News alerts blared that the pope said he won’t judge homosexuals. The more accurate headline would have been: ‘Pope Upholds Church Teaching.’ It all started when Pope Francis gave reporters on his plane an impromptu opportunity to ask him questions.

He took questions from reporters traveling aboard the papal plane for a full hour and 21 minutes with no filters or limits and nothing off the record. Francis stood for the entire time, answering without notes and never refusing to take a question. The final query was an especially delicate one about charges of homosexual conduct against his recently appointed delegate to reform the Vatican bank, and not only did Francis answer, but he actually thanked reporters for the question.

They didn’t pay much attention to the fuller interview, but ran with some variation of the ‘gay priest’ headline. Here’s a snip from that especially delicate portion of the Q&A:

As for the wider reform of the Roman Curia, Pope Francis said everything he has done so far flows from the concerns and suggestions raised by the College of Cardinals during the meetings they held before the conclave that elected Pope Francis in March.

The cardinals, he said, expressed “what they wanted of the new pope — they wanted a lot of things” — but a key part of it was that the Vatican central offices be more efficient and more clearly at the service of the universal church.

“There are saints who work in the Curia — cardinals, bishops, priests, sisters, laity; I’ve met them,” he said, they include those who work full time, then do volunteer work, feed the poor, help out in parishes on weekends.

The media only writes about the sinners and the scandals, he said, but that’s normal, because “a tree that falls makes more noise than a forest that grows.”

Pope Francis himself described as “a scandal” the case of Msgr. Nunzio Scarano, a now-suspended official from the Vatican investment office, who was arrested in Italy June 28 on charges that he allegedly tried to help smuggle millions of euros into Italy from Switzerland.

“He didn’t go to jail because he’s a saint,” the pope said.

Pope Francis was asked about Msgr. Battista Ricca, whom he named interim prelate of the Vatican bank. The monsignor, who had served in the Vatican diplomatic corps, was director of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican residence where the pope lives.

Soon after his nomination was announced, an Italian magazine published a story claiming Msgr. Ricca had been sent away from a nunciature in Latin American when it was learned that he had a male lover.

Pope Francis told reporters, “I did what canon law said must be done, I ordered an ‘investigation brevia,’ and this investigation found nothing.”

Here’s where the media sharpened their focus:

Addressing the issue of the gay lobby, Pope Francis said it was important to “distinguish between a person who is gay and someone who makes a gay lobby,” he said. “A gay lobby isn’t good.”

“A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will — well, who am I to judge him?” the pope said. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons, they must be integrated into society. The problem isn’t this (homosexual) orientation — we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else, the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby.”

Most media didn’t take away anything else from the presser but this, the ‘gay lobby’ issue and ‘gay priest’ issue and the pope’s remark about not judging. But they didn’t even get the fullness of the pope’s statements. The Italian transcript shows how long the interview was, and how ranging the pope’s remarks. He talked about the importance of having a proper ‘theology of sin.’ Notice that his answer above reference the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and its teaching that gays must not be marginalized but ‘integrated into society.’ That’s a good and necessary clarification. It’s not a redefinition of Church teaching. It’s an elucidation of it.

Besides that Italian transcript, here’s a Rome Reports video of the interview for a better idea of the pope’s open and free exchange with the press.

Working with an Italian speaking priest on the original transcript, I’ve come up with some bullet points of the presser that deserve attention. Aside from the above, here are some highlights:

  • On Vatileaks, Francis told the press an anecdote. ‘When I went to see Benedict in Castel Gonfolfo, he said to me in this big box there are all the statements heard by the commission of cardinals, but the conclusions are in this evnelope. And Benedict began to relate all the issues to me and I got it all in my head. Are there large problems? (eh) But am I scared, no.’
  • On divorce and re-marriage, which was one of the biggest news items in his presser, Pope Francis clarified something many Catholics don’t yet understand well. He said a divorced person can take communion if they are not re-married, and added that the Church has to treat ‘people who are wounded with great care.’ It was a bit surprising to hear him state that when the group of eight cardinals regroup in October, they’ll discuss how to move forward with pastoral care for marriage, adding that ‘the theme of nullity must be studied.’
  • On his relationship with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Francis called his predecessor a ‘blessed man of God, a humble man who prays. I love him so much. The last time there were two or three popes, they never spoke but fought to see who the true pope was! (This was a reference to the Avignon papacy in the middle ages.) For Francis, having Benedict around is ‘like having your wise grandfather in the house…if I have a difficulty I can go to him.’
  • On security for the pope, Francis said “I’d rather have the security problems we had in Rio than having a wall between the people and their ‘armored bishops’. I’d rather be with the people, embrace them, greet them without the armored cars. While there is always a danger some fool will do something, there’s always the Lord guarding us as well.”
  • On women in the Church, and this was an important and mostly overlooked statement, Francis said: “A church without women is like the apostolic college without Mary. And our Lady is more important than the apostles.” He said frankly that the door is closed to women’s ordination, but ‘the Church is feminine because it is a wife and mother…You cannot understand the Church without active women in it…We have not done a theology of women fully.’ This was news, at least in the Catholic world. Francis opened a door to a greater theology of women in the Church in that statement.
  • On his personal style, Francis was asked about his ‘handbag’, the well-worn attache case he carries with him and what’s inside. He joked that it was ‘the key to the atomic bomb,’ and obviously enjoyed his own joke. But then he responded that he always takes a bag with his normal stuff: a razor, his breviary, his agenda book, and a book to read. On the trip to Rio he took a book by St. Therese of Lisieux, to whom he has a devotion. Which was telling in itself, given that she was a cloistered Carmelite nun who never left her French convent before her early death at the age of 24 but became a Doctor of the Church for her spiritual writings and teaching of ‘the Little Way’ of spiritual devotion. Francis said he always goes around with his bag, and ‘we must be normal…we must get used to the normality of life’ and carry bags with essential items like most people.
  • On papal predecessors: This for me was a big chunk of his interview just about completely overlooked by media, but important because of what it said about he he sees his role of continuity in the succession of the papacy and being ‘Peter’ in all ages. Francis spoke at length of Pope John XXIII, who opened the Second Vatican Council, and gave him accolades for his virtues. He spoke of Pius XII, praised John XIII, and then he continued with John Paul II. And as mentioned above, he spoke very affectionately of Benedict XVI, who he obviously appreciated having around.

The first thing I planned on posting about Francis was the magnificent World Youth Day events just completed in Brazil, where pundits totally underestimated the growth of the young Catholic faithful and the movements spreading the faith in Latin America. Over three million people attended the papal Mass on Copacabana beach Sunday, after the hundreds of thousands of late week gave way to the millions by the end of the week. This young man is emblematic of the faithful there, and really the faithful anywhere.

He stressed that he hopes to tell the Pope that he is right, “we should let ourselves be guided by Jesus and I did that.”

“I would like to meet the Pope because priests and Popes don’t notice poor people and he lived directly with the poor people like if he was their brother,” Facundo said.

“It’s worth seeing a Pope who notices poor people and that’s why I would like to meet him,” he said. “I would really like to tell him how nice it is to follow Jesus and that he is right.”

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....