Different on pope's message: Some cheer openness, others say church must defend beliefs

Some cheer openness, others say church must defend beliefs

By Linda Moss

The (Hackensack, N.J.) Record

Published: Sunday, Sept. 29 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

In this photo provided by the Vatican paper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis meets Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo Saturday, March 23, 2013. Pope Francis has traveled to Castel Gandolfo to have lunch with his predecessor Benedict XVI in a historic and potentially problematic melding of the papacies that has never before confronted the Catholic Church. The Vatican said the two popes embraced on the helipad. In the chapel where they prayed together, Benedict offered Francis the traditional kneeler used by the pope. Francis refused to take it alone, saying "We're brothers," and the two prayed together on the same one.

Associated Press

HACKENSACK, N.J. — Mary Jean Sawey and Lucia Tirone are both devout Roman Catholics, but they don't see eye-to-eye on Pope Francis.

On Sunday, Sawey lauded the pope for his recent eyebrow-raising interview, during which he said the church had been "obsessed" with hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage and contraceptives. Instead, the pontiff said, the church needs to be welcoming to all.

But Tirone, Sawey's fellow parishioner at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Paterson, N.J., engaged in a lively debate with her friend.

"We love the sinner and we hate the sin, but they've got to be reformed," said Tirone, a self-described conservative Catholic. "These people say, 'I want it my way, Lord, and I'll keep you in the corner, and you better change your ways to my ways.' They want their cake and to eat it, too."

For at least half an hour, Tirone, a 50-year-old Paterson resident, and Sawey, a 57-year-old who lives in Hawthorne, N.J., went back and forth about the pope and his latest statements. They were both at the church's Bishop Rodimer Center, where Masses are held while the Cathedral undergoes renovations.

After Masses at a number of Catholic parishes, churchgoers such as Sawey and parish priests expressed support for Pope Francis' remarks, which were part of an interview published last week by the Jesuit press. The church needs to be inclusive and less judgmental, or risk falling "like a house of cards," according to the pontiff.

"As he said, people don't need to be beat over the head with it, basically," said the Rev. Larry Evans, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Ridgefield Park. "These are our teachings, but there's a lot more."

The pope isn't attempting to change church dogma, all agree. But there were still some Catholics troubled by the pontiff's pronouncement, those who believe the church has a duty to unapologetically proclaim its tenets to the secular world, no matter how unpopular or out of step they are with popular culture. These Catholics said they await clarification from the pope.

At St. Francis of Assisi, churchgoer Francine Garvey, 59, a borough resident, said she was "a little bit shocked" by the pontiff's comments, and wanted more information.

"I think what he was trying to say was we shouldn't only focus on the sin; that we should try to be forgiving of the sinners, because we're all sinners," Garvey said. "Everybody has an opportunity to be forgiven in our faith. We have the sacrament of reconciliation."

At the same time, the church needs to stand up and defend its beliefs, according to Garvey.

"Our faith has always taught that sin is sin, and you can't just suddenly decide it's not sin anymore because the majority of people want to do it," she said.

Following the 8 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Ridgewood, N.J., John McDonagh, 62, and his wife, Patricia, 61, both said they were "thrilled" by the pope's comments.

"I was concerned that he was going to be a little too conservative, but he's turned out to be the opposite of that," John said. "So we've been very pleased."

Gene McInerney, 75, who now lives in Florida, was at the same Mass because he was visiting his family in neighboring Glen Rock, N.J. He described the pontiff's comments as an invitation for people to come back to the faith, a gesture he agreed with.

Standing in front of the Ridgewood church, McInerney said, "This is not a museum for saints. It's a hospital for sinners."

Later, at St. Catharine Church in Glen Rock, parishioners also embraced the pope's comments.

"He's a New Age pope," said Matt Sheridan, 33, of Glen Rock. "He's going to make changes that make sense. I agree with it. It's pretty common sense: Basically be nice to people."

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