Pope Francis said government officials have a "human right" to refuse to do their job if they feel it violates their religious conscience, such as issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, reported Reuters.
His on the record, off-the-cuff conversation with reporters aboard the papal plane taking him home after a 10-day trip to the United States and Cuba, marked his first comments on the controversy over the licensing of same-sex marriages in the U.S., which the Roman Catholic Church firmly opposes.
The Vatican released an official transcript that shows ABC News chief foreign correspondent Terry Moran asked the pope if he supported individuals, including government officials, who refuse to abide by some laws, such as issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
"Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right," Francis said.
It was on the papal plane in 2013 that Pope Francis uttered his famous statement about gay priests: "If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?" The Advocate named Pope Francis its Person of the Year in part for that surprising remark.
This time, his statements on the controversy surrounding Kentucky clerk Kim Davis were less than surprising. Speaking in Italian, the pope did not name Davis in his defense of her actions, according to the Vatican transcript.
"I can't have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection. But, yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right," said Francis. "And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right," he added.
"Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying: 'This right has merit, this one does not.'"
Read the offical transcript of Pope Francis's remarks to reporters provided by the Vatican, here.