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In rare interview, Pope Francis discusses same-sex couples, surrogacy — and what gives him hope

Pope Francis: The 60 Minutes Interview
Pope Francis: The 60 Minutes Interview 13:39

Pope Francis, who has defined his leadership of the world's nearly 1.4 billion Catholics with his capacity for forgiveness and openness, has led the Catholic Church on difficult and sometimes controversial issues over the last 11 years. 

Francis has been more open and accepting than other previous leaders of the Catholic Church, making it more welcoming for LGBTQ+ people and women. During a rare interview with CBS Evening News anchor and managing editor and 60 Minutes contributing correspondent Norah O'Donnell from his home in the Vatican guest house, Francis, 87, struck a nonjudgmental tone.

"The Gospel is for everyone," Francis, who is from Argentina, said in Spanish. "If the Church places a customs officer at the door, that is no longer the church of Christ."

"Who am I to judge?"

Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, put Catholics and the world on notice just months after he assumed leadership of the Catholic Church. During an impromptu July 2013 press conference aboard a plane, he struck a different tone from predecessor Pope Benedict XVI when discussing homosexuality.

"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" Francis asked. "We shouldn't marginalize people for this. They must be integrated into society."

Pope Francis and Norah O'Donnell
Pope Francis and Norah O'Donnell 60 Minutes

He didn't stop there. Last year, Pope Francis said laws that criminalize homosexuality are a "sin" and an "injustice." He also decided to allow Catholic priests to bless members of same-sex couples. Still, he has not allowed blessings of the union itself. 

"The blessing is for everyone, for everyone," he said. "To bless a homosexual-type union, however, goes against the given right, against the law of the Church. But to bless each person, why not? The blessing is for all. Some people were scandalized by this. But why?"

There are conservative bishops in the U.S. who oppose Francis' new efforts to revisit teachings and traditions. 

Addressing a question about their specific criticism of him, he told 60 Minutes, "Conservative is one who clings to something and does not want to see beyond that. It is a suicidal attitude. Because one thing is to take tradition into account, to consider situations from the past, but quite another is to be closed up inside a dogmatic box."

Church's policies on surrogacy

Pope Francis has placed more women in positions of power than any of his predecessors, but said he opposes allowing women to be ordained as priests or deacons. His devotion to traditional doctrine led John Allen, a longtime Vatican reporter and CBS News contributor, to note that while Francis has changed the tune of the Church, the lyrics remain essentially the same. This frustrates those who want to see Francis change church teachings on issues like Roman Catholic priests marrying, contraception, and surrogacy. 

Pope Francis has called for surrogacy to be banned worldwide, calling the practice "deplorable" and saying an unborn child "cannot be turned into an object of trafficking."

"In regard to surrogate motherhood, in the strictest sense of the term, no, it is not authorized," Francis said during his interview with 60 Minutes. "Sometimes surrogacy has become a business, and that is very bad. It is very bad."

For some women incapable of getting pregnant themselves, O'Donnell pointed out, surrogacy represents the hope and potential of becoming a mother. 

"The other hope is adoption. I would say that in each case the situation should be carefully and clearly considered, consulting medically and then morally as well," Pope Francis said. "I think there is a general rule in these cases, but you have to go into each case in particular to assess the situation, as long as the moral principle is not skirted."

Urging consideration, compassion

Francis also called for careful and humane consideration of migrants. He jumped into the issue years ago, standing in solidarity with migrants during a U.S.-Mexico border Mass

"The migrant has to be received. Thereafter you see how you are going to deal with him. Maybe you have to send him back, I don't know, but each case ought to be considered humanely," Francis said. 

He encourages governments to build bridges, not walls. Francis told O'Donnell, who's the granddaughter of Irish immigrants, that migration is something that makes a country grow.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis 60 Minutes

"They say that you Irish migrated and brought the whiskey, and that the Italians migrated and brought the mafia," Francis said with a laugh. "It's a joke. Don't take it badly. Migrants sometimes suffer a lot. They suffer a lot."

A few months after becoming pope, Francis went to Lampedusa, a small Italian island near Africa, to meet migrants fleeing poverty and war. He talked about the globalization of indifference, a topic he still feels strongly about today. Francis criticizes people who see wars, injustice and crime and respond with indifference.

"Please, we have to get our hearts to feel again," he said. "We cannot remain indifferent in the face of such human dramas. The globalization of indifference is a very ugly disease."

Praying for peace amid Israel-Hamas war and war in Ukraine

Next weekend, Pope Francis will welcome tens of thousands of young people, including refugees of war, to the Vatican for the church's first World Children's Day. Francis shared a message for all warring countries: stop. 

"Stop the war. You must find a way of negotiating for peace. Strive for peace," he said. "A negotiated peace is always better than an endless war."

Pope Francis has called for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in many of his sermons. 

"What I can do is pray. I pray a lot for peace. And also, to suggest, 'Please, stop. Negotiate,'" Francis said.

With so much to pray for, he has no plans to retire. Francis said the idea has never even occurred to him. 

"Maybe if the day comes when my health can go no further, I may have to do it," he said. "But it never occurred to me. Perhaps because the only infirmity I have is in my knee, and that is getting much better."

Francis told us, despite all its problems, he remains hopeful when he looks at the world and all the people in it.

"You see tragedies, but you also see so many beautiful things. You see heroic mothers, heroic men, men who have hopes and dreams, women who look to the future," he said. "That gives me a lot of hope. People want to live. People forge ahead. And people are fundamentally good. We are all fundamentally good. Yes, there are some rogues and sinners, but the heart itself is good."

Pope Francis sits down for a historic interview with CBS Evening News anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell in an hour-long special airing Monday, May 20 at 10 p.m. ET on CBS and streaming on Paramount+. In a wide-ranging conversation, Francis speaks about countries at war, his vision for the Catholic Church, his legacy, his hope for children and more.

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