By STEVE EIGHINGER
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
There appears to be a heightened sense of optimism among local Catholics after Wednesday’s announcement that there is a new pope leading the 1.2 billion worldwide faithful.
The new leader of the Catholic Church is Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who has taken the name of Pope Francis.
The 76-year-old Bergoglio, a Jesuit from Buenos Aires, is the first pope from South America. He is also the first pope to take the name of Francis.
“I’m delighted, it’s fantastic,” Monsignor Mike Kuse of Quincy said. “It is unbelievable how the holy spirit works. I think this will be a real blessing. (Pope Francis) has worked with the poor, and will bring a whole new image to the church. I think we’ll see a more down-to-earth papacy.
“The interest of the whole world in this was phenomenal. I feel he’s going to set a new tone. This is a blessing for the Catholic church. He’ll be able to speak to all of the continents.
“I wish I could have been there.”
The announcement from the Vatican came early in the afternoon. The election was over relatively quickly, coming on the second day of the conclave of 115 cardinals. The Associated Press reported that the election was sealed on the fifth ballot. At least a two-thirds majority was required to elect the next pope.
Pope Francis is the 266th pontiff in the church’s 2,000-year history. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, made history in February when he announced in a letter that he was leaving the papacy after eight years. His resignation from the post was the first since 1415.
“It’s exciting for someone from South American to be elected,” said Steve Looten of the Western Catholic Union. “We have been hearing the new pope might come from South America or Africa. It probably was not the time for a pope from the United States, because a lot of the world may have turned that into a negative — and the Catholic church needs this to be a positive development.”
There are 77.7 million U.S. Catholics, which is the largest single religious denomination in the country, making up 25 percent of the population. The United States has the fourth-largest Catholic population in the world after Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines.
“I think a lot of people may have been expecting a younger pope, but (traditionally) when the pope has been elected he has been in his 70s ... so I’m surprised, but I’m also not surprised,” said Carol Seifert, who teaches religion at St. Francis School.
Seifert looks for Pope Francis to especially reach out to youth and Hispanics.
“I also think he will enliven the church,” she said.
Kent Laznoski, an associate professor thrology at Quincy University, said it was encouraging to see a pope from outside Europe — specifically Italy — because it reflects a more “global church.”
Laznoski feels the “simplistic background” of Pope Francis will be another plus.
“He’s a no-nonsense type of guy,” said Laznoski, who thinks problems within church administration “that need cleaned up” will be addressed.
Atop the list of problems for the church are the numerous sex-abuse scandals tied to Catholic clergy around the world.
Quincy attorney Bill Siebers feels the announcement brings a “new and energetic” spirit and “should be good for our faith community.”
“We will pray for our new pope, that he leads Catholics in a manner that helps all of us become better disciples of Christ,” Siebers said.
Scott Douglas teaches religion at Quincy Notre Dame High School, coaches boys basketball and is involved in a number of outreach ministries. He admitted being caught himself in all the hoopla surrounding the naming of the new pope.
“Something like this does not happen often, and as a member of the Catholic community I was excited,” he said. “The bottom line is, we have a new pope.”
Douglas admits he is anxious to see what the future holds with the first Latin American pope.
“I think I am more excited than surprised that the new pope came from South America,” Douglas said. “It will be interesting to see where this takes us a church.”