Pope Francis told reporters aboard the papal aircraft Monday that he will not judge gay priests, putting him in direct opposition to his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI.
"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" he said, opposing Benedict’s 2005 document discouraging gay priests.
While his opinion does not signal a change in Catholic policy, it does change the tone of the church from disciplinary to merciful, forgiving but also forgetting.
The pope gave that opinion on a flight to Rome after a weeklong trip in Brazil. The statement was a response to one reporter who asked whether a Vatican monsignor named Battista Ricca had engaged in gay sexual relationships while living in Latin America.
Francis was also asked if a group of church members had tried to blackmail other church officials with evidence of homosexuality, as local Italian newspapers.
In response, Francis said that using blackmail to pressure officials, regardless of the content used, is unacceptable at the Vatican.
“The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some.” Francis said during Youth Day.
He added that the youth should focus on building an inclusive civilization of love, suggesting gay people should be treated with dignity and integrated into society, not ostracized.