Nice Pope But Where Are The Reforms?

Parishioners, like this proud Argentinean, flocked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan to celebrate the election of Francis I, the first Pope from Latin America. (Photo by Humberto Arellano via El Diario/La Prensa)

As the Vatican elected its first Latin American Pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, New York’s ethnic and community newspapers covered a range of reaction, from local priests to Latinos to gays, many of whom urged Francis I to bring reforms to the Church.

The Queens Courier’s Maggie Hayes and Terence M. Cullen asked Catholic priests about the historic election of Francis I, who is also the first Jesuit Pope and the first non-European in more than 1,000 years.

New Pope Francis I. (Photo via

“He’s a very holy and humble man,” said Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello of the Archdiocese of Brooklyn, which also serves Queens. “I think he’s a man who can bring a lot of trust back to the papacy.”

In Catholic history, St. Francis was a man who came to serve the poor, and there has also never been a pope named Francis.

“It could mean that he’s not looking towards other papacies as inspiration,” said John Heyer, also of the Archdiocese.

Heyer went on to point out that, as a Latin American, the new Pope represents nearly half of the world’s Catholic population.

Also as a Jesuit, Pope Francis could possibly bring a new open-mindedness to the church, as Jesuits are seen to be.

“[Jesuits] realize we live in a multifaceted, multicultural world,” said Heyer, who hopes Pope Francis can apply these attributes to the Catholic world.

Latinos in the city, including Rep. Nydia Velázquez, welcomed the first Hispanic Pope. She said in a statement:

“It is a source of pride to see the first election of a Pope from Latin America.  Equally important, Pope Francis has a distinguished record of working to comfort and assist the poor, while personally leading a humble life inspired by Christ.  Like all Catholics I am excited by his election and join in praying for him as he assumes his new role.”

However, a series of interviews for El Diario-La Prensa by Cristina Loboguerrero found that what many Hispanics want from the new Pope are reforms in the Holy See.

One of the main changes New Yorkers urged Francis I to adopt is end the celibate priesthood.

Elena Valencia, 46, said that allowing the priests to marry would make the Catholic faithful “recognize them as human beings, with all their weaknesses and the right to form a family.”

Among the people who have changed their opinions is Teo Rodríguez, 62: “I used to approve of the celibate because I thought it a part of the obligations of those who commit themselves to God,” he said. “But today I am certain that it could contribute to decrease the cases of pedophilia.”

According to people interviewed by El Diario, another difficult task for the new Pope will be to stop Hispanics’ growing disaffection with the Catholic Church.

For many, like Francesca Suárez, other religions have better satisfied her spiritual needs. Suárez became a devout Christian approximately 10 years ago, motivated by an alternative that helped her “get closer to God” like she wanted…

Her husband Javier Suárez is Catholic, but that hasn’t been an obstacle for them to follow their faith at home. “Before I married I used to go to church on Monday, now, in the last two years, my wife and I alternate churches [every weekend] and I have to admit that the service at the Christian temple is more spontaneous and warmer.”

Gay City News, focused on the new Pope’s role as leader of the Jesuits in Argentina during the country’s “Dirty War” in the late 1970s, and his fierce opposition to same-sex marriage in Argentina, which became the first Latin American country to approve it.

The story, by Andy Humm, includes an interview with Rev. Bernárd Lynch, “an out gay Catholic priest persecuted under Pope Benedict XVI for his advocacy for LGBT rights,” who said from his home in London that Bergoglio “is vehemently anti-gay.”

Lynch, who served Dignity/ New York, the gay Catholic group, and ran a groundbreaking AIDS ministry in New York in the 1980s, said, “Homophobia is a litmus test of orthodoxy” for Catholic prelates these days. He also cited Bergoglio’s conflicts with [President] Kirchner on LGBT issues, though he understands that they have “made up in a sense” since the fight over same-sex marriage.

The article argues that Benedict XVI had responsibility in picking the cardinals who elected Francis, and “made sure every one of them was strongly against any softening of the Church’s stands against homosexuality, artificial contraception, and women’s ordination.”

Lynch said, “It could be more difficult for us because he is a champion of the poor. And we say that’s the way we want it, but where do we fit in? Are we not poor in how we have been treated by the Church? Can you not make space for us at the table? I don’t see any light in terms of us. I’m tired of asking for bread and getting a stone.”

Brendan Fay, an Irish Catholic gay activist and Dignity/ New York member, said, “My first impression is hopeful,” given the pope’s humble style and concern for the poor, “but we need to continue to work for change at the grassroots level. We can’t have a naïve expectation that there will be any leadership from a pope on the ordination of women or the recognition of marriage equality.”

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