Bishop of Riverside County hopeful about Pope Francis

POSTED: 10:36 PM PDT Mar 13, 2013 
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -

The bishop of Riverside County said today he hopes the Catholic Church's new pope will show leadership on treatment of immigrants and address the clergy sexual abuse scandal "vigorously and courageously."

Gerald Barnes, who oversees the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino -- the country's 12th-largest diocese that covers Riverside and San Bernardino counties -- said he was initially surprised with the selection of Buenos Aires Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio because he hadn't heard the name circulated as a possible contender.

"And then I was delighted to hear him and see him address the throngs . . . I'm happy it's a man from this continent that understands the life situation of people in this part of the world," according to Barnes, who watched news coverage with about 60 people at a parish meeting.

"To acknowledge now the majority of members of our church are in the Southern Hemisphere, I think it points to the importance of the church in the Southern Hemisphere and the gifts this continent brings to the world," Barnes told reporters.

He said the direction of the papacy of the man now known as Pope Francis remains to be seen until he makes appointments to key positions in the Vatican and other church leadership posts. He did say Francis must address the clergy sexual abuse scandal "vigorously and courageously."

"It is a scandal. It's affected our church, there's no doubt about it and it has not been handled always in the right fashion," he said.

Barnes said there is a "tremendous amount" of work to be done in addressing the flow of immigration in the United States and abroad.

"I would hope that he would begin in his pontificate to show strong leadership in the call that we must respect people wherever they are from and to treat each other as sisters and brothers," he said.

Barnes was asked if he thought Francis might evolve on gay marriage, which the Catholic Church opposes.

"I do not," he said. "I think it's the way we as Roman Catholics view marriage ... a commitment of love and commitment to openness of life. This cannot take away from the respect we must have for people of whatever orientation."

Barnes said there is "a tremendous amount of delight" among the diocese's parishioners at the news of the new pope. He said he asked an Argentinian nun how she felt about Pope Francis being from her country.

"She had the biggest smile," he said.

Barnes, who was installed by Pope John Paul II in 1995, said he wouldn't attend the new pope's formal installation in Rome, which could be on Tuesday. The diocese will have a celebratory Mass the same day at 7 p.m. at Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral in San Bernardino.