Some have noted correctly that the Pope was referring specifically to the existence of an alleged "gay lobby" within the Vatican. But the words do speak for themselves in a wider context, particularly when compared to how his predecessor spoke to the issue. (See the video below.)
Returning from his trip to Brazil, when asked about the protests that have recently rocked the country, he said: "A young man who doesn't protest doesn't suit me. A young man is essentially a nonconformist, and that is a very beautiful thing. You need to listen to young people, giving them outlets to express themselves and ensure they don't get manipulated."
Finally, on the role of women in the Church he made a number of comments suggesting that the Church's own understanding the role of women in the life of the Church is incomplete and too limited.
I'm going to quote sections of two accounts ...
First from NBC ...
Francis discussed a range of issues during the press conference, admitting that the church had not done enough to develop "the theology of women in the church."
He said that the church had spoken on the issue of women priests and expressed itself clearly on the issue of abortion, but he added that important female biblical figures had been overlooked.
"Mary is more important than the apostles," he said. "One must think about women in the church. We have not done enough theology on this."
And then from Forbes ...
On the role of women in the church, the National Catholic Reporter quotes him as saying, "A church without women would be like the apostolic college without Mary. The Madonna is more important than the apostles, and the church herself is feminine, the spouse of Christ and a mother."
Though he acknowledges that Pope John Paul II had "closed the door" on the possible ordination of women as priests, Francis addressed the changing role of women and the need for the church to grapple with that. "The role of women doesn't end with being a mother and with housework," he said. "We don't yet have a truly deep theology of women in the church. We talk about whether they can do this or that, can they be altar boys, can they be lectors, about a woman as president of Caritas [an international confederation of Catholic relief agencies], but we don't have a deep theology of women in the church."
I think his reference to certain female figures in the bible being "overlooked" is very significant since such things are often the seed of novel theological explorations.
It is correct to say that these are simply words. The Pope hasn't suggested changing, let alone actually changed Church law or its basic doctrines. But moral posture and emphasis is an extremely important thing and almost always the groundwork for more particular changes in practice. To note just one example, the Church's practical and theological stance toward Jews was changing in practice for something like half a century before the change received formal codification in Vatican II.
I saw a quote somewhere yesterday from a former Friar who had left the order after falling in love with another Friar. He put Francis's statements, on a scale of 0 to 10 - zero being the Benedict era norm - as about a 3. That sounds about right.
But to say these changes are superficial or immaterial seems wrong to me. The biblical and Jewish and Christian traditions are filled with what we might happily call mixed messages about doctrine, ritual and our basic stance toward God and fellow human beings. You have Judaism's and Catholicism's complex ritual and, more in the case of Catholicism, doctrines, but you also have bible portions like Micah 6:8 "He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you / But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?"
In his early Papacy, Francis seems to be focused on at least slightly displacing the focus on doctrine as the central mode through which the Church confronts the world.
Here's a partial video of Francis' remarks ....