How Pope Francis’ Gay Comment Was Oversold by the Media

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The world's media rushed to cover Pope Francis' apparent acceptance of gays, but his thoughts on female priests have been largely missed

Pope Francis' "Who am I to judge?" comment when asked about gay clergy was widely reported Monday as a sign that the Pontiff was softening his stance on homosexuals. But a deeper look at his meaning — and his less-than-welcoming views on women — made much of the immediate media hoopla ring premature.

"BREAKTHROUGH: POPE OK WITH GAYS" screamed The Huffington Post's homepage, after the Pope made the comments while wrapping up his trip to South America.

But the headlines betrayed the comment's many caveats, chief among them that he was OK as long as they're not acting out.

"Pope Francis: 'Who am I to judge' gay clergy?" was CBS News' headline (of an Associated Press story), followed by:

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.

"Pope Francis: Who am I to judge gay people?" asked the BBC News headline.

"Pope Francis reaches out to gays" said Britain's Telegraph.

"Pope Says He Will Not Judge Gay Priests" reported the New York Times, noting the Pope's "breathtakingly conciliatory approach."

Vanity Fair went with: "Relax Bro: Chill Pope Doesn't Want to 'Judge' Anyone for Being Gay."

Gawker: "Gay Priests Coming Out? Pope Says He Won't 'Judge' Gay Clergy"

National Catholic Reporter: "Pope on homosexuals: 'Who am I to judge?'"

Los Angeles Times: "Pope Francis says gays should not be judged"

Wall Street Journal: "Pope Signals Openness to Gay Priests"

You get the picture. Though the pope stopped short of embracing homosexual behavior — his words were more of the "hate the sin, love the sinner" variety — they were especially welcome to the gay community and its supporters after his predecessor, Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said any man with gay tendencies should not be priests, regardless of whether or not they acted on them.

Yet few outlets made much of the comments the Pope made regarding women in that same press conference, many including them almost as an afterthought. 

The Pope maintained that the "door is closed" to the possibility of women becoming members of the clergy, citing his predecessors' predecessor, John Paul II, who in 1994 reaffirmed that priests would be men and men alone. Somehow, Benedict XVI's documents concerning gay members of the clergy were overrule-able, but John Paul II's documents about women closed the door.

For instance, this quote from the WSJ's story: "Pope Francis 'is showing a deep respect for the human condition as it is instead of approaching things in a doctrinal way,' said Alberto Melloni, a church historian."

Only the second-to-last paragraphs of that same article addressed the Pope's comments on women:

Women, he said, couldn't be ordained as priests, because the issue had been "definitively" settled by Pope John Paul II. However, the pope wanted to develop a "theology of the woman," in order to expand and deepen their involvement in the life of the church.

Through it all, he maintained a Zen-like state of calm, even as the plane hit turbulence and the seat-belt lights flashed.

Death and Taxes was one of the few outlets to point out the while Pope Francis' words may have been "the most compassionate statement ever by a Pope regarding homosexuality," the church has a long way to go with regards to women and gay people would want to do things like have sex and get married.

USA Today bucked the trend entirely by leading its article about the press conference ("Pope: Door 'closed' on women priests") with the Pope's comments on women and relegating his non-judginess regarding gay male priests to the kicker:

While maintaining the Church's long-standing stance on women priests, Pope Francis reached out to the gay community, saying he wouldn't judge gay priests and that gay clergymen should be forgiven.

"If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?" he said Monday.