Area Catholics express hope for moderate replacement to pope

This April 19, 2005 file photo shows Pope Benedict XVI greeting the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica moments after being elected, at the Vatican. On Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 Benedict XVI announced he would resign Feb. 28, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.

Published: Monday, February 11, 2013 at 4:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 11, 2013 at 4:47 p.m.

Many area residents reacted with surprise Monday at the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI would resign because of age and health conditions, with some expressing hope that a more moderate leader would take his place.

The 85-year-old pontiff will resign from his duties on Feb. 28, becoming the first pope to step down in almost 600 years.

UF anthropology professor Gerald Murray specializes in Catholicism and other topics. He said the change in authority could have a large impact on the church overall — down to individual churches — though he said the change will not be immediate. As opposed to other religions, Murray said, the Catholic Church's nature of centralized authority lends itself to having more power over the general direction of the church.

"Benedict is definitely on the conservative side of the divide," Murray said.

On most issues, American Catholics tend to be more moderate in their views, Murray said, noting that two controversial issues could change — contraception and whether priests may marry — if a new, more liberal leader were to take his place.

Father Roland Julien of St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church in Gainesville said he was "totally surprised" by Monday's announcement.

Julien said he also would like to see a more moderate leadership take the place of Pope Benedict's conservatism.

He said he sees relaxing some of the church laws as a way to encourage more Catholics to be active in the church.

"People are more distant it seems," Julien said in regards to church members' involvement, which he attributed partly to the Vatican's conservative stance.

Julien said he was happy Benedict decided to step aside and allow somebody else to carry on his work.

"It's a very good and positive step," Julien said.

Janet Allen is a member of St. Augustine Catholic Church. She also participates in book groups and study groups affiliated with the church.

Allen said she would like to see "a new leader who will take up the call to modernize the church."

Allen said she feels there is too much power in the hierarchy and that a more Jesus-focused church would serve the Catholic community better.

"Bringing young priests in who are truly in the people's court and not worrying just about their jobs," Allen said, is something she hopes the church keeps in mind when choosing the new pope.

Social issues she said she'd like to see change are acceptance of some forms of birth control, consideration of allowing priests to marry and a movement away from the many sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the church in recent years.

"I hope in the next two months they strive to find a more enlightened leader," Allen said.

South of Gainesville, however, the Rev. Patrick O'Doherty, pastor of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, praised the legacy Pope Benedict will leave behind, particularly his efforts to clean up the priesthood and strengthen the seminaries. This legacy is best reflected in the pontiff's inspirational writings, O'Doherty said.

"I'm one of those rare individuals who, over five years, have read something from Benedict every day," O'Doherty said. "The book is called ‘Benedictus.' Somebody dipped into his writings and included them in a yearlong theological teaching. He astounds me. Of all the popes in history, he's the clearest thinker."

Correspondent Marian Rizzo contributed to this report.

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