As our cardinals gather to elect our next pope, these are thoughts from a loyal Catholic laywoman:

We pray that our cardinals choose a person who is not only physical strong but also spiritually, emotionally and mentally secure enough to act aggressively to purify, simplify, redirect and reorganize the church’s bureaucracy and the financial resources, refocusing them on the essential message of Christ -- that we exemplify the love of God and minister to the needs of God’s people.

Perhaps more important, we pray that our cardinals choose a person who is willing to lead a re-examination of many of the church’s traditions, who will consult at length and in depth with an equal number of men and women who are thoroughly grounded spiritually and, as Vatican II directed, open to the insights of modern science, psychology, human rights and, yes, the laity, who, as Vatican II reminded us, are the church and whose insights are to be an essential part of the church’s official teachings.

Some of the traditions (non-doctrinal) issues that need re-examination are, obviously, the exclusion of women from the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the definition of marriage, the role of contraceptive methods that are not abortifacients, married vs. married priests, and what is moral sexual behavior regardless of gender.

We hope for a pope who will listen to these women and men fairly, and not give any greater weight to anyone’s insights just because of gender or clerical status. A pope who will direct these folks to evaluate our historical traditions in light of the scientific, psychological, and human rights realities of today -- thoroughly, logically and, most of all, without fear of change.

We pray our cardinals will select a pope who will give these folks carte blanche, without unnecessary procedural rules and restrictions, trusting that the Holy Spirit will enliven and guide the process, as the Spirit has done for 2,000 years, and will guide the church in light of their recommendations.

We pray our cardinals do not let fear of the discomfort and consternation that always accompanies change deter the church from shedding outdated attitudes, outmoded operations and logically, scientifically and spiritually unsupportable positions which impede her role as exemplifier of Christ’s essential commandments: that we love God with our whole heart and our whole soul -- and love others as we love ourselves.

Judy Stanton of Michigan City is a laywoman in the Catholic Church. The opinions are the writer's.

Politics/History Editor Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.