Comments made by Pope Francis in his first press conference were widely regarded as conciliatory toward gays. But Bishop Robert Vasa of the Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese said Monday that the Pope's words were in line with existing Catholic teachings, which call for compassion for gays, reject discrimination but consider homosexuality a disorder.

While en route back from a trip to Brazil, Pope Francis engaged in a candid, 82-minute press conference with reporters aboard the papal aircraft. The pope responded to a number of questions, ranging from gay priests to the role of women in the church to financial scandals involving the Vatican bank.

"If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?" the pope said. "They shouldn't be marginalized."

But Bishop Vasa said these comments were anything but "groundbreaking" and echoed certain paragraphs from the catechism of the Catholic Church.

"I don't know that I would see them as any more conciliatory than the church documents have always been," he said.

Paragraph 2358 of the catechism recognizes that the number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is "not negligible," and that homosexuality, as a disorder constitutes for most of them a trial.

But the same paragraph also points out that gays should not be discriminated against and "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity."

In several news reports, Pope Francis' statements Monday were contrasted with former Pope Benedict XVI's signing of a document in 2005 that said men with gay tendencies should not be allowed to become priests.

Bishop Vasa said the pope made no statements contradicting his predecessor.

"I don't know that those are necessarily two different statements," he said.

But some North Bay liberal Catholics reacted positively to the pope's words.

Cynthia Vrooman, a member of the local diocese and a Sonoma resident, said the pope's comments should be considered in light of his recent comments to young Catholics at the World Youth Day in Brazil to shake up their church.

Vrooman, who describes herself as a Vatican II Catholic, said that during the pope's trip to Brazil, he encouraged bishops to get rid of their "fancy cars" and extend their ministry well beyond their rectories.

"If you add all of that up, it gives me a lot more hope than I certainly had before Francis," Vrooman said. "I like what he said. He said, 'Who am I to judge?' That's so much more personable, and he's the pope."

Nancy Murray, another local liberal Catholic, said she's happy to see a "gentler attitude" toward gays.

"I'd have to see it actually put into action," Murray said, adding that his tone, at least, "sounds much better, much more caring."

Murray said a bolder action on the part of the pope would be to change the language in the catechism to reflect more modern views of homosexuality.

"These are rules, rules can change, the catechism is a list of rules and those are manmade," she said.

Bishop Vasa said the candid nature of the pope's press conference, where the pontiff was not afraid to answer questions, was a reflection of the church's new leader.

"He is his own man. He is not afraid to engage with discussion of matters in secular society that may be controversial," Vasa said.

"But at the same time, he holds true to the clear teachings of the church. Nothing in what he said suggested acceptance of gay priests or otherwise engaging in homosexual acts."

Vrooman said, "In a way, the bishop is correct. The teaching is 'love the sinner, hate the sin.' That's the kind of the attitude that's written into the catechism. The whole point is they consider homosexuality acts as sinful."

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com