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Local Catholics excited, Protestants mixed on new pope

News from the Vatican inspires hope, questions and concern
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The selection of Argentinean Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new pope on Wednesday drew mixed reactions from local faith leaders.

With heavy praise and high hopes for their new pontiff, Pope Francis, some local Catholic ministers are confident their church is headed in the right direction.

David Ford, a deacon at both St. Teresa of Avila Parish and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Auburn, said he became more “thrilled” with the selection the more he read about it. As a fellow graduate of the Jesuit school of theology, he admires Francis’ education and reputation for humility. Watching Francis address the crowd at St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, Ford appreciated that he asked the people’s blessing, appeared in a more simple set of vestments than is traditional and referred to himself as a bishop.

“I think this is a man who knows who he is, has a deep spirituality, as Jesuits do, and I think he’ll bring a spiritual freshness in the leadership of the church and an emphasis on service, which is what church ministry should be from the very beginning,” he said. “I think he’s going to be very good for the church.”

Ford said he likes what he has read so far and expects Francis will speak for the poor, prioritizing service and simplicity in the tradition of the saint of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.

“This is a man who knows a whole new experience of what it means to be a Catholic Christian in the southern hemisphere of South America. He knows the reality of poverty,” he said. “The previous archbishop of Buenos Aires had a beautiful mansion and a chauffeur, and Jorge decided to live in a simple apartment, cook his own food and take public transportation.”

Ford also believes Francis will bring a much-needed decisiveness and accountability to Catholic leadership.

“The fact that he served in one of the largest archdiocese in the world says he is going to be able to handle some of the problems of the church, some of the scandals, some of the issues about governance there,” he said. “He may be 76, but I get the sense that he is going to be up to the job and have the strength to call people to accountability, which is what the church needs.”

Echoing Ford’s excitement about the new pontiff’s potential, Father Stanley Poltorak of St. Peter & St. Paul Catholic Church in Rocklin hoped Francis’ appointment will be a step in the right direction for Catholicism, a nod to its constituents and their needs.

“I think it recognizes the tremendous growth of the Catholic Church in the Latin American countries and that part of the world, and it’s in his whole orientation as a man for the poor,” he said. “It seems that he’s going to show the importance of that, as well as the value of human life, the dignity of personhood, the discrepancy between the royalty and the poor and how we need to be together and work together and help one another.”

Concerning the ongoing child abuse scandals and lawsuits that have marked the church’s public image for years, Poltorak thinks the pope’s chosen moniker acknowledges the need to respond.

“St. Francis of Assisi, whose name he took … was told by God to ‘Rebuild my church,’ so that must be part of his thinking and his mission, to try to move forward from all the scandals and problems faced by the church today. We have to move beyond that and try to life the faith of Jesus Christ.”

Not everyone was thrilled, or even intrigued, by the news.

Pastor Steward Fraser of the First Baptist Church of Auburn said his reaction to this papal selection was no different from his reaction to any other. As a Baptist, he said he doesn’t dislike this pope any more than the last pope but opposes any practice that calls a man “infallible.”

“I just think the Roman Catholic Church as a whole is kind of a big mess, so it’s hard for me to have a good reaction to that,” he said. “From somebody who takes the Bible at face value, I don’t see the pope as authoritative in the same way that they do. It’s hard for me to have a positive reaction to a religion that I think is sending people in the wrong direction.”

Though she is not affiliated with Catholicism, Pastor Barbara Smith of Pioneer United Methodist Church in Auburn was more optimistic. She said she didn’t know much about Francis or his ideas, but she would keep her eye on news reports and an open mind about his ministry.

“I do have great hopes that he will bring new life and new ideas and a renewed sense of faith to the whole community,” Smith said.