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Ohio State students react to Pope Francis celebrating role of women, balancing modern with tradition

Pope Francis I

Pope Francis waves to the crowd during his inauguration mass at St. Peter’s Square March 19 at the Vatican.
Credit: Courtesy of MCT

The pope of the Roman Catholic Church sparked various reactions from some Ohio State students when he made comments endorsing an increased role of women in the church and welcoming gays into the Catholic community.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, more commonly known as Pope Francis, said if the Roman Catholic Church fails to find a more modern balance between strict rules and the need for church to be a welcoming place for all, then its moral foundation will “fall like a house of cards.”

The statement was made in a widely-publicized interview held in August. Six months into his papacy, the pope set out his vision for the church in an interview with “La Civiltà Cattolica,” a Jesuit journal based in Rome. It was published Sept. 19 in Jesuit journals in 16 countries, including “America” magazine in the U.S.

Francis, a 76-year-old former Argentine archbishop, was selected as the pope March 13. He is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church and is the first pope in more than 1,200 years of non-European decent.

The previous pope, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, an 86-year-old German born as Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, stepped down from the position in February after eight years because of old age and deteriorating strength. It was the first time in nearly 600 years a pope announced his resignation.

During his interview with “La Civiltà Cattolica,” Francis talked about a variety of topics spanning from abortion to women’s roles in the church, mostly tying back to the idea that the Roman Catholic Church needs to work at being more welcoming.

“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules,” Francis said.

Curtis Weisenburger, a fourth-year in political science at OSU and member of the Catholic Student Association, did not find the attention paid to Francis’ statements out of the ordinary.

“Media will always try to breed scandal. It’s what sells. I think some (people) are focused only on what the media portrays. But I do think that many people wanting to be educated can find the real message Pope Francis was sending,” Weisenburger said.

Francis said women, for example, need to be given a stronger voice.

“The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions,” he said. “The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role.”

Francis also expressed he doesn’t think the Church has the right to exclude gays.

“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,” Francis said.

Edward Luersman, a fourth-year in plant health management and a student missionary with St. Paul’s Outreach, said within the Catholic community he has seen people excited and energized by Francis’ openness.

“Each pope brings about something unique and something special. The church would be very stale if each person wasn’t bringing their own charisma and gift to the church,” Luersman said.

During the interview, Francis addressed that he has gotten criticism in the past for not speaking about certain issues like abortion often, but said the subjects shouldn’t be among the church’s focuses anyway.

“We cannot only insist on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” Francis said. “I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that.”

The pope explained to his interviewer the changes he sees for the church could come in a short time period. He sees his vision for the church as attainable and something that can happen now.

“I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time of discernment,” Francis said.

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