Speaking to reporters on a flight back from Brazil, he reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church’s position that homosexual acts were sinful, but homosexual orientation was not.
He was responding to questions about whether there was a “gay lobby” in the Vatican.
“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge them?”
He also said he wanted a greater role for women in the Church, but insisted they could not be priests.
The Pope arrived back in Rome on Monday after a week-long tour of Brazil – his first trip abroad as pontiff – which climaxed with a huge gathering on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach for a world Catholic youth festival. Festival organisers estimated it attracted more than three million people.
His remarks on gay people are being seen as much more conciliatory than his predecessor’s position on the issue.
Pope Benedict XVI signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests.
But Pope Francis said gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well,” Pope Francis said in a wide-ranging 80-minute long interview with Vatican journalists. “It says they should not be marginalised because of this but that they must be integrated into society.”
But he condemned what he described as lobbying by gay people.
“The problem is not having this orientation,” he said. “We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem.”
On the role of women in the Church, he said: “We cannot limit the role of women in the Church to altar girls or the president of a charity, there must be more.
“But with regards to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and says no… That door is closed.”