Pope Francis holds surprise press conference on flight home from World Youth Day in Rio

Pope Francis said that he would not judge gay people who are earnestly seeking God in a candid press conference on the flight home from Rio today.

Speaking to members of the press during a flight back to Rome from Rio de Janeiro after World Youth Day celebrations, Pope Francis responded to questions about the Vatican’s alleged gay lobby, by saying: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?”

According to reports, the Pope surprised journalists by taking questions from them for an hour and 20 minutes.

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He answered without notes and did not refuse to answer any of the questions. On the journey out to Rio de Janeiro he had told reporters that he would not be doing any interviews.

During the press conference, Pope Francis reaffirmed that the Church was unable to ordain women priests, but emphasised women’s importance to the Faith.

“A Church without women would be like the apostolic college without Mary. The Madonna is more important that the Apostles, and the Church herself is feminine, the spouse of Christ and a mother,” he said.

“We cannot limit the role of women in the Church to altar girls or the president of a charity, there must be more.”

Pope Francis told journalists that he is currently unsure of what the future holds for the Vatican bank, saying it could become an “ethical bank” or, possibly, be closed down.

“I don’t know yet how to fix the Institute for the Works of Religion [Vatican bank]. Some say it should be a sort of ethical bank, others that it should be an assistance fund, others want to close it altogether,” he said

“I’ve heard all these voices, but I don’t know. What’s important is transparency and honesty. It must be like this.”

He added that a preliminary investigation had been conducted looking into alleged “immoral conduct” against prelate for the Vatican bank, Mgr Battista Ricca, which “found nothing”.

Speaking about 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, wanted the Vatican central offices be more efficient and more clearly at the service of the Church. “There are saints who work in the Curia, cardinals, bishops, priests, sisters, laity; I’ve met them,” he said.

Other topics Pope Francis discussed in the press conference included Benedict XVI and security arrangements in Rio. A full transcript of the press conference is expected to appear later today.

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