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Peggy Fletcher Stack
Peggy Fletcher Stack has been producing stories for The Salt Lake Tribune's award-winning Faith section for nearly two decades. Writing about contemporary faith, rituals, and spirituality as well as religion's conflicts and cohesion has always been Stack's passion. Follow her at facebook.com/peggy.fletcherstack, Twitter @religiongal

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Pope’s remarks about gays may encourage Utah priests

Pope Francis startled everyone this week with his seemingly tolerant statement to the press about gays in the church.

"If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?" the pontiff said in an off-the-cuff news conference en route to Rome from Brazil, according to the Washington Post. "They shouldn’t be marginalized.

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In answer to a question about the so-called "gay lobby" in the Vatican, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics said, "When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby." Then, according to a transcript provided by the National Catholic Reporter, he added that "the tendency [toward homosexuality] is not the problem . . . they’re our brothers."

Though Francis’ statements seem to be in line with the church’s view — that homosexual attractions are not sinful, but behavior is — to many it seems to signal at least a new tone.

Benedict XVI, according to the Post, "oversaw the publication of a church document that called homosexual inclinations ‘disordered’ and called for men with ‘deep-seated" gay tendencies to be barred from the priesthood. He also said same-sex marriage was an insidious threat to the common good."

The new pope’s approach may be encouraging to Utah priests such as Monsignor Robert Bussen — Father Bob, as everyone calls him — who tried to create a special monthly Mass for gays and their families in 2007.

The Diocese of Salt Lake City supported Bussen’s efforts, Monsignor Terrence Fitzgerald, then vicar general, said at the time.

"He’s not doing anything unorthodox," Fitzgerald told The Salt Lake Tribune. We have special Masses for youths, teens, elderly and Hispanic. Our bottom line is to care for the people, and that’s what he’s doing."

But some parishioners at St. Mary of the Assumption in Park City, where the Masses were held, objected. Bussen felt the experiment seemed to be dividing the church so he discontinued the effort after only three months.

With this new pope in charge, a new outreach to gay Catholics might be in Utah’s future.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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