RIO DE JANEIRO -- In declaring that he was in no position to judge gay people, Pope Francis did nothing to change Roman Catholic doctrine, which prohibits homosexual sex but not the state of homosexuality. But at least one prominent commentator said the remarks constituted "a sea change," and they were the topic of avid discussion and debate Monday, especially in Catholic circles.
Conservative Catholics, many of whom are increasingly put off by Francis’ accessibility and deliberate simplicity, sought to downplay the remarks, which the pope made on his flight home to the Vatican from Brazil, where he made his first overseas trip as pontiff.
“He addressed the issue [of gays in the church] in a more frank way, but this is not a departure” from Catholic teachings, said Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Catholic Assn. The church, even in its less accepting times, has long maintained that gay people should not be discriminated against.
But the pope seemed to be going beyond that.
“Pope Francis was pointing out that Catholics with a homosexual orientation, honestly living out their faith and seeking God (as all Catholics should), are integral members of the church,” said Ramon Luzarraga, a theology professor at the Benedictine University of Mesa, Ariz. “They are not automatically part of some rumored fifth column seeking to change the church.”