In keeping with his young pontificate, Pope Francis’ return flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome proved as spontaneous, and as newsworthy, as his week-long gathering with Catholic youth at World Youth Day.The pope, speaking to 21 journalists aboard the Alitalia flight July 28 in an impromptu, 80-minute question-and-answer session, addressed numerous topics, including the place of homosexuals in the Church and women in leadership. The questions were not submitted in advance and no topics were ruled out of bounds.His comments about gays came from a reference to Msgr. Battista Ricca, whom the pope named interim prelate of the Vatican bank and about whom an Italian magazine published compromising information relating to his personal life, and on the so-called “gay lobby” within the Vatican. “On Msgr. Ricca,” he said, “an 'investigatio previa' [an investigation prior to being appointed as a prelate] was carried out and nothing emerged.” “But I would like to add one more thing: I see that very often in the Church, there is a tendency to seek out sins committed in youth, and make them public. I am not speaking about crimes: the abuse of minors is a crime. But if a layperson, or a priest, or a nun, has sinned, the Lord forgives and forgets. And this is important — the Lord forgets. We do not have the right to not forget.”St. Peter, the pope said, “committed one of the most serious sins, apostasy [denial of Christ], and yet they made him pope. Much is written about the gay lobby … but I haven't found gay identity cards in the Vatican, although they say they exist. “I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must distinguish the fact of being gay from that of forming part of a lobby, as not all lobbies are good. That is the problem. But if a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?”Moreover, he said, "The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons; they must be integrated into society. The problem isn't this (homosexual) orientation. We must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else; the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby."With regard to the participation of women in the Church, Pope Francis said that Blessed John Paul II had closed the door to the question of ordination. But, he emphasized, “Mary was more important than the Apostles, bishops, and so women in the Church are also more important than bishops and priests. There is a great need for theology to better explore the role of women in the Church.”Similarly, Pope Francis did not elude the theme of sacraments for the divorced and remarried. “I think this is the moment for mercy. The divorced may have access to the sacraments. The problem regards those who are in a second marriage … who cannot receive Communion.”It is a problem that “should be studied within the framework of matrimonial pastoral care,” he said, adding that the Council of Cardinals will consider this issue at its October meeting.Other topics addressed during the airborne news conference included Pope Francis’ personal security, especially as related to his habit of venturing into crowds (as he did in Rio). He said he preferred less security.“I was able to stay with the people, to embrace them, greet them, without armored cars,” he said of his encounters on and off the papal motorcades in Rio which unnerved security personnel, as they have in Rome. “It is the security of trusting in people. Yes, there's always the danger of encountering a madman, but then there is always the Lord who protects us, isn't there? It is also madness to separate a bishop from his people, and I prefer this madness.”Pope Francis also reiterated that he preferred to continue to reside at the Santa Marta guesthouse, explaining that, “I cannot live alone, or with a small group. I need to be among people, to meet and speak with people,” he said. “Everyone should live as the Lord intends them to live. But austerity — a general austerity — I think it is necessary for all those who work in the service of the Church.”Future travelsAt the end of his first foreign trip, Pope Francis told reporters that it's good for a pope to travel and there are plans in the works for visits in Italy, Jerusalem and Asia, but nothing planned soon for his Argentine homeland. "I think papal trips are always good," he said July 28 during the flight back to Rome after a week in Brazil. The July 22-29 papal trip was good for Brazil "not just because of the pope's presence, but because for World Youth Day they mobilized and did so well that it will help the whole church," he said. As for future foreign trips, Pope Francis said there was "nothing definite-definite," but "I can tell you what I'm thinking." What is definite, he said, are a Sept. 22 trip to Cagliari in southern Italy to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Bonaria, the Marian title that led to the name of the pope's hometown, Buenos Aires, and an Oct. 4 trip to Assisi for the feast of St. Francis. He also said he hoped to make a one-day trip to northern Italy to visit his relatives with whom he speaks often by phone, but has not had an opportunity to visit since becoming pope in March. Pope Francis said he hoped to be able to fulfill an idea proposed by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who suggested they meet in Jerusalem in 2014 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's meeting with Patriarch Athenagoras, a meeting that set the stage for Catholic-Orthodox reconciliation and dialogue. "The government of Israel also gave me a special invitation to go to Jerusalem and I think the Palestinian Authority did as well," he said. Pope Francis said he had hoped to go to Istanbul in November for the feast of St. Andrew, the patron of the ecumenical patriarchate, but "it was not possible with my schedule. If we meet each other, it will be in Jerusalem." As for Latin America, the pope said he did not think he would return soon. "A Latin American pope, his first trip is to Latin America," going again would be too much, he said. "We must wait a while." "I think it is possible to go to Asia, but this is all up in the air," he said. "I have invitations to go to Sri Lanka and to the Philippines. I must go to Asia," he said, because Pope Benedict XVI did not manage to visit the continent in his eight-year pontificate and Asia "is important." Vatican Information Service and Catholic News Service contributed to this story. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0802/popecomments/{/gallery}