It is a measure of how far the institution must go on the issue of sexual orientation that the words of Pope Francis on forgiving gay clergymen and forgetting their sins -- "who am I to judge?" -- is seen as a major step forward for the Roman Catholic Church. As one observer noted, if it means fewer priests and bishops will be preaching about the sins of homosexuality, then the Pope's plain talk will have had definable benefit.
The Pope is not changing Catholic doctrine on homosexuality, which is that the sinner is to be loved, but not the sin; that a gay or lesbian person is accepted but to live one's love is forbidden. His predecessor signed a document in 2005 reasserting that gay men should not enter the priesthood. The Catholic Church has an odd way of talking in terms of "tendencies" which itself defies the understanding of human sexuality. Few people tend to be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.
Pope Francis is, however, challenging fellow Catholics to temper their attitudes. His words, seen as a relief, a shift in tone from hardened past positions on gays and gay priests, are a welcome ray of tolerance that might have noticeable impact in some communities where the Roman Catholic Church is powerfully influential. Indeed, intolerant religious evangelicals of varied churches should reflect upon the introspective Pope's words and similarly resist the temptation to publicly judge harshly and hurtfully those whose sexuality they suspect they understand too well.
See also Pope Frances is rewriting rules at wfp.to/comment.