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Asking clergy about the Pope and gays

Aboard the plane on a trip back to Rome from a visit to Brazil, Pope Francis told CNN that "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?" This week's clergy discuss that remark.

Msgr. Christopher J. Heller, pastor, St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, Babylon:

Many of our parish community and clergy have commented on Pope Francis' pleasing, down-to-earth and open communication style. People most often mention what they describe as "a softening of tone" regarding the Church's relationship with gays, rather than "a more lenient stance."

Francis has repeatedly encouraged church leaders to reach out to society's margins, including to gay people, and to deliver a positive message.

The specific context of Francis' response [on the Brazil-to-Rome plane] was regarding homosexual priests serving the Church. And, yes, it is encouraging to all that Francis' voice is consistent with that of Jesus the Good Shepherd, whose inclusive love and care set the standard. But this is hardly new news.

Christian believers know, and are called to practice in attitude and action, that all people, without exception, are children of God and are due unconditional dignity and respect. At the same time, the Bible and Catholic Church teach that homosexual sex is sinful because it goes against God's plan for human sexuality. Some translate this teaching into practice as "hating the sin but loving the sinner." But Pope Francis gave no indication that the Catholic Church will alter its teaching by recognizing and blessing same-sex marriages. In summary, those who compare Francis' public comments with those of his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI may hear a substantial shift in tone rather than in teaching.

Deacon Chris Vigliotta, Catholic chaplain, Suffolk County Correctional Facility, Riverhead:

Pope Francis, having what seems like a strong sense of compassion for God's people, tries, in my estimation, to not just demand that the laws of the church be followed but that we understand why the law is there in the first place.

He has said that we should support those who are gay, treat them lovingly and care for them. Being gay is a problem they have to deal with and the church should support them in dealing with the issue. We all have some sort of problem, some more serious than others. The church's role is to support and be present whenever those problems present themselves and then to guide and instruct.

The bottom line is that when it comes to gays and gay marriage, God made the law that marriage is between a man and a woman, which is repeated in Scripture. Therefore, if God made the law, only he can change it.

Before Vatican II, there was a Church law that forbade Catholics from eating meat on Friday. This law was in effect for centuries. The law was changed with the understanding that if we replaced the Penance of eating meat by some sort of sacrifice of our own choosing, we could eat meat. People asked the question, "Can the Church do this?" The answer: Yes, it can, because the Church made the law; therefore, it can change it.

Some may say Pope Francis is more progressive. I would like to use the word understanding. He understands where the church should be. I believe he is inspired by the Holy Spirit. The bottom line is that nothing has changed as far as gays, except that the church's position is, in this case, God's position, and the pope is making this stance clearer.

Father Patrick Woods, St. Martin of Tours Roman Catholic Church, Bethpage:

I have found that the parishioners are excited about Pope Francis . . . his humility, his common touch, his prayerfulness and his warm, inviting smile. I have heard very few comments on what the pope said about gay people during his news conference on his return flight to Rome.

What the pope said, from my understanding, is quite consistent with what the Church has said about sexuality in general over the centuries. I do not believe Pope Francis changed in any way the Catholic teaching on sexual intimacy when he spoke on the plane; it is clear in Catholic moral theology that sexual acts are reserved for a husband and wife in a marriage. At the same time, all of us are sinners in need of God's grace.

God is a God of mercy and forgiveness who calls us to be faithful to his word and his church. I think Catholics delight that our Holy Father is seeking to be inviting and welcoming to all of us hungry for God's love in a very warm and compassionate manner.

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