Pope Francis has reached out to gay men and lesbians, telling reporters that they should not be marginalized, but integrated into society. These are being seen as the most conciliatory remarks by a pontiff on the issue.
Speaking to reporters on his flight back to Italy following a weeklong visit to Brazil, the pope said he could not judge someone for being gay if the person in question "seeks God and has good will."
The pope also pointed to the Catholic Church's universal catechism, which states that homosexual acts, not the orientation are sinful.
"The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers," he said.
The comments were in stark contrast to a 2005 document signed by Francis' predecessor, German-born Pope Benedict XVI, that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not become priests.
There was no indication that Pope Francis's statements should be seen as a signal of a change in the official policy of the Catholic Church, which regards homosexual acts as intrinsically "disordered."
During the more than 80 minutes that the Argentine-born pope spent with reporters on the flight, he also stressed that while he wanted to see a greater role for women in the church, allowing women priests to be ordained remained out of the question.
Also in contrast to his predecessor, who on similar occasions had insisted upon knowing each of the questions beforehand, Pope Francis imposed no such restrictions.
He told reporters that his first overseas trip since being elected as pope back in March had left him very fatigued, but that it "did me a lot of spiritual good."
pfd/ccp (Reuters, AP, AFP)