On the plane back to Rome today, Pope Francis engaged in an impromptu press conference with reporters. On the question of homosexuals and the “gay lobby” in the Curia, Francis said, according to the Catholic News Service reporter on the plane:

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.”

I think we should wait for the whole transcript to be released before making a definitive judgment, but on first glance, I don’t see what’s so revolutionary about this, or how it changes our understanding of Catholic teaching. Isn’t this what the Catechism says? That there is nothing especially sinful about homosexuality that gives society license to stigmatize and reject gays? That’s not the same thing as saying that homosexuality is morally licit. Francis appears to have been explaining that his concern over the “gay lobby” has to do not with rooting out Curial figures who are gay per se, but with rooting out those who use their homosexuality to form destructive cliques to advance their own interests within the Curia. Again, this makes perfect sense to me, and is in line with Catholic teaching. I don’t understand why the media are making such a big deal over it. Did they really think Francis was going on a witch hunt against gays in the Curia?

On the other hand, some reports indicate that Francis’s answer was understood as being more generally about gays in the priesthood. The past two popes, if memory serves, said that gays should be barred from the priesthood. If this is what Francis meant — I mean, if he’s reversing that papal view — then that really is news. Like I said, I await the full transcript.