After celebrating Mass for over three million people on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis took a helicopter ride over the city, boarded his plane with reporters, and in Spanish, embraced gays.
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains and says that those people should not be marginalized,” Pope Francis said, “and that they should be integrated into society.”
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
"Si una persona es gay y busca al Señor y tiene buena voluntad, ¿quién soy yo para criticarlo?"
- Pope Francis
In many ways, Pope Francis’ comments are a very public caution to a significant culture of homophobia throughout the Roman Catholic Church. His predecessor, Pope Benedict, said that gay men should not be priests, and stood by a longstanding Catholic moral teaching that gay acts are sinful. The same teaching says that being gay is not a sin. By refusing to judge gays, the Pope seeks to realign the Vatican with the latter.
The Pope did not, however, write a moral blank check to gay rights.
“The problem is not being gay, but in forming a lobby” the Pope said. He denies ever encountering a gay lobby in the Vatican, but says that “when someone encounters such a person, they should distinguish between being gay and lobbying, because no lobby is a good thing.” In other words, the Pope is distinguishing between existing a certain way and having a certain agenda.
To wit — Gay? Fine. Agenda? Bad.
Of course, as with all Catholic teaching, the devil is in the details. The practical impact Pope Francis' words will have has yet to be seen. But he seems willing to have a new, more-compassionate discussion on the role of homosexuality in Catholic teaching.
For now he is making two things very clear: homosexuality’s place within the Roman Catholic context can evolve, and Francis has all the makings of a rock star Pope.
Pablo Manriquez works in Washington, D.C. He tweets at @vato.