Signaling that he is somewhat more liberal on the issue of homosexuality than his predecessor, Pope Francis made some frank comments to journalists on his way back to Rome from Brazil on Monday about his acceptance of gay priests. While aboard the papal aircraft, Francis took questions from journalists, including one about allegations that one of his trusted monsignors had had a gay affair.

The allegations came from a piece in the Italian magazine L'Espresso, and they have to do with 57-year-old Monsignor Battista Ricca, whom Francis recently appointed to be his prelate at the Vatican bank. Ricca supposedly conducted a fairly public affair with another man while serving in Uruguay, and there was also a story about him getting stuck in an elevator with a male prostitute.

Francis thanked the journalist who brought up the story today, saying he had had the allegations investigated and found nothing to back them up. But he scolded journalists for reporting the story in the first place, saying that it had to do with sin, and nothing criminal, and that sins are not only forgiven by God but forgotten. "We don't have the right to not forget," he said.

Furthermore, on the topic of gay priests, Francis made perhaps the most frank and accepting comments about gays of any pope ever. He said of gay priests, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? We shouldn't marginalize people for this. They must be integrated into society."

In contrast, that grumpy Benedict declared in 2005 that men who had deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. But the Italian media remains fascinated with what they call the "gay lobby," a possibly imaginary group of celibate and/or sexually active gay priests who are in cahoots in exerting influence over the Vatican. Francis also laughed this off, saying, "You have to distinguish between the fact that someone is gay and the fact of being in a 'lobby.'"