In a dramatically blunt interview with an Italian Jesuit journal, Francis said the church had “locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules” and should not be so prone to condemn.
Its priests should be more welcoming and not cold, dogmatic bureaucrats. The confessional, he said, “is not a torture chamber but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better”.
His comments were welcomed by liberal Catholics, but they are likely to be viewed with concern by conservatives who have already expressed concern over Francis’s failure to address publicly the issues stressed by his predecessor Benedict.
Francis, the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, the first from Latin America and the first Jesuit pope, did not hold out the prospect of any changes soon to such moral teachings.
But in the 12,000-word interview with Civilta Cattolica, he said the church must find a new balance between upholding rules and demonstrating mercy.
“Otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards.”
In the interview with the magazine’s director, Jesuit father Antonio Spadaro, the Pope also said he envisioned a greater role for women in the 1.2 billion-member church but suggested it would not include a change in the current ban on a female priesthood.
Church should not make homosexuals ‘socially wounded’
In a remarkable change from Benedict, who said homosexuality was an intrinsic disorder, Pope Francis said that when homosexuals told him they were always condemned by the church and felt “socially wounded”, he told them “the church does not want to do this”.
He restated his comments first made on the plane returning from Brazil in July that he was not in a position to judge gays who are of good will and in search of God.
In the interview he added: “Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free. It is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.”