Given New World Catholics' Influence, "High Time" for an American Pope

Mar 15, 2013

Pope Francis stands on the balcony of St. Peter's basilica after his election on March 13, 2013.
Credit The Vatican

On Friday, Pope Francis paid a heartfelt tribute to his predecessor Benedict XVI, saying his faith and teaching had "enriched and invigorated" the Catholic Church and would remain its spiritual patrimony forever.

Francis offered the respects during an audience with the cardinals who elected him to succeed Benedict, whose resignation set in motion the extraordinary conclave that brought the first prelate from the New World and the first Jesuit to the papacy.

Joshua Landis, the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, says the hope among many Catholics is that the Church moves away from such strong European influence.

"[In] the Americas, these questions of poverty are much more elemental," Landis said. "So many Catholics in the Third World are hoping that this is going to bring a new, fresh wind into the Catholic Church."

Landis says the Catholic Church is one of the largest employers in the United States, with more than one million employees.

"It spent some $170 billion in 2010, so much of that goes to schools, education, and particularly health care," Landis said.

Rebecca Cruise says the secrecy surrounding the Vatican has come under much scrutiny lately as well, and given the financial situation, the election of Francis marks a calculated move to bring in someone humble to help with the Church's image.

"Pope Benedict, you could question his role as pope," Cruise said. "[He's] not necessarily a likeable guy, and he came on the heels of John Paul II, who was loved the world over."