Worshippers at St. Patrick’s Ponder Pope Dolan

Someone younger, more liberal and more open-minded than Pope Benedict XVI.

That seemed to be the consensus about a new pope among worshippers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Feb. 10th. It was a day of firsts:  the first Sunday in Lent and the first Sunday mass since Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation from the papacy.

“Our prayers are more fervent today than ever, are they not?” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the gregarious Archbishop of New York, asked his congregation. Draped in purple and gold, wearing a red skull cap on his head, Dolan paced in front of the altar, engaging his audience.

Thousands of worshipped piled into St. Patrick's Cathedral to worship with Cardinal Dolan. Photo by Lauren Davidson.

Thousands piled into St. Patrick’s Cathedral to worship with Cardinal Dolan, who has been touted as a candidate for the next pope. Lauren Davidson / Religio.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, located at Fifth Avenue and 50th Street, was overflowing with 2,500 worshippers. All eyes – including a media presence of a handful of journalists – were on Dolan, who has been touted as a potential candidate for the job.

Several congregants firmly believed that the Roman Catholic Church needs a change.

“Someone exactly like him,” said Terry Biscoe of Boston as she pointed towards the New York cardinal. Dolan first caught Biscoe’s attention in 2011 when she saw his interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes. “He was real feisty,” she said. “The church needs someone feisty to address the whole child molestation issue.” Biscoe felt that the “cool, genuine and down-to-earth” Dolan would be able to relate more easily to the common man than the present pope.

But even Dolan’s biggest fans did not seem hopeful that the papal mitre will find its way onto Dolan’s head.

“I think he would be a rock star pope,” said Mike Gorman, from Columbus, Ohio, who was worshipping at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Sunday. “But he won’t be [made pope]. The Nigerian will get it,” he said, referring to Cardinal Francis Arinze.

Joseph Letta, from Long Island, was also doubtful of Dolan’s chances. “The American Catholic Church is seen as a bit of a rebel – well, the other cardinals see it that way at least.” Letta said there might be an American pope “one day,” but believes that Dolan is unlikely to be selected at the conclave this March.

Some say that the Church is wary of combining the two global superpowers of the United States and the Catholic Church and will instead choose a new pope from a more traditional European country – or even one from Latin America or Africa as a nod to the changing demographic of the global Catholic population. But this hasn’t stopped some New Yorkers from holding out hope that Dolan is in with a good chance of becoming the first non-European pope in modern history.

“They may say that here in New York,” said Mary Belton from Chicago who attended Sunday mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “But I don’t think so. They’re not going to pick an American – it’s more likely to be an Italian guy.”

Many congregants were still reeling from the surprise announcement that Benedict plans to step down from his post.“I was shocked – it just doesn’t happen,” said David Sweeney, who was visiting from Wales. “He did seem frail for a long time. I think it sets a good example, you know, previous popes haven’t resigned” when they became too frail, Sweeney said. “He’s been a good pope.”

Worshippers at St. Patrick's Cathedral had mixed views about whether Cardinal Dolan would be made pope. Photo by Lauren Davidson.

Worshippers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral had mixed views about whether Cardinal Dolan would be made pope. Lauren Davidson / Religio.

Not everyone agreed. “He wasn’t a people’s pope,” said Helen McCarrick from Ireland, who spent her first morning in New York at St. Patrick’s.  She added that a lot of people in her country had stopped going to mass because of their dissatisfaction with Benedict’s response to the child sex abuse scandal.

Some congregants were also against the pope’s absolutist stands against the ordination of women as priests and against allowing male priests to marry. While Sara Toland of Washington D.C. admired Benedict’s intellect, she felt he didn’t speak to young Catholics. “We need someone who engages younger people and gets them back to the church,” said Toland.

Dolan had only words of praise for the incumbent pope during his sermon on Sunday. The pope appointed him to the New York Archdiocese in 2009 and elevated him to Cardinal in early 2012.

“The pope’s message was, ‘In the end it’s not all about me, my prestige, my problems, my pride. It’s about Jesus and his church.’ This is the kind of humility that Pope Benedict XVI taught us, and the kind of humility that Jesus taught us,” Dolan said.

Adding his own humility to the equation, Dolan responded to reporters’ questions about his own candidacy with his usual self-deprecatory humor and deflection. People who have put forward his name “must be smoking marijuana,” he said.

Dolan was surrounded by his own cloud of white smoke at St. Patrick’s Cathedral as the silver orb of waxy incense was swung in his direction.

But it remains to be seen whether the white smoke emitted in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square next month will have Cardinal Dolan’s name on it.

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