Santa Rosa Catholic Bishop Robert Vasa said Friday that Pope Francis has challenged him and other church leaders to become more "pastoral" in their work, but is not asking them to abandon the Church's moral teachings about the sins of homosexuality, abortion and birth control.
Vasa's comments came one day after the pope rocked the Catholic world with published statements that the church "cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods." While the church's opposition to these things is clear, a more pastoral approach to ministry is needed, the pope said.
Many observers interpreted the the comments as a softening of the church's stand on the touchstone moral issues. The bishop took a different view.
Vasa, who adheres to a strict, or traditional, interpretation of church doctrine, said the pope was merely saying that "when we deal with those with whom we morally disagree that we do that in a spirit of conciliation and compassion and receptiveness."
He acknowledged the pope's emphasis presents him with a personal challenge. As a bishop, Vasa said he is "geared more toward a canonical mindset and I recognize the need for administrative leadership in church. I also recognize that pastoral leadership, while wonderful, requires someone stepping in and taking up the administrative role."
Some North Coast Catholics heralded the pope's statements, made during a lengthy interview with an Italian Jesuit journal, as a call for a new tone and direction for the church, a message they say is lacking in the local diocese.
"It's not the same tone we have in our diocese, and likely probably other dioceses as well,"said Lori Edgar, a member of St. Eugene's Cathedral in Santa Rosa and a Cardinal Newman High School parent.
Edgar, whose family was part of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Petaluma when she was young, said she hopes the pope's words will help create more "openness" in the Santa Rosa Diocese. Edgar said she particularly took to heart the pope's statements that the church should not be "so judgmental."
Asked if he would welcome to St. Eugene's Cathedral a Catholic woman who had an abortion or is contemplating having one, or a gay person or someone who is practicing birth control, Vasa said he would if they were open to changing their ways.
"Like the pope says, I don't necessarily judge them, but they have to somehow judge themselves and recognize that they are living and acting in a way which is not consistent with what the church teaches," he said.
"And they have an obligation at least to take up the current literature and really study the issue and not simply as a knee-jerk reaction give in to the pressure of the culture."
Edgar said she believes the pope "is setting a new tone for the Church, something for all of us to think about .<TH>.<TH>. It's a home for all."
"Our current Santa Rosa Diocese is going through some struggles with this," she said, noting Vasa's controversial move this year to require local Catholic school teachers to sign a morality clause as part of their employment contracts.
In an effort to quell rising unrest among teachers, parents and some students, the bishop decided not to require teachers to sign the morality "addendum" to their contracts. It would have required educators employed by the diocese to affirm that contraception, gay marriage and euthanasia are "modern errors" and "matters that gravely offend human dignity."