pope 2013 420x470The leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has made some surprisingly open and conciliatory comments regarding homosexuality during a wide-ranging news conference aboard the papal aircraft, on the way home from his first foreign trip as Pope.

Returning to Rome from World Youth Day in Brazil, the Argentine Pope responded to questions on a wide range of topics.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? We shouldn’t marginalise people for this. They must be integrated into society,” Francis said.

The comments have been interpreted as a shift in tone for the Catholic Church rather than a change in doctrine, and Francis’ comments reaffirmed the status of homosexuality as a sin in the eyes of the church.

A Vatican spokesperson confirmed this, arguing the Pope’s attitude placed mercy, forgiveness and understanding “in the forefront”.

During the conference Francis also indicated acceptance of gay priests within the Vatican while criticising the reported existence of a “gay lobby”.

“The problem isn’t having this orientation. The problem is making a lobby,” the Pope said.

The comments have been met with cautious optimism by some LGBTI activists, particularly those involved in the Catholic Church.

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