Pope Francis, a pleasant surprise

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Many American Roman Catholics would like to see their church change. In mid-March, the Pew Research Center delivered this poll: 76 percent of U.S. Catholics countenance birth control, 59 percent want women as priests, 64 percent think priests should be allowed to marry.

We've been assured by Vatican watchers of all stripes that America's liberal Catholics are probably going to be disappointed in Pope Francis. The new pontiff, wrote John Allen in the National Catholic Reporter, is "unquestionably orthodox."

And yet, so far, many American Catholics are not in the least unhappy with their new pope: 73 percent applaud his election, according to Pew.

Maybe that's because the relationship between Francis and the faithful is still in the honeymoon stage. Maybe U.S. Catholics are resigned (only 20 percent think the church will change its position on female priests or married priests by 2050; a slim majority think contraception has a better chance). Maybe Francis is more of a change agent than the pundits realized.

Starting with Pope Benedict XVI's historic decision to resign his office and the conclave's vote to make a New World archbishop pontiff, it's been surprise after happy surprise for many Catholics. Francis may never ordain a woman, but when change has been a long, long time coming, even small steps (especially if they're taken in plain black shoes) can lift liberal hearts -- not to mention a pope's American popularity. What will he do next?


Susan Brenneman is deputy op-ed editor for the Los Angeles Times. First Published April 3, 2013 4:00 AM


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