Pope Francis gave one last statement for the U.S. while returning Monday from his five-day visit: a defense of conscientious objection to same-sex marriage.
In a press conference held aboard his charter flight back to Rome, the pope told journalists that for government workers, refusing to fulfill a duty if it contradicts one’s conscience is a “human right.”
The matter of conscience rights amid changing norms on marriage and sexuality most recently arose in the case of Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who was briefly jailed for refusing to authorize marriage licenses for same-sex couples.
When an American reporter asked the pope about his perspective on the Davis case, he affirmed that “if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.” Though he did make an unintentionally humorous caveat: “If a government official is a human person, he has that right.”
While Francis addressed many critical topics in American politics during the trip, including abortion, poverty and war, he largely avoided discussing same-sex marriage and homosexuality. The closest he got was an offhand remark in an improvised sermon Saturday, in which amid a ringing endorsement of family life he urged Catholics to “protect the family, because it’s there that our future is!” (RELATED: Pope Francis Gave An Amazing Unscripted Speech On The Gift Of Family)
He also gave a speech in favor of robust religious liberty while visiting Philadelphia’s Independence Hall Saturday.
And while in Washington Wednesday, he made a surprise visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor. The order of nuns is at the center of an ongoing legal battle over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. (RELATED: Pope Francis Met Little Sisters Of The Poor In Quiet Protest Of Obamacare)
During the in-flight press conference, Francis also expanded on his sorrow over Catholic priests’ sex abuse of children. Saying that abusive priests breached the trust they are meant to use to guide laypeople toward Jesus Christ, he understands when abuse victims lose their Christian faith, saying “I pray for them. And I don’t judge them.”
He even went so far as to speculate about an abuse victim’s mother who became an atheist: “I’m sure that that woman has been received by God.”
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