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New Pope Faces Challenge Of Restoring Catholic Faith

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As Pope Francis officially starts his papacy, a list of challenges await him both here in the U.S. and abroad especially when it comes to the issue of the church's perception. NY1's Shazia Khan filed the following report.

Some church experts say the question of Catholic identity is one of the biggest concerns challenging the faith. A recent Pew Research Center poll found only 27 percent of U.S. Catholics consider themselves "strong" Catholics.

"For many people in the pews, that there is a disconnect between the laity and the hierarchy," said Commonweal Magazine Editor Paul Baumann.

"It isn't just a question of whether people say I am a Catholic or not a Catholic but to what degree does that Catholic identity shapes both their daily lives and the major decisions they make in the course of a lifetime," said Peter Steinfels, co-director of the Fordham University Center on Religion and Culture.

And more than just a loss of strong Catholic identity, the church in recent times has seen more and more of its Hispanic members cross faith lines.

"Some of the Hispanic attraction to evangelical and pentecostal groups is that they found something more comfortable, more culturally accessible in those forms of Christianity and the Catholic leadership has to be sensitive, has to understand, has to include in fact in its ranks a proportionate number of the new Latino population in the American church," Steinfels said.

Closer to home, there's the reconfiguration of the Curia, the Vatican's administrative body. It has taken a new importance following a report on Vatican leaks to the press and a scandal that broke and rocked the church at the start of the millennium. Also, the sex abuse crisis is ever present in spite of the enormous strides the church has made.

"There has to be a lot more candor and openness about the past as well as measures that are taken to protect young people right now," Steinfels said.

Other challenges include increasing the numbers of priests and raising the ranks of women in the church.

"Decision making in the church still remains entirely in the hands of men and in order for the faith to attract and be credible in modern age it seems to me that is something that is not sustainable," Baumann said.

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