Suncoast gay rights supporters encouraged by Pope's words

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SARASOTA-- Pope Francis is making headlines for addressing the Church and homosexuality, even using the word "gay," during an unprecedented press conference, likely the first time any Pope has done that publicly.

The Pope made his remarks during an 80-minute conversation with reporters on board an airline returning from him trip to Brazil.

"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge," said Pope Francis, who said Priests should not be judge or marginalized for their sexual orientation.

The comments did not change the Catholic doctrine, but were an olive branch from the "People's Pope."

"It's very rare for a Pope to make these off the cuff remarks, unfiltered through the system. He is being known as a Pope who is very personal," said Father Dan Smith with Our Lady of Angels Church in Lakewood Ranch.

Still, the overture only narrowly addresses homosexuality, says Stephen Warne with Step Out Sarasota.

"He made comments about the treatment of GLBT people, but not about their inherit equality when it comes to rights like marriage or anything like that," said Warne.

Still, his comments are quite striking. His predecessor, Benedict, called gays, "objectively disordered." John Paul II said homosexual acts were "against natural law."

"It's a huge step in the right direction. It is major progress in the evolution of equal rights," said Sue Westcott, the Executive Director of ALSO Sarasota.

ALSO Sarasota offers services to gay and bi-sexual adolescents in the community. 18-year-old Sarasota resident Emanuel Oropesa is bi-sexual, and also Catholic.

"For someone as high up as the Pope saying he doesnt mind gays in their orientation, I think it's great. It will give people home," said Oropesa.

The Pope also addressed the issue of the Church's ban on female Priests, saying the issue is definitive. However, he would like to see women take more leaderhip roles in administrative and pastoral activities.