Papal Successor Could Impact Minnesota Catholics

Updated: 02/11/2013 5:13 PM By: Steve Tellier

He's just one man who lives 5,000 miles from Minnesota. But the selection of a new pope could have far-reaching consequences for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans.

"Shocked. It's something you don't hear of," said Mona Miller, a practicing Catholic who was outside the Cathedral of St. Paul on Monday.

That was the reaction across the globe, even for those who keep a close eye on the Holy See.

"I was absolutely shocked just like everybody else," said Charles Reid, a professor and papal expert at the University of St. Thomas.

Ask him what's next at the Vatican, and this is his best guess.

"You could see some very interesting, unpredictable developments," Reid said.

And there could possible be an unprecedented one.

"It's entirely possible we'll see a North American elected pope," Reid said.

That North American isn't an American, but a Canadian. Still, some say that could invigorate the U.S. Catholic church.

Social issues are also on the radar for some -- contraception, homosexuality, and female priests. But don't expect radical change.

"It is hard to see at this point where the church will change in those fundamentals," Reid said.

He said a new pope would likely affect change only through subtle shifts in emphasis. As for a papal imprint on local debates, like the one over gay marriage, Reid said there won't be one.

"The church doesn't work at that level of micro-managerial control," Reid said.

Everyone wants to know whether the church will choose a more progressive pope, or one that will adhere to Benedict's conservative principles. Catholics we spoke with are, predictably, split.

"Same moral stance. Don't back off on that," Miller said.

"I do think we could use a change and maybe become a little more liberal," said Audrey Schweitzer, a parishioner at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

Right now, only about one in two American Catholics attend church on a regular basis. Some argue that selecting a North American pope could push that rate higher.

But the church's membership in Latin America and Africa has exploded, so choosing a pope from one of those two regions would also make a lot of sense. Any pope chosen from outside Europe would be a truly fundamental change.