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Tampa Bay advocates share tempered reaction to pope's quote

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

The divisive issue of equal rights for gay people seldom brings opponents and supporters into agreement.

But both sides are expressing similar reactions to Pope Francis' remarks about homosexuality this week.

The pope's comment is not as significant as it might first appear and should be considered with caution, they say.

Francis sparked fervent speculation when he said: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?"

As the words spread, so did questions about whether the church might reconsider its opposition to homosexuality.

Tampa pastor Joe Parramore, however, said the statement is decidedly less momentous.

"It certainly did not change the position of the church, and if we're looking for inclusivity, then that paradigm has got to swing to the point of them recognizing that because a man or a woman chooses to love a person of the same gender, that is not a sin," said Parramore, 50, of the New Journey Fellowship, which considers itself friendly to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered people and those who identify as queer.

He said that the church's position always has been to "love the sinner, but hate the sin," and that Francis' words did not deviate.

"I didn't feel like there was really any change in what the church believes," said John Morris, station manager at the Diocese of St. Petersburg's radio station, Spirit FM.

He seemed to echo Parramore in describing the church's position on homosexuality and sin.

"The church is full of sinners and the church loves everyone, but they want to teach people and correct the sins that we all have, whether they be adultery, stealing, coveting or whatever," said Morris, a practicing Catholic.

Francis' statement distanced him from his conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, a more outspoken opponent of homosexuality.

"I think as an individual he might be more open, but I think in terms of a change in Roman Catholic ideology, I doubt that there will be any," said the Rev. Dr. Candace R. Shultis, of the King of Peace Metropolitan Community Church, a Protestant congregation that caters to the gay community in St. Petersburg.

Terry Kemple, an outspoken opponent of equal rights for gay people in Tampa Bay, said the pope's words were still firmly rooted in established Scripture.

"He's not anybody to judge; God's the one who judges," Kemple said.

Equality Florida, a statewide advocate for the gay community, said Francis' comment should be approached with "cautious optimism."

The statement comes about a month after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, a decision hailed as a victory by the gay community but strongly opposed by the Catholic Church.

Brian Winfield, managing director of Equality Florida, said he hoped the pope's remarks are a sign.

"Hopefully, Pope Francis' shift of tone toward acceptance is a signal that the church hierarchy will also continue to evolve on this issue of global importance."

Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at zsampson@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804. Twitter: @zacksampson.

Tampa Bay advocates share tempered reaction to pope's quote 07/30/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 10:16pm]
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