Pope Francis used a different and more benign tone than his German predecessor when he was talking about homosexual people. His comment can be interpreted as a call to Roman Catholic clergy in many countries to speak up and protest when gay men or lesbian women are arrested or discriminated against by the authorities in their countries. From now on, the Roman Catholic clergy cannot look the other way, but should support this vulnerable group to integrate in society they live in.
This is also a major coup for gay priests who have had to cover up their sexual orientation. It was a strong statement and an important signal that Francis is not afraid of reality. Pope's remarks represent a significant change in tone.
By contrast, Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men who had deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis distanced himself from this position in his first news conference as pope, when he said that gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.
The pope's comments were made in response to questions about reports earlier this year that a group of gay clergymen exert undue influence on Vatican policy. Italian news media suggested that a "gay lobby" contributed to Benedict's decision to resign.
"A lot is written about this 'gay lobby,'" said the pontiff. "I still haven't found anyone at the Vatican who has 'gay' on his business card. You have to distinguish between the fact that someone is gay and the fact of being in a 'lobby.'"
But Francis still stopped short of rejecting the Catholic Church's principle that homosexual acts are a sin. He skilfully avoided the truly thorny issue of whether gays and lesbians can only be equal before God (as others) if they are celibate.
Nevertheless, his remarks indicated that the new pope is willing to make his church more inclusive and merciful, and less critical and disciplinary. This new attitude is still noteworthy -- it suggests a willingness to step away from the old dogma.