goes contrary to it.

        I don’t think he’s asking for a cookie. The interview, to me, read almost as a “scolding” of the rest of the Church for focusing in rather petty social issues when there are bigger fish to be fried. There’s still room for criticism, obviously, of Church official doctrine on LGTB, contraception, women in the priesthood, etc., but I have no problem clapping for a pope who’s willing to, as the highest (terrestrial) church authority, make some (relatively) bold statements on the issue.

        • Exactly, he can’t just change things overnight. I don’t think he would’ve been elected Pope if he was that liberal you know? Cookie? God knows. I want a cookie too. LOL. But he is probably just wanting to focus on bigger issues. I’ve already heard people reacting to his ‘openness’ about these issues. They think he’s going to just say ‘legalize gay’ one day.

      • I’m not Catholic, but I’ve taken a class on the history of the Catholic Church (I go to a Christian College) and from what I’ve learned policy within the Catholic Church takes forever to change doctrine and policy in spite of papal infallibility and the power the Pope has. The fact that he, as a religious leader is saying things like this is actually a huge step.

        I don’t think he’s asking for people to approve of him. He’s asking for people to focus on the other problems within the Church that are causing a bigger divide. Allies, especially ones at his level of power are incredibly important, because, like it or not, he can influence people who are on the fence.

  7. I listened all morning, to NPR talking about this, the day after the interview. This pope has really surprised me! I didn’t expect this at all, and I have to say, I’m quite glad for it. The fact this discussion is even happening means that the church may be beginning to evolve, moving more into present time. The teachings and upstanding they currently hold are so ‘old school’. I was also reading online, other people within the church are beginning to change their old thoughts, upholding a more inclusive view. Perhaps, all anyone needed was for one person to speak up. Thank you current pope for doing that. Be it, I’m not apart of the church, but I was raised catholic and left for many reasons. I’m still glad to see change. Religion is the undertone of so many things, anywhere. If this can change, so will so much else.

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