Cautious optimism among Catholics waiting for reform

Anna Weggel
Public Insight Network

In some ways, Pope Francis I (formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina) is different than any other pope that has come before him.

Pope Francis I meets with the full College of Cardinals, electors and non-electors, in Vatican City's Apostolic Palace on March 15. (Photo by Getty Images)

Pope Francis I meets with the full College of Cardinals, electors and non-electors, in Vatican City’s Apostolic Palace on March 15. (Photo by Getty Images)

He’s the first non-European pope in more than 1,000 years, the first ever to come from the Americas and the first Jesuit to be elected pope. He is also said to have a humble past — one in which he cooked his own meals, rode public transportation and ministered to Argentina’s poorest citizens.

But in other ways, he is the same as most the men who came before him. At 76, he is of advanced age. He is conservative on many issues. He has Italian roots.

Sources in our Public Insight Network have been offering their take on the new pope and expressing their hopes for Francis and for the future of the Catholic Church. The theme that stands clearly in more than 100 responses we’ve seen so far is people’s cautious hope for “reform” in the church. Of course, some people hope to see more radical change than others.


“I would like to see the furtherance of the discussion of priests who can marry and have a family. I’d also like to see movement toward women in the priesthood, too. I’d feel more comfortable confiding in and seeking advice from someone who has experienced the same trials and tribulations as I.

“Additionally, my 5-year-old son who attends the same Catholic school I did wants to be a priest when he grows up. When I told him he couldn’t marry or have children, he was disappointed. I did tell him he could be a deacon, but he really wants to be a priest. So my hopes and aspirations for the Catholic Church are a little selfish, too.”

REY BONACHEA of Hialeah, Fla.:

“I am hoping for a pope who will shake up the Church. As Cardinal Bergoglio has been quoted in the press, there is a lot of hypocrisy in the Catholic Church. Consequently, we are losing a lot of the faithful to other denominations or to none. It is time that a pope reads the signs of the times and makes the Church truly responsive to the teachings of Christ.

“One definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results. Pope Francis I may not do what needs to be done, but if we continue choosing Curia insiders, we will get the results we have been getting lately.”

KEVIN HOWARD of Chandler, Ariz.:

Church on the Rock located in Sedona, AZ. (Photo provided by Kevin Howard)

Church on the Rock in Sedona, Ariz is not Kevin Howard’s home church. But he visits when he’s in the area because he says, “When I’m there I feel the noise of the world just fades away and I am free to get close to God through prayer”. (Photo shared by Kevin Howard)

The new pope must help the Catholic Church deal with the issue of modernity. The Catholic Church exists within literate societies where the faithful read and interpret scripture; acquire news from independent sources; and participate in changing morays relating to gender, sexuality and marriage (even for the ordained ministries). The Church had lost touch with the faithful because the Church fails to recognize faith is no longer blind and the ordained ministries are no more perfect than the Pharisees. Our new pope must demonstrate humility by listening to the faithful and be guided by the truth of their calling. Jesus Christ is a Servant King, so must be Pope Francis I.

“I hope the needed healing between the faithful and the clergy is long on its way. Healing can begin only when our pope accepts responsibility for mistakes made, institutes changes to prevent further tragedies and commits total cooperation with secular societies to bring abusive priests to justice. I hope the Church will reconsider vows of abstinence and prohibitions against marriage for the clergy. I hope the Church considers allowing women to serve as priests. I hope the Church will recalibrate the stain of sinfulness attributed to homosexuality within the context of our modern understanding.”

ROY STAPLES from Longview, Wash.:

“Hearing that Pope Francis is a conservative, I have very little hope for the Catholic Church. It seems to be more and more out of touch with the average American. It is becoming just another group of conservative rich people who take their followship for granted.

“I grew up Catholic. Even though Catholics were conservative, I respected the Church because it seemed to be an active voice for the poor. Since that time (the ’60s and ’70s), concern for the poor has become unfashionable or worse, forgotten. If no organization cares for the least powerful among us, then it becomes permissible to not care about anyone else, starting with those closest to the poor.”


As a non-Catholic of Hispanic origin, I have to be proud of the first pope who shares my upbringing. Since he is a leader of one of the most influential religions of the world, I hope that he will concentrate his effort on returning to the general public the values that have traditionally been the basis of our civilization.

“Starting with their leading by example, we all need guidance in how to return to our spiritual worth and abandon our materialistic present behavior. A start could be to promote the importance of a stable family and to encourage the merits of modesty, sacrifice, compassion, responsibility and honesty.

“When and if we understand that real happiness only comes from self-worth, and this is only a product of how we lead our lives, then we will be cognizant of the existence of God, the beauty of nature and the blessing endowed to us by him of being able to assume full responsibility for our worldly years.”

Derek Operle at West Kentucky 4-H Camp in Dawson Springs, KY. (Photo by Rhonda Burgess)

Derek Operle hopes Pope Francis I will help the Catholic Church modernize its position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. (Photo by Rhonda Burgess)

DEREK OPERLE of Lexington, Ky.:

“I hope that the new pope modernizes the church’s position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. As a socially liberal Catholic, it is important to me that my church believes the same thing that I do: that all love is equal.

“In 10 years, I don’t believe the church will be radically different, but I do hope that Catholics generally become more accepting.”

TOM MULGREW of Nashua, N.H.:

“Although it is unlikely that he will liberalize any regulations, I hope that Pope Francis fosters a culture of respect among Catholics toward those who feel excluded from the Church and society. I also hope that he sincerely backs a no tolerance policy toward those who abuse minors and the vulnerable. If the pope cannot be counted on to unconditionally support children, who can?

“I hope to find the Church more inclusive in 10 years. The exclusion of homosexuals in relationships is bad for the Church. I really cannot believe that God would shun any of His children who are in a loving relationship.”

CHIP BOLCIK from Thousand Oaks, Calif.:

I hope that the new pope will find a way to inspire those of us who have abandoned the Catholic Church to come back. I also hope his message of simplicity will influence the Church throughout the world to become more simple and less opulent.”

AMY FENNEWALD from Lakeville, Minn.:

“I do hope Pope Francis I is closely connected to the people, is in touch with those in need (emotionally and physically) and is a holy, love-filled face for our Church. The choice of Francis as his name and his origins as a Jesuit give me great confidence that my hopes will be realized. I am still not certain what importance to place on the fact that he is not from Europe. The cardinals who elected him (and the Holy Spirit that guided them) must certainly have a purpose.

“An entity of the size and age of the Catholic Church does not change (often) in big ways, nor quickly. I do hope that as the leadership’s base of experience widens, the ways of the Church become more embroiled in the Spirit of the Law rather than the Letter of the Law. It is also very important that Church leadership fully embraces the damage done in how the scandals (for lack of a better way to say this briefly) have been handled, comes to terms with the fact that there is much healing to be done, figures out how to attain that healing and works to prevent further abuses by addressing those who abuse/have abused with a much firmer hand. If nothing else, we appear to have brought a very humble, worthy man into leadership, which can only be a good thing for a body of Jesus’ followers, and for the world at large.”

>> Share your thoughts: What are your hopes for the new pope?

>> To see a more complete list of the experiences and hopes we received, visit our insights page.




Anna Weggel Analyst
Public Insight Network

Anna Weggel is a Public Insight Analyst, which means she spends her time crafting questions about upcoming story topics to send to sources in the Public Insight Network and then produces web, audio and video content featuring those sources.

Before finding her home at APM in 2008, Anna received her B.A. in journalism, was the editor in chief of The Minnesota Daily, and internship hopped through Mother Jones, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Pioneer Press, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, and the Downtown Journal. Anna's non-work life is held hostage by the stage -- where she performs improv comedy and shows with her lady bluegrass band.