Valley residents react to Pope Francis' comments on homosexuality

FRESNO, Calif.

In an interview with Jesuit magazines released on Thursday, Pope Francis said the church has the right to express opinions, but not to "interfere spiritually" in the lives of homosexuals.

He also faulted the church for focusing too much on abortion, saying it has become "obsessed" with the issue and isn't focusing on its larger mission to be more welcoming.

The pope's comments were heard world-wide, including here in the Valley, and many say the message was that of acceptance. Many in the gay community say the church is moving in the right direction.

The Tower District was buzzing over "Reel Pride", an annual gay themed film festival. But people were also talking about comments made by the leader of the catholic church regarding homosexuality.

"For the people that take the pope's word as absolute law, it's very good, things are stepping in the right direction," said Tory Domena, former Catholic.

In an interview with an Italian Jesuit magazine, Pope Francis said the church is obsessed with social issues, such as abortion and homosexuality, and called for finding a new balance. Many in the gay community welcomed those comments.

"I think empathy and loving your neighbor as yourself is something that you don't reflect on as an older adult, but you reflect on especially being the leader of the Catholic Church," said Robin McGehee, gay rights activist.

McGehee said the Pope's comments on gays and lesbians is a step in the right direction. She said the catholic church discriminated against her and her family when they kicked her out of a parent-teacher group for speaking out for gay rights.

"Right now there's some vindication that type of discrimination was unfair and unjust, and it feels better to know that our dignity as a family is being identified as something that doesn't need to be discriminated against."

Some Catholics also agree with the Pope's new tone.

"The Bible says, love thy neighbor as thyself, even though you may disagree with what they do, still love them," said Nathaniel Parsons, Catholic.

But some people said the Pope's comments don't steer away from the church's fundamental teachings. "He isn't becoming more accepting, he isn't watering down or anything like that. He's just saying let's have a conversation, lets talk to maybe someone who has a different view," said Fred Vanderhoof, Central Valley Strategic Forum.

The Diocese of Fresno released the following statement: "The Pope's messages are deep and rich. We need time to take his words into our hearts and reflect upon them so that we may offer an authentic response, individually and as a faith community."

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