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Cardinal Dolan on pope's gay remarks: We can judge actions, not people

Pope Francis’ comments about gays may have signaled a change in tone within the Catholic Church, but they did not reflect a break in church policy, a leading American Catholic cleric said Tuesday.

The church teaches to treat everyone — including gays — with dignity, even if they do not approve of the relationships they have, said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“What the pope is saying is, don’t forget there’s another element to God’s teaching, namely that we treat everybody with dignity and respect, that we don’t judge their heart, that we love and respect them,” he told TODAY’s Matt Lauer.

On Monday, Pope Francis surprised church observers with his comments about homosexuality during a news conference.

“If a person is gay, and looks for the Lord and had goodwill, who am I to judge them?” he said.

Dolan said the pontiff’s comments didn’t surprise him, but everyone’s reaction did.

“This is no way could this be interpreted as a change in church doctrine or the church’s faith and morals. It is a change in tone," he said.

“It’s been a pretty clear teaching of the church based on the words of Jesus that we can’t judge people; we can judge actions,” he said.

But he emphasized that those actions — specifically, sexual relationships between gay people — are still considered immoral in the eyes of the Catholic church.

“Homosexual people deserve love respect and dignity, while homosexual acts are immoral,” Dolan said.

“The church’s teaching, which is based on the Bible and God’s revelation, is that sexual love is reserved only between a man and woman in the life-long, life-giving relationship of marriage and any relations outside of that, hetero or homo, would be less than God’s intention," he said. "That hasn’t changed."