“Pope Francis’s brief comment on gays reveals great mercy,” said the Reverend James Martin, an influential Catholic commentator.
”That mercy, of course, comes from Jesus Christ. And we can never have enough of it. The pope’s remarks also are in line with the catechism, which teaches that gays should be treated with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity.’ ”
Chad Pecknold, an assistant professor of theology at Catholic University who has written on the papacy, said that ”people are right to perceive a change in tone and that that tone is a pastoral tone on the question of homosexual inclinations.”
”Many people recognise that Pope Benedict was a professor pope, that he was teaching theology, and that Pope Francis is emphasising the pastoral office more strongly than Benedict did.”
Mr Pecknold noted that during the news conference, Francis said he did not mention abortion or gay marriage before his trip to Brazil because he wanted to sound ”positive.”
Rather than ”beginning the conversation with what the church teaches about what one shouldn’t do,” Mr Pecknold said, Francis ”wants to begin the conversation about what it means to enter into the mercy of God.”
Michael Sean Winters, an author who has written for the National Catholic Reporter, saw Francis’s take on gays in the church as in line with his approachable, grace-first style.
“You’re seeing someone who leads with God’s mercy.”
Mr Winters added: ”He’s not saying, ‘Look, there is no sin,’ although he does tend to talk of the sins of savage capitalism more than he does of secularising humanists. He is leading with mercy. He never wags his finger.”
Eve Tushnet, currently working on a book about vocations for gay Catholics, is a gay convert to Catholicism who accepts the church’s teaching that sexual activity is reserved for married men and women. But Ms Tushnet also thinks the church could do a lot more to welcome gay people into its flock.
”The main thing that I would love to hear from the pope is, ‘God is calling you,’ ” Tushnet said. ”God is calling gay people to love, to minister to others, to serve. I personally would like to see that extended to the priesthood . . . but certainly anything that comes from the pope that says that, ‘God has a specific call for you,’ I think that would be huge. I think the hunger is that gay people have been told what they’re not allowed to do out of love but they haven’t been told what they should do out of love.”
And Elizabeth Scalia has this insight into the bishop of Rome:
Francis is no fool. He’s a man from South America who went against the Liberation Theology people in his own society, and paid a price for it. He is a warrior. People think they’re seeing defeat, here. I see victory.