Pope Francis has reportedly blessed a group of gay Catholics in Italy.

The country’s La Repubblica newspaper claims he has responded to a letter from Kairos of Florence, a group of gay and lesbian Italian Catholics.

In June they asked for the Pope to show openness and to enter into dialogue, noting that closure to discussion “always feeds homophobia.” The members were stunned to receive a personal response to their appeal from Pope Francis. One leader of the group told La Repubblica “no one had ever even given a nod of response” before from the Vatican.

Kairos also said they had received a letter from the Vatican Secretariat of State, which informed them that Pope Francis “really enjoyed” their letter to him and the way it was written, calling it an act of “spontaneous confidence.”

One Kairos member said Pope Francis had also assured the group of his blessing.

Last week, US President Barack Obama said he had been “hugely impressed” by Pope Francis’ recent remarks admitting the Roman Catholic Church was “obsessed” with preaching about abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception.

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” Pope Francis told La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal in September. “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church are not all equivalent. The Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,” he said. “We have to find a new balance,” adding, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

Speaking to reporters in July during a plane journey back to the Vatican following his trip to Brazil, Pope Francis said that gay people should not be judged or marginalised and should be integrated into society.

The comments suggested the beginnings of a new era in civility by the Vatican on the issue of same-sex relationships – if not in doctrinal position – Pope Francis also referred to the Catholic Church’s universal Catechism, which states that while being gay is not sinful, homosexual acts are.