WASHINGTON (WJLA) -- It's not often that one of the world's oldest institutions switches gears -- so Monday's statements by Pope Francis quickly became the words heard round the world.
Pivoting from the 20 centuries of teaching in the Catholic church that homosexuality is a sin, today when asked about allowing gay clergy, Pope Francis told reporters:
"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?
The unexpected comment came on board the papal aircraft returning from Brazil as Pope Francis held a remarkably candid press conference with traveling press that lasted almost an hour and a half.
The Pope told reporters that he believes homosexuals should not be marginalized but instead, "integrated into society," and added that gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the United Conference on Catholic bishops says that what the Pope said will help clear up any misconceptions about the church.
"This is a reiteration of Catholic teachings that all are welcome," said Walsh. "I think when the Pope says it so bluntly... people hear it."
This statement is a departure from Pope Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict the XVI, whose writings state that men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests.
At the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington on Monday, Catholics reacted to the Pope's statements with comments like:
"I think its an appropriate thing for him to say as our leader," and, "It's a little surprising, but I'm glad that he's open minded."
"I totally agree with him," added local Catholic Luiza Neria. "Basic teaching of the church is love."
Catholic leaders were quick to say that the Pope's comments do not mean a change in the church's position on homosexuality, as the official doctrine teaches that homosexual acts are considered "intrinsically disordered." Rather, the Pope is signaling a more inclusive and forgiving view from the papacy.