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Some in the church hope for reform-minded successor to pope

Some in the church hope for reform-minded successor to pope

Even as they grieve for Pope John Paul II, Roman Catholics are beginning to debate whether their next spiritual leader should allow priests to marry, ordain women, and be more accepting of gays. Parishioners attending Sunday masses at St. Joseph on the Rio Grande in Albuquerque, N.M., said they expect the pope's successor to help the church heal and restore a reputation tarnished by the widespread accusations of child sexual abuse among the clergy. "Our next pope won't have a choice but to deal with the abuse scandals," said the Reverend Frank Prieto, who leads the 3,000-member congregation. "It's not just a problem in the United States; it's worldwide. He can't escape it. It will have to be a high priority." Juan Espinoza, 68, a founding member of St. Joseph's, said he would accept gays and lesbians as Catholics or as members of the clergy. "It doesn't matter to me if a person is gay as long as they are true to the spiritual teachings of the church," Espinoza said. At least one parishioner was hopeful the church would remain the same under its next leader. "I agree on John Paul II's conservatism," said Courtney Vallejo, 23, a junior at New Mexico Tech in Socorro. "If the church stands down on some of the controversial issues, we would be forsaking what we've stood for for so long." Prieto said John Paul broke the mold as the first non-Italian pope in at least four centuries. "In keeping with that spirit of change, I would like to see the next pope be someone from Africa, Asia, or Latin America," he said. "I don't want to say any names because it's been said that if you name names, they won't get picked." But dramatic changes, if any, may not come easily or quickly, Prieto said. "We know that, theologically, Pope John Paul II was conservative," Prieto said. "And since all of the cardinals were appointed by him, the climate is not favorable for change." Prieto, as well as his parishioners, said they will miss the pope. "He was one of the best persons you ever saw in your life," said Roman Bylicki, 79, his eyes filling up with tears. Another parishioner quipped, "You're just saying that because you're Polish." "You don't have to be Polish to love a man for all the good things he's done," Bylicki said, adding that he's been offering his daily rosary for the pope's soul. (AP)

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