The Catholic church is “fully committed” to accepting LGBT people, the pope has said.
Speaking at a meeting with the Vatican’s top LGBT rights officials, Pope Francis said “the Gospel is more powerful” than ever before.
Speaking on the eve of the Synod on the Family, which is currently underway in the Vatican, Francis said he believed there was “a greater openness” towards the LGBT community in recent times.
“The Gospel is the message of love,” he said, adding that “in our day of love, there is a greater openness to the whole of humanity”.
“I think the Gospel is stronger because it has been made with a more tender heart and a more respectful heart, and that it has always been so.”
Francis said he had not received “a single piece of criticism” about his comments and that the church “is not the place for personal attacks”.
“There is not a single word that has been directed at me, not a word.
I am the Pope.
I can say what I want,” he added.
The pope also said that his words were not intended to imply the church had a “gay agenda” and said he was “not a homophobic man”.
“In the end I don’t think it’s a gay agenda, I think it is a Christian agenda,” he told the gathering of more than 30 bishops and cardinals.
He said the church was “full of love and mercy” towards people regardless of their sexual orientation and would not change its position on gay people.
“I have never felt it necessary to say anything that could be perceived as anti-gay or even anti-Catholic.
The Church does not make decisions about its doctrine,” he continued.”
My position is clear.
If you are gay, you are welcome in the Church.”
Pope Francis has come under fire for his handling of a mass meeting of cardinals that was condemned by some conservatives and gay rights activists, who said the pontiff’s comments were an affront to the LGBT movement.
But the pope said he would “always” welcome all, saying his message was not “political”.
“It’s a message of mercy, of forgiveness and of love.
I would never say that it is an agenda of the Church,” he explained.
He also denied that the pope was “anti-gay”, but that the gay rights movement had been “very hostile”.
The pope said the gay movement was “an enormous obstacle” to progress for the church.
“Let me say that I have never said that it’s an anti-religious movement, or that it doesn’t want to see people who have sexual orientations and gender identities in the church,” he stated.
“It is not, I repeat, not anti-Christian.
I have said that, because I do not think there is any other way.”
The Vatican’s hierarchy has faced criticism for its reluctance to make public its plans to conduct the Synods, which take place in March and April.
The Synod is the body responsible for implementing the papacy’s teachings and determining the church’s future.
It is chaired by Cardinal Raymond Burke, the Vatican spokesman, and consists of the archbishop of Rome, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the supreme doctrinal authority, and four cardinals, known as cardinals pro tempore.
The meeting, known officially as the Synothemos, will examine whether the Church should change its teachings on sexuality and marriage.
Francis has previously said he does not want to change the Church’s stance on homosexuality and has described it as “not in conflict with” Christian teachings.
In his first general audience since his election, he said the synod was “important not just to the church but to the world”.
“For the church, and the whole Church, I believe that it can be an extraordinary instrument, an instrument for making sure that the whole world has a place of peace, a place that is also in harmony with the human person and the human family, and so on,” he declared.