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Local Catholics ponder replacement of pope

Local Catholics ponder replacement of pope

As Catholics headed to Ash Wednesday mass, many wondered who their next leader will be. 

Experts said Wednesday they expect a new pope -- a much younger one -- to be in place by Easter, but if you're looking for someone liberal, you might be out of luck.

Pope Benedict XVI will step down at the end of the month due to age and bad health.

"I would like to see the traditional values upheld, however, focus more toward the younger generation," said Ann Kresley, who attended midday mass at St. Catharine of Siena Church in Allentown.

Parishioner Bev Hamrick agreed.

"We have to start looking at some other things because of the fact of the younger generation, they seem to be going in all different directions," she said.

DeSales University history professor Brennan Pursell, who wrote a 2008 biography of the pontiff, believes a quick replacement is likely.

"They need a pope by Easter," he said.  'You betcha."

Benedict will be the first living ex-pope in 600 years.  So how much influence will he have on who gets the job next?

"His influence will be very strong, but it will be indirect," said William Madges, dean of St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia.

Although Benedict can't vote for the next pope, he hand-picked most of the cardinals who will.

"He picked over half the cardinals, and there's a reason why he picked them," said Pursell.

Madges said Benedict's successor will have a full plate.

"For the pope, it's going to be the challenge, how do you find that balance of both openness to the newness of situations while still remaining faithful to what's essential to Catholic faith," he said.

Pursell believes the next pope is not likely to break much from Benedict's conservative ideology.

"The thought of them electing a pope who says, 'By the way, condoms are great, pass out the pills at the end of church," he said, "Chances are we'll get a pope like that? I don't see much of a likelihood."

There is room for movement, though.  Madges believes we could see the next pope move to allow women as deacons.  He expects the next pontiff to improve relations with Jews and Muslims as well.


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