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New pope will correct church's 'serious problems,' Cardinal Wuerl believes

AP | L'Osservatore Romano - In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis (second from right) celebrates his inaugural Mass with cardinals inside the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican on Thursday, March 14, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP | L'Osservatore Romano</em></div>In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis (second from right) celebrates his inaugural Mass with cardinals inside the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican on Thursday, March 14, 2013.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - Cardinal Donald Wuerl, 72, of Washington, D.C., speaks to the media on Thursday, March 14, 2013, at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, about Pope Francis and his election by the conclave. Cardinal Wuerl was the Bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988-2006.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Cardinal Donald Wuerl, 72, of Washington, D.C., speaks to the media on Thursday, March 14, 2013, at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, about Pope Francis and his election by the conclave. Cardinal Wuerl was the Bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988-2006.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review - Judy Styperk of South Park crosses herself during the noon Mass celebrating Pope Francis I at St. Mary of Mercy, downtown, Thursday. Photo taken March 14, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Andrew Russell  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Judy Styperk of South Park crosses herself during the noon Mass celebrating Pope Francis I at St. Mary of Mercy, downtown, Thursday. Photo taken March 14, 2013.
Thursday, March 14, 2013, 8:09 p.m.
 

ROME – Cardinal Donald Wuerl praised Pope Francis as “unpretentious” and predicted he will correct “serious problems” in the Roman Catholic Church.

Wuerl — a Pittsburgh native and the city's bishop for 18 years before being appointed cardinal of Washington in 2006 — spoke on Thursday at the Vatican's Pontifical North American College, where American cardinals reside while in Rome.

He appeared buoyed and excited by the selection a day earlier of the first Jesuit, first non-European pontiff in almost 1,300 years.

“I think we are going to find that he has a reputation, while being a good pastor of souls, of also staying on top of what is happening in the church,” Wuerl, 72, said.

He said the pope will receive a report on Vatican scandals commissioned by his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. “He'll have to take a look and see what needs to be done. I don't have any concern that he is going to hesitate to do what needs to be done,” Wuerl said.

In recent days, many Catholics of all ages and nationalities waiting for the papal announcement in St. Peter's Square have said the next pope must reform the scandal-ridden Vatican bureaucracy, known as the Curia, and address sex abuse and other scandals.

Wuerl said he worked with Pope Francis in the past and described him as “mild-mannered, soft-spoken, but very clear in this thought.” He said the informality displayed in the past two days by the former cardinal of Buenos Aires “seems to be the hallmark of his style.”

He recounted that the pope declined a new, more elaborate cross while putting on papal garments for the first time, asking: “Why can't I wear the cross that I always wear?”

After being introduced to the thousands of people filling St. Peter's Square, Wuerl said, Francis stepped back inside the Sistine Chapel to eat dinner with the cardinals who elected him hours earlier. He described it as “so simple and so unpretentious.”

“I think he is the perfect choice for this moment in time,” the American cardinal said.

Wuerl clearly was moved by Wednesday's ceremony, describing the excitement of stepping onto the balcony with other cardinals to “see this huge ocean of people” waiting for a first glimpse of the pope.

“The whole square was filled, going down the Via della Conciliazione,” he said, referring to the main street into St. Peter's Square. He saw “a continuous blinking of lights” as hundreds of cameras and cell phones recorded the historic moment.

Wuerl said the pope will encourage people “to take a look all over again at the Gospels.

“There is a firmness of faith and a gentleness with the people,” he said. “And isn't that what we look for in a Catholic bishop?”

Insisting that “the message is the same” even if “the style changes” with each papacy, Wuerl predicted that Francis will promote the church's positions on social justice, the environment, the ethics of new technologies and the right to life.

“We will always be defending marriage and family,” he said. “They are the bedrock, foundational stones of human culture.”

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. mail her at bhiel@tribweb.com.

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