A New Pope

There is a new person at the top of the Catholicism heirarchy.

While his office is in the city-state of the Vatican in Italy, he’s the head of a flock that numbers more than a billion world-wide.

But, what does that mean to the average Catholic in Warren County?

According to the Rev. John Neff, pastor of Catholic churches in Youngsville and Sheffield, it depends.

For one thing, “There is no such thing as an average Catholic,” Neff said. “The church is polarized.”

There are conservatives and liberals within any congregation with different ideas about where their church should be heading.

The variety of ideas means no pope will receive universal approbation.

On one end, conservative practicing Catholics are looking for a focus on “the sanctity of life, holiness of matrimony, and social justice,” in a pope, Neff said.

Those conservative Catholics should be pleased with Pope Francis.

“He’s very traditional in his views on marriage, sanctity of life, the elderly, and the priesthood,” Neff said.

For more liberal Catholics, “it’s more of a mixed bag.”

Those Catholics will appreciate the pope’s emphasis on social justice – “ministering to the poor and marginalized of society,” Neff said.

Neff expects Catholics on both sides of the issues to recognize “this is a man who can step up to the plate and meet the challenges facing the church today of reaching out to the inactive Catholics and people of no faith whatsoever, especially in Western Europe and in our increasingly secular society.”

Pope Francis brings a slightly adjusted set of values to the Vatican compared to his predecessor Benedict XVI.

“I think he’s more austere, more outgoing, and just as able to maintain pastoral care with theological expression,” Neff said.

For hundreds of years, the cardinals have selected Europeans, mostly Italians, to lead them.

“We were very surprised that a cardinal from Buenos Aires was elected,” he said.

Pope Gregory III, originally from Syria, who served until 741, was the last non-European pope.

The nation of origin is not so important compared to the knowledge that the Chair of St. Peter is occupied.

“We’re very happy that the vacancy’s been filled,” Neff said. “We’re anticipating what will be forthcoming from the Vatican.”