RIO DE JANEIRO — His first overseas trip behind him, Pope Francis has made conciliatory remarks about the roles of gays and women in the Roman Catholic Church and allowed that the troubled Vatican bank may have to be shut down altogether.
In comments to reporters aboard the flight that on Monday returned him to Rome from Rio de Janeiro, the pope said that he opposed any type of lobby that might try to influence his decisions. He was responding to a question about the so-called gay lobby inside the Vatican that some officials have alleged exists as a cabal of gay priests who run the Holy See.
He said it was important to distinguish between a lobby, which he did not approve of, and priests or other Catholics who might be gay.
“If a person is gay, seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis said. “They should not be marginalized.”
The church has traditionally labeled homosexuality a “disorder,” and under Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned in February, men with “deep-seated tendencies” towards homosexuality were to be barred from the priesthood. Francis’ comments seemed to back away from an absolute ban.
On women, he repeated the church position that they cannot be priests. “The door is closed” on that issue, he said. However, he added women should not be “limited to being altar girls” and should be given expanded administrative roles in the church.
The pope spoke for nearly an hour and a half with the journalists, the first free-wheeling press conference of his papacy.
On the scandal-plagued Vatican bank, suspected of being used to launder millions of dollars, Francis said he would heed the advice of a five-member special oversight committee. But he said he did not know whether the bank could be saved or must be closed.
“Whatever the solution, it must have transparency and honesty,” Francis said.
Journalists onboard the flight described the pope as witty, comfortable and surprisingly frank.
Earlier, in an interview with the O Globo broadcasting network in Rio, he again voiced support for young demonstrators who have been protesting excessive government spending and the lack of education and health services. “A young person who does not protest, I do not like,” the pope said.