Continuing his habit of making tolerant statements uncharacteristic of Roman Catholic hierarchy, Pope Francis today said the church should not interfere in the lives of gay and lesbian people.
"Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people," Francis told Jesuit Roman journal La Civilta Cattolica in an interview published Thursday and previewed by CNN. "But God in creation set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person."
The pope also expanded on comments he made in July when he said it wasn't his place to judge gay priests. Francis reiterated that his statements adhered to Catholic doctrine, which calls on the faithful to love the individual gay or lesbian person but condemns homosexual acts.
Pope Francis also told the Jesuit publication that while he was a bishop in Buenos Aires, he received letters from gay and lesbian people who said they were "socially wounded" by the church.
"But the church does not want to do this," Francis said. "Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being."
Francis, who's made a habit in his young papacy of taking notably more compassionate stances on several hard-line issues, also called on Catholics to "think hard" about the role of women in the church.
"Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed," CNN reports the Pope said. "The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role."
Francis also addressed his critics, who contend he hasn't been vocal enough in his opposition to abortion, contraception, and marriage equality.
"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods," Francis said. "I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that."
Read more about the pope's comments on a wide range of subjects here.