During a flight back to the Vatican from his first international trip to Brazil, Pope Francis told reporters that he wouldn't judge clergy for their sexual orientation.
"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" he asked.
Although his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, declared in 2005 that homosexual men should not be priests, Francis took a softer stance, saying gay clergy should be forgiven -- and their sins forgotten.
For those who confess their sins, he said, God not only forgives but forgets. "We don't have the right to not forget," Francis said.
Pope Francis even scolded reporters for publishing allegations that an aide was involved in a gay affair ten years ago, saying that case was a sin -- not a crime, like abusing children.
In response to more recent reports of a group within the church attempting to blackmail church officials with evidence of homosexual activity, Francis also separated the sin from the crime.
Pope Francis emphasized that Catholic teaching does not marginalize homosexuals, and calls for them to be treated with dignity. He said it was against that teaching, and criminal besides, for anyone to use such private information for blackmail.