In comments made during an impromptu interview aboard the papal plane on Monday, Pope Francis inspired hope among myriad LGBT Catholics that there might be a place for them in the Church.
Speaking about allegations that his nominee to head up the Vatican bank might be gay, Pope Francis said it was not his place to pass judgment on gay priests.
"If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?" said the pope Monday on a flight from Brazil to Rome.
"The catechism of the Catholic Church says clearly that we must not marginalize these people who should be integrated into society," continued Francis. "They are our brothers."
Several organizations representing both LGBT people and Catholics around the world jumped at the chance to welcome the pope's statements, saying they indicated a more tolerant and accepting tone for the leader of the Catholic Church, which considers homosexuality a sin, and requires gay Catholics to remain celibate.
"Pope Francis today uttered some of the most encouraging words a pontiff has ever spoken about gay and lesbian people," read a statement from LGBT Catholic organization Equally Blessed. "In doing so, he has set a great example for Catholics everywhere. The pope has rejected the harsh language of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, for a compassionate approach and a pastoral tone. Lesbians and gays are no longer a 'threat to civilization,' rather they are people of faith and good will.
"Catholic leaders who continue to belittle gays and lesbians can no longer claim that their inflammatory remarks represent the sentiments of the pope," the statement continues. "Bishops who oppose the expansion of basic civil rights — such as an end to discrimination in the work place — can no longer claim that the pope approves of their discriminatory agenda. Pope Francis did not articulate a change in the church’s teaching today, but he spoke compassionately, and in doing so, he has encouraged an already lively conversation that may one day make it possible for the church to fully embrace gay and lesbian Catholics."
The Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines also lauded the pope's statements, noting that they were only "somewhat positive," and that Francis did not indicate a change in strict Church doctrine.
"The pope's declaration of non-judgmental position about integrating gays into society is a marked improvement over his predecessor's harsh bitchy remarks each time the media interviewed the ex-pope about homosexuality," said Clyde Pumihic, a ProGay spokesperson. "If Francis ever decides to visit the Philippines, we wish the Pope to seek out the urban poor lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) jobless and underpaid youth who are experiencing triple oppression of gender discrimination, poverty, and vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases that are worsened by old Catholic-inspired stigma against us."
Read additional statements from other groups applauding the Pope's statements on the following page.
The executive director of New Ways Ministry, which describes itself as a "national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT and the wider church community," also praised the pope's softer language.
"Pope Francis' statement on accepting and respecting gay priests is a clear sign that this pope will be taking a more conciliatory approach to LGBT issues than his immediate predecessors have done," said Francis DeBernardo. "Some will say that Francis' statement is not enough, that he still refers to sins of homosexuals, but I think the important thing is the question of emphasis. Even if he doesn't drop the sin language, this is still a major step forward, and one that can pave the way for further advancements down the road. Change in the church is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Though this statement is not the change which many of hope for, that is, the full equality of LGBT people in our church, it is a necessary first step toward that change."
The Human Rights Campaign also applauded Francis' change in tone over his predecessors in a cautiously optimistic statement.
"While Pope Francis’s words do not reflect a shift in Church policy, they represent a significant change in tone," said HRC president Chad Griffin. "Like his namesake, Francis’s humility and respect for human dignity are showing through, and the widespread positive response his words have received around the world reveals that Catholics everywhere are thirsty for change.
"But as long as millions of LGBT Catholic individuals, couples and youth alike are told in churches big and small that their lives and their families are disordered and sinful because of how they are born — how God made them — then the Church is sending a deeply harmful message. One’s sexuality is an immutable characteristic, and every leading medical and mental health organization has declared that attempts to change or suppress that fact are profoundly damaging. It’s time to send positive and affirming messages to all people, because the Bible is clear. All people have dignity in themselves and in their love for one another. It’s time for Church teaching to reflect that simple fact."