Pope Francis has said gay people should not be judged or marginalised but integrated into society.

Speaking to journalists on a flight back from a week-long visit to Brazil, he reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church's position that homosexual acts were sinful, but homosexual orientation was not.

If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him ?

Pope Francis

"If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?" the pope said on Monday in a broad-ranging 80-minute conversation with reporters on the plane.

"The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation" he said.

Addressing the issue of women priests, the pope said the Roman Catholic Church's ban on women priests was definitive, although he would like them to have more leadership roles in administration and pastoral activities.

It was the first time he had spoken in public on the subject.

Unlike his predecessor Benedict, who knew in advance the few questions journalists would be allowed to ask, 76-year-old pope, who as an Argentine, was the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, imposed no restrictions as he fielded 21 questions.

He spoke of reforms he had begun in the Vatican, which has been tarnished by a series of corruption scandals, including at the Vatican bank, which is the target of several Italian money laundering investigations.

Expressing his pain over scandals at the Vatican bank, he said there were saints in the Holy See but also "those who are not very saintly".

The pope arrived back in Rome on Monday after a successful week-long tour of Brazil which climaxed with a huge gathering on Rio de Janeiro's famed Copacabana beach for a world Catholic youth festival, which organisers estimated to have attracted more than three million people.

Source: Agencies