(Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)
Three days after Pope Francis criticized his own church for focusing too much on gay marriage, abortion and contraception, Catholics attending Sunday Mass across the nation expressed a variety of views on what the papal comments might mean for the church.
Francis, in an interview with America magazine conducted weeks ago and released Thursday, said the church's stance against gay marriage, abortion and contraception has not changed. But he said the church must find a "new balance," adding that the "thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful."
About a quarter of the nation's 70 million Catholics regularly attend church. Among them is Susan Anthony, of Des Moines, who said Catholics should not read too much into the pope's comments. She said he simply reiterated age-old Catholic tenets of showing people mercy, regardless of their actions.
"The church stands for what it stands for," Anthony said. "It's always stood that way."
Her pastor at Holy Trinity Church, the Rev. Michael Amadeo, said that while he did not discuss the pope's comments during services this weekend, Catholic leaders should take to heart the pope's message of mercy and love.
"I think the real challenge to leaders in our church, whether bishops or laypeople, is to have them examine their lives and examine how are they being people of mercy and exhibiting God's love," Amadeo said.
Mary McKay, a regular churchgoer at St. Peter's in Washington, D.C., said the pope's message is not an effort to question the church's teachings, but an effort "to focus on what unites us rather than divides us."
In Clarkston, Mich., Monsignor Robert Humitz assists at parishes in the area. Humitz said the pope's remarks signal a shift in tone.
"He's not changing any doctrine ... (but) how we present it," Humitz said. "The word pontiff means bridge builder, and I think that's what he's doing."
Humitz said the pope's style appears to more open to dialogue and less judgmental.
"I think he's telling us to not be obsessed with all the sexuality and to focus on what we can do to improve the dignity of every human person," said Humitz. "I don't think he's changing the church's teaching on the dignity of all human life, from conception to natural death. I think he's enhancing it."
Joyce Meenahan, 77, of Commerce, Mich., was thrilled by the pope's words.
"There's a place for doctrine, but it's not the only thing," Meenahan said. "The new word that's being floated around is balance."
Meenahan said the pope's words also should comfort the American nuns who were criticized by Rome in recent years for placing more emphasis on social justice issues than on church doctrine.
"It's a vindication of the nuns," Meenahan said.
Paul Cloutier, 50, of White Lake Township, Mich., said the pope is changing the way the church is perceived.
"The church is black and white about the sin, but not about the sinner," he said. "I think he's all about charity and compassion. I like him."
Krogstad reports for The Des Moines Register; Wisely for the Detroit Free Press. Hajishengalli reported from Washington, D.C.