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Homeboy's Father Greg Boyle excited by Pope Francis, moves church closer to Jesus

Father Boyle and homies at Homeboy Industries, Thanksgiving 2012.
Father Boyle and homies at Homeboy Industries, Thanksgiving 2012.
Homeboy Industries

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UPDATE 3-13-2013: As you can read below and hear, Father Boyle was extremely pessimistic about the Church and the election of the new pope. That is, until he watched, with KPCC, the new pope emerge and present himself to the masses on St Peter's Square. Boyle was at Reagan International in DC; John Rabe was in the Off-Ramp studio in Pasadena; they were both watching CNN.

Look at that! Isn’t that something!? He’s a Jesuit, can you believe this? And then to pick Francis! Someone who is the opposite of pope in terms of simplicity and poverty, you know. Look at that!

Listen to both our interviews.

It's hard to talk with someone from LA's Catholic hierarchy without talking about the child sex abuse scandal. So, as we talk about the new pope, let's just say we wanted to talk with a local Catholic leader. By any measure, Father Greg Boyle fits the bill. He's the founder of Homeboy Industries, which helps gang members find hope, a job, and a future; and he says mass every week not only at Delores Mission, but at 25 prisons. He's a man whose word carries a lot of weight in LA.

Father Boyle grew up in a typical big Catholic family.  "We were like a Norman Rockwell painting, walking to church every Sunday, and during Lent, every day." He went to Catholic schools all his life, and they had the Pope's picture on the wall at his house.

Boyle, 58, was born in the last years of Pius XII's papacy, but the first Popes he remembers are Blessed John XXIII, the reformer who charmed the world and served from 1958-1963 ...

... and Paul VI, who served from 1963-1978.

What he remembers, as a kid would, is the Pope's exalted presence, the pomp and circumstance, the regalia, which is one of the things that fascinates even non-believers about the Conclave. Of course he remembers the excitement of waiting in downtown LA for John Paul II to pass by.

But now, surprisingly, he says "I'm more worried about making payroll" when I ask him if he's following the progress of the Conclave.

"All politics are local," Boyle says, "and so in church. My church is in the detention facilities where I preside and celebrate the Eucharist." He also still says Mass once a week at Delores Mission. "To me that's the church. That's the people of God. And that's sort of a salvation for me, and the other Jesuits, that this is the place where the rubber meets the road, where people struggle and try to live the Gospel with some integrity..." And here's where this soft-spoken, avuncular man makes the sharpest criticism possible of the church he belongs to: it's not following the path of Christ. "The church ought to stand with the demonized, the disposable, always trying to nudge ourselves closer to the birth of a new inclusion, something that looks different from what we're currently accustomed to."

Then, Boyle tells me about a dream he had. He saw the Pope's empty balcony as if on TV. All of a sudden, the new Pope comes out. "He's a little short guy, and he was wearing huaraches (sandals). Somehow I could see this. And jeans and a guayabera, and the skullcap.  And instead of doing the regal Papal wave he just sort of did a little wave, and the crowds went nuts. And I remember thinking, I'd follow that guy anywhere."

"So you dreamed about the Pope you want," I said. "Yes, absolutely." In his ideal church there'd be "less of a concern with defending the faith, which is a statement soaked with fear, to 'let's try to live the Gospel,' which is something we don't ever hear. He always hear about love the church, defend the faith, doctrine. Which has very little to do with Jesus. Which I think would be a nice change."

Should he be saying these things, as a prominent representative of the Catholic faith, possibly the most-respected Catholic in LA? He recalls when he was protesting the Vietnam War and people said, "Love it or leave it." He says he responded that he loved this country and was trying to make it better. The same with the church.

There's much more in our audio interview, including the name he'd choose if he was selected to be Pope.

(Photos: The Vatican)