ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Pope Francis’ conciliatory remarks about gay priests were part of a remarkably open and wide-ranging news conference that he conducted on his plane Monday as he returned from his first foreign trip.
The news conference was unprecedented as well as revealing.
Pope John Paul II often walked to the back of the plane to chat with reporters, but he would move about the cabin, chatting with individuals so it was hit-or-miss to hear what he said. Benedict XVI had only brief contacts with reporters. After Benedict’s first foreign trip, the Vatican insisted that reporters submit questions in advance so the pope could choose three or four he wanted to answer with prepared comments.
But during his flight from Brazil, Francis held forth for 80 minutes on subjects ranging from Vatican Bank troubles to the role of women in the church.
Reporters traveling with the pope described him as candid, funny, and high-spirited, and noted that he dodged none of the questions asked. He even thanked the journalist who asked about allegations contained in an Italian news magazine that one of his trusted monsignors was involved in a gay tryst.
Francis said he investigated the allegations and found nothing to support them. He took the press to task for reporting on the matter, saying the allegations concerned matters of sin, not crimes. And when someone sins and confesses, he said, God not only forgives — but forgets, Francis said.
The pope had harsh words for Monsignor Nunzio Scarano. The Vatican accountant has been jailed on accusations that he plotted to smuggle $26 million from Switzerland to Italy and is also accused by Italian prosecutors of using his Vatican bank account to launder money.
Francis said while ‘‘there are saints’’ in the Vatican bureaucracy, Scarano isn’t among them.
The Vatican bank has been a focus of Francis’ reform efforts, and he has named a commission to look into its activities amid accusations from Italian prosecutors that it has been used as an offshore tax haven to launder money.
Francis said the church must develop a more profound role for women in the church, though he said ‘‘the door is closed’’ to ordaining women to the priesthood.
Speaking in Italian with occasional segments in his native Spanish, Francis also dropped a few nuggets of news:
■ He is thinking of traveling to the Holy Land next year and is considering invitations from Sri Lanka and the Philippines as well.
■ He said the planned Dec. 8 canonizations of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will probably be changed — perhaps until the weekend after Easter — because road conditions in December would be dangerously icy for people from John Paul II’s native Poland traveling to the ceremony by bus.
■ He said papal security will remain relatively light. ‘‘I could be with the people, embrace them and greet them — without an armored car,’’ Francis said. He acknowledged that there is a chance that a ‘‘crazy’’ person could get to him. But Francis said he preferred taking a risk than putting a wall between him and his flock.