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Pope Francis speaks during a news conference aboard the papal flight on its way back from Brazil, Monday, July 29, 2013. 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. "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" Francis asked. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis was much more conciliatory, saying gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten. Francis' remarks came Monday during a plane journey back to the Vatican from his first foreign trip in Brazil.

The reports Monday say Pope Francis' statement about sexual orientation mark a shift in tone from the pope's predecessor, but not a change in Catholic teachings about homosexuality.

The pope's statement came at the end of a wide-ranging, impromptu interview with the press on board the papal aircraft that was returning from Brazil, where the pontiff was greeted like a rock star at World Youth Day in Rio.

"Through it all, he maintained a Zen-like state of calm, even as the plane hit turbulence and the seat-belt lights flashed," the Wall Street Journal reported about the 80-minute press briefing where the pontiff addressed any and all questions.

Among the questions Francis fielded were about charges of homosexual conduct against his recently appointed delegate to reform the Vatican bank, Monsignor Battista Ricca, and reports of a "gay lobby" within the Vatican.

Asked about the Vatican's alleged "gay lobby," the National Catholic Reporter stated the pope replied while a lobby might be an issue, he doesn't have a problem with the inclination to homosexuality itself: "When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized. The tendency (to homosexuality) is not the problem ... they're our brothers."

News outlets pounced on response, proclaiming it a shift in tone from Pope Francis' predecessors and putting it into the context of allowing gay clergy.

"His attitude is a marked departure from Pope Benedict XVI, who signed a document in 2005 stating that gay men could not become priests. Now bishops all over the world are going to wonder what the Pope’s statement means for them in their own churches," reported Time.

But other news outlets pointed out the while Pope Francis is sounding a more conciliatory tone than past pontiffs, he wasn't pronouncing any change in church teachings on homosexuality.

"Nothing in what he said suggested acceptance of anyone, priest or otherwise, engaging in homosexual acts," reported the New York Times.

In a news-tip email from Duke Divinity School, professor Paul Griffiths said: “What the pope said perhaps signals a return to an earlier church position, in which the question isn't so much about orientation as about action. On this view, it's what you do that counts, and so a chaste gay priest is no different from a chaste straight priest.

“I don't think that what was said signals any change in the view that homosexual acts are sinful/disordered. It does signal, though, a very different rhetoric and style on the question than Benedict's or John Paul's. I should think that Francis has other priorities in his papacy than the gay question.”

A decade ago, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued this message on same-sex orientation: "Always our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers."

A leading gay rights advocacy group was tempered in its response to Pope Francis' comments.

Associated Press reported that the Human Rights Campaign said the pope's remarks "reflect a hopeful change in tone."

"Still, said Chad Griffin, the HRC president, as long as gay individuals, couples and youth alike 'are told in churches big and small that their lives and their families are disordered and sinful because of how they were born — how God made them — then the church is sending a deeply harmful message.'"

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Twitter: @deseretbrown