Pope Francis: “Who am I to judge” gay people? “Women in the Church are more important than bishops.”

“If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

“The Madonna and Mary were more important than the apostles, bishops, deacons and priests. Women in the Church are more important than bishops and priests. I think we are missing a theological explanation on this.”

— Pope Francis in press Q&A on the plane back from Rio; full transcript is not yet available

Last week, Archbishop Chaput said “right wing” Catholics weren’t happy Pope Francis hadn’t talked about the hot-button issues yet. I think now they probably wish he’d kept quiet.

Is it a 180? No. I’m reminded of the way some on the Left felt about President Obama at the beginning, investing in him all their hopes for radical change, while forgetting that he emerged through and was a product of the current system. John Allen stakes out the middle ground, saying these latest remarks from the pope are neither huge shifts in policy nor offhand remarks; they are, he says, “a significant shift in tone.” But even though it’s true the pope isn’t advocating for women priests or gay marriage, I think Allen is underplaying it a bit. In recent decades, the Vatican has actively suppressed talk of reform and hardened its positions on social issues. As I said a few weeks ago, a reversal of not just tone but also emphasis, away from attacking those in disagreement over dogma and towards holding up universal Christian values, will restore a culture in which conversation can occur, in which people of faith can discuss what’s essential and what is not — such as as with Fr. Schuller’s current U.S. tour. In the long run, this may lead to substantial change. And while women priests may be off the table, Francis has said women deacons are not. Gay marriage is one thing, but as archbishop of Buenos Aires he is reported to have supported a civil unions bill. On celibacy of priests, he’s said it’s a tradition, not a matter of faith, and “might change.” As I reported a few weeks ago, Pope Francis said, “the Church always goes forward, giving space to the Holy Spirit that renews these structures, structures of the churches. Don’t be afraid of that!” Reform may be closer than many people hope or fear.

Oh, and I just love this detail from the press conference. Pope Francis was asked about the bag he carried on the plane. You see, popes don’t typically carry their own luggage! Associated Press reports his answer:

“The keys to the atomic bomb weren’t in it,” Francis quipped. The bag, he said, contained a razor, a prayer book, his agenda and a book on St. Terese of Lisieux, to whom he is particularly devoted.

“It’s normal” to carry a bag when traveling, he said, stressing the style that separates him from other pontiffs, who until a few decades ago were carried around on platforms. “We have to get use to this being normal.”

I’m certainly not surprised he’s devoted to the Little Flower.

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