US Catholics hope new Pope can bridge divide
Washington, March 14 : As newly elected Pope Francis I stepped onto the Vatican balcony to greet the faithful around the world, US Catholics said they were hopeful he would heal the wounds of the recent past and help them reconcile modern American life with traditional church values.
The election "marks a great milestone in our church" and the new pope "stands as the figure of unity for all Catholics wherever they reside", Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and one of the cardinals taking part in the election of the new pope, said in a statement.
The new pontiff is 76 years old, but don't expect him to be feeble, Edward Egan, Archbishop Emeritus of New York, said in an interview with NBC News.
Egan described Pope Francis as "a man who calmly stands for what's right and just", and someone with "great compassion for the poor".
US President Barack Obama extended his congratulations to the new pontiff, calling him "a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us".
"As the first pope from the Americas, his selection also speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world, and alongside millions of Hispanic Americans, those of us in the United States share the joy of this historic day," Obama said in a statement.
With an estimated 77 million Catholics in the US, the church has not seen the decline in followers that many European Catholic churches have faced in recent years. But that is largely due to an influx of Catholic-Latino immigrants, said Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies (IPR) at The Catholic University of America, in an interview with RIA Novosti.
"White Catholics in this country aren't continuing on in the faith in the same numbers we've seen in the past, and there's a sense the church in the US is somewhat divided, that the way the church is addressing the modern world isn't working all that well, so we're really hoping the new pontiff can bridge the divide," Schneck said.
"It's hard to say in the first hours of his papacy but my guess is this is the kind of person who can be the kind of mediator we need between the church and the modern world. He marries a devotion to the sick and the poor, and social justice concerns, with a commitment to the church's traditional teachings," he added.
Sixty percent of American Catholics surveyed in a Washington Post-ABC News poll released earlier this week said the Roman Catholic Church is "out of touch" with the views of American Catholics.
Most of those polled said they oppose the church ban on priests marrying, disapprove of how the church has handled the sexual abuse scandal, and believe the church should change its policies to reflect the attitudes and lifestyles of Catholics today.
"As a Catholic and as former altar boy for many years in the church, I am anxious to see how the new pope deals with sex abuse by priests/clergy within the Catholic Church," said Theo Abbot of Washington in a posting on his Facebook page.
"Hopefully, Pope Francis takes leadership on this issue as it cannot be avoided," he added.
The new pope may unify the faithful, but don't expect him to change the stance on key teachings at the very foundation of the Catholic Church, said Schneck.
"No new pope is going to change the church position on abortion or gay marriage or other hot button issues, but we hope he will find a way to convey the church's traditional views in a way that is appealing to contemporary Americans, especially younger Americans, because they really are the future of the church," he said.