"I've talked to a number of bishops around the country who would never say this publicly, but sometimes they feel they do not get their points of view listened to very carefully and that the administration tends to be top-down," he said.
He noted the pope's upbringing in a tradition-bound Polish Catholic church that presented an unyielding face to Nazism and Soviet Bloc communism.
A woman prays during a Mass for Pope John Paul II in Triangle, Va. In several recent polls, U.S. Catholics have said that the church must change.
(Dylan Moore -- The Potomac News Via AP)
John Paul II's style, Cunningham said, was this: "You say what's true and you invite people to listen to it."
That tack generated friction between the Vatican and the American church, which provides the largest foreign share of Vatican receipts, harbors the world's largest Catholic charity and educates more students in Catholic universities than any other nation.
Yet for the late pope, the value of certainty was equally clear. The glory of the church, as he saw it, reposed in the gospels and was passed from one generation to the next. It was not for the church to change, he argued, but for individuals to decide whether to be believers.
As a Polish cardinal, he told Pope Paul VI in 1976 that "the worst situations of all are the ones in which all distinction between good and evil is thrown to the winds. Chaos then reigns." He made no secret of his problems with the materialism and lax morality he perceived in the United States, although he respected the depth of American faith.
"Even under the liberal regimes . . .," he once said, "men have grown sick from too much prosperity and too much freedom."
One of John Paul II's early goals was to harness the centrifugal forces of the groundbreaking Second Vatican Council, which urged a greater responsiveness to modern life. Although some worshipers preferred their Catholicism cafeteria-style, the desire for a firm hand resonated among some U.S. residents troubled by what they consider a spiritual decline.
Carl A. Anderson, leader of the Knights of Columbus, spoke admiringly of John Paul II's courage, moral clarity and leadership, and said he hopes the next pontiff will share those traits. He said one of the pope's many roles is to challenge societies and individuals to do better.
"A good deal of the stress, if I may call it that, is the result of secularization in Europe and increasing secularization in the United States," Anderson said yesterday, on his way to catch a flight to Rome. "I don't think the next pope is going to accommodate a secularized culture in this fashion. To have a church which is totally compatible with the values of any culture I don't think is a sign of vitality in the church."
Cardinal Francis Eugene George of Chicago said this week: "I think a lot of the objections come from people simply being uncomfortable following the discipline of the faith."
Yet a majority of American Catholics say priests should be permitted to marry and women should be allowed to become priests, according to an Associated Press poll completed this week. John Paul II adamantly opposed both ideas, despite the national shortage.
Such issues will confront the next pope as well.
"We need to let go of these centuries-old dogmas and move to greater acceptance," said Eileen Bradshaw, a mother of three in Tulsa. She pointed to John Paul II's opposition to in vitro fertilization, a position she finds hard to reconcile with "a church that professes to embrace life."
"Personally," Bradshaw added, "I find it hard to explain to my daughters that we belong to a church that doesn't see fit to let women lead."
Staff writers Tara Bahrampour in Washington, Jonathan Finer in Boston, Blaine Harden in Seattle and Lois Romano in Tulsa and special correspondent Kimberly Edds in Los Angeles contributed to this report.