The chances of a new pope taking a radically different tack from John Paul II on hot-button issues such as abortion, contraception and female ordination are minuscule, say scholars who point out that once a cardinal ascends to pope, the office changes the man, not vice versa.
“You can’t change basic doctrine, nor can a pope,” said Bernard Dobranski, president of Ave Maria Law School in Ann Arbor, Mich., and former president of the law school at Catholic University.
“As for teachings on sexual morality, the ordination of women and life issues like abortion and euthanasia, there is no chance the church can change. These have been the church’s teachings for centuries,” he said.
An Associated Press poll of 1,001 adults conducted this past weekend found that a majority of the Catholics surveyed think priests should be allowed to marry and that women should be ordained.
The poll, which had a sampling error of three percentage points, also said four out of five Catholics want the next pope to address priestly sexual abuse of children, a scandal that has ravaged the Catholic Church in the United States.
In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Sunday, 78 percent of 254 Catholics polled said the next pope should allow Catholics to use artificial birth control and 63 percent said he should let priests marry.
Fifty-nine percent of Catholics felt that the church should loosen its current stance against embryonic stem-cell research and 55 percent favored female priests. The poll had a margin of error of four percentage points.
Such changes are not likely, said George Marlin, author of “The American Catholic Voter: 200 Years of Political Impact.”
“The pope does not listen to the New York Times, nor even to Mario Cuomo,” he said, referring to the liberal Catholic former governor of New York.
Max Bonilla, vice president for academic affairs for the Franciscan University of Steubenville in eastern Ohio, said such speculation between popes is natural.
“But most popes,” he added, “will be very concerned to maintain unity with past popes.”
John Paul himself “was very clear in his writings not to contradict what a previous pope had said,” he added. “He picked his name after Pope John XXIII and Paul VI, the architects of Vatican II,” the modernizing church council that lasted from 1962 to 1965.
“He also selected most of the cardinals, which means the selection for a new pope will happen from among men he himself picked. So it’s exceedingly unlikely that one of them would be interested in changing things.”
A statement from the Cleveland-based FutureChurch hoped that the new pope would depart from John Paul’s “centralized, authoritarian” governing style, which has “limited worldwide Catholicism’s ability to creatively meet the challenges of the 21st century.”
However, “the greatness of John Paul II was his vision for the 21st and succeeding centuries,” Mr. Dobranski said, “and his insistence that the real attack in the past 100 years has been on the nature of the human person.”