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Tuesday, Mar 19 2013 12:39 PM

Monsignor shares insights on new pope, church challenges on 'First Look'

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BY CHRISTINE L. PETERSON Californian web editor cpeterson@bakersfield.com

A local Catholic Church monsignor talked about the uniqueness of the first Jesuit pope Tuesday morning, the day Pope Francis was installed as the leader of the church.

Rev. Monsignor Michael Braun, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, also tackled the topic of sex abuse scandals and how the church is addressing them in an interview with Californian President and CEO Richard Beene on "First Look with Scott Cox," the radio-video simulcast that airs on NewsTalk Kern 1180 and streams live on bakersfield.com.

Beene noted that Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to hold the role, in addition to being the first pope from Latin America, specifically Argentina.

Braun explained that Jesuits aren't normally appointed to positions of authority over others, and the order generally frowns on its members becoming bishops. He noted that Jesuits' position is that they serve as teachers, rather than as superiors.

"He is probably outside the norm in a lot of ways. But definitely as a Jesuit," Braun said of Pope Francis.

Asked who he thought would be elected pope, Braun said he had expected it to be the present archbishop of Milan.

When Beene asked about the significance of the first pope from the Americas, Braun said Jorge Mario Bergoglio is "really an Italian by way of Argentina," noting that the pontiff's parents were born in Italy and migrated during the '20s.

Braun noted that the pope has already signaled that he's not far from the people. From the very beginning, he asked that people pray for him.

When asked what it will take to restore faith in the church, Braun said that could be done by removing people who have been working for themselves rather than the church.

The new pope may be making some of his own personnel changes. Asked if the pope brings in a new team like a president would, Braun said it's up to each new pope, but Pope Francis has already told Vatican workers that they'll stay temporarily for now, suggesting some won't remain for the long haul.

As for better handling the fallout from a series of sex scandals in the church, Braun said that could be done by decentralizing the decisions and handling more locally, saying bishops shouldn't have to go all the way to Rome for final decisions. He explained that when a bishop suspends a priest, the priest can appeal the suspension to Rome. A defrocking request must go all the way to Rome, and could take six months to a year to resolve, Braun said. In the 1980s, he said, it took much longer. Braun said that the U.S. bishops have adopted a policy that an accused person is immediately suspended.

Beene asked if the scandals have impacted people's participation in the church and willingness to donate.

"I feel that there are people who have left the church," Braun said. He added that "people do say what they need to say," and that includes whether they'll open their checkbooks.

Braun noted the seriousness of sex abuse, explaining that he's read files from Los Angeles and they are "very disturbing" and "beyond belief." He said police should have been called from the very beginning with any allegations.

Beene asked how retired Cardinal Roger Mahony, amid criticism of his handling of cases of sexual abuse by priests, was still in the church. Braun said the new bishop has pretty much fired Mahony.

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