During his transatlantic flight home following a hugely successful week-long trip to Brazil, Pope Francis ambled back to the press section of the papal plane for what turned into a wide-ranging conversation with reporters with few—if any—subjects deemed out of bounds. "Not since John Paul II, prior to the debilitating effects of his illness, has a pope engaged in such a free-wheeling and spontaneous exchange with the press," observed the National Catholic Reporter's John L. Allen Jr. The impromptu presser would have likely made headlines for simply happening, but then Francis dropped this bombshell in response to a question about rumors of a so-called "gay lobby" within the Vatican, via the Associated Press:
Pope Francis reached out to gays on Monday, saying he wouldn’t judge priests for their sexual orientation.... "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" Francis asked.
His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis was much more conciliatory, saying gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.
Here's a longer version (and slightly different translation) of that quote, via NCR:
"When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … they’re our brothers.”
For those who need a refresher course on those gay-lobby rumors: They were the most-attention-grabbing detail from Italian newspaper reports from this past February that claimed that Benedict decided to call it quits not because of his old age but instead to avoid the fallout that could come from a secret 300-page dossier compiled by three cardinals tapped to look into last year's leak of confidential papers stolen from his desk. The Vatican, of course, hasn't confirmed those rumors, but Francis did appear to acknowledge the existence of the gay lobby earlier this summer during closed-door remarks. This time, however, he brushed the rumors off with something of a joke: "There’s a lot of talk about the gay lobby, but I’ve never seen it on the Vatican ID card."
It's also worth remembering that, before he was pope, Francis waged an ultimately unsuccessful push to prevent Argentina from becoming the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage, and declared that allowing gay couples to adopt was discrimination against children.