Pope Francis says he will not 'judge' gays and lesbians including gay priests

Pope Francis reached out to gays on Monday, saying he wouldn't judge priests for their sexual orientation in a remarkably open and wide-ranging news conference as he returned from his first foreign trip.

"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" Francis asked.

His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests.

Francis was much more conciliatory, saying gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.

Francis' remarks came on Monday during a plane journey back to the Vatican from his first foreign trip to Brazil.

The visit was hailed as a success by church officials, pilgrims and the faithful in the world's largest Catholic country, although it was marked by major organizational snags.

He was funny and candid during his first news conference that lasted almost an hour and a half.

In one of his most important speeches delivered in Rio, Francis described the church in feminine terms, saying it would be "sterile" without women.

When asked what role he foresaw for females, he said a more profound role must be developed for women in the church.

However, he was resolute that women would not be ordained to the priesthood.

"In reference to the ordination of women the church has spoken and said no. John Paul II said this with a definite formula. This door is closed," he said.

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