By Philip Pullella
ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) -Pope Francis said on Sunday that the Catholic Church is open to everyone, including the gay community, and that it has a duty to accompany them on a personal path of spirituality but within the framework of its rules.
Francis, speaking to reporters on the plane returning to Rome from Portugal, also said his health was good following surgery for an abdominal hernia in June. He said his stitches had been removed but had to wear an abdominal band for another two or three months until his muscles strengthened.
Flying back from the World Youth Day Catholic festival in Portugal, the 86-year-old pope appeared in good form as he took questions for about half an hour at his customary freewheeling post-trip press conference while seated at the front of the reporters’ section in the rear part of the plane.
One reporter reminded him that during the trip, he said the Church was open to “everyone, everyone, everyone” and asked if it was not incoherent that some, such as women and gay people, did not have the same rights and could not receive some sacraments.
This was an apparent reference to women not being allowed to become priests through the sacrament of Holy Orders and same-sex couples not allowed to contract marriage, which is also a sacrament.
“The Church is open to everyone but there are laws that regulate life inside the church,” he said.
“According to the legislation, they cannot partake in (some) sacraments. This does not mean that it is closed. Each person encounters God in their own way inside the Church,” he said.
He said ministers in the Church had to accompany all people, including those not conforming to the rules, with the patience and love of a mother.
The Church teaches that women cannot become priests because Jesus chose only men as his apostles.
The Church does not allow same-sex marriage or even blessings for same-sex couples, but Francis supports civil legislation that gives same-sex couples rights in areas such as pensions, health insurance and inheritance.
It teaches that same-sex attraction is not sinful but same-sex acts are.
Since the start of his papacy, Francis has been trying to make the Church more welcoming and less condemning, including to members of the LGBT community, but without changing teachings that urge those with same-sex attraction to be chaste.
During one event during the trip to Portugal, he told a crowd that the Church had room for everyone, “including those who make mistakes, who fall or struggle”, and led the crowd in a chant of “Todos, todos, todos!” (Everyone, everyone, everyone!).
In another section of the news conference, referring to young people, he said: “Who among us has not made a moral error at some point in their lives?”
Francis has pushed a series of reforms since he became pope 10 years ago, including giving more roles to women, particularly in high-ranking Vatican positions, but faces a delicate balance between appealing to more liberal believers and upsetting conservatives.
On the plane, he said he was rejuvenated by what he had seen at the World Youth Day Catholic festival in Portugal, including by the orderly nature of the crowds and their size.
About 1.5 million people attended his closing Mass at a riverside park in the Portuguese capital on Sunday. Many of the faithful slept outdoors, having attended a vigil there on Saturday night, and they gathered in sweltering heat.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)