Pinoy Catholics want open-minded pope
MANILA, Philippines - As the world waits to see who will follow in Pope Benedict's papal legacy, Philippine Catholics are calling for a more open-minded leader to succeed him.
Catholics comprise 83 percent of the Philippines' population of 94 million, making it the largest Catholic country in Asia.
The Catholic clergy is a powerful force here, helping overthrow two corrupt presidents and lending its moral judgment on several issues.
But while majority of newborns are being baptized into the faith, many adults are leaving the flock, some turning to Protestantism or simply giving up Catholic rituals like going to church on Sunday.
Last year, the Catholic church suffered a big blow when a landmark birth control bill was signed into law, after more than a decade of debate in which bishops and conservative believers aggressively opposed the legislation.
Fr. John Leydon, an Irish missionary priest who has served in the Philippines for decades, says the new pope must embrace modernity and evolve from hidebound attitudes that he says are pushing away more and more members of the flock.
"The whole area of sexuality, and what it is to be human, what it is to be a sexual human being, what it is to be a sexual human being -- all of these questions, the church I think needs to be humble and in dialogue with people, and you know, listen to the wisdom of people in these matters," said Leydon, who is parish priest of the Malate Catholic church.
"If it doesn't, it will find itself more and more alienated. And people, if it doesn't correspond to them, people will walk away," he added.
Though many Filipinos have adopted liberal views towards sex, reproductive health and gender issues, conservative attitudes still prevail amongst staunch Catholics.
"I would prefer that the next pope will not agree to birth control legislation and the use of contraceptives, as well as this so-called 'same-sex marriage,'" said government worker Jojo dela Cruz, who hears mass regularly.
Some young Filipino Catholics, a key constituent for the church to sustain its growth in a population where the median age is 23, say they are looking for a pontiff who is more attuned to their realities.
One student said she appreciated how Pope Benedict launched a Twitter account, to reach out to the youth, but called for more openness.
"A pope that has an open mind, and not conservative, but would always preserve the teachings of Christ," said Charlene Salas, a student at a Catholic university.
Other Catholics said they just hoped the cardinals will choose a good leader.
"I hope the Holy Spirit can guide the cardinals, so they can elect a person who can shepherd the church, who can really deliver or even surpass the services of the previous popes," said Noel Lorenzo.
Once Pope Benedict leaves the chair of St. Peter vacant on Thursday (February 28) when he departs from the Vatican, cardinals from around the world will begin planning the closed-door conclave that will elect the successor.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, spoke to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Vatican City saying he admired him as a teacher.
"I think the biggest disappointment was his butler, that he copied so many thousands of pages. I think the governance is done by most of the people around the Pope and that wasn't always done brilliantly and I'm not breaking any ground there, this is said very commonly. But the Pope was a magnificent teacher," said Pell.
The Vatican seems to be aiming for an election by mid-March so the new pope can be installed in office before Palm Sunday on March 24 and lead the Holy Week services that culminate on Easter Sunday.