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Liberal US Catholics Dismayed at Choice of Pope


BOSTON (Reuters) – Liberal U.S. Catholics on Tuesday expressed dismay at the choice of a conservative new pope and doubted he will heal an institution racked by disillusionment and tarnished by a sex abuse scandal among the clergy.

The election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI rankled those who advocate married priests, a bigger role for women within the church and softening its policy on homosexuality, birth control, euthanasia and abortion.

Since taking over the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as the Roman Catholic Church’s chief ideologue, Ratzinger has denounced homosexuality and even branded other Christian churches as deficient.

“Gay and lesbian Catholics are going to be very hurt by this election because Cardinal Ratzinger was the lightning rod for so much of the anger they felt under the previous pope,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the New Ways Ministry, a national ministry for lesbian and gay Catholics.

Under the Pope John Paul II, American Catholics’ attendance at weekly Mass declined as many were put off by what they saw as increasingly conservative Vatican doctrine.

The sense of alienation deepened with a well-publicized scandal over pedophile priests, which erupted in 2002 in the Archdiocese of Boston as court documents showed bishops shuttled pedophile priests from parish to parish.

Victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy reacted skeptically to word that Ratzinger was the new pope.

“Ratzinger is a polarizing figure to many, who seems to prefer combativeness to compromise and compassion,” Mary Grant of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said in a statement. “It’s … crucial that the new pope follow the words and views of John Paul II who said ‘there is no place in the priesthood for anyone who would harm the young.”‘

More of the Same

Catholics for a Free Choice, a progressive group based in Washington, laid out an action plan for the new pontiff to pursue in his first 100 days with the goal of healing fractures within the church.

It urged the new pope to appoint a commission to review church policy on condoms, to establish a pontifical academy on women’s rights in the church, and to welcome back those marginalized over the last quarter-century — including gays and lesbians.

But those familiar with Ratzinger said to expect more of the same, and they doubted he would tailor his views to adapt to the liberal forces evident in the U.S. church.

“This is the guy who’s been in charge of stifling dissent in the church,” said lawyer Carmen Durso, who represented dozens of plaintiffs in clergy abuse lawsuits against the Boston archdiocese.

“This says to me that the Vatican … is not prepared to move into the 21st Century, which it desperately needs to do,” said Durso, who was raised Catholic but no longer practices.

Christine Schenk, a nun from Cleveland, Ohio, who favors opening the priesthood to married men, said she was disappointed and puzzled by Ratzinger’s selection, but she saw glimmers of hope.

Schenk explained that Ratzinger had never ruled out the idea of married priests, and that the church is facing a deepening shortage of priests — so he may be forced to act.

Sister Donna Quinn of the National Coalition of American Nuns said her group hopes the new pope will work for the participation and partnership of women in the church.

In a 2004 document, Ratzinger denounced “radical feminism” as undermining the family and natural differences between men and women.

Asked if there was anything in his background that gave her hope that Ratzinger would build a stronger partnership with women in the church, Quinn said: “We always hope for miracles.”

(Additional reporting by Michael Conlon, Michael Kahn and Deborah Zabarenko)

This article courtesy of Reuters.


Catholics for Choice