Local Catholics and members of the gay community are reacting with respect to remarks made Monday by Pope Francis, who said he withheld personal judgment on people’s sexual orientation.
Francis drew significant attention for his compassionate tone when speaking briefly about homosexuality to reporters on his plane ride home from Brazil.
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis told reporters.
The importance of the pope’s comments is less what he said than the way he said it, said David Hains, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte.
Francis’ remarks reflected no departure from Catholic doctrine, which considers homosexual acts to be sin, Hains said. But the pope’s tone of “obvious pastoral love” is “a very big contrast” to his predecessor, Benedict XVI, he said.
Benedict’s tone was considerably more austere than Francis’. In 2005, Benedict wrote that homosexuality was “a strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil” and “an objective disorder.”
Hains said Francis’ comments reflect the teachings of “the kind of Jesus I grew up with.”
“It’s a different way to look at the same position,” Hains said. “What (Francis) said clearly is what a lot of people have been saying for a long time. Homosexual people are children of God. They deserve lives of peace and dignity just like anyone else.”
Hains said he’s heard no reaction from local priests or bishops regarding the pope’s comments, which is appropriate, he said, because the pope did not stray from church doctrine. He has, though, noticed a positive reaction from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
Roberta Dunn, the recently selected chair of the LGBT Community Center in Charlotte, said she was very pleased by the pope’s comments.
“Inch by inch, we have to work a little bit at a time. I think this is a major step by the pope,” said Dunn, who describes herself as a devout Christian with a Catholic background. “I see this as opening the door for dialogue. And the church, I’m hoping, will really start changing their viewpoints.”
A member of St. Ann Catholic Church in Charlotte who declined to provide his full name said Francis is “speaking of the love of Christ” and “tries to speak as Jesus would.” But he said he worried the pope’s words could be misinterpreted to condone what the church considers sin.
Maritza Brunetto, a member of St. Peter Catholic Church in uptown Charlotte, said she agrees with the church’s position regarding homosexual acts as sin, and she respects the pope’s approach of love for all people.
“My position is you can’t judge people. You should help them to get out of the problem,” Brunetto said. “I agree with all of what he said.”
Maria Delacruz, also a member of St. Peter’s, was not surprised by Francis’ compassionate position on the issue of homosexuality. His comments, she said, were reflective of his down-to-earth nature.
“I think he is very sincere in his heart that everyone has to be treated equally,” Delacruz said.
With the attention being garnered by the pope’s remarks, Hains said he hopes the public’s view of the Catholic doctrine will be positively affected. Any time people are being drawn closer to the faith, he said, is a good thing.
“Over the last 10 years, the church has had a lot of detractors and more than a few problems,” Hains said. “It’s really substantive to talk about love for other people, especially people who have had such a difficult time with acceptance.”