The white smoke bellowed from the Sistine Chapel in Italy Wednesday as the Catholic Church announced that Jorge Mario Bergoglio will serve as the new pope, and with it Southington residents are hopeful it will mean a change in culture.
Southington residents voiced both excitement and reservations Wednesday as Pope Francis, the name given to the Argentina native selected by the papal conclave Wednesday, took to the balcony to say the Lord's prayer for the first time in his new role.
Guy Esposito, a local resident, said on the Southington Patch Facebook page that he is hopeful this pope will be able to change culture and address issues such as sexual abuse that have long been hidden away within the church. A change in culture could help bring followers back to the religion, he said.
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"No more sex abuse. And by the way, I am Catholic," he said. "Just do the right thing for the followers. Do onto others, etc."
The new pope replaces Benedict XVI, who resigned last month much to the surprise of many within the Catholic Church. He will be responsible for overseeing a religion with an estimated 1.2 billion followers worldwide.
Bergoglio, previously the archbishop in Bueons Aires before stepping down last year, is the first pope ever elected from Latin America. He is a Jesuit, according to multiple media outlets, and is now the 266th pontiff.
"This is a historic day, one which we all will always remember, recalling where we were and what we were doing at the time," said Hartford Archbishop Henry J. Mansell. "It will be etched in the memories of people across the world. We share this momentous day with over 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide and people of every faith. It is a joyous day, one filled with hope and promise. The announcement of Pope Francis is one that will affect people everywhere, because of the Catholic Church’s longstanding tradition of providing services to people of every background."
"His opening address to us was enhanced by his immediate call for prayer, asking all of us to pray for him and assuring us of his ongoing prayers for ourselves. Today’s exhilarating event will inspire our ongoing prayers for him for all the years ahead," he said.
In a time when the church remains embattled with controversy due to allegations of covering up sexual abuse, many believe that Pope Francis has his work cut out for him.
Yahoo News reported that in the U.S. alone, the church has paid out more than $3 billion to settle allegations:
Some sources say the Catholic Church in the U.S. has paid out as much as $3 billion to settle sexual abuse claims, though others estimate a billion less. At least eight U.S. Catholic dioceses declared bankruptcy protection. Benedict said in a 1998 U.S. visit that he was ashamed of the sex abuse scandal, and assured that the church would not allow pedophiles to become priests.
Although efforts have been made to establish a strong, positive culture, controversy remains. Bill Stone of Southington said he hopes this is the change the church needs to finally move forward.
"(It's time to) stop living in, and judging people by medieval standards," Stone said.
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Editor's Note: The article originally ran at 3:19 p.m. The time was changed to allow it to hit the morning newsletter.