Triangle Catholics cite range of qualities they want in new Pope

relder@newsobserver.com, mquillin@newsobserver.comFebruary 11, 2013 

The Pope is the unifying symbol of the Catholic Church, the world’s largest Christian denomination, but that doesn’t mean there’s universal agreement among Triangle Catholics on what they’d like to see in their next Pope.

He should be strong on social justice and committed to reaching out to younger members, some say, while others are looking for someone devoted to tradition in the mold of outgoing Pope Benedict.

Most Catholics seem convinced that the church’s College of Cardinals will be able to swiftly find a suitable replacement for Benedict and said they look forward to seeing who it is.

“Whoever it is will have his own style of leadership,” said Father Donald Staib, pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Apex. “It will be good to see someone else’s take on things.”

Catholic thought on issues as diverse as birth control to capitalism is anything but singular. The role of women in the church, obligations for peacemaking in war-torn countries, and care for the poor have all been points of contention during the last half century.

Pope Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, has always been a stickler for tradition, Staib added.

“We do preserve the past,” he said. “But we have to be responsive to the 21st century, too. Things change.”

Gail Phares, a co-founder of Raleigh-based Witness for Peace, remembers Benedict as a harsh enforcer of traditional Catholic orthodoxy while he was a cardinal in Latin America during the 1980s and 1990s, and as unsympathetic to the oppressed and the poor.

With much of the Catholic Church’s growth now in Latin America, Phares said she is ready to bring a new church leader on board. Her ideal would be a new Pope who is “open in spirit and concerned with justice.”

“I really think our new Pope should come from the Third World – or at least not from Europe,” Phares said.

Bob Cadran, principal of the pre-K through 12th grade Catholic school at St. Mary Magdalene, said he would welcome a new Pope who can appeal to younger church members.

Cadran praised the job Benedict has done during his eight years as Pope, noting how difficult it has been to lead the church, especially while enduring sex-abuse scandals involving priests.

Jason Husser, an Elon University professor whose specialty is the intersection of religion and politics, said someone who could appeal to youth and bring people together would be good for the church.

“The church is looking at how to address major losses among young people, so I think that the No. 1 characteristic to look for in a new Pope would be someone who can connect with young people,” Husser said.

“They also need someone who can bridge party lines, at least in the United States. As it stands now, Catholics who consider themselves Democrats aren’t going to church very much.”

The influx of Northern transplants and immigrants from Latin America has fueled the growth of Catholicism in North Carolina. Membership in the Raleigh Diocese, which covers the eastern half of the state, grew by 42 percent between 2000 and 2010, to more than 220,000, not including an estimated 200,000 Hispanics and others who attend mass regularly but are not enrolled in a particular parish.

Monica Linares, who has children at St. Mary Magdalene School, would like someone who is more of a world traveler than Benedict. She also was especially fond of his predecessor, John Paul II, whom she described as charismatic.

“He went everywhere, he talked to everybody,” said Linares, a native of Venezuela who now lives in Apex. “I liked that.”

April McGarry, 27, who was raised in Raleigh as Catholic but no long attends regularly, would like to see a new Pope with a more engaging personality. She thinks it might help attract more young people back to church.

“I hope the new one is more of a people-person than Pope Benedict,” McGarry said. “I thought he was kind of serious and scary.

“John Paul II was much more of what I think a pope ought to be like.”

But Pope Benedict still has many fans among Triangle Catholics.

Heather Martin, a Clayton mother of seven, called Benedict “a brilliant man,” saying she was saddened to see him go.

“He has done so many wonderful things, but he knows his limitations,” Martin said. “I trust the Holy Spirit to guide our church in choosing another good and holy man.”

Tom Greene, property custodian for Sacred Heart Cathedral on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, also is fond of Benedict, yet he knows exactly who he’d like to see on the papal throne: Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

“I’d like to see him elected because he’s slightly more conservative than some of the others,” Greene said.

Elder: 919-829-4529

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