Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has denied that Pope Francis' comments on gays means that the Roman Catholic Church is softening its stand on homosexuality.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis rhetorically asked reporters aboard the papal aircraft on the journey back to the Vatican from his first foreign trip to Brazil.

But when asked his position on gay marriage, Francis drew a clear line in the sand: “You know perfectly the position of the church.”

Many responded that it wasn't what the Holy Father said, but rather how he said it that made such an impact.

“It's the way he's expressing himself, with great candor, that is surprising people,” John Wauck, a professor of communications at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, told Time magazine.

But Santorum, a Catholic himself, told that the media had taken the pope's words out of context.

“I've read the whole transcript, and what he said early on was that 'I don't know anybody who puts gay on their identification card.' He said it in that context,” said Santorum. “I think all believers need to understand that we need to respect and love everybody and treat everybody with dignity and respect. There's no room for harshness in respect to this issue – but that doesn't mean the church doesn't have the right to believe what is right and wrong.”