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Stanton: Francis shows continuity

Father Finbarr Stanton, pastor of St. Teresa’s Catholic Church, called Pope Benedict XVI’s announced resignation a good thing for the congregation, comparing the departure with a U.S. president staying past his capacity to safely serve.

Father Finbarr Stanton, pastor of St. Teresa’s Catholic Church, called Pope Benedict XVI’s announced resignation a good thing for the congregation, comparing the departure with a U.S. president staying past his capacity to safely serve.

ALBANY, Ga. -- The world's 1.2 billion Catholics on Wednesday got their first new pope since Benedict XVI in 2005. St. Francis is the first non-European in 1,300 years and the first ever from Latin America.

Father Finbarr Stanton, pastor of St. Teresa's Catholic Church in Albany, took the selection it stride.

"It was really no surprise," Stanton said. "The World has been looking away from Europe for a long time. South America has become the real center of Catholicism as Europe has become more secular."

Stanton said that Jorge Mario Bergoglio, of Argentina, who took the papal name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology, should be well suited for his new position.

"He's young enough to take on his responsibilities," Stanton said, "and he appears to be very healthy."

According to Stanton, in 2005 Francis received the second-highest number of votes from electing cardinals, behind only Joseph Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI. Benedict, the first pope to resign in 600 years, is now known as pope emeritus.

"It could almost be expected because of that," Stanton said, "They were known to be looking at him even then."

While Francis is said to have clashed with the government of Argentina -- possibly the most "gay-friendly" nation in the world -- over his opposition to gay marriage and free distribution of contraceptives, Stanton sees no looming change of official Catholic position. Not yet, at any rate.

"He seems pretty much in continuity with what there's been before," Stanton said. "Of course, he'll bring his own style to the papacy. He could take the Church in a new direction. It's too soon to tell, but when you're new you can do new things. Perhaps he will."