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BOB ABERNETHY, host: We want to assess now the Catholic Church under Pope Francis with Kim Lawton, managing editor of this program, and Kevin Eckstrom, editor-in-chief of Religion News Service. Welcome to you both. Kevin, we learned this week that there are going to be some new cardinals announced soon?

KEVIN ECKSTROM (Editor-in-Chief, Religion News Service): Yeah, so, the pope is going to name a new class of cardinals in February, and it’s not clear yet how many he’s going to name, but probably I would guess about two dozen. The most important thing, obviously, is that these are the men who will eventually elect his successor, but it will be interesting to see who gets a red hat and perhaps who doesn’t. Do these men share the pope’s semi-progressive view of the world, or are they conservatives who were already in place under John Paul and Benedict XVI? You know, here in the United States we’re looking at maybe a handful of archbishops who could be promoted, and what’s interesting is in at least two cases, in Philadelphia and in Baltimore, who are sort of “due” for red hats, the two archbishops there are culture warriors on the conservative side, emphasizing the issues that Pope Francis has said maybe we need to pay less attention to. So whether or not they get red hats will be interesting to see.

KIM LAWTON (Managing Editor, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly): And at that meeting in February the pope has said he wants the cardinals to talk about the church. And there’s another big meeting scheduled later on next year where they’re going to address some of these big, controversial issues, like artificial contraception and gay marriage and some of those kinds of issues. And this week we also heard that the Vatican has solicited input from different jurisdictions around the world, asking those jurisdictions to ask people in the pews what they think, what they know about some of those controversial issues. Here in the US, they didn’t ask the US bishops to do it. It’s pretty obvious what a lot of US Catholics think, but it’s interesting that the Vatican is seeking opinions or wanting to know what people think—doesn’t mean, necessarily, they’re taking a majority vote to see what the church teaching should be, but it’s interesting.

ABERNETHY: When Francis was first pope, a lot of liberal Catholics were really ecstatic. They were so happy because they saw him as the answer to all their hopes and dreams. Is that still going on?

ECKSTROM: I think it’s a mixed bag. There’s a sense of disappointment, I think, in some quarters, especially on the right, who thought maybe this pope was a little bit more conservative than he turned out to be. But on the left side I think there’s a sense that they’d like things to happen faster. All these changes that everyone’s talking about, “Oh, let’s do it tomorrow!” and what they’re discovering is that this is an institution that takes its time with major decisions, and none of this is going to happen soon.

LAWTON: And some of it, I think, is the expectations, or the interpretations. Just because Francis says we need to have more mercy toward divorced Catholics who’ve remarried, does that mean they’re going to change the policy? That those people can now take communion? Just because he says who am I to judge if a gay person, a priest, or whoever is gay and Catholic, but does that mean the church is going to change its stand on gay marriage? So I think it’s, you know, it’s a difference in tone, which is certainly significant. Is it a difference in substance, in terms of actual changes of church teaching? Francis is not promising to make sweeping changes. He says “I’m a son of the church,” you know, “I believe what the church teaches.” So, you know, some of it’s a little bit of mixed expectations as well.

ABERNETHY: Kim Lawton of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, Kevin Eckstrom of Religion News Service. Many thanks.

Pope Francis and Catholic Expectations

Liberal Catholics who were hopeful that Pope Francis’s papacy would usher in sweeping reforms are discovering that the Church “is an institution that takes its time with major decisions, and none of this is going to happen soon.”