Cleveland’s Bishop Lennon reflects on upcoming meeting with Pope

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CLEVELAND - Preparing to meet Pope Francis, Bishop Richard Lennon, head of the Cleveland Diocese, knows what he hopes to take away.

"The advice, the guidance, the direction that Pope Francis will give us as the successor to Peter," he says.

In a wide-ranging, one-on-one interview, Bishop Lennon said the pope has "raised possibilities" with his comments on a wide array of controversial subjects.

But Bishop Lennon cautioned that he had seen no changes in church doctrine under Pope Francis, and said he didn't expect to see any in the future.

Pope Francis has weighed in on the climate change debate, calling man's treatment of the Earth "reckless."

"I think, from his point of view," Bishop Lennon says, "it's the context that goes back to the notion of creation."

"God created, and then gave stewardship responsibility to mankind," he says.

The pope also apologized to victims of the clergy sex abuse scandal, and added, "I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sin of omission on the part of the Church leaders who didn't respond adequately to reports of abuse." The pontiff went on to say that "this led to even greater suffering...and endangered other minors who were at risk."

Asked if he agreed with the pope, Bishop Lennon said, "I think, in hindsight, yes. You know, did everyone know what they were doing or not doing? I don't think it was intentional. Now that may sound hard to get your arms around."

Bishop Lennon went on to say that church officials relied on outside experts and "put priests back to work with the testimony of psychologists and psychiatrists, saying he's okay now, and it wasn't."

The bishop, who took over for Cardinal Law in Boston after the scandal forced him to resign, said the church has tightened procedures substantially in the almost 15 years since the scandal broke in Boston.

He also agrees with Pope Francis that there should be more accountability.

"People have a right to expect that a priest, a bishop...is called upon to be responsible," Bishop Lennon says.

As for Pope Francis' famous "who I am to judge?" comment regarding gay people, Bishop Lennon believes it has been widely misinterpreted.

"It was interpreted that it was no longer sinful to have homosexual sex," says Bishop Lennon, "(and) he never said that."

He also said the pope is streamlining the annulment procedure for divorced Catholics, and removing any financial charge - something Bishop Lennon eliminated in the Cleveland Diocese more than two years ago.

"I got calls from Rome thanking me for taking the lead on this," he says.

Bishop Lennon will meet Pope Francis on Wednesday in Washington D.C. CLICK HERE for more on Pope Francis including his visit.