Priests Mull Future of Church in America

As cardinals at the Vatican privately discuss the selection of the next pope, American priests gathered in Portland to discuss the future of Catholicism in America.

The conference was scheduled long before Pope John Paul II (search) died April 2 and while his papacy dominated the agenda, there were many other issues being discussed, such as how to help congregations move past the sex abuse scandals that have rocked the church and how to bring young people into the church.

"Kind of an exciting time, I think — an opportunity to grow," said Father Tom McCarthy, a priest from Salem, Ohio.

Many of the priests at the conference said they wanted the next pope to be open to change and some worried attracting priests will become more difficult if the Vatican (search) continues to forbid priests from getting married and having families.

Louisville priest Father Nick Rice expressed hope that change was forthcoming. "All through history, you can go back and trace key points, something happens. Whether it's the sex abuse scandal or the election of a new pope, that causes the church to re-examine its life. This is one of those great moments."

The 67 million Catholics in the United States make up 6 percent of the worldwide church and a recent Gallup poll shows a majority of American Catholics support not only marriage for priests but also the ordination of women.

While the Vatican receives more donations from America than any other country, that does not influence doctrine and most of the priests in attendance understand radical change is unlikely.

Click on the video box above for a report by FOX News' Dan Springer.