It's not so easy for Father Willy Raymond to stay on top of what’s going in Rome.
He gave up cable news for Lent.
“I decided to fast from watching CNN, MSNBC and Fox News,” Raymond says in his Hollywood office where he runs a Catholic-based media company called Family Theatre Productions. But he’s not entirely unplugged. There’s still the radio and the Internet.
“There’s something really interesting right now,” he says, as he calls up a website on the computer. “Just go to Adoptacardinal.org and they will give you the name of a Cardinal elector and you can pray for that person.”
The communion of faith and technology might be something for a new pope to embrace. So says Sister Patricia Rayburn, who hopes the next pontiff will also be more enlightened about the role of women in the church.
“And I think if a new pope were really able to recognize that everyone has gifts, both men and women, and everything doesn't have to start with what we globally call the Vatican,” Rayburn says. The pope, she says, “should really put out to parishes some hope and wisdom to really help with the issues of our day.”
Rayburn is the Western region director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents some 50,000 nuns across the globe. The Vatican disciplined the conference last year for associating with so-called radical feminists and not speaking out more forcefully against contraception and other issues.
A majority of Catholics quizzed in a recent New York Times-CBS News poll say the biggest issue facing the church is its poor management of a worldwide clergy child sex abuse crisis.
Southern California Catholics got a front-pew view of that issue after court documents earlier this year revealed that sitting cardinal and retired Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahoney appears to have covered up for pedophile priests and stonewalled authorities.
Mahoney publicly apologized, but still traveled to Rome to take part in this month’s papal conclave.
The fact that Mahoney is participating in the conclave angers some people who have clashed with the church over the sex abuse scandals.
“In my view he is only going to vote for a man who protects Cardinal Mahoney’s interests,” says Joelle Casteix of the Orange County based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests or SNAP. Casteix believes true reform can only come from a pope who confronts the clergy sexual abuse crisis head-on.
“Someone who would really rid the church of men like Cardinal Mahoney and strip them of their priestly duties,” Casteix says. “To really reform the Catholic Church, they would have to tear it down and rebuild and I don't think any one man would be willing or able to do that.”
One-time Roman Catholic priest Ned Reidy says it may be time to tear down the papacy. Or at least reduce its influence on the church and the world outside its walls.
“He’s our pope and the reason he’s our pope is because he shares this divine authority that nobody else has, well we don't fuss with that” says Reidy.
“Because Jesus really talked about the beauty of the community.”
Reidy leads a breakaway Catholic congregation called Pathfinder Community of the Risen Christ near Palm Springs. He left the Roman Catholic Church partly over his disagreement with the doctrine of papal infallibility, a concept dating back to the 19th century, that boils down to this: when it comes to matters of doctrine and morals, what the pope says goes. Refusing to subscribe to that principle, especially if you are clergy, can be trouble.
After quitting the Roman Catholic Church and forming Pathfinder 10 years ago, the Diocese of San Bernardino convicted Reidy of heresy. The charges he says, included “lack of fealty toward the Holy Father.”
So you could say Reidy is agnostic when it comes to the selection of a new pontiff. But Reidy’s colleague, Deacon Joni Miller, says the Roman Catholic Church is losing parishioners because it’s out of step with shifting views on issues like homosexuality, contraception and the ordination of women -- issues that spurred her own break with the Roman Catholic Church. Even so, she’s closely watching the papal election.
“I am not a Roman Catholic anymore but I pray every day for the unity of the Church. I pray every day for all Catholics to be together,” says Miller. “And I would love someone to come in and say; God wants you just the way you are.”
Other Catholic leaders like Father Willy Raymond in Hollywood, say a new pope must address the defection of parishioners by evangelizing in parts of the world where Roman Catholicism is on the wane and sinking roots deeper into areas where it’s still robust.
He worries that there’s growing push by evangelical Christian churches in Latino communities with strong Catholic traditions like here in Southern California and in Mexico. “Because they (evangelical Christians) are communicating the gospel to them with joy,” says Raymond. “So for someone to come from Latin America as the Holy Father it could be really healthy for the church.”
With a new pope comes change, that’s a given. The question is whether he will embody the conservative traditions that have sustained the church for centuries, or the more modern sensibilities many Southern California Catholics say the church needs in order to stay relevant.