August 26, 2013

Pope Francis made headlines and caused a stir following comments to reporters on the plane trip back from World Youth Day in Brazil, but despite some interpretations he did not turn Catholic sexual ethics on its head.

"The pope, in what I've been able to read about his comments, gosh, he wasn't saying anything new at all," said Edmonton's Archbishop Richard Smith, president of the Canadian bishops.

"I've been surprised about the surprise, which suggests that people might be getting their information about what the Church actually teaches from sources other than the Church herself."

Smith was speaking about the media storm created by comments, on topics ranging from homosexuality to women priests, that Pope Francis made to reporters returning with the pontiff to Rome following World Youth Day.

Asked about a "gay lobby" within the Vatican bureaucracy, the pope told the press the problem is lobbies, not gays.

"If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?" Pope Francis asked.

He went on to refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2358.

"The problem is not that one has this tendency - no. We must be brothers, this is the first matter," the pope said.

World media took the pope's answer as an indication this pontificate would bring a seismic change in how the Church views homosexuality.

"Popes generally do not give doctrinal teaching through interviews," said Father Stan Chu Ilo, a theologian at Toronto's University of St. Michael's College.

There is a message in Francis' style of being pope, said Smith. "Francis has his own style and this is a new moment."

That style is showing the way for the new evangelization, Smith said.

"Finding a language that speaks to the modern world – Francis is already doing that and showing us how to do it. He speaks very clearly on matters of great substance, but he speaks with a simplicity that is enabling people to understand."