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San Diego Catholics Weigh In On Pope Francis

Evening Edition

Above: Everyone seems to be talking about Pope Francis. First Time Magazine declared him person the year. Then an unlikely honor, the gay and lesbian magazine The Advocate named him their person of the year. He also celebrated his 77th birthday on Tuesday. KPBS culture reporter Angela Carone checks in with local Catholics to see how they feel about the new pope.

Everyone seems to be talking about Pope Francis. Time magazine recently declared him “Person of the Year.” Then an unlikely honor, the LGBT magazine “The Advocate” named him their person of the year. He also celebrated his 77th birthday on Tuesday. The pope, whose papacy began in March of 2013, is one the most talked about religious leaders in the world today, but how do San Diego’s Catholics feel about him?

Aired 12/20/13 on KPBS News.

Pope Francis is one of the most talked about religious leaders in the world today. We spoke with local Catholics to see how they feel about the pope and how he's led the Catholic church so far.

A Local Parish Weighs In

Our Lady of Angels church in Sherman Heights.

Our Lady of Angels in Sherman Heights is a quaint and modest church, with an old-fashioned steeple. Every Sunday, church officials raise money by serving a breakfast of Mexican food on the church lawn.

On a recent Sunday, a small but diverse group of parishioners gathered for the 9 a.m. mass. The later, 10 a.m. mass draws all the crowds, often standing room only, because it’s given in Spanish.

There was supposed to be a choir for the service, but a concert in Tijuana kept them away. Rev. Agustin Opalalic, the church’s pastor, suggested the congregation sing anyway. He struck the first note of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and the group joined in.

Our Lady of Angels is one of 98 parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego. It’s not a wealthy parish. A demographic breakdown of parishioners shows 92 percent are Hispanic, 5 percent are Anglo and 3 percent are of other ethnic backgrounds.

Kathryn Willetts has been going to Our Lady of Angels since the early 70s. She knows a fair bit about the new pope, thanks to a glut of recent media attention. She likes his focus on the poor and needy.

“The church has been very hierarchical for a long time with an emphasis on ritual,” Willetts said. “Having the emphasis on reaching out and helping others seems more in keeping with Christ’s message.”

Pope Francis is from Argentina. He’s the first pope from Latin America.

“I like that he’s not totally European,” said Father Opalalic, who is from the Philippines. “It shows that the church is universal.”

Opalalic calls Pope Francis the “darling of the media.”

Stories have been circulating for months about everything from the old car the pope drives, to his simple dress, to a photograph that went viral, showing his embrace of a disfigured man in St. Peter’s Square.

The pope even poses for selfies, and has more than 10 million followers on Twitter. Compared to past popes, this kind of engagement with ordinary people is unusual.

Pope Francis poses for a "selfie" with young people at the Vatican.

He signals a change in emphasis for the church. The Catholic church’s charity work is extensive, serving more than 10 million people annually in the U.S. alone. So while serving the poor has always been part of the church, the pope is stressing that social mission. He's made serving the poor and marginalized a cornerstone of his papacy.

But, according to Opalalic, that change in emphasis doesn’t necessarily mean a change in church doctrine or policy. “The best thing to see in Pope Francis is for him to respond to the problems of the world today, yet remain faithful to the gospel without changing church doctrine,” Opalalic said.

He adds, “That is not easy.”

The Pope is Not the CEO of the Church

Dick Lyles hosts a weekly radio show for Catholic business leaders. He is a devout Catholic.

Dick Lyles hosts his weekly radio show from his expansive, mountain-top home in Poway. The call-in show is called “The Catholic Business Hour.” Lyles offers advice to Catholic business leaders, focusing on how to merge Catholic beliefs and business practices.

He is a life-long Catholic and his home is filled with religious art. Lyles also writes a column for the Pomerado News, where he’s recently voiced his opposition to Obamacare and the minimum wage hike.

Lyles doesn’t believe this pope will make substantial changes to church policy. “Most people don’t understand the role of the pope,” he said. “The pope is not the CEO of the church. His role is to spread the faith and the word of God, not to change it, rewrite it or to rewrite history.”

The only person who can change church doctrine, says Lyles, is Jesus Christ since doctrine is based on the Gospels. “It would be pretty presumptuous to change what Jesus taught,” he added.

The Catholic church is sometimes criticized for not being in step with the modern world, especially on matters of gender equality and sexuality. Lyles doesn’t think that’s a problem. “Maybe the modern world needs to be more in dialogue with the church,” said Lyles.

Sister Maria Pascuzzi sees things differently. “We have a spokesman now who is interested in making the church relevant,” Pascuzzi said by phone from Brooklyn, N.Y., where she now lives. She is a biblical scholar who taught at the University of San Diego for t12years.

Pascuzzi admires Pope Francis’ focus on inclusion, the spirit of which might be best represented in the pope’s response to a journalist who asked him about gay priests. Pope Francis responded, “Who am I to judge?”

In an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air, New Yorker writer James Carroll described the pope’s response as extraordinary. “A resounding repudiation of a basic assumption of Catholic life, which is: The pope is there to judge,” said Carroll.

Pascuzzi and other nuns I spoke with hope the pope’s inclusivity broadens the role of women in the church. Pascuzzi doesn’t think he will allow the ordination of women priests, but she says there are other options to include women. “It doesn’t require ordination to be a theological advisor to the pope, so maybe he’ll choose a woman for that,” Pascuzzi noted.

Back at the church breakfast, parishioners lingered after mass to enjoy the menudo and enchiladas.

Lorenzo Harrison Ford relaxed in the shade. He said he hopes the pope’s popularity helps grow the church. “I think what he’s doing is really good,” Ford said. “He’s getting people back in the church and believing in it again.”

A 2011 study by an economist at the University of Notre Dame estimates that the church lost about 2 million members — or 3 percent of its U.S. membership — because of the sexual abuse scandals involving members of the clergy.

I asked longtime parishioner Bill Landry what changes he would like to see in the church. “I think maybe priests could become married or a have a family or something like that,” Landry said.

Priest celibacy is a discipline of the Church that isn’t absolute, but it’s been in practice since the 4th century. Ending it would be an extremely bold move by the pope.

“All of these things sound like the Berlin Wall, you know?” Pascuzzi said. “And I think the important thing to remember is the Berlin Wall was there and there and there. And then it wasn’t. “

No one can predict what changes Pope Francis will make, if any. But he certainly has the world’s attention.

As millions of Catholics prepare for Christmas, he told an audience this week to put themselves in “the service of the poor” this holiday season.

Comments

Avatar for user 'RegularChristian'

RegularChristian | December 20, 2013 at 10:05 a.m. ― 11 months, 1 week ago

Glad to see the Pope catching up to his flock. The vast majority of Catholics ignore the medieval dogma anayway. As an Episcopalian I've always wondered when they would open communion to all Christians and not reserve it just their "exclusive" club. He's a breath of fresh air for sure.

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Avatar for user 'commus'

commus | December 20, 2013 at 12:42 p.m. ― 11 months, 1 week ago

You mention the poll the Vatican sent out.
It would be great if the people were allowed to answer it.
The US bishops have already done an interception of it and state that they will answer it and block individual parishioners from participating.

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Avatar for user 'Angela Carone'

Angela Carone, KPBS Staff | December 20, 2013 at 1:26 p.m. ― 11 months, 1 week ago

@commus, As I understand it, dioceses are allowed to conduct the survey in different ways. I sought comment from the San Diego diocese and received the following response:

"Bishop Flores notified ALL pastors that he would collect
responses/input toward a single diocesan response. Several pastors have
sent in responses, some of them after engaging their staff or their
parish pastoral council.

Bishop Flores' staff is collating and combining the responses into a
single document that will be sent to the USCCB offices (United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops)."

Some diocese have chosen to put the survey online for people to fill out:
http://ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/us-dioceses-solicit-responses-synod-survey

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | December 20, 2013 at 2:10 p.m. ― 11 months, 1 week ago

REGULAR CHRISTIAN, in some Western European countries, citizens apply to political party membership. IF they don't like that party's programme/platform, they are FREE to resign and join another. But perhaps that's too much common sense for you.

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Avatar for user 'RegularChristian'

RegularChristian | December 23, 2013 at 5:20 p.m. ― 11 months, 1 week ago

MISSION, I think I see what you mean. The thing about religion, though, is that it is a human impulse which for the most part everyone is born into. Hardly anybody choses what religion to grow up in. So changing religions when we're adults is very difficult. I'd say even more difficult than changing political parties. This new Pope seems to recognize his bureaucracy is in dire need of overhauling. I agree and wish him luck.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | December 25, 2013 at 7:55 p.m. ― 11 months ago


why would NPR, seek out James Carroll? It's like asking
Sean Hannity for his opinion of President Obama.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | December 25, 2013 at 8:01 p.m. ― 11 months ago

Maybe not to grow up in, but once a teen, or young adult, under 25, they stop attending or join another. I stopped attending at 16 1/2. At 19 and 20 I was seeking out others. Jehovah's Witnesses are full of resentful ex-Catholics, particularly among the Mexican-American population.

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | December 26, 2013 at 8:15 a.m. ― 11 months ago

"He is a life-long Catholic and his home is filled with religious art. Lyles also writes a column for the Pomerado News, where he’s recently voiced his opposition to Obamacare and the minimum wage hike."

"The only person who can change church doctrine, says Lyles, is Jesus Christ since doctrine is based on the Gospels. “It would be pretty presumptuous to change what Jesus taught,” he added."

I've always wondered where Our Lady of Breathtaking Hypocrisy parish was located. It's on an expansive mountain top home in Poway.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | December 26, 2013 at 11:13 a.m. ― 11 months ago

Lyles sounds like a fake Christian.

Written articles coming out against the Affordable Care Act ?

Yeah, I'm really sure Jesus Christ would have been against expanding healthcare for the poor.

It's people like this Lyle person who give religion a bad name and people like the pope who are beginning to add credibility back.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | December 26, 2013 at 11:18 a.m. ― 11 months ago

And Lyles is also against raising the minimum wage ?

More hate and contempt for the poor.

This is the type of hypocritical politically motivated creep who has ruined the Catholic Church.

I really hope the pope is able to re-focus misguided self-serving religious hypocrites like
Lyles to be more in-line with being more selfless and a better person.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | December 26, 2013 at 3:12 p.m. ― 11 months ago

Raising minimum wage has NEVER had the desired effect, and actually has the opposite effect. But lets do it anyway because leftist.

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Avatar for user 'DonKey'

DonKey | December 27, 2013 at 9:45 a.m. ― 11 months ago

To suggest that the Pope is not the CEO, is exactly the same as saying he's not the Military commander both of which are blasphemous. These types of ludicrous
arguments undermine the moral authority of the church,which has real life and death consequences, as in the deadly attacks on Christians around the world
happening now.This man has no authority to speak for the church and should no more be givin this forum, than a "Catholic"Arms Dealer that hoards Christian "booty" opinion.Opposition to health care for Americans,equality,and pro slave-labour are antithetical to any religeous doctrine I know of except maybe Satanism.Scipture could be quoted for many pages,his opinoin has been proven wrong-

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/12/24/cnn-poll-popes-approval-rating-sky-high/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/pope-francis-gets-high-ratings-from-catholics-according-to-poll/2013/12/10/7b546778-61dc-11e3-8beb-3f9a9942850f_story.html

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/12/yuletide-gift-for-pope-francis-vast-popularity-among-catholics/

http://www.latimes.com/nation/shareitnow/la-sh-pope-francis-person-of-year-popularity-20131211,0,6081957.story

http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=19028

http://www.cathnewsusa.com/2013/12/pope-proves-popular-american-catholics/

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