At his homily this morning in the chapel of the Vatican residence, Pope Francis repeatedly reprised the line, “Who am I to judge?” that has become almost a slogan of his pontificate.

The phrase has also become a serious concern for church conservatives who see that attitude as removing one of their main levers of influence.

Francis first used in last July in an in-flight news conference when asked about whether gay men could be priests, and today he extended the scope of the question in an insistent exhortation on mercy:

“Expand your heart! I am a sinner,” the pope said, noting that we still say: “But look at what that one has done, or that one … But I have done so many (bad) things. Who am I to judge? … Who am I to gossip about this person? Who am I who has done the same or worse?”

“The Lord says: ‘Do not judge or you will be judged. Do not condemn or you will be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven! Give and you will receive!’”

“Always remember!” he concluded, “Who am I to judge?”

The pope was not addressing directly the issue of gays and lesbians this time, but the topic is certainly front and center this St. Patrick’s Day as many are staying away from parades that bar gays from participating under their own banner.

And of course there is the question of how to deal with the Rev. Fred Phelps, the notorious anti-gay preacher, who is reportedly dying.

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