Pope Francis reached out to gay people in his first news conference, which was held aboard the papal plane as he returned to Rome from his historic maiden trip overseas to Brazil.
Pope Francis told reporters he would not judge priests for their sexual orientation: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"
The pontiff's words signal a move away from the views traditionally held by the Roman Catholic Church - his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, authored a document that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests.
During his 90-minute news conference the pope appeared relaxed and smiled frequently as he answered every question.
The pontiff even thanked the journalist who raised allegations reported by an Italian newsmagazine that one of his trusted monsignors was involved in a scandalous gay tryst.
Francis said he investigated and found nothing to back up the allegations.
Once he had returned to Rome, Francis tweeted to his 2.7 million followers: "I am back home, and I assure you that my joy is much greater than my exhaustion!"