Although the Pope uttered these words in 2013, they continue to reverberate throughout the Catholic world several years later. I believe that, despite the wide and varied response, the actual intent of the Pope’s comment has still not been well understood, and that therefore, a detailed look at the actual words remains in order. Although the Pope expressed himself here in an informal manner, without the time to consider carefully every word, what he said (and what he did not say) matters, and matters a very great deal.
I recently saw an article in Catholic World Report wherein Deacon Jim Russell of the Archdiocese of St Louis concludes that based on the context and full content of the controversial quote, the Pope is indeed concerned about the gay lobby.  However, a close analysis of the Pope’s response leads me to a different conclusion.
The Pope was answering a question which referred to reports of homosexual behavior by a Vatican Monsignor, and was asked how he would “confront the whole question of the gay lobby.” 
The Pope’s initial response was to challenge the premise of the question:
“I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with “gay” on it. They say some are there.”
This sounds like the Pope was saying that he is not sure that there such a lobby. However, Deacon Russell provides definition and background on the gay lobby, and makes a convincing case that it does exist, both within the Vatican and within the larger Church. In any case, the Pope’s response does not answer the question as to what he would do about it.
The Pope then went on to discuss the distinction between the homosexual inclination and endorsement of homosexual behavior:
“I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is not good. If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?”
This comment and the Pope’s following discussion about the Catechism are nonresponsive to the question. The question was about the gay lobby: people who deny that homosexual activity is disordered, and who want the Church to accept both that homosexuality is normal, not disordered, and that homosexual behavior is morally acceptable. Judgement of the homosexual inclination itself is irrelevant to a discussion about a “gay lobby.” A homosexual who accepts the teaching of the Church and who strives for chastity has no need to lobby for acceptance of his behavior. Rather, he would be praying, and repenting, and confessing as any Catholic would when cognizant of serious sin.
By switching the focus to homosexual inclinations, the Pope was answering a question that was not asked.
Finally, the Pope attempts to diminish the significance of such gay lobbies by implying that there are many other problematic lobbies of equal gravity. Certainly the Church is beset on all sides by groups attacking the faith, but the discussion here pertains to homosexuals attempting to change the Church from within the leadership of the Church itself. Does the Pope really think that bands of politicians, masons, misers and the like are actively undermining the Church from within, and with the same impact, as the homosexual lobbies?
Reviewing the entire comment, there is no place in the Pope’s answer where he actually clearly acknowledged that there is a serious issue with active homosexuality either in the Vatican or in the Church at large. He stated that a gay lobby is not good, but he did not confirm that there is a gay lobby.
And most importantly he offered not a single word in response to the actual question, namely, what he would do to deal with the problem.
In summary, despite the noise generated by the various ways in which his remarks were perceived, the Pope’s position on active homosexuality as a problem to be resolved within the Church can be accurately characterized with one word: silence.
That silence remains today. There have been indicators that the Pope is not concerned with this problem. One example is the appointment of Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in May 2015. Father Radcliffe is the quintessential gay lobbyist, known for celebrating Masses for gay people, and praising same sex civil unions and homosexual relations as “expressive of Christ’s self-gift.”  Surely, if as Deacon Russell says, the Pope views the gay lobby as a cause for concern, he would not be appointing radical gay lobbyists to prestigious positions within the Vatican.
Instead, the Pope has reiterated and expanded his message regarding acceptance of homosexuals. On another flight in June 2016, the Pope answered a question which requested his thoughts on whether the Christian community had fostered hatred against homosexuals. The Pope referred back to his July 2013 comments and actually amplified them:
“I will repeat what I said on my first trip,” answered Francis. “I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally. One may condemn, not for theological reasons, but for reasons of, let’s say, political behaviour – certain manifestations are a little too offensive to others. But these things have nothing to do with the problem. The problem is that if a person in this condition has good will and seeks God, who are we to judge? And we must accompany them well …” 
The Pope’s attribution of the relatively new term “accompaniment” to the Catechism in his statement of 26 June 2016 marks a new level of emphasis and should not be overlooked. The Catechism’s actual statement on treatment of homosexuals is this:
“They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” 
The word “accompaniment” is not there. It was recently used extensively in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Pope John Paul II briefly used the term “accompanies” as in “Church accompanies” in the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis to describe the Church’s pastoral care in difficult situations.  Within Amoris Laetitia however, the concept of “accompaniment” encompasses much more, being used to describe a detailed pastoring process by the Church.
It is interesting to note that the Vatican’s slip may be showing a little, since a second Vatican reference for the Pope’s comments on 26 June 2016 does not include the Pope’s references to “accompaniment.” 
This insistent emphasis by the Pope on the accompaniment of gays seems oddly misplaced. Who are these villains who the Pope believes are mistreating homosexuals? Is the Pope not aware that society has undergone a tectonic shift in attitudes toward homosexuals, even among Catholics? Here are a few among the many indicators that homosexuals are not only accepted, but their activities and lifestyles have been welcomed by society and the Church:
– According to a Pew Poll in 2017, 67% of Catholics in the U.S. now support gay marriage. 
– Cardinal Dolan led the St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York in 2017, openly supporting the decision to have a homosexual activist group march in the parade. 
– The Bishop of San Diego “is calling on his city’s priests to embrace ‘LGBT families’.” 
– The U.S. Supreme Court has enshrined gay marriage as the law of the land.
Homosexuality depicted as normal behavior is prevalent throughout media, especially television, even during hours when children are likely to be watching. Homosexuality has become so widely accepted that it is fair to say that very few Catholics or Christians of any stripe would dare to publicly object to homosexual behavior, given the firestorm that would descend upon them if they had the temerity to do such a thing. Homosexual behavior is today accepted as normal and healthy throughout society, and affects all aspects of life – it simply cannot be avoided.
So where is the Pope heading with this continual drumbeat of acceptance and accompaniment in regard to homosexuals?
In 2016, Bishop Johan Bonny of Belgum advocated a Church blessing for irregular unions including homosexual couples.  We now see Cardinal Kasper recognizing elements of homosexual unions as analagous to Christian marriage. 
One has to wonder – what new changes in Catholic practice with respect to homosexuals will be forthcoming under the umbrella of accompaniment?
When we know the answer to that question, then we will know what the Pope is really thinking about homosexuality in the Church.
1. Russell, J. “Pope Francis vs. America’s Gay Lobby.” Catholic World Report. July 28,2017. https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2017/07/28
2. “Press Conference of Pope Francis During the Return Flight, Papal Flight, Sunday, 28 July 2013.” Apostolic Journey to Rio de Janeiro on the Occasion of the XXVIII World Youth Day. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2013/july/documents/papa-francesco_20130728_gmg-conferenza-stampa.html
3. Niles, Christine. “Pope Appoints Fr. Timothy Radcliffe Consultor for Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace,” ChurchMilitant.
4. “The Pope answers questions from journalists on the return flight from Armenia.” Summary of Bulletin, Holy See Press Office, 27.06.2016.
5. United States Catholic Conference, Inc. – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Catechism of the Catholic Church, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994, paragraph 2358.
6. “Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the Bishops, Clergy Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful on the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission (22 February 2007). ” Apostolic Exhortations.
7. “In-Flight Press Conference of his Holiness Pope Francis from Armenia to Rome, Papal Flight, Sunday, 26 June 2016.” Apostolic Journey of His Holiness Pope Francis to Armenia, 24-26 June 2016.
8. Mainwaring, Doug. “More Catholics support gay ‘marriage’ then ever before. Here’s why.” Lifesitenews.
9. Andersen, Kirsten. “Cardinal Dolan leads NYC St. Patrick’s Parade as first-ever gay activist group joins.” Lifesitenews.
10. Chretien, Claire. “San Diego bishop to priests: Embrace ‘LGBT families’, give Communion to ‘remarried’.” Lifesitenews.
11. Smits, Jeanne. “Belgian bishop calls on Catholic Church to approve ‘ritual’ for blessing gay unions.” Lifesitenews.
12. Hoffman, Matthew. “Cardinal Kasper: Homosexual unions are ‘analagous’ to Christian marriage.” Lifesitenews.