, Salem, MA

March 14, 2013

Local Catholics hail new pope as 'reason to be hopeful'


---- — North Shore Catholics acknowledged that they don’t know much about the new pope but were nevertheless thrilled with his selection yesterday as the first pontiff from Latin America.

“Argentina, I’m sure, is going out of its mind, and it should,” said the Rev. John Sheridan, pastor of St. James Parish in Salem. “I can’t wait to see and hear what he’s going to do.”

Local Catholics said the naming of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the 76-year-old archbishop of Buenos Aires, is a sign of the church’s worldwide reach and an acknowledgement of the growth of Catholicism in that part of the world.

Bergoglio, who has spent nearly his entire career in Argentina, has taken the name Pope Francis I.

“He’ll bring a whole new perspective about expanding the Vatican,” said Norman LaPointe, a deacon at St. James in Salem. “It’s going to put a whole new dimension on the church.”

Neil Corcoran, a parishioner at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Beverly, said the naming of a new pope is “a time of great excitement and great joy for Catholics, and even folks who aren’t Catholic.

“Knowing that he’s our first pope from a South American nation, that’s reason to be hopeful and joyful,” Corcoran said. “That’s a signal of the church’s reach and the potential of outreach that the church has. It’s terrific news that he’s from a nation that hasn’t been necessarily represented with a pope before.”

Sheridan said the election of a pope from the Western Hemisphere has “enormous significance” for the Catholic Church.

“It reflects the fact that we understand that ‘Catholic’ does not mean ‘Europe,’” he said. “It means the Americas, it means Africa, it means Asia. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular (from a new pope), but having one from Argentina really says to the world, ‘We truly are and always have been a universal people.’”

Local Catholics also commented on Bergoglio’s reputation as a man of modesty and an advocate for the poor, not unlike Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who had been considered by some as a papal candidate.

“He lives in a simple apartment, not the cardinal’s residence,” Armand Devoe, a lector at St. John the Evangelist Church in Beverly, said of Bergoglio. “It’s great to see that he’s not a great ceremonial character. He’s more down-to-earth, simplified. He can identify with the laity more than others I can think of. The fact that he’s not of that inner circle is a good thing for the church.”

Devoe said he would characterize Bergoglio as conservative in his doctrine, but he also held out hope that the new pope would be more progressive in some areas.

“I hope he’s open to new ideas, especially the role of women in the church,” Devoe said. “There’s a great need for that, for more modern ideas.”

Ipswich resident Ellie Norris said she would like to see more “transparency” under the new pope. Norris is a member of Voice of the Faithful, an organization of lay Catholics that formed in response to the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.

“It’s desperately needed,” Norris said. “I’m not saying he specifically should do this or that, but just come together and just clean house. You just can’t pick it up from here and say we won’t do it again. There has to be some real justice in dealing with some people who should be removed from office. The victims are very much alive and are going to be alive for a long time, so it isn’t something that will just heal over.”

Like many others who knew little about Bergoglio before yesterday, the Rev. David Barnes, pastor at St. Mary’s in Beverly, said he immediately Googled the new pope’s name.

“From what I read, it seems that he is a very holy man who is dedicated to the new evangelization,” Barnes said. “From this moment on, at every Mass that is offered, he will be mentioned and prayed for.”

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or