BOSTON -- U.S. Catholics mourned the death of Pope John Paul II on Sunday but some hoped his passing might bring needed change to an institution marred by scandal and disillusionment.
"Historically the pope did some wonderful, indispensable things. But internally there are many fractures in the family of Catholicism," said Christine Schenk, a nun from Cleveland, Ohio, who favors opening the priesthood to married men and allowing women to serve as parish deacons.
A day after the pontiff's death, Schenk joined many U.S. Catholics in expressing big ideas for the future of the church: opening up the priesthood to women and married men, devolving power from Rome, and even softening the church's stances on issues like homosexuality, birth control, euthanasia and abortion.
"This is frankly one of the huge challenges of the next papacy: there must be more openness to honoring the priestly vocations that exist in our church," she said, adding there was no biblical justification for a ban on married priests.
Chester Gillis, a Georgetown University theology professor, explained that under Pope John Paul, a disconnect had emerged among American Catholics as they chose cultural principles over those of the pope.
"If they have friends who are gay and they think they're very good people, they judge that as more weighty than the pope's voice," Gillis said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"And so the pope will have a hard task to convince some young Americans of some of his principles, if the next pope continues exactly in the same mode."
FOCUS ON WOMEN
Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who was leaving for the Vatican to participate in electing the next pope, said it was too early to discuss the qualities he and his colleagues would be looking for in John Paul's successor.
"We're going through our grieving now," the cardinal told reporters. "Sure, we have thoughts but I think that our thoughts will become much more concrete and much more carefully nuanced when we have a chance maybe to talk with each other."
But many laity said the new pope will have to address --- and expand -- the role of women if the church is to remain relevant in America.
"There are a lot of people who feel that rules with respect to women should have changed a long time ago," said former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, interviewed on ABC's "This Week."
"And the church does have the capacity to change. It always has when it felt it necessary. But it takes a long time. There's a lot of impatience with some Catholics."
Kathleen Burns, a lifelong Catholic frustrated with what she called the Vatican's treatment of women as second-class citizens, said the time had come for female priests.
"We don't have any women in the hierarchy: the whole governing structure is all men," said Burns, a college professor from Alexandria, Virginia.
Although acknowledging it was impolitic to criticize the pope so soon after his death, Burns said his appointment of bishops so closely aligned to his ideology had allowed clergy sexual abuse to go unreported -- and had made the scandal so much worse when it finally erupted.
Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as archbishop of Boston in 2002 after it was revealed his church shuttled known pedophile priests from parish to parish, a practice that was found to have taken place all over the country.
"The people the pope picked as bishops were picked for loyalty, so when this problem was seen the idea was to be loyal to Rome and bury it," she said.
But not everyone was focused on the need for change.
"My hope would be that the next pope continues what John Paul started," said Curt Eckman, an art consultant, outside of St. Francis Xavier parish in Brooklyn, New York.
L"I'd hope to see someone with his respect for life, which for some of us is the most important issue."
Copyright © 2005 Reuters