Morgan City area Catholics agree with Pope’s directive -- Message of compassion emphasized

MORGAN CITY, La. -- While national news stories indicate Pope Francis’ recent interview is a dramatic shift in Vatican tone regarding divisive social issues of abortion, gays and contraception, Catholics here say there really was no change in doctrine, just an urge to be more compassionate.

St. Bernadette Catholic Church’s the Rev. Bill Rogalla said, “In this interview, he didn’t change anything. He urged us to be more compassionate.”

Rogalla noted that the interview indicated the church as a whole needs to find new ways to communicate its message but did not change the intent of that message from previous teachings.

In the pope’s interview, published Thursday in Jesuit journals in 16 countries, Francis said he had been “reprimanded” for not pressing church opposition to abortion in his papacy. But he said “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

Francis said, “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

In the 12,000-word article the pope said, “We have to find a new balance; 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.” The article was based on interviews conducted by a fellow Jesuit, the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civilta Cattolica, a Rome journal for the religious order.

“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules,” Francis said. “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”

The comments contained no change in church teaching, and the pope said reform should not happen quickly. Still, it was the pope’s clearest declaration yet of a break in tone and style from his immediate predecessors.

“An interview is not a form of promulgation of doctrine,” Rogalla said.

Rogalla said his interpretation of the “small-minded rules” statement was that the church body is being directed to “approach things looking at the spirit as opposed to the letter (of the rules), not that the spirit changes the essence of what the guideline is.”

Basically, it’s all about reaching the current culture of Christians with the same message, but in a different way.

“It’s just another way of presenting eternal truth,” he said.

An example he used was that if an adulterer were truly trying to reform himself and grow in holiness, then he has a hope of heaven. However, when you say a homosexual person is “truly striving to grow in holiness and closer to god, suddenly everything is upside down. The church has always condemned the act and not the person. Hate the sin, love the sinner,” Rogalla said.

Students at Central Catholic High School echoed that exact sentiment in their understanding of Pope Francis’ interview.

“The truth didn’t change. It’s still all the same teachings,” said Megan Landry, a junior at the school. “He (the pope) has a different tone. … He doesn’t condemn people. He’s merciful toward them, which Christ was. He imitates Christ very well because he even said to describe himself in one word, he’s a sinner. He understands it’s still not right, but he understands, and he’s merciful toward them just like he asks God to be merciful toward him because we’re all sinners.”

Senior Kate Patterson said, “I believe with the things that he’s saying with abortion and gays and stuff, I really don’t think we should condemn them for it.

“We should be very merciful … we can’t judge someone because they sin differently than us. … You have to continue to have mercy on that person because you don’t know where they’re coming from.”

“I feel like it should be something we should really discuss because everyone has their different beliefs and different morals and values,” said senior Bryson Barbier. “In the end, like the pope said, we can’t judge people for their actions. We can only accept them for who they are. Yea, they sin differently than us, but we still accept them as the person they are.

“I feel like he’s more of a pope that focuses more on the youth than past popes. All popes are focused on a lot of things and they have a lot on their mind, but I feel like he’s really trying to affect the youth now because we are the future of the church,” Barbier said.

Deacon Vic Bonnaffee, Central Catholic principal, said the pope is calling Catholics to walk more among the people, but agreed he has not changed church doctrine. Thus, Catholic education will remain the same.

“We teach the same doctrines,” he said. “Pope Francis, and his life, and what he does and his pastoral approach has had a definite effect on all of us in the Catholic church. He’s calling us to walk amongst the people more.”

Landry summed up the interview:

“He’s just giving a message. It’s not a different message. He’s just reiterating what we were always taught,” she said. “We were never taught to hate people because they are gay. We’re always taught to love them. He’s not teaching anything different. He’s emphasizing it.”

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