By Jonathan Elias, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) — In a significant break with the past, Pope Francis appears to be reaching out to the gay community.

He says he won’t judge priests for their sexual orientation.

Speaking in Italian during an unusual news conference aboard his plane returning to Rome from World Youth Day in Brazil, the Pope was asked about priests who are gay.

The Pontiff said: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

“I think Pope Francis is saying what Jesus of Nazareth would say, and you can’t do any better than that,” says Boston College Theologian Dr. Thomas Groome.

Groome says the Pope’s comment is a real change from the last two leaders of the world’s Catholics who said gay men should not be priests.

“Basically what he’s saying is a good gay man can make as good a priest as a heterosexual man. The point is, they’re bound by the same rules and regulations, obviously.”

Including celibacy.

“We think it’s a really welcome development,” says Carly Burton of the advocacy group MassEquality.

However, Burton is quick to point out that one statement doesn’t show the entire picture.

“The Pope, even recently, talked about same-sex marriage being the work of the devil, he has opposed adoption by gay parents. So while we very much want to give him credit for these statements, I want to make sure we keep it in context,” she says.

We asked the Boston Archdiocese to respond to the Pope’s comment, but a spokesman said, “We let the Pope’s words speak on their own.”

During his news conference, Pope Francis was also asked about women becoming priests.

His answer to that was a flat, no.


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