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L.A. Catholics Want Next Pope To Address Sex-Abuse Scandals

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is the largest in the U.S. and Latinos make up a majority of its parishioners. Latino Catholics there are hopeful a new papacy will bring an end to the child sex-abuse scandals that have rocked the archdiocese.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The Pope's departure comes as the largest Catholic diocese in the United States is struggling with recent revelations from newly released records about sexual abuse by priests. Now, the man in the middle of that scandal, Cardinal Roger Mahoney, will be among the cardinals who elect a successor to Pope Benedict. Latinos make up 70 percent of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji reports on their reaction to the pope's resignation.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS RINGING)

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: The church of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles was here nearly 200 years ago, when this was Mexico. And it's still mostly Latinos who go there.

SOCORRO HERNANDEZ: (Spanish spoken)

MERAJI: Socorro Hernandez was there praying with her friend, Elisabet Maldonado. She says, in her opinion, the church shouldn't choose popes who are on in years.

HERNANDEZ: (Spanish spoken)

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: Hernandez says she doesn't want to use the world old, but thinks the Vatican could go younger with the next pope. Her friend, Elisabet Maldonado, agrees, saying the responsibilities are too much for an old man.

ELISABET MALDONADO: (Spanish spoken)

MERAJI: She talks about the stress of dealing with the multiple sex abuse scandals. Here in L.A., parishioners of the archdiocese are grappling with the release of documents outlining widespread clergy sex abuse. Both Hernandez and Maldonado say it makes them long for times past.

HERNANDEZ: (Spanish spoken)

MALDONADO: (Spanish spoken)

MERAJI: They want the next pope to be more like the last pope, John Paul II, who they felt close to because of his travels to Latin America.

HERNANDEZ: (Spanish spoken)

MALDONADO: (Spanish spoken)

MERAJI: Hernandez says with pride that Pope John Paul visited her country, Mexico, and Maldonado says he visited Guatemala, too. And that's why they loved him.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)

MERAJI: Verbum Dei is an all-boys Catholic school a few miles south of Our Lady Queen of the Angels. During a break, Latino staff say they never did connect to Pope Benedict. Lizette Bernal.

LIZETTE BERNAL: I mean, we have this huge plate in my kitchen, and it has Pope John Paul's face on it. There's that immigrant, Mexican, whatever-you-want-to-call-it connection that with this pope, is just this pope in Vatican City that no one sees, can touch.

MERAJI: Oscar Rosa says he wants new blood in the papacy to keep young Catholics, especially Latinos, practicing.

OSCAR ROSA: I hope he's young. I hope he's a little more liberal. I think the church needs to connect a little bit more with us, especially, you know, kids from immigrant parents.

MERAJI: For Jesse Jovel, one way to connect would be for the new pope to deal first thing with sex abuse scandals.

JESSE JOVEL: This is a problem that the Catholic Church, I think, needs to address, and I think it's something that the world needs to see them address. It can't be something they just throw under the rug. All right. We got a new pope. We're going to do things differently now.

MERAJI: All three say sex abuse scandals and changes in the papacy can't shake their personal faith in Catholicism, a faith they say is centered on the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church.

FATHER ALLAN FIGUEROA DECK: The Latin American people have gotten used to thinking of the church as having defects.

MERAJI: Father Allen Figueroa Deck is the founder of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians and chair of Catholic Social Values at Loyola Marymount University.

DECK: Unfortunately, the faith was imposed by the Spaniards upon the native peoples from the beginning. Pope John Paul II apologized many times when he went to Latin America for that aspect of the church's history.

MERAJI: And Father Deck says Latinos will weather this papal change the way they've weathered so many of the church's ups and downs throughout history. Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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