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Sydney Catholic Archbishop George Pell has played down comments by Pope Francis calling on the Catholic Church to abandon its “obsession” with homosexuality, claiming the pontiff’s word had been taken out of context.

Pope Francis caused waves late last week after being quoted in a 12,000 word interview with the Italian Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica saying that the Church risked falling over “like a house of cards” if it continued to cast judgement on things such as divorce, homosexuality, abortion and contraception.

Francis’s comments were said to mark another shift within the Church hierarchy following his predecessor Pope Benedict’s more conservative views. The Argentinian-born pontiff is the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, as well as the first from Latin America.

“I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’, because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this,” Francis said in the interview.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person … In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation.”

In late July, soon after being elected as pontiff, Francis had also claimed it was not up to him judge gay people.

“If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?” he said.

Asked for its reaction to Pope Francis’s comments in the interview, the Sydney Catholic Archdiocese refused to comment to the Star Observer, but did release a media statement  over the weekend in which Archbishop Pell suggested the Pope had said far more important things in the rest of the interview.

“Two paragraphs in Pope Francis’ important 12,000 word interview have been the focus of particular attention. He also emphasised the importance of not taking issues out of context,” Pell said in the statement.

“Questions like abortion and homosexual practice involve very important human and scriptural values, and they need to be articulated clearly, sensitively and with a compassionate understanding of our weaknesses and struggles.

“Essential Christian moral teachings need to be defended and explained when they are attacked. But we do not seek to harangue people about them every day.”

The Star Observer also sought comment from Christian Democratic Party leader Fred Nile, but he declined to respond.

Metropolitan Community Church Sydney pastor the Reverend Karl Hand told the Star Observer that he was encouraged by Pope Francis’s words, but significant follow-through on the part of the Church hierarchy was needed if there was to be any positive impact. 
“Pope Francis has hit the nail on the head by saying the church should stay out of the spiritual lives of gay and lesbian people, which is just another way of saying what Jesus said, to ‘take the log out of your own eye, not the splinter out of someone else’s’,” Hand said.

“My hope is that this talk is going to be translated into action. To keep out of the spiritual lives of the LGBTI community, the church must stop excommunicating LGBTI people, and offer them access to the sacraments of Eucharist and Ordination to the priesthood, both of which are currently denied to faithful, LGBTI Catholics.”

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