Earlier this month, a New York Times/CBS News poll mined a cross-section of U.S. Catholics. What it found was astonishing:
• 7 out of 10 thought the church had done a poor job of handling the priest-sexual abuse scandal.
• 46 percent felt the pope is no longer infallible when he teaches on morality and faith.
• Less than half — 40 percent — had a favorable viewpoint of Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned last month due to health reasons.
• 75 percent thought it was good that Pope Benedict resigned.
• And significant numbers of those polled thought the next pope should move the church in a more modern direction on issues such as birth control and ordaining women and married men as priests.
Thus, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, who was elected Wednesday at the Vatican and selected the name Pope Francis, comes into the papacy at a time when, in the United States, at least, there is significant concern about the church, its influence and its direction.
Its religious roots buried deep in Southern Protestantism, Alabama has roughly 6.5 percent of its population who identify as Catholics. That’s far below the national average — 23 percent — and, truth be told, a large portion of Alabama’s Catholics are centered in and around Mobile, the state’s historic area of Catholic worship.
Nevertheless, despite their small numbers, Catholics and the Catholic church are important to Alabama — a state which, like the church itself, faces internal struggles that are keeping it from achieving its potential.
Our wish would be for Pope Francis to indeed move the church into a more inclusive space that allows more people — women and married men — to serve. Likewise, we understand and agree with those American Catholics who wish the church would become more liberal in some of its views.
A healthy religious atmosphere is good for both this nation and our state. Having a vibrant and modern Catholic church that welcomes all should be the goal.