Pope's "Who Am I to Judge?" Comment Sparks Church Debate on Gays

Could the Vatican be shifting from its diehard condemnation of gays? After centuries of declaring that homosexuality is as Pope Benedict XVI put it, “an intrinsic moral evil and… an objective disorder,” debate has broken out on whether Pope Francis could be leading the Catholic Church towards a softer, more progressive stance.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis told reporters in an informal interview on Monday. The Argentinean pope added that homosexuals “shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem… they’re our brothers.”

While he didn’t contest Catholic doctrine that homosexuality is a sin, Francis’s promise of “no judgment” for the faithful hints at a more compassionate outlook than the traditionally antagonistic rhetoric towards gays.

“It interests him to say that the problem in the end isn’t if someone has this tendency, the important thing is to live in the light of God,” Paulo Rodari, a Vatican expert, told the New York Times. “Said by a pope, it’s enormous.”

Already, his remarks have generated discussion in the clergy. Following Benedict’s 2005 determination that the church should “dissuade” men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” from becoming priests, some have wondered whether Francis’s comments indicate a change to come.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, insisted that the Pope’s comments represented no shift on the church’s antipathy towards gay priests.

“Homosexuality is not a sin. Homosexual acts are. Just like heterosexuality is not a sin, although heterosexual acts outside of marriage—life-loving, life-giving faith between a man and a woman—that would be simple. A pope couldn’t do that,” Dolan said in an interview with CBS News.

Others disagreed. “Pope Francis was pointing out that Catholics with a homosexual orientation, honestly living out their faith and seeking God (as all Catholics should), are integral members of the church,” Ramon Luzarraga, a theology professor at the Benedictine University, told the Los Angeles Times. “They are not automatically part of some rumored fifth column seeking to change the church.”