Visions of Next Pope as Varied as Parishioners

Times Staff Writers

Southern California Catholics want a new pope exactly like the old one, and someone more willing to change. They want someone to open the priesthood to women, and someone to keep it shut. They want a man who will affirm the use of artificial birth control, and someone who won’t. They want him to be Latin American, Slavic, African. Most of all, they want another globe-trotting pontiff who will show God’s love to all people.

With voices reflecting the Roman Catholic Church’s vast diversity, Southern Californians offered different portraits Sunday of the kind of leader they would like to succeed Pope John Paul II.

The tremendous affection that the pope engendered was evident among many parishioners, who said they wanted the new pontiff to embody many of his predecessor’s qualities.


“I’m looking for an exact photocopy of the pope,” said Claire Mansour, 52, after services at Our Lady of Mount Lebanon-St. Peter Cathedral in Beverly Hills. “He should definitely follow the church’s beliefs: no on abortion, and if Jesus wanted women as priests, he would have appointed his mother, Mary.”

At American Martyrs Church in Manhattan Beach, parishioner Mark Rubic, a 43-year-old office manager, called for a man who would intervene in global conflicts as John Paul did.

Rita Hanretty, a 63-year-old retired business analyst, said she hoped for a man who would similarly reach out to people of all faiths. And North Tustin resident Chris Kiehler, 46, said he wanted to see both qualities in the new pontiff.

“I hope that the next pope continues to be a peacemaker around the world and a bridge-builder to other religions,” Kiehler said after services at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, where overflow crowds sniffled and wiped away tears as prayers were said for John Paul.

But some parishioners perceived inflexibility in the pontiff’s unwavering convictions and called for a new pope more willing to open discussion on church teachings about birth control, priestly celibacy and women’s ministry.

“I want to see someone a little bit more liberal, who is willing to talk and listen to people,” said Dorothy Nguyen-Graff, a chemist who worshiped Sunday at UCLA’s University Catholic Center. “JPII was kind of stubborn -- he wasn’t listening to anybody else.”

In particular, many parishioners expressed concern over the church’s growing shortage of priests and its effect on access to the Eucharist, their central act of worship. Many said they would like to see discussions about opening the priesthood to married men or women.

These voices spanned differences in age, race and gender. Those offering such views included Nguyen-Graff, a Vietnamese American; Carlos Gonzales, a 28-year-old Latino in Santa Ana; and Irene Tolosa, a Polish native who attended Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles with her husband, daughter and three grandchildren.

At St. Agatha’s Church in the Crenshaw district of L.A., Mary Ellen Burton-Christie, an active parishioner and a spiritual director, said she would consider the priesthood if it were open to women. The exclusion of her gender from ordained ministry particularly pains her. She called for the next leader to bring “as much openness as possible” to the church.

John Paul “did a huge amount of opening up to the world. Yet at the same time within the church it feels like there has been a closing down,” she said. “I want all the barriers to go away.”

Others said they would like the new pope to embrace expanded roles for the laity, particularly in this era of limited numbers of priests. American Martyrs pastor John F. Barry, for instance, said he wanted to see the laity give homilies, which they are not currently authorized to do.

“There are wonderful laypeople with great gifts of God’s spirit,” he said, “and I would hope that the church could recognize that.”

But some Catholics said they admired John Paul’s resistance to pressure for change and hoped his successor would also hold firm.

“If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it,” said Mike Noonan, a retired teacher and parishioner at Holy Family Church in South Pasadena. John Paul “stood by the old rules, which is the best ... as opposed to all this new stuff they want to do, like have gals be priests.”

Several parishioners interviewed Sunday said they hoped that a Latin American or African would be elected as pope.

“It would be good for the church if the new pope was a minority,” said Gonzales, as he served chorizo and fruit salad to parishioners after Mass at Our Lady of La Vang Church in Santa Ana. “It would show the people that you don’t have to be Anglo-Saxon to be the pope.”

But finding a successor who could be all John Paul was, plus more, seemed to many a daunting task.

“I don’t know that any pope can do what he did,” American Martyrs parishioner Rubic said of John Paul. “He left huge footprints.”


Times staff writers Natasha Lee and Susana Enriquez contributed to this report.