Next Pope Unlikely to Alter Doctrine

By Bill Broadway
Washington Post
Downloaded February 21, 2004

For more than a quarter-century, large numbers of U.S. Catholics have ignored Pope John Paul II's teachings on such moral issues as contraception and abortion while praising his exemplary spiritual life and tireless efforts to promote peace, justice and interfaith understanding.

"It's a kind of decoupling," said Patricia M.Y. Chang, assistant director of Boston College's Boisi Center of Religion and American Public Life.

For many Catholics, "if you ask, 'Is the pope infallible?' they answer, 'Yes.' If you ask if they follow his teachings, they say, 'No.'"

The disconnect has become increasingly evident during John Paul's long tenure and likely will continue no matter who succeeds him as pope, according to sociologists who study the attitudes and practices of Catholic laity.

In numerous surveys, U.S. Catholics have given the pope a high approval rate -- typically 80 percent or higher -- but have questioned the Vatican's attentiveness to such grass-roots concerns as the clergy sex-abuse scandal, the diminishing number of priests and the role of women in the church.

Yet a more significant trend, one that has garnered few headlines until recently, has been lay members' growing demand for participation in the decision-making processes of the church -- from having greater say in how parish funds are spent to recommending to the Vatican which priests in the diocese should be elevated to bishop, even returning to the early church practice of priests and laity in the diocese electing bishops.

John Paul continues to maintain a rigorous schedule. But his declining health has caused the cancellation of some activities, including an Ash Wednesday service Feb. 25.

Vatican observers have said there's little chance that the next pope will differ much from John Paul on issues of doctrine.

All but four of the 129 cardinals currently eligible to vote on a new pope were appointed by John Paul.

But the next pope may be forced to address the increasing calls from Catholics for lay input on matters of governance and accountability, especially in the United States and Europe.

Last month, for example, a survey conducted by Le Moyne College, a Jesuit institution in Syracuse, N.Y., and the marketing-research firm Zogby International found that 58 percent of American Catholics "think the Church should become more democratic in its decision-making."

William Barnett, co-director of the study and professor of religious studies at Le Moyne, said parishioners' calls for financial accountability have increased since the sex abuse scandal broke two years ago.

But the desire for greater input on how money is spent has remained constant since the biannual survey, known as the Contemporary Catholic Trends Poll, began in 2001, he said.

Dean Hoge, a sociologist at Catholic University, said lay demand for increased responsibility and input has been part of the American Catholic spirit since the country's first Catholic bishop, Maryland's John Carroll, was elected to the post -- not appointed by the pope -- in 1789 by fellow priests.

The pressure has been especially evident since Vatican II, the early 1960s council that addressed the issue of how to modernize the Church, and has increased with each generation of more affluent, better-educated young Catholics, he said.

"I think the electors of the next pope ought to take this seriously," said Hoge, co-author of the 2001 book "American Catholics: Gender, Generation and Commitment," which tracks numerous attitudes and tendencies in Catholic thought and practice.

"It's a jumping-off point," said James Davidson, another of the book's co-authors and a sociologist at Purdue University.

"American Catholics want a pope who will value lay participation because a majority of lay Catholics feel it's a wise thing for the church to embrace."

University of Chicago sociologist Andrew Greeley used stronger language to describe lay hopes for a pope who will create an environment of greater openness and accountability from church leadership, especially U.S. bishops.

"People are very, very upset" about how bishops have handled the sex abuse scandal, believing that church leaders took too long to admit and address the problem, said Greeley, a longtime advocate of returning to the election of bishops, as occurred in the early centuries of the Church.

Greeley and Michael Hout, a sociologist at UC Berkeley, conducted a survey that suggests the yen for a more democratic church predates the sex abuse scandal and extends to other countries.

The study, undertaken in 1996 and 1997, asked lay Catholics in seven countries about seven proposed reforms involving the church or the papacy.

When asked whether they would support the election of bishops by priests and laity, a majority of Catholics in all seven countries said they would approve such a change.

Catholics in Germany showed greatest support for the elected bishops, with 75 percent of the participants approving; they were followed by Catholics in Italy, 67 percent; the United States, 65 percent; Ireland, 63 percent; Spain, 58 percent; Poland, 55 percent; and the Philippines, 51 percent.

Respondents "answered in a manner consistent with the democratic institutions that surround them. Each of the ... countries selects their head of government and local officials democratically," Greeley wrote in a summary that was published in Italy and England.

Other questions addressed such issues as married priests, the ordination of female clergy and increased autonomy for U.S. bishops.

Germany, Spain and Ireland generally were more reform-minded than the United States, and the Philippines was the most conservative in its responses.

Hoge recently called the study "a mighty important finding" because it shows the extent of "democratization" among Catholics in other countries.

But he noted that the study did not include countries from South America and Africa, two of the areas of greatest growth and conservatism in the Catholic Church, which counts more than 1 billion members.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll, conducted last fall among U.S. Catholics and non-Catholics in conjunction with John Paul II's 25th-anniversary celebration, substantiated earlier findings about lay attitudes toward the papacy.

Eighty percent of the Catholic respondents approved of how the pope has done his job. But 62 percent said the Roman Catholic Church is "out of touch" with the views of American Catholics, and 64 percent said they want the next pope to reflect the attitudes and lifestyles of Catholics today.

About two-thirds of the Catholic respondents supported married priests and female clergy.

The respondents also were asked whether they would prefer that the next pope come from a developed country -- especially a nation in Europe, where most popes have come from -- or from a country in the developing world, especially South America or Africa.

Forty-three percent favored a pope from a developed country; 23 percent said they preferred a pope from the developing world; 28 percent said it didn't matter to them; and 6 percent had no opinion.

U.S. Catholics are "looking for a pope to support their views" on improving the democratic process, whether it's having input on a new priest or on which diocesan pastor should be considered for elevation to bishop, Davidson said.

"It's not a matter of putting doctrine up to vote, but of people participating in parishes, of having their voices heard, of consensus building," he said.


The following Roman Catholic leaders head the list of likely candidates to succeed Pope John Paul II, who was elected in 1978 and next month will become the third longest-serving pontiff in history.

- Francis Arinze, 71, a Vatican-based Nigerian who is admired for his efforts at interfaith dialogue. He serves as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which reviews liturgical texts.

- Giovanni Battista Re, 70, an Italian who is a veteran of the Vatican diplomatic service and now heads the Congregation for Bishops, overseeing bishops around the world.

- Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 67, a soft-spoken intellectual from Argentina who takes mass transit rather than a chauffeur-driven limousine.

- Norberto Rivera Carrera, 61, archbishop of Mexico City and an important voice in Latin America. Carrera, a progressive on social issues, is doctrinally conservative.

- Godfried DanNeels, 70, archbishop of Belgium and a leading voice in the European church. He is a moderate who supports greater democracy and chats with constituents on his Web site.

- Dario Castrillon Hoyos, 74, a Colombian national who heads the Congregation for the Clergy and is known for his advocacy on behalf of the poor.

- Claudio Hummes, 69, a Franciscan and archbishop of Sao Paulo, Brazil. He is a doctrinal conservative who supports decentralization by increasing the powers of national conferences of bishops.

- Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, 62, of Honduras, a rising star in the Latin American church whose youth might augur another long papacy and work against him.

- Christoph Schoenborn, 58, archbishop of Vienna, highly educated and a prolific author of religious works. Active in reconciliation effort with Orthodox Christianity.

- Angelo Scola, 62, patriarch of Venice, hometown of three 20th-century popes. He received his red cap in October and is viewed as a possible surprise candidate.

- Angelo Sodano, 76, an Italian who serves as the Vatican's secretary of state and is No. 2 in church hierarchy after the pope, taking on an increasingly visible role as the pope's health has limited his activities.

- Dionigi Tettamanzi, 69, archbishop of Milan and a moderate who many people believe is the front-runner among the Italian succession hopefuls.


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