With news that the health of Pope John Paul II continued to deteriorate, American Catholics filled local churches to pray for the head of their church.  VOA's Kathie Scarrah reports on the relationship between American Catholics and the pontiff. 

More than 65 million Americans are Catholic.  In recent years, American Catholics have seen their church rocked by a sexual abuse scandal and the debates over right to life, death, birth control and divorce. 

Betty Rivera is a Catholic who says her faith keeps her close to the church.  She says Pope John Paul II has been a good leader nonetheless, in spite of the problems the church has faced in America.     

"With all the controversies, with everything that's gone on, what he always brings us back to is the love of god.  And that our focus should be God.   Humanity is weak, we make mistakes, we will continue to make mistakes.  Does that mean that because we make mistakes or our priests have made mistakes that we turn away from our church, we turn away from our church and turn away God?  For me it doesn't' t mean that.  For me, what he has done, and what I believe in, is that in spite of that, can we still believe that God is who God is," says Betty Rivera.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Archbishop of Washington, DC, said the Catholic Church in America has gone through a terrible purification during the time of the Pope's stewardship.

"But purification's are always good.  And I think it was needed for us to have a chance to become more humble.  For a chance to see how we are.  We are also very weak, and yet to know that with God's grace there are so many things that we can do.  When you see the churches filled now, when you see, with vocations are coming now.  A lot of good things are happening.  I think the church is going through a second spring.  I believe I sound naive.  But I see this.  And I think maybe when you have a tree sometimes you have to pare it and then it will grow better.  I think it's going to grow better.  And I think the church in the United States will continue to be a great servant to the poor, a great servant to the Lord, a great servant to the people," says the Cardinal.

Cardinal McCarrick has known the Pope since 1976.  He celebrated Mass Friday in Washington at a service which usually has less than one hundred worshippers?more than 700 people attended this day.

Fernando Sandoval believes the Vatican has become too royal.  He said a church in transition should now embrace more modern teachings that reflect society.   

"I do believe in a lot of the teachings of the Catholic church, but actually, like the capuchin fathers who lead my church, we're not in to the Vatican at all, to us, it's rather archaic, and it just need to go somewhere else, it needs to keep with this century," says Fernando Sandoval.

American Catholics may not agree on their devotion to the Catholic Church, but they are united in their prayers for Pope John Paul II.  He is a man many American Catholics believe has been a powerful yet humble spiritual leader of their Church.