- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Many U.S. Catholics are publicly hailing the first new pope in 26 years but acknowledge they have a wait-and-see attitude about the direction of the Church under Pope Benedict XVI’s leadership.

“He is one of the best theologians in the world, and we hope he will be inclusive of all different peoples’ perspectives,” said Dee Bernhardt, chairwoman of the executive board of the Catholic Campus Ministry Association, which promotes interfaith understanding.

Officials of CCMA said that within the organization, the new pontiff was not everyone’s favorite choice to succeed Pope John Paul II. But they said they were encouraged by Benedict’s early comments.

“He said humanism will be at the top of his agenda. That certainly is a good thing,” said Ed Franchi, the group’s executive director.

Other organizations were more positive.

“I think we got the right man, since the proper direction [for the Church] is to ratify orthodoxy,” said William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. “It would be institutional suicide to adopt the policies of so-called progressives.”

Ray Flynn, who heads Catholic Citizenship, a nonpartisan group that promotes the involvement of Catholic laity in politics, said, ?Pope John Paul II re-established the foundation of Catholic teaching, and it is expected that Pope Benedict XVI will build on that solid foundation.”

However, some homosexual Catholic organizations, women’s rights activists and victims of sexual abuse by priests expressed disappointment at the selection of Benedict, an avowed conservative.

Members of the Catholic homosexual rights group Dignity USA said they are “dismayed” by the choice because it will further alienate homosexuals.

“The new pope is seen as the principal author of the most virulently anti-gay … rhetoric in the last papacy,” said Dignity President Sam Sinnett.

He added that the cardinal’s assumption of the papacy is seen by many homosexual Catholics as a “profound betrayal by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.”

In a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll of 616 U.S. Catholics, 59 percent said they don’t know enough about Benedict to have either a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him.

Despite the uncertainty, 61 percent said they anticipate the new pope will do more to unite the Catholic Church than divide it.

Fifty-six percent said they were bothered that he opposes allowing Catholics to use birth control. But 65 percent said they had either a “great deal” of or “moderate” confidence that he can handle the sex-abuse issues.

Mary Grant, western regional director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called on Benedict to “adopt and enforce a worldwide zero-tolerance policy” toward sex abuse by the clergy and to “promptly discipline complicit bishops who transferred and shielded serial molesters.”

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