Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY
U.S. Catholics who dreamed of an American pope got their wish - in a way - on Wednesday.
A South American. It was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, who emerged from the conclave as Pope Francis.
Some U.S. church scholars were thrilled, others cautious, and at least one was critical of another aging pope who may be unwilling or unable to make crucial changes in the church.
Here is a pope who has contended with all the issues of the modern West - gay marriage, abortion, contraception, women's rights, the swelling tide of cultural secularism and global poverty. Yet he is also known for standing firmly for core doctrine like the doctrinaire popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI before him.
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that while Francis doesn't have a booming voice "and he may have sounded timid, he has a great confidence."
And Francis has strength that will matter in the USA, says R. Scott Appleby, a history professor at the University of Notre Dame.
"The fact that he is an experienced administrator with a spirit of humility may mean he will be strong in cleaning up the sexual abuse scandal," Appleby says.
Francis also has the administrative talent to bring the creaking, scandal-plagued bureaucracy of the global church, the curia, into order. Appleby called Francis "a model of personal holiness" who may inspire believers worldwide.
But Catholic University sociologist William D'Antonio has more questions than answers about Pope Francis.
If he's so devoted to the poor, "will he support the growth of labor unions throughout the world to improve the lives of the mass of wage workers?" he asks.
And is he open to any change of mind or of teaching regarding gays and lesbians?
D'Antonio points out, "While that is an important civil rights issue in the U.S. and other Western countries, it is not seen in that light among the hierarchy in Latin America, and his record suggests orthodoxy on the matter."
For those who wanted to see a CEO-style pope who can bring modern efficiency, transparency and integrity to the bureaucracy known as the curia, the sociologist wondered whether Francis has "the skills or even the desire, much less the knowledge, on how to reorganize, cleanse and begin the development of a less hierarchical curia? I guess we will have to keep tuned."
Catholics may be wary of Pope Francis' conservative views on culture, but still couch their comments in hopeful tones.
Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, says she was "heartened by this choice and what I know of his life." She says she expects that a South American pope "will know about the poor and the impact of globalization on the poor of the world."
U.S. nuns have been under withering criticism by the Vatican and Benedict XVI, accused of straying from a focus on doctrine and spending too much time on social causes. Campbell expresses concern that "for women, the issue of machismo will be a challenge. It will be important to have our voices included in his reflections."
A statement from Equally Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic groups concerned with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, urged Pope Francis to listen to their concerns.
They charge, though, that as archbishop of Buenos Aries, Bergoglio made statements "not worthy of a pope or anyone in pastoral ministry" and called his writings "profoundly discouraging to LGBT Catholics."
The statement said, "During an unsuccessful campaign against marriage equality legislation in Argentina, he wrote things that, frankly, could be considered hateful, calling the legislation that authorized same-sex marriage 'a machination of the Father of Lies.' He also said adoption by same-sex parents was a form of discrimination against children."
Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero took a strong, critical stand Wednesday.
Prothero, author of a best seller on global religions, God Is Not One, called the choice of Bergoglio "symbolically rich yet substantively empty for the U.S. church."
Francis, an Argentine of Italian heritage, is "a combo of the First World and the Third World," he said, but he makes no compromises "on any of the issues where many Americans want to see reform, including women priests, priestly celibacy, abortion, contraception or same-sex marriage."
"How much energy and time is this guy going to have?" Prothero asks. "He looked to me frightened when he stood on the balcony, and he has reason to be. He has a church clamoring for reform and the institution around him is committed to the status quo.
But one young Catholic sees much to appreciate in Francis.
Lynn Freehill, a freelance writer for Busted Halo, a website for young Catholics, likes that he is a Jesuit, a religious order known for "a remarkable record of scholarship and open-mindedness."
And she likes that he is from Latin America, "where such a high proportion of the world's Catholics live. The church there has a strong sense of social justice, and that's one of the aspects of our faith that I value the most. It's essential that we as a church speak up for the poor and downtrodden."
That said, whoever was elected would get a warm welcome from her. No matter who leads her church, Freehill says, she'll always be a practicing Catholic. On Wednesday, she was "excited - 'popeful,' as they say - about our new leader!"
Contributing: Eric J. Lyman in Rome