Les anglonautes

About | Search | Vocapedia | Learning | Podcasts | Videos | History | Arts | Science | Translate

 Previous Home Up Next


History > 2008 > USA > Faith (II)




Monte Wolverton


The Wolvertoon





Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI


L: Pope Benedict XVI















Obama’s Break With Ex-Pastor

Sets Sharp Shift in Tone


April 30, 2008
The New York Times


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Senator Barack Obama broke forcefully on Tuesday with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., in an effort to curtail a drama of race, values, patriotism and betrayal that has enveloped his presidential candidacy at a critical juncture.

At a news conference here, Mr. Obama denounced remarks Mr. Wright made in a series of televised appearances over the last several days. In the appearances, Mr. Wright has suggested that the United States was attacked because it engaged in terrorism on other people and that the government was capable of having used the AIDS virus to commit genocide against minorities. His remarks also cast Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, in a positive light.

In tones sharply different from those Mr. Obama used on Monday, when he blamed the news media and his rivals for focusing on Mr. Wright, and far harsher than those he used in his speech on race in Philadelphia last month, Mr. Obama tried to cut all his ties to — and to discredit — Mr. Wright, the man who presided at Mr. Obama’s wedding and baptized his two daughters.

“His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church,” Mr. Obama said, his voice welling with anger. “They certainly don’t portray accurately my values and beliefs.”

One week before Democratic primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, contests that party officials are watching as they try to gauge whether Mr. Obama or Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton would be the stronger nominee, the controversy surrounding Mr. Wright again erupted into a threat to Mr. Obama’s ability to show that he could unify the Democratic Party and bring the nominating contest to a quick and clean end. With Mrs. Clinton having shown particular strength among working-class white voters in recent big-state primaries, the racial overtones of Mr. Obama’s links with Mr. Wright have been especially troublesome for the Obama campaign.

Asked how the controversy would affect voters, Mr. Obama said: “We’ll find out.”

At a minimum, the spectacle of Mr. Wright’s multiday media tour and Mr. Obama’s rolling response grabbed the attention of the most important constituency in politics now: the uncommitted superdelegates — party officials and elected Democrats — who hold the balance of power in the nominating battle.

Eileen Macoll, a Democratic county chairman from Washington State who has not chosen a candidate, said she was stunned at the extent of national attention the episode has drawn, and she said she believed it would give superdelegates pause.

“I’m a little surprised at how much traction it is getting, and I do believe it is beginning to reflect negatively on Senator Obama’s campaign,” Ms. Macoll said. “I think he’s handling it very well, but I think it’s almost impossible to make people feel comfortable about this.”

It was the second straight day that Mr. Obama had responded to Mr. Wright, a former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago whose derisive comments about the United States government have become a fixture of cable television. Saying that he had not seen or read Mr. Wright’s remarks when he responded to them on Monday, Mr. Obama said he was “shocked and surprised” when he later read the transcripts and watched the broadcasts, and he felt compelled to respond more forcefully.

“I’m outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday,” Mr. Obama said. He added: “I find these comments appalling. It contradicts everything that I’m about and who I am.”

The press conference came in what may well be the toughest stretch of Mr. Obama’s campaign as he grapples with questions about Mr. Wright as well as the fallout from his defeat last week in Pennsylvania. He set out this week to reintroduce himself but instead found himself competing for airtime with Mr. Wright and trying to bat away suggestions that he shared or tolerated Mr. Wright’s views.

As he answered question after question here, Mr. Obama appeared downcast and subdued as he tried to explain why he had decided to categorically denounce his minister of 20 years. His decision to address reporters not only stretched the Wright story into another day but also marked at least the third time he has sought to deal with the issue, including his well-received speech on race last month in Philadelphia.

“The fact that Reverend Wright would think that somehow it was appropriate to command the stage for three or four consecutive days in the midst of this major debate is something that not only makes me angry, but also saddens me,” Mr. Obama said.

Even amid the wall-to-wall news coverage about Mr. Wright, Mr. Obama won the support of two more superdelegates, including Representative Ben Chandler of Kentucky. Meanwhile, Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri and Gov. Michael F. Easley of North Carolina announced their support for Mrs. Clinton.

The first real evidence of whether the controversy has extracted a political price could come on Tuesday. Superdelegates suggested that they would watch closely to see how voters respond in the Indiana and North Carolina primaries and beyond.

Bob Mulholland, a superdelegate from California, said the difficulties Mr. Obama had experienced put a premium on results in the remaining contests.

“We’ve got nine elections to go through June 9,” Mr. Mulholland said in an interview. “I’ve never been involved in a successful presidential race where the candidate had no trouble in the primary. It’s challenging to him. He is a young man, and this is the first time he’s run for president. I see this as a learning experience.”

Asked how he thought Mr. Obama was doing, Mr. Mulholland paused before responding. “Getting better,” he finally said.

The appearances by Mr. Wright, which began Friday and concluded Monday, were anticipated by the Obama campaign, but aides said they were taken aback by the tenor of the remarks. His first interview, with Bill Moyers on PBS, offered few hints of what he intended when he arrived at the National Press Club on Monday.

“At a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that’s enough,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s a show of disrespect to me. It’s also, I think, an insult to what we’ve been trying to do in this campaign.”

Mr. Obama became a Christian after hearing a 1988 sermon of Mr. Wright’s called “The Audacity to Hope.” Joining Mr. Wright’s church helped Mr. Obama, with his disparate racial and geographic background, embrace not only the African-American community but also Africa, his friends and family say.

Mr. Obama had barely known his Kenyan father; Mr. Wright made pilgrimages to Africa and incorporated its rituals into worship. Mr. Obama toted recordings of Mr. Wright’s sermons to law school. Mr. Obama titled his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention “The Audacity of Hope,” and gave his next book the same name.

As Mr. Wright’s more incendiary statements began circulating widely, Mr. Obama routinely condemned them but did not disassociate himself from Mr. Wright. In his speech in Philadelphia, Mr. Obama tried to explain his pastor through the bitter history of American race relations.

Five weeks later, the men seem finished with each other.

“Whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this,” Mr. Obama said Tuesday. “I don’t think that he showed much concern for me. More importantly, I don’t think he showed much concern for what we’re trying to do in this campaign and what we’re trying to do for the American people.”

Jeff Zeleny reported from Winston-Salem, and Adam Nagourney from Indianapolis. Jodi Kantor contributed reporting from New York.

Obama’s Break With Ex-Pastor Sets Sharp Shift in Tone, NYT, 30.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/30/us/politics/30obama.html






Wright Says Criticism

Is Attack on Black Church


April 29, 2008
The New York Times


Attacks on him are really attacks on the black church, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. said in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington on Monday, in which he mounted a spirited defense of views and sermons that have become an issue in the presidential campaign because Senator Barack Obama attended his church for many years.

Mr. Wright told the press club audience that the black church in America grew out of the oppression of black people, and that his sermons reflected that struggle.

Snippets from his sermons have been used in Republican commercials seeking to depict Senator Obama as unpatriotic, and the Democratic presidential candidate has given a carefully calibrated speech seeking to distance himself from Mr. Wright’s more inflammatory statements.

Speaking Monday, Mr. Wright said that political opponents of Senator Obama were exploiting the fact that the style of prayer and preaching in black churches was different from European church traditions — “Different, but not deficient,” he said.

Historically, he said, when black people were prohibited from meeting in groups, they did so anyway “out of the eyesight and earshot of those who defined them as less than human.”

The result was that black churches, which have existed in America since the 1600s, were “invisible to the dominant culture.” Because of slavery and racial discrimination, he said, black churches focused on the themes of liberation and transformation.

“The black church’s role in the fight for equality and justice from the 1700s to 2008 has always had as its core the non-negotiable doctrine of reconciliation, children of God repenting for past sins against each other,” he said.

As a result of this background and the unfamiliarity of many white people with black preaching, he said, some might find his sermons unsettling. He also noted that the widely circulated clips of his remarks were only short snippets lifted out of the context of much longer, closely reasoned arguments.

“We root out any teaching of superiority, inferiority, hatred or prejudice,” he said. “And we recognize that for the first time in modern history, in the West, that the other who stands before us with a different color of skin, a different texture of hair, different music, different preaching styles and different dance moves; that other is one of God’s children just as we are, no better, no worse, prone to error and in need of forgiveness just as we are.”

Asked about remarks that some critics have called unpatriotic, Rev. Wright noted that men and women from his Chicago congregation had fought in all the country’s recent wars, “while those who call me unpatriotic have used their positions of privilege to avoid military service.”

    Wright Says Criticism Is Attack on Black Church, NYT, 29.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/29/us/politics/28cnd-wright.html?hp






Battle in Brooklyn | A Principal’s Rise and Fall

Critics Cost Muslim Educator

Her Dream School


April 28, 2008
The New York Times


Debbie Almontaser dreamed of starting a public school like no other in New York City. Children of Arab descent would join students of other ethnicities, learning Arabic together. By graduation, they would be fluent in the language and groomed for the country’s elite colleges. They would be ready, in Ms. Almontaser’s words, to become “ambassadors of peace and hope.”

Things have not gone according to plan. Only one-fifth of the 60 students at the Khalil Gibran International Academy are Arab-American. Since the school opened in Brooklyn last fall, children have been suspended for carrying weapons, repeatedly gotten into fights and taunted an Arabic teacher by calling her a “terrorist,” staff members and students said in interviews.

The academy’s troubles reach well beyond its cramped corridors in Boerum Hill. The school’s creation provoked a controversy so incendiary that Ms. Almontaser stepped down as the founding principal just weeks before classes began last September. Ms. Almontaser, a teacher by training and an activist who had carefully built ties with Christians and Jews, said she was forced to resign by the mayor’s office following a campaign that pitted her against a chorus of critics who claimed she had a militant Islamic agenda.

In newspaper articles and Internet postings, on television and talk radio, Ms. Almontaser was branded a “radical,” a “jihadist” and a “9/11 denier.” She stood accused of harboring unpatriotic leanings and of secretly planning to proselytize her students. Despite Ms. Almontaser’s longstanding reputation as a Muslim moderate, her critics quickly succeeded in recasting her image.

The conflict tapped into a well of post-9/11 anxieties. But Ms. Almontaser’s downfall was not merely the result of a spontaneous outcry by concerned parents and neighborhood activists. It was also the work of a growing and organized movement to stop Muslim citizens who are seeking an expanded role in American public life. The fight against the school, participants in the effort say, was only an early skirmish in a broader, national struggle.

“It’s a battle that’s really just begun,” said Daniel Pipes, who directs a conservative research group, the Middle East Forum, and helped lead the charge against Ms. Almontaser and the school.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, critics of radical Islam focused largely on terrorism, scrutinizing Muslim-American charities or asserting links between Muslim organizations and violent groups like Hamas. But as the authorities have stepped up the war on terror, those critics have shifted their gaze to a new frontier, what they describe as law-abiding Muslim-Americans who are imposing their religious values in the public domain.

Mr. Pipes and others reel off a list of examples: Muslim cabdrivers in Minneapolis who have refused to take passengers carrying liquor; municipal pools and a gym at Harvard that have adopted female-only hours to accommodate Muslim women; candidates for office who are suspected of supporting political Islam; and banks that are offering financial products compliant with sharia, the Islamic code of law.

The danger, Mr. Pipes says, is that the United States stands to become another England or France, a place where Muslims are balkanized and ultimately threaten to impose sharia.

“It is hard to see how violence, how terrorism will lead to the implementation of sharia,” Mr. Pipes said. “It is much easier to see how, working through the system — the school system, the media, the religious organizations, the government, businesses and the like — you can promote radical Islam.”

Mr. Pipes refers to this new enemy as the “lawful Islamists.”

They are carrying out a “soft jihad,” said Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a trustee of the City University of New York and a vocal opponent of the Khalil Gibran school.

Muslim leaders, academics and others see the drive against the school as the latest in a series of discriminatory attacks intended to distort the truth and play on Americans’ fear of terrorism. They say the campaign is also part of a wider effort to silence critics of Washington’s policy on Israel and the Middle East.

“This is a political, ideological agenda,” said John Esposito, a professor of international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown University who has been a focus of Mr. Pipes’s scrutiny. “It’s an agenda to paint Islam, not just extremists, as a major problem.”

That portrait, Muslim and Arab advocates contend, is rife with a bias that would never be tolerated were it directed at other ethnic or religious groups. And if Ms. Almontaser’s story is any indication, they say, the message of her critics wields great power.

Ms. Almontaser watched city officials and some of her closest Jewish allies distance themselves from her as the controversy reached its peak. She was ultimately felled by an article in The New York Post that said she had “downplayed the significance” of T-shirts bearing the slogan “Intifada NYC.”

Last month, federal judges issued a ruling — related to a lawsuit brought by Ms. Almontaser to regain her job — stating that her words were “inaccurately reported by The Post and then misconstrued by the press.”

While city officials and the Education Department declined to comment about Ms. Almontaser because of the lawsuit, a lawyer for the city said she had not been forced to resign.

In her first interview since stepping down, Ms. Almontaser said that education officials had pressured her to speak to The Post and had monitored the conversation. After the article was published, she said, the department issued a written apology in her name, without her approval.

“I kept saying I wanted to set the record straight,” said Ms. Almontaser, 40. “And they kept telling me, ‘You can’t undo what was done.’ ”A Call to Lead

In April 2005, Debbie Almontaser got a telephone call that would change her life. The man on the line, Adam Rubin, worked for a nonprofit organization, New Visions for Public Schools. He was exploring whether to help the city create a public school that would teach Arabic. The group already had seed money — a $400,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — but needed the right person to help lead the venture.

Everywhere Mr. Rubin went — from the mayor’s office to a falafel stand in Brooklyn — people mentioned Ms. Almontaser. She was a teacher, a native Arabic speaker and arguably the city’s most visible Arab-American woman.

After 9/11, Education Department officials had enlisted Ms. Almontaser to hold workshops on cultural sensitivity for schoolchildren. She spread the message that Islam was a peaceful religion. She told of how her own son had served as a National Guardsman in the clearing effort at ground zero. She was soon attending interfaith seminars, befriending rabbis and priests. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg honored her publicly. She became a ready commentator for the media, prompting some Muslims to joke that she was the city’s “talking hijabi.”

In fact, it had taken a long time for Ms. Almontaser to embrace the hijab, or head scarf. Born in Yemen, she was 3 when she moved with her family to Buffalo. Her parents encouraged her to blend in. She called herself Debbie rather than Dhabah, her given name. She began wearing a veil in her 20s, as a Brooklyn mother whose life revolved around PTA meetings and Boy Scout trips. She took to riding on the back of her husband’s motorcycle, her head scarf tucked beneath a black helmet. She got used to the stares and learned to be unapologetic.

In the months following the Sept. 11 attacks, she offered other Muslim women the lessons she had learned: “The only way to claim this as your country is to continue on with your life here,” she recalled telling them.

For years, Ms. Almontaser had hoped to become a principal. But soon after joining hands with New Visions, she faced her first challenge. To administer the Gates grant, the school needed a community partner. Two groups wanted the job: a secular Arab-American social services agency and a Muslim-led organization that runs Al-Noor School, a private Islamic establishment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Ms. Almontaser said she tried to remain neutral as discord erupted between the two groups. Quietly, though, she worried that if an organization linked to a private Islamic school took the lead, the city would never approve the project, despite the group’s pledge to keep religion out of the curriculum.

Ultimately, a steering committee led by Ms. Almontaser voted in favor of the social services agency. Leaders of the Muslim group walked away feeling disrespected and distrustful of her, several of the group’s members said in interviews. It was a rupture that would come back to haunt Ms. Almontaser.

As preparations moved forward, a design team assembled by Ms. Almontaser named the school after the Lebanese Christian poet and pacifist Khalil Gibran. A Palestinian immigrant had suggested the name, hoping it would deflect any concerns that the school carried a Muslim orientation.

In February 2007, the Department of Education announced that the school had been approved. It would eventually encompass grades 6 through 12, teach half of its classes in Arabic and be among 67 schools in the city that offer programs in both English and another language, like Russian, Spanish and Chinese. Ms. Almontaser designed a recruitment brochure to attract the school’s first class of sixth graders.

The leaflet cited the words of Mr. Gibran: “In understanding, all walls shall fall down.”


Opposition Forms

Irene Alter, a peppy, retired Queens schoolteacher, was sitting at her computer one morning that February when she read an article in The New York Times about the Khalil Gibran school, she said. A series of questions flooded her head.

Which courses would be taught in Arabic? How would Israel be treated in the study of Middle Eastern history? Then in April, she read an op-ed article by Mr. Pipes in The New York Sun.

Conceptually, such a school could be “marvelous,” Mr. Pipes wrote, but in practice, it was certain to be problematic. “Arabic-language instruction is inevitably laden with Pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage,” he wrote, referring to the school as a madrassa, which means school in Arabic but, in the West, carries the implication of Islamic teaching.

Given how little Mr. Pipes knew about the school at the time, the word was “a bit of a stretch,” he said in a recent interview. He defended its use as a way to “get attention” for the cause. It got the attention of Ms. Alter, 60, who contacted Mr. Pipes and, with his encouragement, helped form a grass-roots organization in response to the school project. Mr. Pipes joined the advisory board of the group, which called itself the Stop the Madrassa Coalition.

Mr. Pipes, 58, has emerged as a divisive figure in the post-9/11 era. An author of 12 books who has a doctorate in history from Harvard, he has made a career out of studying and critiquing Islam. His research group, which he established in downtown Philadelphia in the early 1990s, “seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East,” according to its Web site.

Among his supporters, Mr. Pipes enjoys a heroic status; among his detractors, he is reviled. Those sharply divergent views reflect the passions that infuse Middle Eastern politics, arguably nowhere in the United States more than in New York City.

Mr. Pipes is perhaps best known for Campus Watch, a national initiative he created to scrutinize Middle Eastern programs at colleges and universities. The drive has accused professors of, among other things, being soft on militant Islam and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. It has stirred widespread controversy and, in some cases, may have undermined professors’ bids for tenure.

Mr. Pipes was joined in the monitoring effort by other self-declared watchdogs of militant Islam. Their Web sites are often linked to one another and their messages interwoven. One critic, David Horowitz, founded Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, a campaign aimed at college campuses. He noted in an interview that monitors of radical Islam have increasingly trained their sights on nonviolent Muslim-Americans.

“They don’t throw bombs, but they create political cover for ideological support of this jihadi movement,” he said.

Mr. Pipes places Muslims in three categories, he said: those who are violent, those who are moderate and those in the middle. It is this middle group, he argued, that now poses the greatest threat to American values.

“Are these people who are not using violence but who are not fully enthusiastic about this country and its mores, its culture — are they on our side or are they on the other side?” he asked.

Ms. Almontaser never considered herself unenthusiastic about America, she said. But as the conflict over the Khalil Gibran school intensified, she came to be seen by many through Mr. Pipes’s lens. In his article in The Sun, he referred to Ms. Almontaser by her birth name, Dhabah, and called her views “extremist.” He cited an article in which she was quoted as saying about 9/11, “I don’t recognize the people who committed the attacks as either Arabs or Muslims.” (As The Jewish Week later reported, Mr. Pipes left out the second half of the quote: “Those people who did it have stolen my identity as an Arab and have stolen my religion.”)

The Stop the Madrassa Coalition focused primarily on Ms. Almontaser as a strategy, said Mr. Pipes, because the group could get little information about the school itself. The coalition quickly publicized several discoveries. Ms. Almontaser had accepted an award from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim organization that critics claim has ties to terrorist groups (an assertion the group adamantly denies). In news articles, Ms. Almontaser had been critical of American foreign policy and police tactics in fighting terrorism. She also gave $2,000 to Representative Cynthia A. McKinney of Georgia, whom Mr. Pipes and others have characterized as an Islamist sympathizer. (Ms. McKinney, who is no longer in office and did not respond to requests for an interview, has had a strong following among Arab-Americans in part because of her criticism of the Patriot Act.)

Critics of the Madrassa Coalition say its tactics are typical of campaigns singling out Muslims: They lean heavily on guilt by association. The nuances of the claims against Ms. Almontaser were lost as the controversy lit up the blogosphere, said Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at Political Research Associates, a liberal organization outside Boston that studies the political right. One Web site, MilitantIslamMonitor.org, displayed photographs of Ms. Almontaser wearing her hijab in different styles, suggesting that she had undergone a public relations makeover to “disguise” her “Islamist agenda.” The criticism of Ms. Almontaser and the school spread to newspapers, eliciting negative editorials in The Daily News and The New York Sun.

Ms. Almontaser was stunned, she said: Her school would touch upon religion only in its global studies class, following the same curriculum as all New York public schools. She tried to keep her head down, she said, and set out to recruit students, half of whom she hoped would be Arab. But opposition to the school mounted after critics learned that its advisory council included three imams (along with rabbis and priests), that there would be an internship for students with a Muslim lawyers’ association and that the proposal for the school suggested it might offer halal food. (The advisory council never met and has since been dismantled, and the school does not offer halal food, Education Department officials said.)

As the attacks continued, Joel Levy of the New York chapter of the Anti-Defamation League published a letter defending Ms. Almontaser in The Sun. Mr. Levy made reference to the possibility that his organization would provide anti-bias training to Ms. Almontaser’s staff.

The letter caused a stir among some Arab-Americans, who were bothered by Ms. Almontaser’s ties to Jewish groups. In late June, Aramica, an Arabic and English newspaper based in Brooklyn, ran a cover story with the headline “Zionist Organization Supports Gibran School Principal,” focusing on the link between Ms. Almontaser’s school and the Anti-Defamation League.

In just five months, Ms. Almontaser’s image had been transformed. She was rendered a radical Muslim by one group and a sellout by another.


T-Shirts, and a Resignation

At first, some city officials rallied to Ms. Almontaser’s side. Among them was David Cantor, the chief spokesman for the Department of Education, who wrote in an e-mail message to the editor of The New York Sun, Seth Lipsky: “I won’t allow Dan Pipes a free pass to smear Debbie Almontaser as an Islamist proselytizer who denies Muslim involvement in 9/11. It is a false picture and an ugly effort.”

But behind closed doors, department officials were nervous, Ms. Almontaser recalled. With her help, she said, they drafted a confidential memo of talking points to review with reporters: the school was “nonreligious,” for example, and Ms. Almontaser was a “multicultural specialist and diversity consultant.”

The Stop the Madrassa Coalition pressed its campaign. In July, one of its members, Pamela Hall, made a discovery that would elevate the controversy. At an Arab-American festival in Brooklyn, she spotted T-shirts on a table bearing the words “Intifada NYC.” The organization distributing them, Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media, trains young women in community organizing and media production. The group sometimes uses the office of a Yemeni-American association in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Ms. Almontaser sits on the association’s board.

Ms. Hall took a photograph, and a few weeks later, the coalition announced on its blog that Ms. Almontaser was linked to the T-shirts.

On Aug. 3, Ms. Almontaser received a call from Melody Meyer, a spokeswoman for the Education Department. “What does ‘Intifada NYC’ mean?” Ms. Almontaser recalled Ms. Meyer asking.

Ms. Almontaser was stumped, she said. She knew of the group. But she had never heard about the T-shirts, she said she told Ms. Meyer, adding that “intifada” meant “uprising” and was linked to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Most reporters lost interest in the T-shirts after Ms. Meyer explained that neither Ms. Almontaser nor the school was linked to them, but The Post persisted. Ms. Almontaser said Ms. Meyer and Mr. Cantor pressured her to respond to the newspaper in an interview.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute,’ ” recalled Ms. Almontaser, who was critical of The Post’s coverage of Arabs and Muslims. “ ‘I am not comfortable doing the interview.’ ”

Ms. Meyer promised to monitor the conversation, Ms. Almontaser said, and Mr. Cantor instructed her not to be “apologetic” about the T-shirts. While both Ms. Meyer and Mr. Cantor said they could not comment on the case, a city lawyer said that Ms. Almontaser was told to avoid discussing the T-shirts and intifada altogether, and was never pressured to speak to The Post.

During the Post interview, Ms. Almontaser said, she told the reporter, Chuck Bennett, that the Arab women’s organization was not connected to her or the school, and that she would never be affiliated with any group that condoned violence. Then Mr. Bennett asked her for the origins of the word intifada, she said.

“The educator in me responded,” Ms. Almontaser said. She explained, with Ms. Meyer listening in on the three-way phone call, that the root of the word means “shaking off.” Ms. Almontaser then offered what she described as a lengthy explanation about the evolution of the word and the “negative connotation” it had developed because of the Arab-Israeli struggle.

“The thought went across my mind to be extremely careful with my words — not to offend the Jewish community and not to offend the Arab-American community,” she said. “I was feeling pressure from all sides.”

Although Ms. Almontaser said she never spoke to the reporter about the T-shirts, she defended the girls in the organization because she believed that the reporter was set on “vilifying innocent teenagers.”

After the reporter hung up, Ms. Almontaser recalled, Ms. Meyer told her, “Good job.”

The next day, The Post ran the article under the headline “City Principal Is ‘Revolting’ — Tied to ‘Intifada NYC’ Shirts.” The article quoted Ms. Almontaser as saying that the girls in the organization were “shaking off oppression,” words that The Post, according to a ruling by federal appellate judges, attributed to Ms. Almontaser “incorrectly and misleadingly.”

Complaints about Ms. Almontaser began pouring into the Education Department, and Mr. Cantor informed her that an apology would be issued in her name. Ms. Almontaser objected, she said, and asked that the department clarify her comments to The Post, which she said were distorted, rather than apologize.

Mr. Cantor insisted on an apology, she said, and e-mailed her the proposed wording. The first sentence was not negotiable, she recalled him telling her. The apology began: “The use of the word intifada is completely inappropriate as a T-shirt slogan for teenagers. I regret suggesting otherwise.” Ms. Almontaser responded in an e-mail message that Mr. Cantor should change the latter sentence to “I regret my response was interpreted as suggesting otherwise.”

The press office issued the original apology. Pressure soon mounted for Ms. Almontaser to resign. Randi Weingarten, the head of the teachers’ union, published a letter in The Post criticizing Ms. Almontaser for not denouncing “ideas tied to violence.” On Aug. 9, Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott asked Ms. Almontaser to step down, she said. “The mayor wants your resignation by 8 a.m. tomorrow so he can announce it on his radio show,” Ms. Almontaser recalled Mr. Walcott saying.

She said he promised her that in exchange for her resignation, the school would still open, and she would remain employed. She resigned the next day, taking an administrative job at the Education Department. She kept her principal’s salary of $120,000.

On his radio program, Mayor Bloomberg announced that Ms. Almontaser had “submitted her resignation,” which “was nice of her to do.”

“She’s certainly not a terrorist,” he said, adding that she was not “all that media savvy maybe.”

Three days later, Ms. Almontaser was replaced by an interim principal, Danielle Salzberg, who is Jewish and speaks no Arabic.


Chaos in a New School

On Sept. 4, the Khalil Gibran International Academy opened its doors at 345 Dean Street as parents ushered their children past a throng of reporters, photographers and television crews.

Chaos soon erupted inside. Students cut classes and got into fights with little consequence, said staff members, parents and students. At least 12 of the 60 students showed signs of behavioral problems or learning disabilities, said Leslie Kahn, a licensed social worker and counselor who was employed at the school until January. (Education Department officials, who denied repeated requests by The Times to visit the school, said there are currently six special-needs students there.)

“Something is flying through the air, every class, every day,” Sean R. Grogan, a science teacher at the school, said in an interview. “Kids bang on the partitions, yell and scream, curse and swear. It’s out of control.”

Physical altercations are frequent, Mr. Grogan and others said, with Arab students and teachers the target of ethnic slurs. “I just don’t feel safe,” said an Arab-American student, 11, who will not return to the school next year.

In the first days after Ms. Almontaser resigned, she felt numb, she said. Her support among Arab-Muslims remained uneven. Had she not alienated some who wanted more of a role in the school’s creation, “the whole community would have stood behind her,” said Wael Mousfar, president of the Arab Muslim American Federation. “A lot of our kids would be part of that school.”

Ms. Almontaser soon found herself flanked by a new group of supporters, including Jewish and Muslim activists, who began lobbying for her to be reinstated as the school’s principal. On Oct. 16, Ms. Almontaser announced that she was suing the Education Department and the mayor. She claimed that her First Amendment rights had been violated because she was forced to resign after she was quoted as saying something controversial.

She requested that the city be prevented from hiring a permanent principal until her case was resolved. A judge rejected the request, and Ms. Almontaser appealed. In March, a federal appeals court upheld the ruling, but the judges were sharply critical of the city’s handling of Ms. Almontaser’s case.

“This was a situation where she was subject to sanction not for anything she said, not for anything she did, but because a newspaper reporter twisted what she said and the result of it was negative press for the city and the Board of Ed,” Judge Jon O. Newman told a city lawyer at a hearing in February.

Ms. Almontaser’s case will proceed in the Federal District Court in Manhattan.

The Stop the Madrassa Coalition continues to protest the school. The group sued the Department of Education in October, requesting detailed information about the school’s creation, faculty and curriculum. While the department has handed over thousands of records, the coalition’s lawyer said the documents leave many questions unanswered, including which textbooks the school is using to teach Arabic. A department spokeswoman said that a list of textbooks selected for the school was sent to the lawyer last fall.

The coalition has also broadened the reach of its campaign. Some members have joined with the Center for Policy Research in American Education, a new organization that will research the influence of radical Islam on public schools around the country.

In recent weeks, conditions at the Khalil Gibran school have improved, said several students and staff members. Holly Anne Reichert, who was appointed as the permanent principal in January, said in an interview that she had reduced some of the disruptive behavior by minimizing class sizes. She added that the media attention had led to a “chaotic experience” for students. “Adults have created this, and children are the ones who have had to endure,” she said.

The school will move to a larger space in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, by next fall.

Ms. Almontaser still attends interfaith dinners and awards ceremonies. During the day, she works for the city’s Office of School and Youth Development. Part of her job entails evaluating other schools.

In an odd twist of fate, she was sent to the Bronx last fall to review a small, innovative school that had opened the same month as Khalil Gibran. It also taught a foreign language: Spanish. The students seemed to be thriving. As Ms. Almontaser walked the hallways, she was shaken, she said.

“It wasn’t that I was envious that her dream materialized,” said Ms. Almontaser, referring to the principal. “It was seeing her sixth graders, her teachers, and seeing that she did it. And I didn’t get a chance.”

Critics Cost Muslim Educator Her Dream School, NYT, 28.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/28/nyregion/28school.html






Egan May Be Leaving

the Archdiocese Soon,

Now That a Historic Visit Has Ended


April 21, 2008
The New York Times


For Cardinal Edward M. Egan, the visit of Pope Benedict XVI was one of the highlights of his eight-year tenure as leader of the Archdiocese of New York. On Sunday, he escorted Benedict to ground zero and helped him celebrate Mass at Yankee Stadium before seeing him off at Kennedy Airport.

On Saturday, the cardinal prayed in St. Patrick’s Cathedral with the pope and then rode with him in the Popemobile through the streets of his archdiocese, which recently completed the celebration of its bicentennial.

Serving as host to Benedict was quite likely his swan song.

Cardinal Egan, head of the Archdiocese of New York — and its 2.5 million Catholics in three boroughs and seven counties — was required by church law to submit his resignation as archbishop to the pope when he turned 75 last year. When the resignation takes effect is up to the pope, and Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, often let bishops and archbishops serve well past retirement age.

But Benedict has been more prompt about replacing bishops, and the consensus among Catholic experts is that the next major event in Cardinal Egan’s ecclesiastic life will be the acceptance of his resignation and the anointing of his successor.

“I would expect that we might hear something before August about his replacement,” said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, former editor of the New York-based Catholic journal America.

The Rev. Joseph A. O’Hare, former president of Fordham University, said, “My own expectation is that a year from now we will have a new archbishop of New York.”

Joseph Zwilling, Cardinal Egan’s spokesman, would not comment on Sunday on whether the cardinal desired retirement. “He wants to do whatever the Holy Father wants him to do,” Mr. Zwilling said. “If he’s asked to stay on, he’s delighted to stay on. If he’s asked to leave, he will leave.”

Candidates mentioned as possible replacements include Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of Milwaukee; Archbishop Henry J. Mansell of Hartford, who was an auxiliary bishop in New York under Cardinal Egan’s predecessor, John J. O’Connor; and Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of Puerto Rico.

As for Cardinal Egan’s plans, they have been the subject of considerable speculation. Mr. Zwilling said in an interview last year that the cardinal “expects he will stay somewhere in New York,” adding, “he will be the first to admit that he’s a city boy.”

Mr. Zwilling said on Sunday that “Cardinal Egan has expressed his desire to remain in New York, whatever happens next.”

But Cardinal Egan is also known to have enjoyed his lengthy tenure in the Vatican, where he studied and worked for 22 years and served as an ecclesiastical judge and a canon law professor.

“I would say that it is unlikely that he would keep New York as a base of operations,” said Christopher M. Bellitto, a church historian at Kean University in New Jersey. “If he goes back to Rome, he could continue to serve on panels until he is 80 — he’s still a member of the College of Cardinals. And, of course, that would make life easier for his successor. If you’re a new pastor of the parish, you don’t want the old pastor sitting around.”

Father O’Hare, however, said he had been told that the archdiocese was preparing possible retirement residences for the cardinal in the area, something the archdiocese’s spokesman would not confirm. “It’s pointless to speculate on something that might not occur for several years,” Mr. Zwilling said.

The future of the leader of one of the most important dioceses in the United States surely came up during Benedict’s visit. “The pope is listening to everything that’s going on, said and unsaid,” Professor Bellitto said. “The topic is floating underneath all of the conversations, sotto voce.”

When he does leave office, Cardinal Egan will leave behind an archdiocese transformed in many ways. Cardinal Egan has made it the cornerstone of his tenure to put the archdiocese on sounder financial footing. To do this, he has closed or will close 15 schools and 21 parishes, earning deep antipathy from some parishioners. The cardinal’s public-relations difficulties have not been helped by a personal style that many have found chilly and imperious, especially compared to that of his gregarious predecessor, Cardinal O’Connor.

Cardinal Egan has also had to deal with the effects of the sex-abuse scandals, and the decline in candidates for the priesthood, which he has been unable to stem. The archdiocese’s seminary, St. Joseph’s in Yonkers, where Cardinal Egan appeared by Pope Benedict’s side on Saturday, expects to ordain just six men in May.

All of which, Father Reese said, makes a compelling case for leaving office on a high note.

“Every retired bishop I’ve ever talked to said he wished he’d retired earlier, that he didn’t realize how much fun he was going to have as a retired bishop,” Father Reese said. “They get all the respect and the fun of being a bishop without the responsibilities.”

    Egan May Be Leaving the Archdiocese Soon, Now That a Historic Visit Has Ended, NYT, 21.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/21/us/nationalspecial2/21egan.html






Cat Lovers Appreciate Soul Mate in Vatican


April 21, 2008
The New York Times


Their names are Shadow, Butch, Misty, Rusty, Sparky, Sunshine, Esther, Marty and Spunky. They are cats, some former strays, some tiger-striped. But to Jan Fredericks of Wayne, N.J., they are family, they are God’s creatures and deserving of compassion.

And in Pope Benedict XVI, Ms. Fredericks, the chairwoman of the fledgling American branch of Catholic Concern for Animals, believes that she has found a kindred spirit: Along with an enormous entourage and a message of peace, the Pope brought with him to the United States a lifelong love of cats.

Benedict’s kindness toward the strays of Rome is already the stuff of Vatican legend. His house in Germany, its garden guarded by a cat statue, was filled with cats when Benedict lived there full time before he was posted to the Vatican in 1982.

And Benedict is, without a doubt, the first pope to have had an authorized biography of him written by a cat — Chico, a ginger tabby who lives across the road from Benedict’s old house in Germany.

“I think it shows a sensitive side, and I believe it shows that God lives in a person,” Ms. Fredericks said Friday. “I think all leaders should have compassion for animals.”

When the pope arrived at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, Ms. Fredericks and some members of the group were there, handing out about 300 copies of a pamphlet called “Are We Good Stewards of God’s Creation?” (Also represented outside the stadium was People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which wants Benedict to follow up on some scathing criticisms of factory farming he made when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.)

The pope’s fondness for felines has been often remarked upon since his elevation in 2005. One prominent Catholic blogger based in California, who writes under the pen name Gerald Augustinus, claims to have a 2-year-old Siamese named Benedictus, or Benny for short.

And the recently published “Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told by a Cat” (Ignatius Press, 2008) is a children’s book written by Chico with the “aid” of an Italian journalist, Jeanne Perego.

The book, which has been translated into 10 languages and has sold 12,000 copies in the United States, tells of young Joseph Ratzinger’s childhood love for all furry animals and of the adult cardinal’s deep bond with the narrator, who lives in the Bavarian village of Pentling.

“When I’d see that the shades were up next door, I knew he was home,” Chico writes. “Then I’d race over and rub up against his legs. What wonderful times we’ve spent together!”

Chico’s owner, Rupert Hofbauer, confirmed the substance of the book and said that Chico, now 10, misses his old friend, who has not been back to visit since becoming pope.

“Sometimes Chico goes over there on his own,” Mr. Hofbauer said in a telephone interview on Friday, “and he sits on the door sill or walks through the garden.”

Ms. Perego said by phone Friday that the pope’s brother, who lives near Pentling, continues to hang the current year’s cat calendar on the wall of the pope’s house and turn its pages every month in a sort of homage to his absent brother.

Though Benedict is the first pope to be written about by a cat, he falls squarely within a long Vatican tradition. According to “The Papacy: An Encyclopedia,” by Philippe Levillain, Pope Paul II, in the 15th century, had his cats treated by his personal physician. Leo XII, in the 1820s, raised his grayish-red cat, Micetto, in the pleat of his cassock. And according to The Times of London, Paul VI, pope from 1963 to 1978, is said to have once dressed his cat in cardinal’s robes.

When Cardinal Ratzinger was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the German newspaper Bild wrote, he tended to the cats that frequented the garden of the congregation’s building in the Vatican and bandaged their wounds.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told an Italian newspaper in 2005 that the cats sometimes walked him to his office.

“One time the Swiss Guards had to intervene,” Cardinal Bertone joked. “ ‘Look, your eminence, the cats are laying siege to the Holy See.’ ”

Italian media reported that when the pope moved into his papal quarters, he could not bring two beloved cats — notwithstanding the protests of Rome’s animal rights commissioner, who urged the Vatican to “give the two papal cats access to the Apostolic Palace.”

Ms. Fredericks said she thought that the pope would benefit from continued contact with animals. “I think every church should have a cat colony,” she said. “But I don’t think that will happen.”

Victor Homola contributed reporting from Berlin.

    Cat Lovers Appreciate Soul Mate in Vatican, NYT, 21.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/21/us/nationalspecial2/21cats.html






Pope Ends Visit With Yankee Stadium Mass


April 21, 2008
The New York Times


Before a crowd of nearly 60,000 people at Yankee Stadium, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday ended his first visit to the United States as leader of the Roman Catholic Church with a reminder to the faithful that “obedience” to the authority of the church, even in a country that prizes individual freedom, is the foundation of their religious faith.

During a six-day visit to Washington and New York, the pope addressed world issues, visited a synagogue and voiced deep shame over the child sexual abuse scandal that has damaged the church’s standing in many American dioceses.

At a morning ceremony at ground zero, the pope blessed the World Trade Center site, where more than 2,700 people were killed in the terrorist attack, and prayed for peace.

But at Yankee Stadium on a cool, brilliant Sunday afternoon, with an adoring audience of people waving yellow cloths, one of the colors of the Vatican, Benedict acted chiefly as pastor to America’s 65 million Catholics, laying out in simple terms their obligations to a church that represents what he has called the “one church” established on earth by God.

“Authority. Obedience. To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays,” the pope said in his homily during the Mass, held on an acre-size platform built over the Yankees infield, “especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom.”

Three years after the death of Pope John Paul II, his popular and charismatic predecessor, the reserved and theologically erudite Pope Benedict XVI gently but unequivocally delineated the source of authority that has since devolved to him, and that he said was integral to the church itself.

Referring to himself, he said, “The presence around this altar of the successor of Peter, his brother bishops and priests, and deacons, men and women religious, and lay faithful from throughout the 50 states of the union, eloquently manifests our communion in the Catholic faith, which comes to us from the apostles.”

In the Gospels, the Apostle Peter was chosen by Jesus to lead the church, and each pope is said to be the successor of Peter.

In a glancing reference to the sexual abuse of children by priests, he said that praying for the kingdom of God “means not losing heart in the face of adversity, resistance and scandal. It means overcoming every separation between faith and life, and countering false gospels of freedom and happiness.”

In his writings before and since becoming pope, Benedict has stressed the importance of a strict adherence to orthodoxy, and opposition to a wide array of modern cultural trends, including feminism, gay rights, and demands — especially among American Catholics — for greater democracy and administrative transparency within the church.

The Mass at Yankee Stadium was the largest public event of the pope’s tour, and it was held on the same day as the most intimate meeting of his visit.

In his stop at ground zero on Sunday morning, the pope spoke briefly with a small group of survivors and families of the victims of the Sept. 11 attack. Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York stood beside him and read each one’s name and gave the pope a brief description of the family member lost by the person. Some took the pope’s hand, and many knelt and kissed his ring, the traditional protocol for Roman Catholics.

For those not invited to meet personally with Benedict or able to get one of the scarce event tickets, there were the untold number of TVs tuned in to the various events of the week.

There were six wide screens at Billy’s Sports Bar on River Avenue in the Bronx, where Mike Gonzale, 29, of Woodside, Queens, sat watching as the pope said Mass on Sunday at the stadium across the street.

“You feel an energy; you feel a peace,” Mr. Gonzale said, speaking softly, like a golf commentator, as he watched the television. “I think most people feel a calm relief from the complicated world we’re living in.”

Inside the packed stadium, the energy was palpable, the stands a solid wall of blurring yellow cloths and cheering.

After the Mass, waves of excitement followed the path of the pope as he first walked, and then rode in his Popemobile, around the outside track of the field.

Surrounded by black-suited Secret Service men as he walked, the 81-year-old pontiff moved somewhat haltingly, the papal scepter in his left hand. He waved gingerly with his right hand. The crowd roared with all the sustained excitement of spectators at a pennant-clinching game.

The next and final stop for the pope was Kennedy Airport, where Vice President Dick Cheney led a ceremony before the pontiff’s return trip to Rome.

Many of the people interviewed after Sunday’s Mass said they were deeply moved to be in the presence of Christ’s vicar on earth, as the pope is known to believers. His role as a spiritual father figure can seem to be almost personal for some Catholics.

“The most amazing part was when he came in the Popemobile,” said Sylvia Rios, 45, who attended the Mass with her former husband, Jesus Matthews, 46. “I know he wasn’t waving at me, but we had good seats, and when I looked at him, he looked like he was waving specifically at me.”

But more, people at the Mass said it was thrilling to be in a state of religious communion with so many others — and while in the presence of the pope, who represents the founding of the church 2,000 years ago.

Christa Rivers-Caceres, 37, who drove from Bushkill, Pa., with her husband, Enrique, 32, said being at Yankee Stadium made her feel like part of the family of Catholics, who number more than one billion worldwide. “You were proud to be Catholic,” she said. “It helped reaffirm our faith.”

Efrem Menghs, a phone company salesman from Columbus, Ohio, said the experience had made him a better person. “I will look back and say I’m glad I came to this event,” he said. “I did something for God.”

Ian Fisher, Colin Moynihan and Bernard Vaughan contributed reporting.

    Pope Ends Visit With Yankee Stadium Mass, NYT, 21.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/21/us/nationalspecial2/21pope.html?hp






In the Pit, With the Pope and Memories of a Brother


April 21, 2008
The New York Times


They found the remains of Firefighter Jimmy Riches in the rubble of the World Trade Center on March 25, 2002. A brother, Tom Riches, then just 17, walked down into the pit, and he and his father and his other two brothers carried Jimmy out on a stretcher.

On Sunday morning, six years later, Tom Riches walked once again into the hole. There, about 10 yards from where they found Jimmy that day, he met Pope Benedict XVI. The pope visited the site on the last day of his six-day visit to the United States, to bless the ground that Tom Riches had long considered sacred.

Tom Riches said it was always hard going back to ground zero. Sunday morning was no different. “I was a little emotional at first, and then when he came down, it got very calm and peaceful,” he said of the pope’s arrival.

Countless prayers and blessings have been uttered at the place where two 110-story towers once stood. But Sunday, on a foggy, chilly spring morning, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church stepped onto the bedrock where 2,750 people were killed, adding his own prayers, sprinkling holy water and meeting 24 rescue workers, survivors and relatives of 9/11 victims.

Pope Benedict rode down a flag-lined construction ramp that led into the base of ground zero, seated in his white Popemobile, just after 9:40 a.m. He walked the last quarter of the way down, to a small rectangular pool where the family members and others had gathered. He prayed silently, lighted a single candle and delivered a prayer into a microphone, referring to ground zero as “a scene of incredible violence and pain.”

Tom Riches and the other guests were introduced individually to the pope by Cardinal Edward M. Egan, head of the New York archdiocese. Tom Riches knelt before the pope, kissed his ring and spoke briefly to him.

“I told him to bless my brother’s memory and my family, and I thanked him for coming down there,” Tom Riches said. “He said, ‘God bless you.’ ”

In his coat pocket, Tom Riches carried the Mass card from his brother’s funeral. On one side is a picture of a smiling Jimmy; on the other side is a passage of poetry that reads, in part: “Grieve not ... nor speak of me with tears ... but laugh and talk of me as though I were beside you.” The funeral was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where the pope celebrated Mass on Saturday morning.

Jimmy’s father, James J. Riches, 57, a veteran firefighter who retired last year as a deputy chief, watched the ceremony on Sunday from the top of the hole at ground zero. He watched the pope walk on the same ramp near West and Liberty Streets that he and his sons had walked carrying Jimmy’s body. One of Tom Riches’s friends had submitted his name to the archdiocese, and of more than 1,100 people whose names were sent in, he was one of 24 selected to attend the service.

“It’s not the lottery you want to be in,” James Riches said. “We don’t want to be in this lottery, but fate has it that way.”

Jimmy was a free spirit, a bartender turned crime fighter turned firefighter. He was a New York City police officer before joining the Fire Department in 1999.

“What was the saying we said at his funeral? It’s not the years in your life, it’s the life in your years,” James Riches said. “And he packed 100 years into 29 years.”

The three younger boys had looked up to Jimmy, especially Tom, the youngest. It was Jimmy who was Tom’s godfather. It was Jimmy who, when they found his remains in what used to be the lobby of the north tower, was found next to a woman who was on a stretcher when she died. “He was that kind of kid,” James Riches said. “He helped the underdog. He wouldn’t leave somebody behind.”

Jimmy would have turned 30 on Sept. 12, 2001. Part of the street in Brooklyn where James Riches and the boys’ mother, Rita, live and where Jimmy grew up — Bay Eighth Street, in Dyker Heights — was renamed Firefighter Jimmy Riches Way. The high school and the college Jimmy attended — Xavier High School in Manhattan and Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina — have scholarships in Jimmy’s name.

By Sunday afternoon, the significance of Tom Riches’s meeting with the pope had not yet sunk in. He and his father rushed from interview to interview. His cellphone kept ringing. “I need time to think about it, you know,” he said.

For his father, the pope’s visit reaffirmed the spirituality and the divinity of a place that these days looks more like a crane-crowded construction site than the ruin of Sept. 11, 2001. “We knew that Jimmy died there, and that’s where he breathed his last breath,” James Riches said. “That’s where his soul left his body, and it means a lot to us.”

One of Tom Riches’s brothers, Danny, is a firefighter who works out of Jimmy’s firehouse, in Ladder 114 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Danny has Jimmy’s old locker. Tom Riches’s other brother, Timothy, is a firefighter in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Tom Riches is also a firefighter, like his father and his brother Jimmy before him.

    In the Pit, With the Pope and Memories of a Brother, NYT, 21.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/21/us/nationalspecial2/21scene.html






Benedict Prays for Peace at World Trade Center Site


April 20, 2008
The New York Times


Pope Benedict XVI prayed for peace at ground zero on Sunday morning and then met with a group of survivors and families of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

On the last day of his visit to America, the pope asked for eternal peace for the people who died in the attacks and for strength and healing for their families. Making only an oblique reference to the terrorism behind the attacks almost seven years ago — “Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred” — the pope asked for determination in the world’s efforts toward peace.

“Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that lives lost here may not have been lost in vain,” he said at the bedrock level of the site, chilly and shrouded with fog that covered the tops of some buildings nearby. “Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all.”

The ceremony began when the pope rode down a construction ramp at the World Trade Center site in his specially designed vehicle shortly after 9:40 a.m. As bells pealed, the pope, 81, dressed in white, walked the last quarter or so of the way down the ramp, to a small, rectangular-shaped pool where the family representatives had gathered. He was accompanied by Cardinal Edward M. Egan, the archbishop of New York. Kneeling briefly before the pool, the pope prayed silently before rising to light a single candle, meant to symbolize resurrection.

Then using on a microphone held for him, the pope delivered his prayer, referring to ground zero as “a scene of incredible violence and pain.”

“God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world; peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the earth,” he said.

The pope blessed the site with holy water, and As Carter Brey, the principal cellist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, played, he met briefly with representatives of 16 victims’ families. The representatives had been chosen from among more than 1,100 applicants.

As Cardinal Egan read each person’s name and a brief description of the lost family member, the pope spoke briefly with each of the 24 people. The representatives took the pope’s hand and many knelt and kissed his ring, the traditional protocol for Roman Catholics. The pope also met with four first responders and four survivors of the attack, including George Bachmann, a firefighter who suffered burns and a broken back on Sept. 11.

“I didn’t really have anything to say to him,” Mr. Bachmann, now retired, said in an interview on NY1. “Being in his presence was enough for me.”

After meeting with the family members, the pope also spoke with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Governor David A. Paterson of New York and Governor Jon S. Corzine of New Jersey. After the 20-minute ceremony, he visited nearby St. Peter’s church, where the steel cross that once stood at the trade center site was taken when reconstruction began..

“He really does understand what happened here and how this was an attack on freedom-loving people around the world and people who want to be able to practice their religion,” Mr. Bloomberg said of the pope’s prayer in a brief interview with Reuters. “I think that he has always been a man of peace and a man who believes we should live together and he is praying for everyone.”

At about 2:30 p.m., Benedict is scheduled to celebrate Mass before a capacity crowd at Yankees Stadium — his last major event before flying back to Rome on Sunday evening after six days in New York and Washington.

The trip, his first to America as pope, has largely been defined by his public response to the issue of sexual abuse by priests. Surprising many Catholics, he has repeatedly spoken of the scandal, which has torn the American church. On Thursday while in Washington, he met with several victims from Boston.


Sewell Chan contributed reporting.

    Benedict Prays for Peace at World Trade Center Site, NYT, 20.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/us/nationalspecial2/20cnd-pope.html?hp






Defections to Pentecostalism Pose Challenge for the U.S. Catholic Church


April 20, 2008
The New York Times


To say she was a practicing Catholic would be an understatement. For years, Maria Aparecida Calazans was a mainstay at her Long Island church, joining dozens of fellow Brazilian immigrants for the Portuguese-language Mass on Sunday mornings. She and her husband, Ramon, were married at the church. Their two daughters were baptized there, and every Friday she attended a prayer meeting that she had helped organize.

But six years ago, her husband went to a relative’s baptism at a Pentecostal church in a warehouse in Astoria, Queens, and came home smitten.

The couple made a deal: “We would go to the Pentecostal service on Thursdays and to Mass on Sundays, and then we would decide which one we felt most comfortable with,” Mrs. Calazans said.

Within 40 days, they had both given up Roman Catholicism and embraced Pentecostalism, following the same path as an estimated 1.3 million other Latino Catholics who have joined Pentecostal congregations since immigrating to the United States, according to a survey released in February by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

“I feel whole here,” Mrs. Calazans, 42, said one recent Sunday in the Astoria sanctuary, the Portuguese Language Pentecostal Missionary Church, as she swayed to the pop-rock beat of a live gospel band. “This church is not a place we visit once a week. This church is where we hang around and we share our problems and we celebrate our successes, like we were family.”

As Pope Benedict XVI completes his visit to the United States today with a Mass at Yankee Stadium, in a borough that has been home to generations of Latinos, he does so facing something of a growing challenge to the church’s immigrant ranks.

For if Latinos are feeding the population of the church, many have also turned to Pentecostalism, a form of evangelical Christianity that stresses a personal, even visceral, connection with God.

Today, it has more Latino followers in the United States than any other denomination except Catholicism; they are drawn, they say, by the faith’s joyous worship, its use of Latino culture and the enveloping sense of community it offers to newcomers. As the Pew survey released in February revealed, nearly half of all Latinos who have joined Pentecostal denominations were raised as Catholics.

They are part of a global shift. Pentecostalism, the world’s fastest-growing branch of Christianity, has made such sharp inroads in Latin America, particularly in Brazil, that in an address to bishops there last year, Pope Benedict listed its ardent proselytizing as one of the major forces the Catholic Church in the region must contend with.

Catholic leaders and experts on the church in the United States say that the force of Pentecostalism is less dramatic here than in Latin America and elsewhere. Still, the pope has urged the nation’s bishops to make every effort to welcome new immigrants — “to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home” — and any number of Catholic clergy and lay people have conceded that the church needs to work harder at reaching, and keeping, its Latino flock.

““That some of the newly arrived Latinos are drawn to Pentecostalism is certainly reason for concern,” said the Rev. Allan Figueroa Deck, the executive director of the Office for Cultural Diversity, which was created last June by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to help the church adjust to its changing ethnic makeup. My faith is a big part of my life. The pope is the head of the faith.”

“But we can counter that with the kind of music we use, with the sense of celebration that we bring to our worship, the spontaneity and some of the popular customs that are not part of the official liturgy of the church. We’re doing some of that, but we could do better.”

The Pentecostal church in Astoria vividly shows what Catholicism is up against. It offers enough activities to fill a family’s calendar: services on Sundays and Thursdays, youth group meetings on Fridays, a Bible study group on Wednesdays and all-night prayer vigils throughout the year. Then there are birthday and engagement parties, to which every congregant is invited.

The church, on the second floor of a stucco building opposite a nightclub and three blocks from the subway, is half house of worship and half community center. It ministers primarily to a single immigrant group, Brazilians, in the group’s language, Portuguese —much like the ethnic urban parishes founded by European Catholics more than a century ago.

The Sunday service starts at 4 p.m., but the front door opens at least two hours earlier, and families trickle in. One recent Sunday, children giggled and ran around while mothers greeted one another with a kiss on each cheek, as is the custom in Brazil.

The pastor, Zeny Tinouco, himself a former Catholic, preached to about 100 people from a pulpit framed by an American and a Brazilian flag. Arms rose into the air and hands faced the ceiling as a guitar-and-drums band tore through pop-inflected hymns. Over and over in his sermon, the pastor exclaimed, “Alleluia!” and the congregants fervently responded, “Glória a Deus!” (“Praise the Lord!”)

“The first thing I tell the newcomers is that there are no lambs without a shepherd in our church; no one is a stranger,” said Pastor Tinouco, 62, who has a high school education and 11 churches — three each in New York City, Portugal and his native Brazil; one in Switzerland; and one in Newark.

“Our mission is to welcome the immigrant and be his guide and his support,” the pastor said. “If they need money to pay the rent, we’ll raise the money for them. If they need work, we’ll find them work. If they need someone to talk to, they can come to me.”

He counts more than 500 members among his churches in the United States — more than half of them, by his estimate, former Catholics. They include people like Renato C. Silva, who converted to Pentecostalism right after he immigrated in 2005, then met his wife at Pastor Tinouco’s church. And there are others like Tatiana DeMauro, who said her conversion in 2000 had strained her marriage.

“My husband is American and he is Catholic, and he won’t come here with me,” said Ms. DeMauro, 40, as she fed pretzels to her 2-year-old twin daughters. “He says I’ve changed and that this church has brainwashed me, but he doesn’t get it. I have friends here. Some of the strongest relationships I have I made at this church.”

The Rev. Virgil Elizondo, a professor of pastoral and Hispanic religions at the University of Notre Dame, said that Latinos who practiced a populist, emotional brand of Catholicism in their home countries experience a cultural clash when they encounter the more traditional, low-key ways of the church in the United States.

“To Latinos, the church is a place for socializing,” Father Elizondo said. “Even people with deepest of Catholic beliefs, if they’re in a foreign country and they can’t find a church where they can experience companionship, they will look elsewhere.”

Father Deck, of the Office for Cultural Diversity, said the Catholic Church was making progress. Latinos now make up about 15 percent of all seminarians. “And we’ve had an explosion in what we call lay ministry,” he added. “There are thousands of Latinos who are lectors during Mass, do outreach work, are catechism teachers, and we have some who are administering parishes.”

Latinos have also fueled the growth of the church’s charismatic movement, whose high-energy Masses are reminiscent of Pentecostal services. Many parishes, particularly in the South and the West, have introduced mariachi Masses, colorful processions and communal meals after the liturgy.

But Luís D. León, a professor of American religions at the University of Denver, said many of those gestures toward Latinos were “token changes.”

“Latino immigrants still find some kind of solace and connection with their home country through Catholicism, and they’re looking for a reason to hang on to the church in this country,” he said. “But for that to happen, they need to feel that their culture is being understood and recognized. They need to feel that the church is their caretaker in a much more profound and personal way than it is today.”

Adriara Mello, who came from Brazil in 1996, said many of her Brazilian friends began attending Pentecostal churches after immigrating.

But she has remained faithful to Corpus Christi Church in Mineola on Long Island — the same parish that Mrs. Calazans and her family left to join the Pentecostal congregation in Astoria.

In fact, the two women had started a series of prayer meetings, which Ms. Mello continues to run.

Corpus Christi is a mainly English-speaking parish, but it has a long history of catering to immigrants. Aside from its Portuguese Mass, which has been celebrated by the same Brazilian priest for 35 years, the church has a Portuguese ministry offering translation services and tutoring for immigrant students who attend the parish’s school.

Ms. Mello said Brazilian parishioners have also raised money for a few compatriots facing financial difficulties, and have cooked and cleaned for a man who had to raise his children alone after his wife’s death.

“We’re trying to be a faith community and a support community,” Ms. Mello added. ”We’re here to help.”

Still, just a few minutes after the 8:30 a.m. Mass ended last Sunday, the Portuguese-speaking faithful had dispersed, to make way for the English-language service that followed.

“I can see how people might get turned off by that,” Ms. Mello said. “I mean, if you’re alone in this country, there goes an opportunity to make the church part of your life. There goes a chance to make friends.”

    Defections to Pentecostalism Pose Challenge for the U.S. Catholic Church, NYT, 20.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/nyregion/20pentecostals.html?ref=us






For Many Catholics, the Idea of a Pope Is Clear Even if the Definition Isn’t


April 20, 2008
The New York Times


To understand the mystique, consider how the nuns first introduced Chris Blanke and his kindergarten classmates to the idea of the man with the funny hat, the man known to them from that day forward as the Vicar of Christ, the apostolic successor of Peter, the pope.

“They said he was, you know, basically, God on earth,” said Mr. Blanke, now a 26-year-old business student who attended Mass at Holy Trinity Church in Manhattan last Sunday. “We were in awe, but also, we were supposed to be trying to see him as a kind of a role model.”

It is a lot to ask of any relationship. And though Mr. Blanke never quite took the nuns literally about the pope being God on earth, even at age 6 he sensed that the leader of the Roman Catholic Church was “something higher” than the usual run of humanity.

For most grown-up Catholics, the idea of the pope as something of an official channel to God still holds some sway, if only in the inner sanctum of truths learned in childhood.

But in interviews last week during the first visit to the United States by Pope Benedict XVI, Catholics around the country said that as with every human institution, their sense of connection to the pope has a lot to do with the human who happens to be pope.

For an office steeped in so much holy tradition, people are quite comfortable saying whom they like and whom they don’t among the popes of their memory. John XXIII: great guy. Paul VI: a little remote. John Paul II: loved him, loved him — he helped set off the collapse of Communism, say some; too bad he didn’t deal better with the pedophile priests, say others.

And the new man?

“I can’t say that I feel I know him very well,” said Mary Ann Maddock, 63, of Deer Park on Long Island, who described herself as a lifelong Catholic “disillusioned” by the church hierarchy’s response to the scandal of sexual abuse of children by some priests. “But as a Catholic, I feel it is my responsibility at least to listen to anything he says. My faith is a big part of my life. The pope is the head of the faith.”

Anne Foster of Atlanta said she was long past thinking of the pope as “way up there and untouchable,” but sees him now in a way that for an American, may represent a higher kind of regard: “I see him more as one of us, and I’d love to have a conversation with him.”

Among the world’s major religions, there are few parallels for a leadership role so definitive and at the same time so hard to grasp as that of a pope.

He is the successor in an unbroken line of 265 men, going back to the first pope, the Apostle Peter, whom Jesus himself chose to lead the church, according to the Gospel of Matthew.

His picture — whether framed and hung on the wall, or a cracked and dog-eared snapshot taped to the cash register at the local diner — has a benign but undeniable sort of talismanic power for many believers.

Anyone who saw the tide of people, and felt the swell of the emotion at the funeral of Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, when old people stood in line for hours and teenagers slept in the streets around the Vatican walls in order to get a turn to glimpse the body of an 84-year-old man, has a sense of the heft of a pope’s being.

Yet there are no precise coordinates of a pope’s place in the faith of a believer, say scholars. He is the voice of the conscience of the flock, but as with most voices of conscience, people tend to hear what they want.

“We don’t have data to tell us what people in the pews really think about the pope — this pope or any pope,” said Thomas F. X. Noble, a professor of history and papal scholar at the University of Notre Dame. “Catholicism is a not a democracy,” he added.

Meaning they don’t do polls to gauge these things.

“But to judge by how people have reacted when the pope has put the force of his reputation behind a specific regulation — artificial contraception, for instance,” Professor Nobel said, “most people have decided that the pope is not authoritative.”

Yet, there is “authority” in the chain-of-command sense, and there is de facto primacy in the Catholic universe of a billion believers.

Many people interviewed last week said that more than his encyclicals or rulings, the pope’s most important role was as the person who represents the unity of the church — the shared beliefs, ceremonial traditions and liturgical calendar of a specific religious faith practiced the same way in a hundred countries by people of vastly different backgrounds.

Meera Ratnesar, a math teacher who was one of a handful of Holy Trinity parishioners to win the church drawing for tickets to Yankee Stadium on Sunday, when the pope is scheduled to celebrate Mass, said the Mass would in a sense embody her understanding of the worldwide community to which she belongs.

“The idea of being in a place with a community of 50,000 other Catholics,” she said, “to me that’s a very spiritual idea.”

Beyond the bedrock definition of the Pope’s role in canon law as “the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful,” there seem to be no fixed ideas among Catholics interviewed last week about how a pope figures in one’s practice of the faith.

“I don’t spend a whole lot of time focusing on the pope,” said Mike Schoeny, 63, of Cincinnati. “He doesn’t touch my life on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. I’m more focused on what goes on in my parish church.”

The pope may control the bureaucratic environment in which grand policy issues are decided within the Vatican — about international affairs, the role of women in the church, the recognition of gays, or the degree to which the church should pursue social justice through activism — but what matters most to people like Linda Cowan of Jonesboro, Ga., is an intangible quality of personality.

The last pope had it, she said. “He just drew the people to him,” she said about the charismatic John Paul II, who was pope from 1978 until his death in 2005.

In interviews, people either said it was good or bad that the new pope is a religious conservative, good or bad that he is an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq, good or bad that he made his Vatican reputation, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as the staunch defender of church doctrine against so-called liberation theology and feminism.

Sometimes people had it both ways.

In his homily at Holy Trinity Church in Manhattan last Sunday, the Rev. Edward Beck told the story of a parish member who was torn about seeing the new pope, though she had a ticket to hear him at Yankee Stadium. “She said she liked him for being against the war, but she didn’t agree with his ideas about sexual issues and about women in the church,” Father Beck said.

“For some of us, living in a multicultural and pluralistic society, it is hard to accept some of what the pope says,” Father Beck said.

He did not say what advice he gave the parishioner. “There is no resolution,” he said. “I was just naming what the dilemma is for some people.”

Reporting was contributed by Bob Driehaus in Cincinnati, Brenda Goodman in Atlanta, Chris Maag in Cleveland and Katie Zezima in Boston.

    For Many Catholics, the Idea of a Pope Is Clear Even if the Definition Isn’t, NYT, 20.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/nyregion/20spirit.html






A Deep Respect for Benedict, but It’s Still True Love for John Paul


April 20, 2008
The New York Times


At the Catholic Goods Center off Arthur Avenue in the Bronx the other day, they were all sold out of Pope Benedict XVI holy cards. Copies of the photo of Benedict displayed in the store window were selling briskly.

But the store’s owner, John V. Iazzetti, said his customers seemed to prefer the gentleman whose photo was displayed on a rack inside the store. “To tell the truth,” Mr. Iazzetti said, “I’m still selling more John Paul pictures than Pope Benedict” — by about two to one.

Across 187th Street at the Mount Carmel religious bookstore, Antonetta I. Mancuso, a regular customer, had gotten coveted tickets to see Pope Benedict say Mass at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. But she, too, said she would be thinking of the prior pope.

“Hey, John Paul II — he was my heart,” said Ms. Mancuso, 70. “I can’t wait for them to make him a saint.”

Ms. Mancuso summed up Pope Benedict in two words: “He’s new.”

When Pope Benedict arrived in New York on Friday for the first time as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, he stepped into the very long shadow of his predecessor: John Paul II, the great communicator, trained actor, vanquisher of communism, acclaimed poet, celebrity pontiff.

Yes, Benedict could fill Yankee Stadium several times over. His books and encyclicals are being snapped up at Catholic bookstores. But there are sales and ticket requests, and then there is passion. This time, no one is wearing a T-shirt, like the one seen in 2005 after John Paul’s death, declaring the pontiff the “People’s Pope” (though a neat beer stein emblazoned with Benedict’s likeness and the slogan “I love my German Shepherd” is available on a Web site, www.popebenedictxvifanclub.com).

Interviews with dozens of Catholics around the city over the past week found many still mourning John Paul II three years after his death. Benedict, said Glenda Wells, 49, a dental assistant from Canarsie, Brooklyn, who was shopping at the Daughters of St. Paul bookstore in Midtown, “still doesn’t replace my favorite boy. I loved John Paul.”

At best, several Catholics said, Benedict ranks a tie, on the strength of the respect owed the office of the vicar of Christ. “For me, he is the same because he represents the same thing,” Felipe Olibos, a restaurant worker from Spanish Harlem, said of Benedict as he left Mass on Sunday at the Church of St. Ann. “The other died, and now he is carrying on in his place.”

As for more rigorous surveys, a poll of American Catholics in March by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 74 percent had a favorable impression of Benedict. In a 1996 Pew survey, John Paul II scored a 93 percent favorable rating. John Paul II was riding the momentum of his 1995 visit then, but in a 1990 Pew survey of all Americans, John Paul was rated favorably by 79 percent. Benedict has never scored higher than 52 percent in nationwide Pew polls taken since he was elevated in 2005.

Of course, being pope is not a popularity contest — particularly for the current pope. “Under John Paul II, there was a kind of cult of personality, which I think Benedict didn’t like,” said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. “Benedict does not want a cult of personality around himself. He wants to point toward Jesus.”

And to be fair, this is the first opportunity for many American Catholics to form an impression of Benedict as distilled through the extensive and largely favorable coverage of his visit by the news media.

Much of the difference in how the two popes are regarded has more to do with their personal styles than with their substance, Catholic experts said.

“John Paul II was a pastor, and this man is a professor,” said Christopher M. Bellitto, a professor at Kean University in New Jersey and author of “101 Questions and Answers on Popes and the Papacy.”

David Gibson, author of the biography “The Rule of Benedict,” called John Paul II the “Broadway pope.” As for Benedict, he said, “if he were going to be a tourist in New York City, he’d go to the Cloisters or the Metropolitan Museum.”

None of which is to say that Benedict is not being warmly received by New York City’s approximately 3 million Roman Catholics. A papal visit — the first to this area in 13 years — is still a big deal. The Archdiocese of New York fielded 200,000 requests for the 57,000 seats in Yankee Stadium available for the Mass.

“The demand has just been astronomical,” said Joseph Zwilling, the archdiocese’s spokesman. “The other day, we put 5,000 tickets online for people to stand on Fifth Avenue near St. Patrick’s and see the Popemobile go by, and they were gone in a couple of hours.”

Another main reason John Paul II remains so popular is that people had time to get familiar with him. He was pope for 26 years, the longest of any pope since the mid-1800s. For Catholics who were born or came of age during his reign, John Paul was the only pope they ever knew, or felt as if they knew.

“He was an incredible person who was so well rounded,” said Barbara Hopkins, 50, a designer from Blauvelt, N.Y., on Friday outside the pope’s New York quarters on East 72nd Street. “I don’t know that Benedict has done anything so tremendous yet.”

Professor Bellitto said, “I have heard people in their 40s and 50s saying, ‘I’ll watch him on TV, but I met the real pope.’ ”

The recent Pew poll found that 15 percent of Catholics had yet to form an impression of him.

One of those, Rita Davis, said she was more than willing to give Benedict a chance.

“It’s like you lost a loved one and someone else takes their place,” said Ms. Davis, 51, of the Bronx, who works at a hospital and was shopping at the Daughters of St. Paul bookstore. She said she planned to camp out at Yankee Stadium in the hope that a glimpse of Benedict might ease her heart. “You may not feel the same,” she said, “but the person will do their best to fill that emptiness.”

Reporting was contributed by Suzanne DeChillo, Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska, Colin Moynihan and Mathew R. Warren.

    A Deep Respect for Benedict, but It’s Still True Love for John Paul, NYT, 20.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/us/nationalspecial2/20johnpaul.html?ref=us






At St. Patrick’s, Pope Makes a Call for Unity


April 20, 2008
The New York Times


Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass on Saturday morning at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the symbolic seat of American Catholicism, where he delivered a rallying cry for a “new spring” in a church that he acknowledged was divided in many ways and wounded specifically by the clergy sex abuse scandal.

For the fourth time on his first trip to America as pope, Benedict referred publicly to the suffering caused by priests who had abused children, an issue that has become the defining theme of his six-day visit.

“I have already had occasion to speak of this, and of the resulting damage to the community of the faithful,” he said in his 22-minute homily to the nearly 3,000 priests, deacons and seminarians present. “I simply wish to assure you, dear priests and religious, of my spiritual closeness as you strive to respond with Christian hope to the continuing challenges this situation presents. I join you in praying that this will be a time of purification for each and every particular church and religious community, and a time for healing.”

But the overall mood was celebratory, with the pope hewing to his strategy of talking more about the positive potential of faith instead of listing sins.

“The spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral are dwarfed by the skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline, yet they are a vivid reminder of the constant yearning of the human spirit to rise to God,” the pope told a cathedral packed mostly with priests, nuns, deacons, bishops and cardinals, but also with several local officials, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

The Mass was celebrated on the second-to-last day of the pope’s visit, which began Tuesday in Washington. On Friday, he addressed the United Nations, calling for renewed respect for human rights as a bridge toward solving many of world problems.

On Sunday the pope is expected to visit ground zero and celebrate Mass at Yankee Stadium, where 57,000 are expected to attend.

On Saturday, thousands of spectators lined up for blocks outside St. Patrick’s in the early morning hours — not to go inside, but to wait and watch as the priests, deacons and other members of religious orders, including cardinals, bishops and archbishops from throughout the United States, assembled to celebrate Mass with the pope. A sea of men and women, in white and gray robes, encircled the structure. The police cordoned off Fifth Avenue and a wide area around the cathedral.

The two-hour service was the first papal Mass in the history of the cathedral, which opened in 1879 and is the largest Gothic-style Roman Catholic cathedral in the United States. Previous popes — Paul VI and John Paul II — visited the cathedral, but did not say Mass inside.

The service on Saturday was intended primarily for clergy, but several prominent guests could be spotted, including former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and his wife, Judith. Mayor Bloomberg, who had come to the cathedral to welcome the pope, addressed the clergy briefly, calling the city a beacon of religious tolerance.

Cardinal Edward M. Egan welcomed the pope formally, saying, “Most Holy Father, welcome to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.” The pope received a standing ovation, as the cardinal reminded him that the parish was among the most diverse in the world, celebrating Mass in 35 languages.

At 10 a.m., as the Mass was under way, thousands of people lined Fifth Avenue north of St. Patrick’s. They sat or stood behind metal police barricades, many of them holding placards or banners welcoming the pope in Spanish and in English. There were signs identifying people from parishes in Brooklyn and farther away, like Dallas. Small groups gathered on sidewalks, beat drums, danced and sang. Men hawked white and yellow papal flags, T-shirts and buttons bearing the image of the pope. Some of those lining the barricades brought blankets, food, and water and said they had arrived as early as 8 a.m.

Ron Vlieger, 50, a financial writer from Hoboken, said, “This may be a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Mr. Vlieger said he was pleased that the Pope had given parishes permission to use Latin at Mass once again. “He’s the leader of a billion-person church,” he said. “I’m a new Catholic, so I’m enthusiastic about seeing him.”

Sewell Chan and Colin Moynihan contributed reporting.

    At St. Patrick’s, Pope Makes a Call for Unity, NYT, 20.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/us/nationalspecial2/20pope.html?hp






Text: Pope Benedict’s Homily


April 20, 2008
The New York Times


Following is the text of Pope Benedict XVI’s homily at a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for priests, deacons and members of religious orders on April 19, as supplied by the Vatican and checked against delivery.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

With great affection in the Lord, I greet all of you, who represent the Bishops, priests and deacons, the men and women in consecrated life, and the seminarians of the United States. I thank Cardinal Egan for his warm welcome and the good wishes which he has expressed in your name as I begin the fourth year of my papal ministry. I am happy to celebrate this Mass with you, who have been chosen by the Lord, who have answered his call, and who devote your lives to the pursuit of holiness, the spread of the Gospel and the building up of the Church in faith, hope and love.

Gathered as we are in this historic cathedral, how can we not think of the countless men and women who have gone before us, who labored for the growth of the Church in the United States, and left us a lasting legacy of faith and good works? In today’s first reading we saw how, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles went forth from the Upper Room to proclaim God’s mighty works to people of every nation and tongue. In this country, the Church’s mission has always involved drawing people “from every nation under heaven” (cf. Acts 2:5) into spiritual unity, and enriching the Body of Christ by the variety of their gifts. As we give thanks for His past blessings, and look to the challenges of the future, let us implore from God the grace of a new Pentecost for the Church in America. May tongues of fire, combining burning love of God and neighbor with zeal for the spread of Christ’s Kingdom, descend on all present!

In this morning’s second reading, Saint Paul reminds us that spiritual unity — the unity which reconciles and enriches diversity — has its origin and supreme model in the life of the triune God. As a communion of pure love and infinite freedom, the Blessed Trinity constantly brings forth new life in the work of creation and redemption. The Church, as “a people made one by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Spirit” (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4), is called to proclaim the gift of life, to serve life, and to promote a culture of life. Here in this cathedral, our thoughts turn naturally to the heroic witness to the Gospel of life borne by the late Cardinals Cooke and O’Connor. The proclamation of life, life in abundance, must be the heart of the new evangelization. For true life — our salvation — can only be found in the reconciliation, freedom and love which are God’s gracious gift.

This is the message of hope we are called to proclaim and embody in a world where self-centeredness, greed, violence, and cynicism often seem to choke the fragile growth of grace in people’s hearts. Saint Irenaeus, with great insight, understood that the command which Moses enjoined upon the people of Israel: “Choose life!” (Dt 30:19) was the ultimate reason for our obedience to all God’s commandments (cf. Adv. Haer. IV, 16, 2-5). Perhaps we have lost sight of this: in a society where the Church seems legalistic and “institutional” to many people, our most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God’s love.

I am particularly happy that we have gathered in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Perhaps more than any other church in the United States, this place is known and loved as “a house of prayer for all peoples” (cf. Is 56:7; Mk 11:17). Each day thousands of men, women and children enter its doors and find peace within its walls. Archbishop John Hughes, who — as Cardinal Egan has reminded us — was responsible for building this venerable edifice, wished it to rise in pure Gothic style. He wanted this cathedral to remind the young Church in America of the great spiritual tradition to which it was heir, and to inspire it to bring the best of that heritage to the building of Christ’s body in this land. I would like to draw your attention to a few aspects of this beautiful structure which I think can serve as a starting point for a reflection on our particular vocations within the unity of the Mystical Body.

The first has to do with the stained glass windows, which flood the interior with mystic light. From the outside, those windows are dark, heavy, even dreary. But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendor. Many writers — here in America we can think of Nathaniel Hawthorne — have used the image of stained glass to illustrate the mystery of the Church herself. It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit. It follows that we, who live the life of grace within the Church’s communion, are called to draw all people into this mystery of light.

This is no easy task in a world which can tend to look at the Church, like those stained glass windows, “from the outside”: a world which deeply senses a need for spirituality, yet finds it difficult to “enter into” the mystery of the Church. Even for those of us within, the light of faith can be dimmed by routine, and the splendor of the Church obscured by the sins and weaknesses of her members. It can be dimmed too, by the obstacles encountered in a society which sometimes seems to have forgotten God and to resent even the most elementary demands of Christian morality. You, who have devoted your lives to bearing witness to the love of Christ and the building up of his Body, know from your daily contact with the world around us how tempting it is at times to give way to frustration, disappointment and even pessimism about the future. In a word, it is not always easy to see the light of the Spirit all about us, the splendor of the Risen Lord illuminating our lives and instilling renewed hope in his victory over the world (cf. Jn 16:33).

Yet the word of God reminds us that, in faith, we see the heavens opened, and the grace of the Holy Spirit lighting up the Church and bringing sure hope to our world. “O Lord, my God,” the Psalmist sings, “when you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30). These words evoke the first creation, when the Spirit of God hovered over the deep (cf. Gen 1:2). And they look forward to the new creation, at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and established the Church as the first fruits of a redeemed humanity (cf. Jn 20:22-23). These words summon us to ever deeper faith in God’s infinite power to transform every human situation, to create life from death, and to light up even the darkest night. And they make us think of another magnificent phrase of Saint Irenaeus: “where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace” (Adv. Haer. III, 24, 1).

This leads me to a further reflection about the architecture of this church. Like all Gothic cathedrals, it is a highly complex structure, whose exact and harmonious proportions symbolize the unity of God’s creation. Medieval artists often portrayed Christ, the creative Word of God, as a heavenly “geometer”, compass in hand, who orders the cosmos with infinite wisdom and purpose. Does this not bring to mind our need to see all things with the eyes of faith, and thus to grasp them in their truest perspective, in the unity of God’s eternal plan? This requires, as we know, constant conversion, and a commitment to acquiring “a fresh, spiritual way of thinking” (cf. Eph 4:23). It also calls for the cultivation of those virtues which enable each of us to grow in holiness and to bear spiritual fruit within our particular state of life. Is not this ongoing “intellectual” conversion as necessary as “moral” conversion for our own growth in faith, our discernment of signs of the times, and our personal contribution to the Church’s life and mission?

For all of us, I think, one of the great disappointments which followed the Second Vatican Council, with its call for a greater engagement in the Church’s mission to the world, has been the experience of division between different groups, different generations, different members of the same religious family. We can only move forward if we turn our gaze together to Christ! In the light of faith, we will then discover the wisdom and strength needed to open ourselves to points of view which may not necessarily conform to our own ideas or assumptions. Thus we can value the perspectives of others, be they younger or older than ourselves, and ultimately hear “what the Spirit is saying” to us and to the Church (cf. Rev 2:7). In this way, we will move together towards that true spiritual renewal desired by the Council, a renewal which can only strengthen the Church in that holiness and unity indispensable for the effective proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world.

Was not this unity of vision and purpose — rooted in faith and a spirit of constant conversion and self-sacrifice — the secret of the impressive growth of the Church in this country? We need but think of the remarkable accomplishment of that exemplary American priest, the Venerable Michael McGivney, whose vision and zeal led to the establishment of the Knights of Columbus, or of the legacy of the generations of religious and priests who quietly devoted their lives to serving the People of God in countless schools, hospitals and parishes.

Here, within the context of our need for the perspective given by faith, and for unity and cooperation in the work of building up the Church, I will say a word about the sexual abuse that has caused so much suffering. I have already had occasion to speak of this, and of the resulting damage to the community of the faithful. Here I simply wish to assure you, dear priests and religious, of my spiritual closeness as you strive to respond with Christian hope to the continuing challenges that this situation presents. I join you in praying that this will be a time of purification for each and every particular Church and religious community, and a time for healing. And I also encourage you to cooperate with your bishops who continue to work effectively to resolve this issue. May our Lord Jesus Christ grant the Church in America a renewed sense of unity and purpose, as all — Bishops, clergy, religious and laity — move forward in hope, in love for truth and for one another.

Dear friends, these considerations lead me to a final observation about this great cathedral in which we find ourselves. The unity of a Gothic cathedral, we know, is not the static unity of a classical temple, but a unity born of the dynamic tension of diverse forces which impel the architecture upward, pointing it to heaven. Here too, we can see a symbol of the Church’s unity, which is the unity — as Saint Paul has told us — of a living body composed of many different members, each with its own role and purpose. Here too we see our need to acknowledge and reverence the gifts of each and every member of the body as “manifestations of the Spirit given for the good of all” (1 Cor 12:7). Certainly within the Church’s divinely-willed structure there is a distinction to be made between hierarchical and charismatic gifts (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4). Yet the very variety and richness of the graces bestowed by the Spirit invite us constantly to discern how these gifts are to be rightly ordered in the service of the Church’s mission. You, dear priests, by sacramental ordination have been configured to Christ, the Head of the Body. You, dear deacons, have been ordained for the service of that Body. You, dear men and women religious, both contemplative and apostolic, have devoted your lives to following the divine Master in generous love and complete devotion to his Gospel. All of you, who fill this cathedral today, as wells as your retired, elderly and infirm brothers and sisters, who unite their prayers and sacrifices to your labors, all are called to be forces of unity within Christ’s Body. By your personal witness, and your fidelity to the ministry or apostolate entrusted to you, you prepare a path for the Spirit. For the Spirit never ceases to pour out his abundant gifts, to awaken new vocations and missions, and to guide the Church, as our Lord promised in this morning’s Gospel, into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16:13).

So let us lift our gaze upward! And with great humility and confidence, let us ask the Spirit to enable us each day to grow in the holiness that will make us living stones in the temple which he is even now raising up in the midst of our world. If we are to be true forces of unity, let us be the first to seek inner reconciliation through penance. Let us forgive the wrongs we have suffered and put aside all anger and contention. Let us be the first to demonstrate the humility and purity of heart which are required to approach the splendor of God’s truth. In fidelity to the deposit of faith entrusted to the Apostles (cf. 1 Tim 6:20), let us be joyful witnesses of the transforming power of the Gospel!

Dear brothers and sisters, in the finest traditions of the Church in this country, may you also be the first friend of the poor, the homeless, the stranger, the sick and all who suffer. Act as beacons of hope, casting the light of Christ upon the world, and encouraging young people to discover the beauty of a life given completely to the Lord and his Church. I make this plea in a particular way to the many seminarians and young religious present. All of you have a special place in my heart. Never forget that you are called to carry on, with all enthusiasm and joy that the Spirit has given you, a work that others have begun, a legacy that one day you too will have to pass to a new generation. Work generously and joyfully, for he whom you serve is the Lord!

The spires of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral are dwarfed by the skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline, yet in the heart of this busy metropolis, they are a vivid reminder of the constant yearning of the human spirit to rise to God. As we celebrate this Eucharist, let us thank the Lord for allowing us to know him in the communion of the Church, to cooperate in building up his Mystical Body, and in bringing his saving word as good news to the men and women of our time. And when we leave this great church, let us go forth as heralds of hope in the midst of this city, and all those places where God’s grace has placed us. In this way, the Church in America will know a new springtime in the Spirit, and point the way to that other, greater city, the city of Jerusalem, whose light is the Lamb (Rev 21:23). For there God is even now preparing for all people a banquet of unending joy and life. Amen.

    Text: Pope Benedict’s Homily, NYT, 20.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/nyregion/20homily.html






Pope Speaks Up for Immigrants, Touching a Nerve


April 20, 2008
The New York Times


Even as he was flying to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of protecting immigrant families, not dividing them.

He raised the issue again in a meeting on Wednesday with President Bush, and later that day spoke in Spanish to the church’s “many immigrant children.” And when he ends his visit to New York on Sunday, he will be sent off by a throng of the faithful, showing off the ethnic diversity of American Catholicism.

The choreography underscores the importance to the church here of its growing diversity — especially its increasing Hispanic membership.

Of the nation’s 65 million Roman Catholics, 18 million are Latino, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and they account for more than two-thirds of the new Catholics in the country since 1960.

Millions of other recent arrivals come from Asia and Africa. More and more parishes depend on priests brought from abroad to serve the flock.

Benedict has calibrated his immigration stance with care, stating the need to protect family unity and immigrants’ human rights, but pointedly avoiding any specifics of the American immigration debate, like the issue of whether to grant legal status to illegal immigrants.

Yet last week his visit quickly stirred the crosscurrents of the debate.

His comments drew a rebuke from Representative Tom Tancredo, a Republican from Colorado who has been a leading opponent of illegal immigration.

Accusing the pope of “faith-based marketing,” Mr. Tancredo said Benedict’s comments welcoming immigrants “may have less to do with spreading the Gospel than they do about recruiting new members of the Church.” Mr. Tancredo, a former Catholic who now attends an evangelical Christian church, said it was not in the pope’s “job description to engage in American politics.”

On the other side of the issue, some members of the Catholic hierarchy said they were shocked that on the same day that Benedict and President Bush affirmed in a joint statement the need for a policy that treats immigrants humanely and protects their families, federal agents were conducting raids at five chicken plants. They arrested more than 300 immigrants accused of being illegal workers.

The timing was coincidental, immigration officials said, and it was not clear whether the pope had known about the arrests when he met with Mr. Bush.

But the raids surprised some American Catholic leaders, who are often on the forefront of advocacy for immigrant rights.

“I was stunned,” said Cardinal Roger Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest Roman Catholic diocese and one of the most Hispanic. “I just feel these raids are totally negative. I thought it was very inappropriate to do it in such a blatant way when the pope was coming, when he has been so outspoken in defending the rights of immigrants.”

The American bishops have been consistently outspoken in favor of legislation to give legal status to illegal immigrants and expand legal avenues for immigrants to bring their family members from abroad.

They and other Catholic activists were among the most visible supporters of a broad bill, supported by Mr. Bush but not enacted by Congress last year, which included a path to legal status for 12 million illegal immigrants.

They took Benedict’s statements last week as affirmation of their work. For while the immigration theme has been overshadowed during Benedict’s trip by his denunciations of the sexual abuse scandal in the church, it was the second issue after the abuse cases that he addressed on the plane from Rome, when he responded to reporters’ questions that were submitted in advance and picked by the Vatican.

The separation of families “is truly dangerous for the social, moral and human fabric” of Latin and Central American families, the pope told reporters aboard his plane. “The fundamental solution is that there should no longer be a need to emigrate, that there are enough jobs in the homeland, a sufficient social fabric,” he said.

Short of that, families should be protected, not destroyed, he said. “As much as it can be done it should be done,” the pontiff said.

The pope did not just send a message to the president and the public, he spoke to the bishops. In his private meeting with them on Wednesday evening, he emphasized that recent newcomers to the United States are “people of faith, and we are here to welcome them,” Cardinal Mahony said.

The pope also dwelled on the negative impact of family separation. Several bishops took that as a direct reference to the impact of previous immigration raids and deportations, in which illegal immigrant parents were separated from spouses and children who were United States citizens or legal immigrants.

“Obviously the Holy Father is not encouraging people to do anything illegal,” Cardinal Mahony said. But the raids “do not serve as a deterrent,” he said, adding, “They simply create fear and uncertainty in our communities.”

Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City said the pope “is not going to get into the specific points that our country has to hash out.” Bishop Wester, who is chairman of the Committee on Migration of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the pontiff had told the bishops “very clearly that we need to attend to the basic human rights immigrants have.”

Bishop Wester also criticized the immigration raids, which took place at plants in five states belonging to Pilgrim’s Pride, a major poultry processing company. Immigration officials said they did not consider the pope’s visit when planning the operations, which they said came after a yearlong investigation.

But Bishop Wester said: “It did strike me as inappropriate. The pope comes as a man of peace, a man of good will, the leader of a major religion. Many of the persons arrested were Catholic.”

As recently as mid-March, he said, his committee met with Julie L. Myers, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that carried out the raids. The bishops asked Ms. Myers not to conduct raids in churches and to ensure legal representation for immigrants, Bishop Wester said.

The pope returned to the theme several times over the course of his visit, which ends Sunday. About 4,000 church members from the Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens, will hold a prayer service in 29 languages at Kennedy Airport. About half will be immigrants, said Msgr. Ronald T. Marino, the Brooklyn Diocese’s vicar for migration. Many will wear the costumes of their homelands. The pope will not attend, but the crowd will bid him farewell.

“Not a word has to be spoken,” the monsignor said. “What you will see says it all.”

In Washington, Benedict encouraged the American bishops and their communities “to continue to welcome immigrants who join your ranks today, to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home.” That, he said, was the American tradition. And in a meeting with Catholic educators, he emphasized the importance of keeping Catholic schools open, especially to serve immigrants and the underprivileged.

Catholic leaders say such words have bolstered their work, yet the pope’s emphasis is no surprise in a country where much of the church’s growth and vitality comes from the influx of immigrant Catholics. Following the polyglot practice of his predecessor, John Paul II, Benedict used Spanish to directly address the Latino portion of his flock during the homily at his Mass at Nationals Park in Washington on Thursday. The Church has grown thanks to their vitality, he said, and God calls on them to keep contributing.

Priests and bishops who lobby elected officials and minister directly to immigrants can be more explicit.

Monsignor Marino, for example, said, “In my judgment, immigrants are heroes.”

He applauded the pope’s words. “The simple pointing to it as one of his priorities, something coming out of his mouth, is real important,” Monsignor Marino said. “For him to say one sentence means he knows the rest.”

Thomas G. Wenski, the bishop of Orlando, Fla., and a former head of the bishops’ Migration Committee who remains a consultant to it, said he hoped the pope’s visit would have a practical effect.

“The pope’s visit will unleash some good will here so that Congress might live up to its responsibility and deal with the issue,” Bishop Wenski said.

In a letter in December, Cardinal Mahony chastised all the presidential candidates for campaigns that he said had “inflamed anti-immigrant sentiment in the country.” Since then the three remaining candidates, Senators John McCain of Arizona, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, have lowered the volume on the immigration issue.

Secular advocates for immigrants also welcomed the pope’s words. “That’s big news,” said Teresa Gutierrez, a coordinator for the May 1st Coalition for Immigrant and Workers Rights. “Any decent comment about the reality of what’s really happening to immigration in the United States coming from such a prestigious person as the pope is extremely helpful.”

    Pope Speaks Up for Immigrants, Touching a Nerve, NYT, 20.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/us/20catholics.html?hp






Vatican Hints at Changes in Church Laws on Abuse


April 19, 2008
The New York Times


After three days in which Pope Benedict XVI has persistently addressed the scandal of child sexual abuse by priests, a top Vatican official said on Friday that the church was considering changes to the canon laws that govern how it handles such cases.

The official, Cardinal William J. Levada, would not specify which canons were under reconsideration. But he suggested that they related to the church’s statute of limitations, saying that his office has frequently had to judge allegations from years before because the victims “don’t feel personally able to come forward” until they are more mature.

The comments by the cardinal, who heads the Vatican office that rules on cases of sexual abuse that are forwarded to Rome by bishops throughout the world, were apparently spontaneous, and came in response to questions from three reporters as he left a luncheon in New York given by Time magazine.

The Vatican has been reluctant to focus attention on the scandal until this trip. But in what appears to be a carefully scripted effort, Benedict brought the scandal up on each of the first three days of his trip, his first visit to the United States as pope, underscoring the message that he understands the lingering bitterness over the church’s handling of the issue.

“It has overshadowed the trip,” said the Rev. Joseph M. McShane, the president of Fordham University, who attended the luncheon with Cardinal Levada. “None of us expected it, but everyone is grateful that he did. What he realized is that this is a pastoral visit and he must be pastor to those who are hurt most — and that is the victims.”

American bishops had lobbied the Vatican for months to meet with victims, and got word in February that the pope would do so. The victims were chosen by the Boston Archdiocese and were contacted two weeks ago. One met with two church officials at a Cheesecake Factory restaurant outside Boston, where he learned of the invitation. Many victims say they have been heartened by the pope’s attention to the issue, but are waiting warily for him to match his words with actions. They want the church to do more to prevent priests from abusing children, and in particular, to hold bishops accountable for keeping abusive priests in the ministry.

Besides the United States, countries like Ireland, England, Australia, Austria and Mexico have had scandals over sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.

In some cases, Cardinal Levada said, “we’ve been able to make exceptions” to the statute of limitations that “allow us to handle cases in which strong measures need to be taken.”

The statute of limitations under the church’s canon law is 10 years after the victim’s 18th birthday, said Nicholas P. Cafardi, dean emeritus of Duquesne Law School and a civil and canon lawyer.

Six years after the scandal erupted, first in Boston and then nationwide, Cardinal Levada said his office is still dealing with a “backlog” of abuse cases from the United States, though they are slowly being reduced. In addition, there are fresh allegations every year, but far fewer than in the first three years of the scandal.

At the luncheon, where he sat on a stage and fielded a few questions, he said he did not foresee punishing bishops who failed to remove priests suspected of molesting young people.

“I personally do not accept that there is a broad base of bishops who are guilty of aiding and abetting pedophiles, and if I thought there were, or knew of them, I would certainly talk to the pope about what could be done about it,” the cardinal said.

“I am aware of bishops who have admitted to making mistakes, but those seem to be mistakes grounded in taking counsel that didn’t turn out to be good advice,” he said, explaining that he was referring to reports from psychologists and therapists.

The pope’s decision to reach out to victims and to speak out publicly, and repeatedly, about sexual abuse, said Cardinal Levada, came at the urging of several key church officials in the United States: Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, archbishop of Boston; Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Archbishop Pietro Sambi, an Italian who is the papal nuncio, or chief Vatican diplomat, to the United States.

Benedict has used emotional language to convey his anguish over the abuse, starting before he even landed in the United States. On the plane from Rome, he answered only four written questions from reporters submitted in advance, and one was about sexual abuse by priests. He said he was “deeply ashamed.”

And in his homily at a festive outdoor Mass at Nationals Park in Washington, Benedict said: “No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving and pastoral attention.”

He reads his speeches from texts that have been prepared in advance in Rome after consultations with church leaders in the country he is visiting, Catholic officials say.

But it is his meeting with victims — a private session unannounced to the media and which no television cameras captured — that has spoken far louder than his words, said David Gibson, a Catholic journalist and author of “The Rule of Benedict,” a look at Benedict’s papacy.

“It wasn’t even visual. Just the very fact of it was as powerful as his words,” he said. “They didn’t want it to be the story line. But it has been the story line. The irony is that this story line — the sexual abuse scandal — has done more than anything else could have to help us see the Pope Benedict that the Vatican wanted us to see.”

No matter how many expressions of remorse come from the pope, however, many victims will not be mollified until the church holds bishops accountable. Many victims and their parents have memories of being rebuffed when they tried to alert a bishop to wrongdoing, or of being stunned to learn that a bishop had quietly reassigned a priest accused of molesting a child to another parish.

Anne Burke, an Illinois Supreme Court justice and a member of a National Review Board appointed by the bishops to help the church recover from the scandal, is among three board members who met in 2004 with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict a year later.

“We named names, told him how cardinals and certain bishops were so uncooperative,” she said. “When we left the meeting, he said, ‘Thank you very much, I appreciate all the information.’ And he took copious notes.”

She says she is moved to see Benedict now responding to the victims, but not surprised that he had not punished bishops.

“This is an Enron crisis in the Catholic Church,” she said. “The only difference is that the shareholders in Enron were able to get rid of their board of directors.”

David Clohessy, an abuse victim and an organizer of the largest nationwide support group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said on Friday, “If the pope would clearly, publicly and severely discipline even a handful of complicit bishops, bishops who knew or suspected abuse and ignored it or concealed it, that’s the easiest and most effective step.”

Mr. Clohessy acknowledged that victims might sound bitter and thankless just when the pope himself is finally taking their side.

He began to cry, as he said: “We’re not interested in punishment for punishment’s sake. We’re interested in consequences because that deters more recklessness, secrecy and deceit.”

Ian Fisher, Abby Goodnough and Katie Zezima contributed reporting.

    Vatican Hints at Changes in Church Laws on Abuse, NYT, 19.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/19/us/nationalspecial2/19abuse.html?hp






For Abuse Victims on ‘Journey of Healing,’ an Emotional Encounter


April 19, 2008
The New York Times


BOSTON — Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley had repeatedly urged Pope Benedict XVI to make Boston part of his visit to the United States, both to meet abuse victims and to foster healing in the Archdiocese of Boston, where the sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church erupted in 2002.

The pope ruled out a visit to Boston. But several months later, in February, one of his emissaries asked the cardinal to find a handful of Catholics from the region who had been abused by priests and who were willing to meet with the pope.

“We proposed some things and they proposed some things,” the Rev. John Connolly, a special assistant to Cardinal O’Malley, said on Friday. “But it was at the Holy Father’s initiative that this happened. This was very much a personal initiative of his.”

Father Connolly and Barbara Thorp, director of the Office of Healing and Assistance Ministry for the archdiocese, then took on choosing which victims the pope should meet. They sifted through hundreds of names, Ms. Thorp said, using a few criteria to make the “very, very difficult” decision.

“There are so many people that have been so hurt and would have loved the opportunity,” she said. “But the Holy Father wanted the smaller number so he could have a more personal encounter with each of the people there.”

All five of those chosen — Faith Johnston of Haverhill, Bernie McDaid of Peabody, Olan Horne of Lowell and two others who did not want their names publicly disclosed — had met with Cardinal O’Malley in the past and had “ongoing relationships” with archdiocesan officials, Father Connolly said.

“These are folks who, having had the courage to come forward and report what happened to them, also then stayed engaged with the office,” he said. “It was clearly people we judged to be on a journey of healing.”

At the same time, Father Connolly said, they sought people “who would be able to do something like this in the glare of what could be a very public spotlight.”

The archdiocese did not try to restrict what the five could discuss with the pope, he said, pointing out that two of them, Mr. McDaid and Mr. Horne, had been openly critical of the church in the past.

“Those guys are always going to say what’s on their mind,” Father Connolly said, while adding that in their dealings with the church, Mr. McDaid and Mr. Horne had always been “respectful” and “socially adept.”

In an interview, Mr. McDaid, 52, said that he received a call about two weeks ago from Ms. Thorp and Father Connolly, and that they met with him at a Cheesecake Factory restaurant at a mall in Burlington, Mass., and told him of the invitation.

“They said the Vatican wanted me to be one of the people invited,” Mr. McDaid said. “I’ve been waiting seven years. I was ecstatic. I said, ‘Let’s go.’ It was very surreal.”

Ms. Johnston, 23, said in an interview that she was “flattered” and “scared” when she got the invitation. A priest in her hometown parish was convicted in 2003 of raping her when she was 15 and working on Saturdays in the church rectory. She is to be married in June and hopes to become an advocate for victims of sexual abuse.

“It came completely out of the blue,” Ms. Johnston said of the invitation. “I jumped at it.”

Mr. McDaid and Mr. Horne, 48, knew each other before the meeting but met Ms. Johnston and the other two victims last weekend, over pizza at Cardinal O’Malley’s home. They flew to Washington on Wednesday with a few of their relatives, Father Connolly and Ms. Thorp.

There were no “pope-meeting lessons,” Ms. Thorp said. Ms. Johnson asked how to address the pope, but otherwise the meeting was “completely unrehearsed.”

After Cardinal O’Malley introduced the five victims, the pope met with each for several minutes, conversing softly and clasping their hands.

Ms. Johnston, who had not planned what to say, burst into tears when her turn came.

“He congratulated me about my upcoming wedding, told me he’d pray for me and my future husband and talked about the hope of the family,” she said. “The rest is kind of a blur.”

Mr. McDaid, who gave the pope a loaf of his mother’s homemade Irish bread, told him how as an altar boy of 12, “I was praying, doing a most sacred thing, when I got sexually assaulted.”

At that point, Mr. McDaid recalled, the pope “looked in my eyes and squeezed my hand.”

The group also gave the pope a hand-bound, color-washed book with the names of nearly 1,500 people from Boston who have claimed abuse at the hands of priests. The archdiocese hired a calligrapher to print the names in the book, which was assembled just for the pope, Father Connolly said.

“He told us that he prays for survivors every day,” Father Connolly said, “and now he has a tangible element.”

    For Abuse Victims on ‘Journey of Healing,’ an Emotional Encounter, NYT, 19.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/19/us/nationalspecial2/19victims.html






In Speech, Pope Urges Promotion of Human Rights


April 18, 2008
The New York Times


UNITED NATIONS — Pope Benedict XVI, who was a young German prisoner in the war that forged the United Nations, addressed that body Friday as pope, insisting that human rights — more than force or pragmatic politics — must be the basis for ending war and poverty.

“The promotion of human rights remains the most effective strategy for eliminating inequalities between countries and social groups, and for increasing security,” Benedict told the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters.

“Indeed, the victims of hardship and despair, whose human dignity is violated with impunity, become easy prey to the call to violence, and they can then become violators of peace,” the 81-year-old pope said.

In keeping with past pronouncements, he made no explicit reference to a nation or conflict in particular, and he laid no specific blame in the half-hour speech, which was densely packed with philosophy and theology. But he did mention briefly some specific priorities for the Vatican, like protecting the environment, and making sure that poor nations, especially in Africa, also reap the benefits of globalization.

And in a passage that will have particular resonance for the current United Nations leadership, which is trying to establish the right of the outside world to intervene in situations where nations fail to shield their own citizens from atrocities, the pope said that “every state has the primary duty to protect its own population from grave and sustained violations of human rights.”

The concept, known as “responsibility to protect,” is one that Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general, has championed as a way for international institutions to take action in regions like Darfur.

“If states are unable to guarantee such protection,” the pope said, “the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the United Nations charter and in other international instruments.” In an apparent allusion to countries that claim such international actions constitute intervention in their national affairs, he said instead they “should never be interpreted as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty.”

He added, “On the contrary, it is indifference or failure to intervene that do the real damage.”

On his fourth day in America —and his first visit as pope — Benedict traveled north from Washington on “Shepherd One,” the Alitalia papal plane, to New York, where he will visit ground zero and celebrate Mass at Yankee Stadium before departing for Rome on Sunday night. He was greeted by Cardinal Edward C. Egan, head of the New York archdiocese, and a host of state and Catholic officials at a low-key ceremony on the tarmac of Kennedy International Airport.

After traveling by helicopter and motorcade to the United Nations, Benedict delivered a speech that touched on themes important both to his three-year-old papacy and his decades of writing as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

At base, the pope presented the idea that there are universal values that transcend the diversity — cultural, ethnic or ideological — embodied in an institution like the United Nations, founded to help prevent the ruin of another world war. Those values are at the base of human rights, he said, as they are for religion. Thus religion, he said, cannot be shut out of a body like the United Nations, which he said aims at “a social order respectful of the dignity and rights of the person.”

“A vision of life firmly anchored in the religious dimension can help achieve this, since recognition of the transcendent value of every man and woman favors conversion of heart, which then leads to a commitment to resist violence, terrorism, war and to promote justice and peace,” he said.

Benedict was introduced to the thronged General Assembly hall by Mr. Ban, who called the United Nations a sectarian institution but is “home to all men and women of faith around the world.”

Mr. Ban said the pope supported many of the goals of the United Nations, such as climate change, world peace, the eradication of poverty, and maintaining a dialogue among the world’s religions.The speech to the General Assembly is a papal tradition: Pope Paul VI made an appearance in 1965, and Pope John Paul II in 1979 and 1995.

On Friday afternoon, Benedict is scheduled to meet with local Jewish clergy at the Park East Synagogue, a historic Orthodox congregation founded by Austro-Hungarian Jews in 1890. Its leader since 1962, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, is a Holocaust survivor with longtime ties to the Vatican; he has met with two previous popes.

Never before has a pope visited a synagogue in this country; indeed, only two papal visits to synagogues have ever been recorded, both in Europe.

So far, Benedict’s American journey has been notable for a willingness by the pope to address the sexual abuse scandals of the past decade, which have left lasting wounds for many American Catholics.

In Washington on Thursday, the pope held an unannounced meeting with several victims of abuse by priests in the Boston area. The pope himself had requested the meeting, said the official, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, which took place at the papal nuncio’s residence. The pope prayed and spoke personally to the handful of victims who attended, in a meeting that lasted about 25 minutes. Some wept, Father Lombardi said.

The meeting made clear that for all the messages that Benedict wished to send during his brief time in the United States, the one concerning priestly abuse was most central. He raised the issue first with reporters on his trip from Rome on Tuesday, and did so for a third time Thursday morning during a huge open Mass at Nationals Stadium before nearly 50,000 people, his first major encounter with America’s diverse church.

“No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse,” the pope said in his homily. “It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention.”

But some abuse victims in the New York area have largely ignored the pope’s visit and say they are dubious about his public pronouncements about how deeply he has been affected by the crisis, even questioning the motives behind his meeting on Thursday.

Jim Hackett, of Cheshire, Conn., who waited 30 years before going public with his account of abuse by a priest, said he is still waiting for Benedict to publicly articulate specific steps the church will take to help prevent others from suffering the way he did.

Mr. Hackett and other abuse victims planned to stage vigil on Friday outside a SoHo art gallery displaying an exhibit of photographs of victims. As Benedict addressed the United Nations, Robert Costello, who said he was abused by a priest in West Roxbury, Mass., starting at age 10, planned to read aloud the names of victims.

For years, victims of abuse in the United States had beseeched the Vatican for a meeting with the pope, first asking John Paul II, who died in 2005, and finally, six years after the outbreak of the scandal, one was granted. The scandal affected nearly every diocese in America, revealed more than 5,000 abusive priests and more than 13,000 victims and has cost the church more than $2 billion in settlements and legal fees. It also has cost the church trust and respect, both of which the pope clearly hopes to restore.

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, who organized Thursday’s meeting and attended, gave the pope a notebook listing some 1,000 boys and girls who had been abused in the Boston Archdiocese alone going back several decades, a Vatican official said.

“The fact that we finally got the pope to actually stand up and put a statement on record, I really think he set the bar this week,” said Gary Bergeron, who said he had been abused by a priest in Lowell, Mass.

Mr. Bergeron, author of the book “Don’t Call Me a Victim,” traveled to Rome in 2003 and tried to meet with Pope John Paul II, with no success. “We made some progress this week, and that’s what’s important,” he said.

Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney who represented hundreds of people abused by priests, none of whom attended the meeting with the pope, said he hoped that the pontiff would meet with more victims.

“He certainly will need more than a half hour to understand the pain victims are feeling because of being sexually abused by priests,” he said.

While some abuse survivors were encouraged to hear of the encounter, others said they would not feel comforted until the church calls bishops and those in the hierarchy to account.

In Washington on Thursday, Benedict also gave a substantial address to Catholic educators, many of whom have been struggling with money shortages, changing missions and conflicts over whether Catholic schools are Catholic enough. He spoke to about 200 college presidents and the superintendents of Catholic schools in the nation’s 195 dioceses.

In his speech, the Pope did not refer explicitly to recent controversies over what kinds of curriculums, outside speakers, campus clubs, and artistic expression are acceptable at a Catholic institution. But he said that church teachings must shape “all aspects of an institution’s life, both inside and outside the classroom,” in an insistence on adherence to church doctrine that Benedict stresses for Catholics in all parts of their lives, from their personal behavior to what kind of politicians they support.

Benedict had additional healing work to do at his evening encounter with Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Jain religious leaders. On a previous trip, to his German homeland, Benedict set off a paroxysm of anger with comments that appeared to denigrate Islam. He has also offended Jewish leaders by reinstituting a prayer for the conversion of the Jews in the Latin prayers on Good Friday.

On Thursday, he attempted to offer an olive branch to Jewish leaders, and affirmed that all religions should have a common goal of working for peace. But he also issued a challenge, saying that interfaith dialogue that does not deal with existential “truth” is insufficient. And he talked of the need to protect religious freedom, pointing out that religious minorities in some countries are subject to discrimination and prejudice.

Reporting was contributed by Michael M. Grynbaum, Abby Goodnough, Laurie Goodstein, Richard G. Jones and Katie Zezima.

    In Speech, Pope Urges Promotion of Human Rights, NYT, 18.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/18/us/nationalspecial2/18cnd-pope.html?hp






Abuse Victims Warily Consider Pope’s Words


April 18, 2008
The New York Times


Jim Hackett waited 30 years before going public in 2005 with his horrific account of being sexually abused by a priest who eventually admitted that he groped adolescent boys. The priest was placed on leave, yet found a way to continue as a clergyman.

As Mr. Hackett anticipated Pope Benedict XVI’s first visit to the United States this week, he waited for an indication that the church would do more to help abuse victims like him and to punish their abusers. And after the pope’s surprise visit with a group of victims in Washington on Thursday, Mr. Hackett is still waiting for Benedict to publicly articulate specific steps the church will take to help prevent others from suffering the way he did.

“It’s all just window dressing,” said Mr. Hackett, 44, a computer programmer who lives in Cheshire, Conn. “You have to look at his actions. He was pressured into doing something.”

As the pope arrives in New York City on Friday, Mr. Hackett and other abuse victims will stage a vigil outside a SoHo art gallery displaying a new exhibit of photographs of them. While Benedict addresses the United Nations on Friday, Robert Costello, who said he was abused by a priest in West Roxbury, Mass., starting at age 10, plans to read aloud the names of victims.

Mr. Costello, who is 46 and lives in Norwood, Mass., questioned why Thursday’s meeting was with only a handful of victims and why it was not publicized ahead of time.

“I think it’s very nice for those five victims, if they found healing or encouragement,” he said. “But for the rest of the survivors, one of the first questions is, ‘Why wasn’t it me?’ ”

Few have greeted Benedict’s arrival with as much ambivalence as the victims of the priest sexual abuse scandal, which sent tremors through across the United States six years ago, with aftershocks still resonating.

Some victims, like Mr. Hackett, have largely ignored the pope’s visit and say they are dubious about his public pronouncements about how deeply he has been affected by the crisis, even questioning the motives behind his meeting on Thursday. Others have struck a more conciliatory tone, saying that Benedict should be credited for addressing the scandal far more directly than others in the church hierarchy.

“I’m disappointed, but I also have to give Benedict his due,” said Tim Echausse, director of the Long Island chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a national victims group.

Almost all say that more important than the pope’s words are his actions, criticizing what they say is the lack of a concrete plan to purge pedophiles from the church and discipline bishops and other leaders who have protected them.

“It’s a small but overdue positive step if it leads to action,” David Clohessy, a leader of the survivors network, said of the private meeting with five victims from the Boston area on Thursday. “Talk can produce change or complacency.

“Despite the soothing words and promises of reform,” Mr. Clohessy added, “the cold, hard fact is that not a single kid is safer today because of what’s been said this week.”

Mr. Clohessy says new cases of abuse by priests still are being reported regularly, despite the no-tolerance decree issued by the United States Conference of Bishops in Dallas in 2002. “They don’t have to live up to their principles because no one is able to sanction them,” Mr. Clohessy said of the bishops.

No one, that is, except for Benedict, whose public comments about the scandal have focused more on his personal perspective of the crisis than a specific plan to address it. In interviews this week, several victims of abuse said they hoped that he would go further than such pronouncements.

“He’s been so troubled by this? I feel for him deeply,” another victim, Patricia Anne Cahill, 55, said sarcastically of the sentiment the pope has repeated several times during his visit this week. “Let him have lunch with some of us. He’ll see what being troubled is like.”

After Thursday’s meeting, Ms. Cahill said: “The question I have is: How were they chosen? Why wasn’t it put out there as a random sampling? Maybe they’re saying what the church wants to hear and what the public wants to hear.”

Ms. Cahill, who said that her uncle repeatedly raped her during her childhood, invoking his priest’s collar as a way to keep her silent, is also among the 30 victims featured in the exhibit of photographs in SoHo, titled “Crosses,” by Carmine Galasso, a photojournalist at The Record of Hackensack, N.J.

The exhibit, and a book by the same name, includes haunting portraits of victims returning to the churches, rectories and other locations where they said they were abused.

“I’m not a holy roller; I don’t really practice my faith,” said Mr. Galasso, who grew up Catholic. “But if you’re born a Catholic, you’re Catholic. And this was something that spoke to me professionally and personally.”

Several of the victims in the photographs, as well as others around the country, awaited the pope’s visit with deep ambivalence — and reacted with deep suspicion to his meeting with victims. Susan Renehan, 59, who said she was sexually abused by a priest for a number of years as a child in New Jersey, questioned whether an honest dialogue took place.

“I’ve been in touch with many survivors over the years,” said Ms. Renehan, who is active in the New England chapter of the survivors network. “I can’t think of one who fits the criteria of being polite enough to meet with the pope.”

She went on: “The pope talks about how he feels ashamed and all of this.

“But we are plagued by lawyers working for the Vatican and for the church to make sure they fight tooth and nail to make sure, unless forced to, they don’t have to be responsible for what happened. It’s sort of a hypocritical conversation they have going. If you criticize it, they say, ‘She’s just angry.’ ”

Rodney Ford, whose son, Gregory, reached a settlement with the Archdiocese of Boston in 2004 relating to his abuse by the Rev. Paul Shanley from 1983 to 1989 at a church in Newton, Mass., said of the meeting: “I see this as him trying to raise money for the Catholic Church. It’s a political statement.”

Asked why he thought his son and others who have been harshly critical of church leaders had not been invited, Mr. Ford said: “They chose people who were going to be more appropriate.”

Mr. Hackett, who was one of 43 abuse victims to share $22 million as part of an agreement to settle abuse claims with the Archdiocese of Hartford, was similarly suspicious of Benedict’s public pronouncements about the sex abuse scandal this week.

“He has a history of pooh-poohing it — now he’s taking a whole different line,” said Mr. Hackett, who has distanced himself from the church. “I wonder about the change of heart. He probably realizes that a lot of people are walking away from the church. Now, he’s just trying to stop the bleeding.”

For victims who have struggled to reconcile with the church, the pope’s visit can be particularly painful. “To me, the pope points out that I don’t have a church,” said Becky Ianni, 50, a sex abuse victim and a mother of four who lives in Virginia. “It reminds me that there is an empty spot. It’s just so glaring because everyone is so excited. I wish I could be excited.”

Katie Zezima contributed reporting.

    Abuse Victims Warily Consider Pope’s Words, NYT, 18.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/18/nyregion/18victims.html






The Pope's Visit

Benedict Meets With the Victims of Sexual Abuse


April 18, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Pope Benedict XVI came face to face Thursday with a scandal that has left lasting wounds on the American church, holding an unannounced meeting with several victims of sexual abuse by priests in the Boston area.

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, who organized the meeting and attended, gave the pope a notebook listing some 1,000 boys and girls who had been abused in the Boston Archdiocese alone going back several decades, a Vatican official said.

The pope had requested the meeting, said the official, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, which took place at the papal nuncio’s residence. The handful of victims are roughly in middle age. The pope prayed and spoke personally with each of them, in a meeting that lasted about 25 minutes. Some wept, Father Lombardi said.

“It was a moving experience,” Cardinal O’Malley told reporters afterward. “It was very positive and very prayerful.”

The meeting made clear that for all the messages that Benedict wished to send during his five-day trip to the United States, his first as pope, the one concerning priestly abuse was central. He raised the issue first with reporters on his trip from Rome on Tuesday, and did so for a third time Thursday morning in a huge open Mass at Nationals Park before nearly 50,000 people, his first major encounter with the country’s diverse church.

“No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse,” the pope said in his homily. “It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention.”

Three of the survivors, speaking on CNN last night, reacted positively to the meeting.

One of them, Bernie McDaid said he had told the pope that “he has a cancer growing in his ministry and needs to do something about it.” But Mr. McDaid said he came away feeling that victims would get action.

Another, Olan Horne said, “My hope is restored today.” He said the pope had spoken frankly and had been with the victims longer than they had expected.

The unannounced meeting far overshadowed the rest of the pope’s schedule, on the third day of his trip to the United States and a day before he leaves for New York to address the United Nations.

But he also gave a substantial address to Catholic educators, many of whom have been struggling with shortages of money, changing missions and conflicts over whether Catholic schools are Catholic enough. He spoke to about 200 college presidents and the superintendents of Catholic schools in the nation’s 195 dioceses.

At a time when many dioceses are closing down schools for K-12 students, Benedict emphasized the importance of keeping them open, especially to serve immigrants and the underprivileged. He also used the occasion to clarify limits, saying that although academic freedom is valuable, it must not be used to “justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the church.”

There have been sporadic controversies over what kinds of curriculum, outside speakers, campus clubs and artistic expressions are acceptable at Catholic colleges and universities. The pope did not refer explicitly to those controversies. But he addressed them indirectly when he said that church teachings must shape “all aspects of an institution’s life, both inside and outside the classroom.”

The pope had additional healing work to do at his evening encounter with Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Jain religious leaders. On a previous trip, to his German homeland, Benedict had set off a paroxysm of anger with comments that appeared to denigrate Islam. He has also offended Jewish leaders by reinstituting a prayer for the conversion of the Jews in the Latin prayers on Good Friday.

On Thursday, he offered an olive branch to Jewish leaders, and affirmed that all religions should have a common goal of working for peace. And he spoke of the need to protect religious freedom, pointing out that religious minorities in some countries are subject to prejudice.

For years, victims of abuse in the United States had beseeched the Vatican for a meeting with the pope, first asking John Paul II, who died in 2005, and finally, six years after the outbreak of the scandal, one was granted. The scandal affected nearly every diocese in America, revealed more than 5,000 abusive priests and more than 13,000 victims and has cost the church more than $2 billion in settlements and legal fees. It also has cost the church trust and respect, both of which the pope is clearly aimed at restoring.

But reaction from victims and their advocates varied, with some praising the meeting as an important step and others saying that still it was not enough.

“This is a small, long-overdue step forward on a very long road,” Joelle Casteix, southwestern regional director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said in a statement. “We’re confident the meeting was meaningful for the participants, and we’re grateful that these victims have had the courage to come forward and speak up.

“But fundamentally, it won’t change things,” Ms. Casteix said. “Kids need action. Catholics deserve action. Action produces reform, and reform — real reform — is sorely needed in the church hierarchy.”

But Gary Bergeron, who said he had been abused by a priest in Lowell, Mass., said: “I think we moved the ball down the field this week. The fact that we finally got the pope to actually stand up and put a statement on record, I really think he set the bar this week.”

Mr. Bergeron, author of the book “Don’t Call Me a Victim,” went to Rome in 2003 and tried to meet with John Paul II, with no success.

“We made some progress this week, and that’s what’s important,” he said.

Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who represented hundreds of people abused by priests, none of whom attended the meeting with the pope, said he hoped the pontiff would meet with more victims.

“He certainly will need more than a half hour to understand the pain victims are feeling because of being sexually abused by priests,” Mr. Garabedian said.

While the meeting with victims was historic, and a surprise, it is the address the pope gave to Catholic educators that is most likely to receive scrutiny within the church.

Benedict praised Catholic schools that have “helped generations of immigrants to rise from poverty to take their place in mainstream society.” And he encouraged Catholics to continue to contribute generously to Catholic schools “to ensure that they are accessible to people of all social and economic strata.”

Catholic universities and colleges have come under fire for inviting speakers who favor abortion rights, like Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Eliot Spitzer and Stanley Tucci, the actor, who was dropped from an event at Catholic University. The University of Notre Dame was criticized for allowing a campus staging of “The Vagina Monologues,” an edgy feminist theater piece.

The pope insisted on adherence to church doctrine, saying, “Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity, and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual.”

For faculty members, he said: “I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you. Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and teaching of the church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission.”

The educators in the room were encouraged by the pope’s speech, and applauded his call to keep schools open for poor students.

The Rev. Robert A. Wild, the president of Marquette University, said after the pope’s speech: “What was most striking to me is what it was not. We were not being told that most Catholic schools are not faithful to our message. It was not a finger-waving exercise. It was mostly to encourage us.”

At the new Nationals Park, with a gorgeous view of the Capitol, the outdoor Mass combined the spiritual with the spectacular: Some 46,000 people waved Vatican flags and shed tears when Benedict arrived in his popemobile, in a ball-field setting complete with sausage and $20 souvenir pope hats.

The Mass was the pope’s first real encounter with the American church, and the people in the stands poured out affection as much as shined a mirror of their diverse self back onto Benedict: conservative and liberal, black, white, Latino and Asian. Although Benedict is avowedly part of the church’s more orthodox wing, some at the Mass said he seemed on this American trip eager to address the full church, in all its complexity.

“He is open to things, and that gives a feeling of hope to people who have felt left out,” said Barbara Thomas, 51, an administrative assistant from Columbia, Md.

In a shift of perception that the Vatican clearly hoped would be common on this trip, Ms. Thomas said she had found him “more open, not so stern as what the general impression had been.”

Steve Brown, 55, a doctor from Fairfax, Va., said that seeing the pope was particularly important to him because he is suffering from terminal cancer.

“Seeing him in person gave me a warm feeling of being at peace,” Mr. Brown said. “Just his aura — a kind of spirituality that emanated from him. Before I wasn’t as moved with him as I was with John Paul II. Now, seeing him, I feel moved.”

Neela Banerjee, Abby Goodnough and Katie Zezima contributed reporting.

    Benedict Meets With the Victims of Sexual Abuse, NYT, 18.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/18/us/nationalspecial2/18pope.html?hp






Pope Celebrates Mass With Message of Hope


April 18, 2008
The New York Times


Saying that his visit was meant to bring a message of hope to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his first public Mass in the country on Thursday morning before tens of thousands of people at Washington Nationals stadium.

The 81-year-old pontiff entered the stadium to cheers from a crowd of 46,000. “Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I am happy to be with you,” the pope said.

The papal visit has attracted Catholics from across the country, and the audience at Thursday’s Mass reflected the diversity of the church. The sunlit stadium was filled with pageantry and color, the clergy’s red and white vestments, robed choirs and yellow and white banners.

“I feel like I am in a bit of heaven today,” said Patricia Janiak, of Webster, N.Y.

Benedict delivered a homily in English and Spanish that touched on messages he has delivered throughout his visit — the need to repair the damage of the sexual abuse scandal that has torn the church and to strengthen Catholics’ commitment to the church’s teachings in a secular society.

“Who can deny that the present moment is a crossroads?” the pope asked. Saying that this is a time “of great promise,” he cautioned that “at the same time we see clear signs of a disturbing breakdown in the very foundations” of society.

The mass began the third day of the pope’s first visit to the United States. On Wednesday, he addressed American bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington and said the church needed to face a challenge of secularism that could lead Catholics to accept abortion, divorce and cohabitation outside marriage.

Also on Wednesday, the pope attended a reception at the White House and met with President Bush in the Oval Office. It was only the second time that a leader of the Roman Catholic Church has met with the president at the White House, the first was in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter met with Pope John Paul II.

In the Mass on Thursday, the pope again addressed the sexual abuse scandal that has led to accusations against thousands of priests and deacons.

“No words of mine could reflect the pain and harm of such abuse,” he said.

The pope said that “great efforts have already been made to deal honestly and fairly with the tragic results of this situation,” but he called on members of the church to reach out to the victims of abuse and “do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation.”

The pope also asked church members to help the members of the clergy through a difficult time and “affirm the excellent works they do.”

Some in the audience on Thursday were pleased to hear the pope speak forcefully about the matter. “This needs to be addressed,” said Barbara Thomas, 51, an administrative assistant from Columbia, Md. “Maybe he won’t make everybody happy, but it is a good start.”

Pope Benedict continued to demonstrate his affection for the United States, saying “Americans have always been a people of hope.” But he said that the promise of the country had not always been shared by all of its inhabitants, citing slavery and the treatment of native Americans.

“The church in the United States is now called to the look to the future,” he said.

He said young people in the country have shown a great enthusiasm for faith, but there is a need to guide them in an “increasingly secular and materialistic culture.”

The pope is scheduled to address leaders of Catholic colleges and school district on Thursday afternoon, and to follow that with a meeting with religious leaders of other faiths at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington.

Ian Fisher contributed reporting from Washington

    Pope Celebrates Mass With Message of Hope, NYT, 18.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/18/us/nationalspecial2/17cnd-pope.html?hp






Wary Reception Among Muslims Who Recall Pontiff’s Remark About Muhammad


April 17, 2008
The New York Times


The Muslim boys at Xaverian High School in Brooklyn pass under the stone gaze of the Virgin Mary every morning, and crucifixes adorn the classrooms where they receive a solid Catholic education. The school band is to play for Pope Benedict XVI when he arrives in New York on Friday, so the buzz of his first papal visit to the United States is also inescapable.

And so is the lingering sting of the pope’s words in September 2006, when he quoted a Byzantine emperor as saying that the Prophet Muhammad brought “things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

“He brought it up from nowhere,” said Mustafa Choucair, 16, a junior and one of 76 Muslim students at Xaverian. He likes the school but suspects that the pope may not like Muslims. “It makes me feel like you shouldn’t talk about someone’s religion when you don’t know anything about it.”

At the time, the pope’s remarks prompted violence and expressions of outrage from Muslims abroad. Reactions in the United States were muted, but many Muslims today — even those closely connected to a Roman Catholic institution — remain troubled by the remarks. Their feelings are often complicated, a mixture of respect for the church and wariness about this pope, who will meet with Muslim and other religious leaders in Washington on Thursday.

While many say they continue to feel welcome at Catholic schools and hospitals, the pope’s speech has left an indelible, often negative impression.

“It reflects on him as an intolerant person at that moment,” said Dr. Yusuf Mamdani of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., who is affiliated with St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan. “The pope should be beyond these things. I believe a person should respect me.”

Benedict’s views of Islam are complicated, too, but they center on his idea of — and fears for — Europe. As a cardinal he often wrote that ever more secular Europeans were committing a sort of moral and cultural suicide in ignoring their Christian roots. Islam, a competitor, was gaining strength through Muslims’ conviction, he said, something that Europe had forgotten. The view seemed not wholly negative: He has often praised the depth of Muslims’ devotion.

Benedict has sought to repair the damage from his remarks, which came fleetingly in a speech about faith and reason in Regensburg, Germany. He said the words did not reflect his personal views and expressed regret that critics said fell short of an apology. Benedict has since visited a mosque in Turkey, reaffirmed the need for dialogue, upgraded the Vatican’s department dealing with interreligious dialogue and met with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

But in the eyes of many Muslims, Benedict delivered another slap in the face on Easter eve when he baptized Magdi Allam, 55, a secular Muslim and writer who immigrated to Italy from Egypt in the early 1970s and who has become well known for his criticism of radical Islam and his support for Israel.

“It hurts when we hear things like this,” said the secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, Sayyid M. Syeed. “We have to convince our people that they should overcome these things and continue.” Mr. Syeed, who takes part in regular meetings with Catholics, will be among the religious leaders whom the pope will address on Thursday, at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington.

One Muslim representative, Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said he had declined an invitation because the meeting seemed to him more about pageantry than purpose. “The substance of dialogue was missing from the agenda,” he said.

Official Muslim-Catholic dialogue exists on a lofty plane, but on a practical level, the relationship is most evident in Catholic institutions that have a steady Muslim presence. They include hospitals like St. Vincent’s, which has a room for Friday Prayer; nursing homes; social service agencies like Catholic Charities of the New York Archdiocese, which helps Muslim asylum seekers and immigrants; and colleges and universities like Fordham and Seton Hall, which have Muslim students’ associations.

The Catholic Migration Office of the Diocese of Brooklyn serves a significant stream of Muslims, providing legal advice about immigration, language classes, job training and tenant advocacy. Msgr. Ronald T. Marino, the office’s director, said he had detected no ill will toward Benedict.

“They don’t say, ‘You’re Catholic, and you hate us.’ They trust,” Monsignor Marino said.

Catholic schools are a major intersection site. Muslim families often send their children there when Islamic schools are full or not available. Some immigrant parents were educated by Catholic orders in their home countries; others value what they see as a monotheistic religious focus, even if it is not Islamic.

At St. Teresa of Avila School in South Ozone Park, Queens, Nalini Benn, a Hindu, teaches Catholic principles to Muslim, Hindu and Catholic kindergartners. “I let them know this school is very special because they have a chance to learn about the love of God,” she said.

A Muslim parent and teacher’s aide at the school, Sheneza Hardial, said she had heard about the pope’s comments but paid little attention. As a result of the visit, “People will see who he is, what he is, what he’s saying, rather than judging him from a podium in another country,” said Ms. Hardial, who, like many in the neighborhood, is from Guyana, which has a mixture of Hindus, Christians and Muslims.

Classroom posters in the school outline the meaning of Easter, and several Muslim children crossed themselves after a prayer. Down the hall, Muslim third graders in a religious education class taught by the Rev. Richard Hoare, the pastor at St. Teresa, helped act out the biblical story of Daniel in the lion’s den.

Many Muslims express affection for the church despite their dismay with the pope’s speech. Dr. Mamdani, of St. Vincent’s, sent his three children to Catholic schools and said his warm feelings for the church were established 15 years ago during a parochial school admission interview. The principal changed seats so she would not look down on Dr. Mamdani and his wife, he said.

“I did not forget one Catholic lady, who did not want to be higher than us,” he said.

Dr. Mamdani, an obstetrician, ended up at St. Vincent’s about five years ago, attracted by its values. “They don’t do abortion. I don’t either,” he said. “It’s a mutual respect for life.”

At Xaverian, which is sponsored by the Xaverian Brothers, the student body of 1,400 boys includes 8 Jews in addition to the 76 Muslims, said Salvatore Ferrera, the school’s president. Overlooking the Narrows, it sits on the edge of Bay Ridge, which has a large Muslim population. The students recite Hail Marys after lunch. Masses are held on feast days. Haytham Aboushi, a student, said he knew the Lord’s Prayer so well that at one point he couldn’t keep it from running through his head.

Muslim students interviewed last week said they felt comfortable at Xaverian but were not immune to the prejudices faced by many Muslims, particularly after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. There is teasing from other students, and occasional misunderstandings about Islam by teachers, which the students said they felt free to correct.

During a class discussion about the outrage prompted by the pope’s remark, one teacher suggested that the rioters were looking for an excuse “to kill Christians,” Haytham said. “He knew the minute he said it he messed up,” he said.

Several of the Muslim students are in the band, but none were selected to perform for the pope when he arrives at John F. Kennedy Airport on Friday. Yaser Jaber, 16, who plays percussion, said he would have offered his place to a Catholic student.

“It would be more of an experience for him than me,” he said.

Ian Fisher contributed reporting.

    Wary Reception Among Muslims Who Recall Pontiff’s Remark About Muhammad, NYT, 17.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/17/nyregion/17muslim.html






Text of Pope’s Speech to Bishops


April 17, 2008
The New York Times


Following is the prepared text of Pope Benedict XVI’s speech before the bishops of the United States at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, as provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Dear Brother Bishops,

It gives me great joy to greet you today, at the start of my visit to this country, and I thank Cardinal George for the gracious words he has addressed to me on your behalf. I want to thank all of you, especially the Officers of the Episcopal Conference, for the hard work that has gone into the preparation of this visit. My grateful appreciation goes also to the staff and volunteers of the National Shrine, who have welcomed us here this evening. American Catholics are noted for their loyal devotion to the see of Peter. My pastoral visit here is an opportunity to strengthen further the bonds of communion that unite us. We began by celebrating Evening Prayer in this Basilica dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a shrine of special significance to American Catholics, right in the heart of your capital city. Gathered in prayer with Mary, Mother of Jesus, we lovingly commend to our heavenly Father the people of God in every part of the United States.

For the Catholic communities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Louisville, this is a year of particular celebration, as it marks the bicentenary of the establishment of these local Churches as Dioceses. I join you in giving thanks for the many graces granted to the Church there during these two centuries. As this year also marks the bicentenary of the elevation of the founding see of Baltimore to an Archdiocese, it gives me an opportunity to recall with admiration and gratitude the life and ministry of John Carroll, the first Bishop of Baltimore — a worthy leader of the Catholic community in your newly independent nation. His tireless efforts to spread the Gospel in the vast territory under his care laid the foundations for the ecclesial life of your country and enabled the Church in America to grow to maturity. Today the Catholic community you serve is one of the largest in the world, and one of the most influential. How important it is, then, to let your light so shine before your fellow citizens and before the world, “that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).

Many of the people to whom John Carroll and his fellow Bishops were ministering two centuries ago had traveled from distant lands. The diversity of their origins is reflected in the rich variety of ecclesial life in present-day America. Brother Bishops, I want to encourage you and your communities to continue to welcome the immigrants who join your ranks today, to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home. This, indeed, is what your fellow countrymen have done for generations. From the beginning, they have opened their doors to the tired, the poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (cf. Sonnet inscribed on the Statue of Liberty). These are the people whom America has made her own.

Of those who came to build a new life here, many were able to make good use of the resources and opportunities that they found, and to attain a high level of prosperity. Indeed, the people of this country are known for their great vitality and creativity. They are also known for their generosity. After the attack on the Twin Towers in September 2001, and again after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Americans displayed their readiness to come to the aid of their brothers and sisters in need. On the international level, the contribution made by the people of America to relief and rescue operations after the tsunami of December 2004 is a further illustration of this compassion. Let me express my particular appreciation for the many forms of humanitarian assistance provided by American Catholics through Catholic Charities and other agencies. Their generosity has borne fruit in the care shown to the poor and needy, and in the energy that has gone into building the nationwide network of Catholic parishes, hospitals, schools and universities. All of this gives great cause for thanksgiving.

America is also a land of great faith. Your people are remarkable for their religious fervor and they take pride in belonging to a worshipping community. They have confidence in God, and they do not hesitate to bring moral arguments rooted in biblical faith into their public discourse. Respect for freedom of religion is deeply ingrained in the American consciousness — a fact which has contributed to this country’s attraction for generations of immigrants, seeking a home where they can worship freely in accordance with their beliefs.

In this connection, I happily acknowledge the presence among you of Bishops from all the venerable Eastern Churches in communion with the Successor of Peter, whom I greet with special joy. Dear Brothers, I ask you to assure your communities of my deep affection and my continued prayers, both for them and for the many brothers and sisters who remain in their land of origin. Your presence here is a reminder of the courageous witness to Christ of so many members of your communities, often amid suffering, in their respective homelands. It is also a great enrichment of the ecclesial life of America, giving vivid expression to the Church’s catholicity and the variety of her liturgical and spiritual traditions.

It is in this fertile soil, nourished from so many different sources, that all of you, Brother Bishops, are called to sow the seeds of the Gospel today. This leads me to ask how, in the twenty-first century, a bishop can best fulfill the call to “make all things new in Christ, our hope”? How can he lead his people to “an encounter with the living God”, the source of that life-transforming hope of which the Gospel speaks (cf. Spe Salvi, 4)? Perhaps he needs to begin by clearing away some of the barriers to such an encounter. While it is true that this country is marked by a genuinely religious spirit, the subtle influence of secularism can nevertheless color the way people allow their faith to influence their behavior. Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs? Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death? Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.

For an affluent society, a further obstacle to an encounter with the living God lies in the subtle influence of materialism, which can all too easily focus the attention on the hundredfold, which God promises now in this time, at the expense of the eternal life which he promises in the age to come (cf. Mk 10:30). People today need to be reminded of the ultimate purpose of their lives. They need to recognize that implanted within them is a deep thirst for God. They need to be given opportunities to drink from the wells of his infinite love. It is easy to be entranced by the almost unlimited possibilities that science and technology place before us; it is easy to make the mistake of thinking we can obtain by our own efforts the fulfillment of our deepest needs. This is an illusion. Without God, who alone bestows upon us what we by ourselves cannot attain (cf. Spe Salvi, 31), our lives are ultimately empty. People need to be constantly reminded to cultivate a relationship with him who came that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). The goal of all our pastoral and catechetical work, the object of our preaching, and the focus of our sacramental ministry should be to help people establish and nurture that living relationship with “Christ Jesus, our hope” (1 Tim 1:1).

In a society which values personal freedom and autonomy, it is easy to lose sight of our dependence on others as well as the responsibilities that we bear towards them. This emphasis on individualism has even affected the Church (cf. Spe Salvi, 13-15), giving rise to a form of piety which sometimes emphasizes our private relationship with God at the expense of our calling to be members of a redeemed community. Yet from the beginning, God saw that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). We were created as social beings who find fulfillment only in love - for God and for our neighbor. If we are truly to gaze upon him who is the source of our joy, we need to do so as members of the people of God (cf. Spe Salvi, 14). If this seems counter-cultural, that is simply further evidence of the urgent need for a renewed evangelization of culture.

Here in America, you are blessed with a Catholic laity of considerable cultural diversity, who place their wide-ranging gifts at the service of the Church and of society at large. They look to you to offer them encouragement, leadership and direction. In an age that is saturated with information, the importance of providing sound formation in the faith cannot be overstated. American Catholics have traditionally placed a high value on religious education, both in schools and in the context of adult formation programs. These need to be maintained and expanded. The many generous men and women who devote themselves to charitable activity need to be helped to renew their dedication through a “formation of the heart”: an “encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others” (Deus Caritas Est, 31). At a time when advances in medical science bring new hope to many, they also give rise to previously unimagined ethical challenges. This makes it more important than ever to offer thorough formation in the Church’s moral teaching to Catholics engaged in health care. Wise guidance is needed in all these apostolates, so that they may bear abundant fruit; if they are truly to promote the integral good of the human person, they too need to be made new in Christ our hope.

As preachers of the Gospel and leaders of the Catholic community, you are also called to participate in the exchange of ideas in the public square, helping to shape cultural attitudes. In a context where free speech is valued, and where vigorous and honest debate is encouraged, yours is a respected voice that has much to offer to the discussion of the pressing social and moral questions of the day. By ensuring that the Gospel is clearly heard, you not only form the people of your own community, but in view of the global reach of mass communication, you help to spread the message of Christian hope throughout the world.

Clearly, the Church’s influence on public debate takes place on many different levels. In the United States, as elsewhere, there is much current and proposed legislation that gives cause for concern from the point of view of morality, and the Catholic community, under your guidance, needs to offer a clear and united witness on such matters. Even more important, though, is the gradual opening of the minds and hearts of the wider community to moral truth. Here much remains to be done. Crucial in this regard is the role of the lay faithful to act as a “leaven” in society. Yet it cannot be assumed that all Catholic citizens think in harmony with the Church’s teaching on today’s key ethical questions. Once again, it falls to you to ensure that the moral formation provided at every level of ecclesial life reflects the authentic teaching of the Gospel of life.

In this regard, a matter of deep concern to us all is the state of the family within society. Indeed, Cardinal George mentioned earlier that you have included the strengthening of marriage and family life among the priorities for your attention over the next few years. In this year’s World Day of Peace Message I spoke of the essential contribution that healthy family life makes to peace within and between nations. In the family home we experience “some of the fundamental elements of peace: justice and love between brothers and sisters, the role of authority expressed by parents, loving concern for the members who are weaker because of youth, sickness or old age, mutual help in the necessities of life, readiness to accept others and, if necessary, to forgive them” (no. 3). The family is also the primary place for evangelization, for passing on the faith, for helping young people to appreciate the importance of religious practice and Sunday observance. How can we not be dismayed as we observe the sharp decline of the family as a basic element of Church and society? Divorce and infidelity have increased, and many young men and women are choosing to postpone marriage or to forego it altogether. To some young Catholics, the sacramental bond of marriage seems scarcely distinguishable from a civil bond, or even a purely informal and open-ended arrangement to live with another person. Hence we have an alarming decrease in the number of Catholic marriages in the United States together with an increase in cohabitation, in which the Christ-like mutual self-giving of spouses, sealed by a public promise to live out the demands of an indissoluble lifelong commitment, is simply absent. In such circumstances, children are denied the secure environment that they need in order truly to flourish as human beings, and society is denied the stable building blocks which it requires if the cohesion and moral focus of the community are to be maintained.

As my predecessor, Pope John Paul II taught, “The person principally responsible in the Diocese for the pastoral care of the family is the Bishop ... he must devote to it personal interest, care, time, personnel and resources, but above all personal support for the families and for all those who ... assist him in the pastoral care of the family” (Familiaris Consortio, 73). It is your task to proclaim boldly the arguments from faith and reason in favor of the institution of marriage, understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, open to the transmission of life. This message should resonate with people today, because it is essentially an unconditional and unreserved “yes” to life, a “yes” to love, and a “yes” to the aspirations at the heart of our common humanity, as we strive to fulfill our deep yearning for intimacy with others and with the Lord.

Among the countersigns to the Gospel of life found in America and elsewhere is one that causes deep shame: the sexual abuse of minors. Many of you have spoken to me of the enormous pain that your communities have suffered when clerics have betrayed their priestly obligations and duties by such gravely immoral behavior. As you strive to eliminate this evil wherever it occurs, you may be assured of the prayerful support of God’s people throughout the world. Rightly, you attach priority to showing compassion and care to the victims. It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged.

Responding to this situation has not been easy and, as the President of your Episcopal Conference has indicated, it was “sometimes very badly handled”. Now that the scale and gravity of the problem is more clearly understood, you have been able to adopt more focused remedial and disciplinary measures and to promote a safe environment that gives greater protection to young people. While it must be remembered that the overwhelming majority of clergy and religious in America do outstanding work in bringing the liberating message of the Gospel to the people entrusted to their care, it is vitally important that the vulnerable always be shielded from those who would cause harm. In this regard, your efforts to heal and protect are bearing great fruit not only for those directly under your pastoral care, but for all of society.

If they are to achieve their full purpose, however, the policies and programs you have adopted need to be placed in a wider context. Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person. This brings us back to our consideration of the centrality of the family and the need to promote the Gospel of life. What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today? We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike. All have a part to play in this task — not only parents, religious leaders, teachers and catechists, but the media and entertainment industries as well. Indeed, every member of society can contribute to this moral renewal and benefit from it. Truly caring about young people and the future of our civilization means recognizing our responsibility to promote and live by the authentic moral values which alone enable the human person to flourish. It falls to you, as pastors modelled upon Christ, the Good Shepherd, to proclaim this message loud and clear, and thus to address the sin of abuse within the wider context of sexual mores. Moreover, by acknowledging and confronting the problem when it occurs in an ecclesial setting, you can give a lead to others, since this scourge is found not only within your Dioceses, but in every sector of society. It calls for a determined, collective response.

Priests, too, need your guidance and closeness during this difficult time. They have experienced shame over what has occurred, and there are those who feel they have lost some of the trust and esteem they once enjoyed. Not a few are experiencing a closeness to Christ in his Passion as they struggle to come to terms with the consequences of the crisis. The Bishop, as father, brother and friend of his priests, can help them to draw spiritual fruit from this union with Christ by making them aware of the Lord’s consoling presence in the midst of their suffering, and by encouraging them to walk with the Lord along the path of hope (cf. Spe Salvi, 39). As Pope John Paul II observed six years ago, “we must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community”, leading to “a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate and a holier Church” (Address to the Cardinals of the United States, 23 April 2002, 4). There are many signs that, during the intervening period, such purification has indeed been taking place. Christ’s abiding presence in the midst of our suffering is gradually transforming our darkness into light: all things are indeed being made new in Christ Jesus our hope.

At this stage a vital part of your task is to strengthen relationships with your clergy, especially in those cases where tension has arisen between priests and their bishops in the wake of the crisis. It is important that you continue to show them your concern, to support them, and to lead by example. In this way you will surely help them to encounter the living God, and point them towards the life-transforming hope of which the Gospel speaks. If you yourselves live in a manner closely configured to Christ, the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep, you will inspire your brother priests to rededicate themselves to the service of their flocks with Christ-like generosity. Indeed a clearer focus upon the imitation of Christ in holiness of life is exactly what is needed in order for us to move forward. We need to rediscover the joy of living a Christ-centred life, cultivating the virtues, and immersing ourselves in prayer. When the faithful know that their pastor is a man who prays and who dedicates his life to serving them, they respond with warmth and affection which nourishes and sustains the life of the whole community.

Time spent in prayer is never wasted, however urgent the duties that press upon us from every side. Adoration of Christ our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament prolongs and intensifies the union with him that is established through the Eucharistic celebration (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, 66). Contemplation of the mysteries of the Rosary releases all their saving power and it conforms, unites and consecrates us to Jesus Christ (cf. Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 11, 15). Fidelity to the Liturgy of the Hours ensures that the whole of our day is sanctified and it continually reminds us of the need to remain focused on doing God’s work, however many pressures and distractions may arise from the task at hand. Thus our devotion helps us to speak and act in persona Christi, to teach, govern and sanctify the faithful in the name of Jesus, to bring his reconciliation, his healing and his love to all his beloved brothers and sisters. This radical configuration to Christ, the Good Shepherd, lies at the heart of our pastoral ministry, and if we open ourselves through prayer to the power of the Spirit, he will give us the gifts we need to carry out our daunting task, so that we need never “be anxious how to speak or what to say” (Mt 10:19).

As I conclude my words to you this evening, I commend the Church in your country most particularly to the maternal care and intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States. May she who carried within her womb the hope of all the nations intercede for the people of this country, so that all may be made new in Jesus Christ her Son. My dear Brother Bishops, I assure each of you here present of my deep friendship and my participation in your pastoral concerns. To all of you, and to your clergy, religious and lay faithful, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of joy and peace in the Risen Lord.

* * *

1. The Holy Father is asked to give his assessment of the challenge of increasing secularism in public life and relativism in intellectual life, and his advice on how to confront these challenges pastorally and evangelize more effectively.

I touched upon this theme briefly in my address. It strikes me as significant that here in America, unlike many places in Europe, the secular mentality has not been intrinsically opposed to religion. Within the context of the separation of Church and State, American society has always been marked by a fundamental respect for religion and its public role, and, if polls are to be believed, the American people are deeply religious. But it is not enough to count on this traditional religiosity and go about business as usual, even as its foundations are being slowly undermined. A serious commitment to evangelization cannot prescind from a profound diagnosis of the real challenges the Gospel encounters in contemporary American culture.

Of course, what is essential is a correct understanding of the just autonomy of the secular order, an autonomy which cannot be divorced from God the Creator and his saving plan (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 36). Perhaps America’s brand of secularism poses a particular problem: it allows for professing belief in God, and respects the public role of religion and the Churches, but at the same time it can subtly reduce religious belief to a lowest common denominator. Faith becomes a passive acceptance that certain things “out there” are true, but without practical relevance for everyday life. The result is a growing separation of faith from life: living “as if God did not exist”. This is aggravated by an individualistic and eclectic approach to faith and religion: far from a Catholic approach to “thinking with the Church”, each person believes he or she has a right to pick and choose, maintaining external social bonds but without an integral, interior conversion to the law of Christ. Consequently, rather than being transformed and renewed in mind, Christians are easily tempted to conform themselves to the spirit of this age (cf. Rom 12:3). We have seen this emerge in an acute way in the scandal given by Catholics who promote an alleged right to abortion.

On a deeper level, secularism challenges the Church to reaffirm and to pursue more actively her mission in and to the world. As the Council made clear, the lay faithful have a particular responsibility in this regard. What is needed, I am convinced, is a greater sense of the intrinsic relationship between the Gospel and the natural law on the one hand, and, on the other, the pursuit of authentic human good, as embodied in civil law and in personal moral decisions. In a society that rightly values personal liberty, the Church needs to promote at every level of her teaching — in catechesis, preaching, seminary and university instruction — an apologetics aimed at affirming the truth of Christian revelation, the harmony of faith and reason, and a sound understanding of freedom, seen in positive terms as a liberation both from the limitations of sin and for an authentic and fulfilling life. In a word, the Gospel has to be preached and taught as an integral way of life, offering an attractive and true answer, intellectually and practically, to real human problems. The “dictatorship of relativism”, in the end, is nothing less than a threat to genuine human freedom, which only matures in generosity and fidelity to the truth.

Much more, of course, could be said on this subject: let me conclude, though, by saying that I believe that the Church in America, at this point in her history, is faced with the challenge of recapturing the Catholic vision of reality and presenting it, in an engaging and imaginative way, to a society which markets any number of recipes for human fulfillment. I think in particular of our need to speak to the hearts of young people, who, despite their constant exposure to messages contrary to the Gospel, continue to thirst for authenticity, goodness and truth. Much remains to be done, particularly on the level of preaching and catechesis in parishes and schools, if the new evangelization is to bear fruit for the renewal of ecclesial life in America.

2. The Holy Father is asked about “a certain quiet attrition” by which Catholics are abandoning the practice of the faith, sometimes by an explicit decision, but often by distancing themselves quietly and gradually from attendance at Mass and identification with the Church.

Certainly, much of this has to do with the passing away of a religious culture, sometimes disparagingly referred to as a “ghetto”, which reinforced participation and identification with the Church. As I just mentioned, one of the great challenges facing the Church in this country is that of cultivating a Catholic identity which is based not so much on externals as on a way of thinking and acting grounded in the Gospel and enriched by the Church’s living tradition.

The issue clearly involves factors such as religious individualism and scandal. Let us go to the heart of the matter: faith cannot survive unless it is nourished, unless it is “formed by charity” (cf. Gal 5:6). Do people today find it difficult to encounter God in our Churches? Has our preaching lost its salt? Might it be that many people have forgotten, or never really learned, how to pray in and with the Church?

Here I am not speaking of people who leave the Church in search of subjective religious “experiences”; this is a pastoral issue which must be addressed on its own terms. I think we are speaking about people who have fallen by the wayside without consciously having rejected their faith in Christ, but, for whatever reason, have not drawn life from the liturgy, the sacraments, preaching. Yet Christian faith, as we know, is essentially ecclesial, and without a living bond to the community, the individual’s faith will never grow to maturity. Indeed, to return to the question I just discussed, the result can be a quiet apostasy.

So let me make two brief observations on the problem of “attrition”, which I hope will stimulate further reflection.

First, as you know, it is becoming more and more difficult, in our Western societies, to speak in a meaningful way of “salvation”. Yet salvation — deliverance from the reality of evil, and the gift of new life and freedom in Christ — is at the heart of the Gospel. We need to discover, as I have suggested, new and engaging ways of proclaiming this message and awakening a thirst for the fulfillment which only Christ can bring. It is in the Church’s liturgy, and above all in the sacrament of the Eucharist, that these realities are most powerfully expressed and lived in the life of believers; perhaps we still have much to do in realizing the Council’s vision of the liturgy as the exercise of the common priesthood and the impetus for a fruitful apostolate in the world.

Second, we need to acknowledge with concern the almost complete eclipse of an eschatological sense in many of our traditionally Christian societies. As you know, I have pointed to this problem in the Encyclical Spe Salvi. Suffice it to say that faith and hope are not limited to this world: as theological virtues, they unite us with the Lord and draw us toward the fulfillment not only of our personal destiny but also that of all creation. Faith and hope are the inspiration and basis of our efforts to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God. In Christianity, there can be no room for purely private religion: Christ is the Savior of the world, and, as members of his Body and sharers in his prophetic, priestly and royal munera, we cannot separate our love for him from our commitment to the building up of the Church and the extension of his Kingdom. To the extent that religion becomes a purely private affair, it loses its very soul.

Let me conclude by stating the obvious. The fields are still ripe for harvesting (cf. Jn 4:35); God continues to give the growth (cf. 1 Cor 3:6). We can and must believe, with the late Pope John Paul II, that God is preparing a new springtime for Christianity (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 86). What is needed above all, at this time in the history of the Church in America, is a renewal of that apostolic zeal which inspires her shepherds actively to seek out the lost, to bind up those who have been wounded, and to bring strength to those who are languishing (cf. Ez 34:16). And this, as I have said, calls for new ways of thinking based on a sound diagnosis of today’s challenges and a commitment to unity in the service of the Church’s mission to the present generation.

3. The Holy Father is asked to comment on the decline in vocations despite the growing numbers of the Catholic population, and on the reasons for hope offered by the personal qualities and the thirst for holiness which characterize the candidates who do come forward.

Let us be quite frank: the ability to cultivate vocations to the priesthood and the religious life is a sure sign of the health of a local Church. There is no room for complacency in this regard. God continues to call young people; it is up to all of us to encourage a generous and free response to that call. On the other hand, none of us can take this grace for granted.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send workers. He even admits that the workers are few in comparison with the abundance of the harvest (cf. Mt 9:37-38). Strange to say, I often think that prayer — the unum necessarium — is the one aspect of vocations work which we tend to forget or to undervalue!

Nor am I speaking only of prayer for vocations. Prayer itself, born in Catholic families, nurtured by programs of Christian formation, strengthened by the grace of the sacraments, is the first means by which we come to know the Lord’s will for our lives. To the extent that we teach young people to pray, and to pray well, we will be cooperating with God’s call. Programs, plans and projects have their place; but the discernment of a vocation is above all the fruit of an intimate dialogue between the Lord and his disciples. Young people, if they know how to pray, can be trusted to know what to do with God’s call.

It has been noted that there is a growing thirst for holiness in many young people today, and that, although fewer in number, those who come forward show great idealism and much promise. It is important to listen to them, to understand their experiences, and to encourage them to help their peers to see the need for committed priests and religious, as well as the beauty of a life of sacrificial service to the Lord and his Church. To my mind, much is demanded of vocation directors and formators: candidates today, as much as ever, need to be given a sound intellectual and human formation which will enable them not only to respond to the real questions and needs of their contemporaries, but also to mature in their own conversion and to persevere in life-long commitment to their vocation. As Bishops, you are conscious of the sacrifice demanded when you are asked to release one of your finest priests for seminary work. I urge you to respond with generosity, for the good of the whole Church.

Finally, I think you know from experience that most of your brother priests are happy in their vocation. What I said in my address about the importance of unity and cooperation within the presbyterate applies here too. There is a need for all of us to move beyond sterile divisions, disagreements and preconceptions, and to listen together to the voice of the Spirit who is guiding the Church into a future of hope. Each of us knows how important priestly fraternity has been in our lives. That fraternity is not only a precious possession, but also an immense resource for the renewal of the priesthood and the raising up of new vocations. I would close by encouraging you to foster opportunities for ever greater dialogue and fraternal encounter among your priests, and especially the younger priests. I am convinced that this will bear great fruit for their own enrichment, for the increase of their love for the priesthood and the Church, and for the effectiveness of their apostolate.

Dear Brother Bishops. with these few observations, I once more encourage all of you in your ministry to the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care, and I commend you to the loving intercession of Mary Immaculate, Mother of the Church.

* * *

Before leaving, I would like to pause to acknowledge the immense suffering endured by the people of God in the Archdiocese of New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina, as well as their courage in the challenging work of rebuilding. I would like to present Archbishop Alfred Hughes with a chalice, which I hope will be accepted as a sign of my prayerful solidarity with the faithful of the Archdiocese, and my personal gratitude for the tireless devotion which he and Archbishops Philip Hannan and Francis Schulte showed toward the flock entrusted to their care.

    Text of Pope’s Speech to Bishops, NYT, 17.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/17/us/nationalspecial2/17popetext.html






Pope Praises U.S., but Warns of Secular Challenges


April 17, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Pope Benedict XVI visited the White House on Wednesday, his 81st birthday, and praised America as a nation where strong religious belief can coexist with secular society.

But he later warned, in a speech to American bishops, of the “subtle influence of secularism” that can co-opt religious people and lead even Catholics to accept abortion, divorce and co-habitation outside of marriage.

“Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs?” he asked in a lengthy address to the bishops. “Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?”

“Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted,” he said.

For the second day on his first official visit to America, the pope acknowledged the “deep shame” caused by the sexual abuse scandal that has divided and weakened the American church. He agreed that the scandal as it unfolded was “sometimes very badly handled.”

He said the church must “address the sin of abuse within the wider context of sexual mores.

“What does it mean to speak of child protection,” the pope asked, “when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?”

He deplored the “crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today,” saying that not only the church, but also families, teachers and the news media and entertainment industries have to take responsibility for “moral renewal.”

His comments to the bishops, on topics like immigration, medical ethics and attrition in the church’s ranks, seemed in contrast to the festive greeting he received at the White House.

The general tone on a day when he was feted by thousands of flag-waving supporters on the streets of the capital appeared aimed at celebrating and challenging more than scolding.

He found a kindred soul in President Bush, who has made his Christianity a central tenet of his life as a politician. Christian conservatives, including conservative Catholics, have been a crucial component of the president’s political base, and the papal visit gave the White House a fresh opportunity to reinforce those ties in an election year.

The White House hosted a crowd of 13,500 on the South Lawn in the morning, welcoming the pope with a 21-gun salute; a fife-and-drum band; the soprano Kathleen Battle, who sang the Lord’s Prayer; and two rounds of “Happy Birthday.”

The crowd burst into applause when Mr. Bush told the pope that Americans “need your message that all life is sacred,” a reference to the two men’s shared opposition to abortion rights.

The president also adopted a trademark Benedict phrase when he said the nation needed the pontiff’s “message to reject this dictatorship of relativism.”

The term is considered the defining phrase of the papal election in 2005, in which Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, on the day his fellow cardinals went into the conclave that elected him Pope Benedict XVI, deplored the idea that all belief is equally true.

“Here in America,” Mr. Bush said, “you’ll find a nation that welcomes the role of faith in the public square. When our founders declared our nation’s independence, they rested their case on an appeal to the ‘laws of nature and of nature’s God.’ ”

The pontiff, dressed in his traditional white cassock and skullcap, said, “I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society.”

He said, “Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth.”

It is only the second time that the leader of Roman Catholics has visited the White House. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter hosted Pope John Paul II.

The pope and Mr. Bush then met privately in the Oval Office. A White House statement said the two had “devoted considerable time in their discussions” to the Middle East, particularly the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Although the pope has expressed opposition to the Iraq war, the White House press secretary, Dana Perino, said Mr. Bush had brought up the topic. Ms. Perino said they spoke “largely about the plight of Christians,” an issue the pope raised when the two first met last year at the Vatican. She would not elaborate, saying, “They had an understanding that it would be private.”

After the White House, the pope returned to the home of the papal nuncio, giving a glimpse to thousands of bystanders, who waved flags and white-and-yellow Vatican pennants, strummed guitars and banged drums.

“It was close,” said Martha Littlefield, 44, who traveled from Houston with 200 Catholics to see the pope. “I couldn’t believe it!”

The pope ate lunch privately with American cardinals and in the early evening met Catholic charity groups. He then traveled to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for an evening prayer service, vespers, and an address to about 300 American bishops and nine cardinals.

The meeting was the pope’s opportunity to outline his vision of the state of the American church to the prelates charged with carrying out that vision. It is the first visit of a pope to the United States since the sexual abuse scandal erupted in 2002.

The Basilica is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, seating for 6,000. The pope met the bishops in the Crypt Church, designed to evoke the Roman catacombs. About 600 guests sat upstairs, watching the proceedings on jumbo screens.

Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago and the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the pope the church is “troubled by ideological differences that weaken not only our witness to the world but the life of faith itself.” Cardinal George acknowledged that the priests’ sexual abuse was “sometimes very badly handled by the bishops,” the pope’s phrase. The problem, the cardinal said, has made “the personal faith of some Catholics and the public life of the church herself more problematic.”

The pope read responses to three questions submitted in advance that reflected bishops’ concerns on secularism, Catholics abandoning the faith and a shortage of vocations to the priesthood. Cardinal George presented the pope an $870,000 check donated by Catholics in the pews for the pope’s favorite charities.

Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., said after the meeting, “We appreciate very much the encouragement he is giving us to reach out to victims, efforts to maintain and expand safe environment programs, and to do so in a context of preaching and exemplifying moral integrity and supporting the family.”

Bishop Joseph A. Galante of Camden, N.J., said: “I felt very happy with his talk. It hit on some of the themes I’ve been trying to emphasize in my diocese.”

Peter Isely, an abuse survivor and a national board member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said of the pope’s speech to bishops: “We were hoping for a reprimand. He was looking into the faces of the men who were directly responsible, and instead of a reprimand, he praised them.”

Ian Fisher and Katie Zezima contributed reporting.

    Pope Praises U.S., but Warns of Secular Challenges, NYT, 17.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/17/us/nationalspecial2/17pope.html?hp






Base decisions on moral principles, pope tells U.S.


Wed Apr 16, 2008
12:33pm EDT
By Philip Pullella and Tom Heneghan


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Saying he had come as a friend of the United States, Pope Benedict urged Americans and their leaders on Wednesday to base their political and social decisions on moral principles and create a more just society.

The pope also called for "patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts" and promote progress around the world in an address to President George W. Bush at the White House on the first full day of his U.S. visit.

"I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society," Benedict said in a speech after Bush welcomed him at a ceremony that included a fife and drum band in colonial-era garb and a 21-gun salute.

At the outdoor ceremony attended by more than 9,000 people, Bush cited the role of faith in U.S. life, saying "Here in America, you'll find a nation of prayer."

Bush also referred to the September 11, 2001, attacks, which the pope will commemorate when he visits New York with a prayer at the World Trade Center site.

"In a world where some invoke the name of God to justify acts of terror and murder and hate, we need your message that God is love. And embracing this love is the surest way to save man from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism," Bush said.

The pope, marking his 81st birthday, praised American society, sprinkling his speech with references to the founding fathers -- citing the Declaration of Independence and the first president, George Washington.

He made no specific references to issues such as abortion and the Iraq war, avoiding anything that could be seen as taking sides in the presidential campaign apart from saying freedom demanded "reasoned public debate."

Benedict and Bush, who spoke privately after the ceremony, oppose abortion and embryonic stem cell research but differ on the Iraq war and capital punishment. As the pope spoke, the U.S. Supreme Court, led by Bush appointee Chief Justice John Roberts, issued a ruling that cleared the way for executions to resume for the first time since September.

Instead, Benedict concentrated on America's religious roots, which he said were a driving force in a process that "forged the soul of the nation" and won world admiration.

It was Bush who referred to abortion, a hot-button issue particularly with the presidential election in November.

"In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred ... ," Bush said.



The pope said freedom "is not only a gift but also a summons to personal responsibility" toward the less fortunate at home and around the world.

"Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation," the pope said.

Benedict, who address the United Nations as part of his first trip to the United States as pope, was only the second pontiff to visit the White House.

Looking forward to his U.N. speech, the pope said the need for global solidarity is "as urgent as ever if all people are to live in a way worthy of their dignity" and secure a place at "that table which God's bounty has set for all his children."

In a possible reference to U.S. criticism of the world body, the pope said:

"I am confident that this concern for the greater human family will continue to find expression in support for the patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promote progress."

The pope ended his speech by saying "God bless America" in a raised voice.

Later on Wednesday, the pope was addressing U.S. bishops at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where he was to discuss the scandal of sexual abuse of children by priests, which he said had left him "deeply ashamed."

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Matt Spetalnick, Andy Sullivan and Jeremy Pelofsky)

(Writing by Philip Pullella, editing by Patricia Zengerle)

(For more on religion, see the Reuters religion blog FaithWorld here )

    Base decisions on moral principles, pope tells U.S., R, 16.4.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSL1564528320080416






Bush Welcomes Pope to White House


April 17, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — With a blend of the religious and secular, a fife and drum band and a soprano singing the Lord’s Prayer, President Bush welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to the White House Wednesday morning, telling the pontiff that Americans “need your message that all of life is sacred.”

More than 9,000 people, including senators and other Washington celebrities, crowded the South Lawn for the historic arrival ceremony, conducted under clear, cloudless skies.

The 81-year-old pontiff, who celebrates his birthday on Wednesday, was greeted by the peal of trumpets and a 21-gun salute, and treated to rendition of Happy Birthday by the crowd. He called for ‘’support for the patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promote progress” around the world.

It was Benedict’s first time in the United States since he ascended to the papacy, and only the second time the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics has visited the White House. The first was in 1979, when Jimmy Carter was president.

Dressed in his traditional white cassock and skullcap, the pontiff delivered a message celebrating the greatness of American democracy, as well as the nation’s embrace of religion. His speech was laden with references to American history, including the struggle against slavery, the civil rights movement and George Washington.

“I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society,” the pontiff said, adding, “Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth.”

Mr. Bush, who has made his own Christian faith a central tenet of his life as an American politician and who has assiduously courted religious conservatives during his tenure as president, used his speech to affirm the role that faith plays in American society.

“Here in America you’ll find a nation that welcomes the role of faith in the public square,” the president said. “When our founders declared our nation’s independence, they rested their case on an appeal to the ‘laws of nature, and of nature’s God.’ We believe in religious liberty. We also believe that a love for freedom and a common moral law are written into every human heart, and that these constitute the firm foundation on which any successful free society must be built.”

There was no mention of the war in Iraq — an issue on which the two disagree — or any explicit discussion controversial issues like abortion, embryonic stem cell research, on which the two agree.

But Mr. Bush did get applause when, in an obvious reference to those issues, he said, “In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred.” And the president adopted a phrase the pope himself has used when he said the nation needs the pontiff’s “message to reject this dictatorship of relativism.”

The ceremony was among the most elaborate the White House has ever conducted, even more so than the one last year honoring the queen of England. The opera singer Kathleen Battle sang The Lord’s Prayer, her clear voice pealing out in the soft spring air. When it was over, the announcer declared, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please join us in singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to the Holy Father.”

The crowd obliged.

    Bush Welcomes Pope to White House, NYT, 17.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/17/us/16cnd-pope.html?hp






Pope praises role of faith in U.S. public life


Tue Apr 15, 2008
7:33pm EDT


ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) - Pope Benedict praised the role of faith in American public life on Tuesday, calling it an example for more secularized Europe as he flew to his first visit to the United States as pontiff.

The German-born pope, speaking to reporters on the flight across the Atlantic, said European countries could not copy the U.S. model because they had their own histories and traditions, but could learn some lessons from the American system.

Benedict has often criticized European countries for denying their Christian roots and turning the separation of church and state -- which he supports -- into a policy denying religion's place in public life.

"What I find fascinating about the United States is that it began with a positive concept of the lay state," he said.

"This new people was made up of communities and people who fled from state churches and wanted to have a lay state, secular and open to possibilities for all confessions, for all forms of religious expression.

"They were against a state church ... precisely out of their love of religion and of its authenticity, which can only be lived freely," he said.

Religion is far less visible in public life in Europe than in the United States.

"We in Europe cannot simply copy the United States. We have our own history, but we must all learn from each other," Benedict said.

In the United States estimates show that about one-third of Catholics attend Mass regularly, compared to between 10 and 20 percent in European countries. Politicians often speak of their faith, in contrast to Europe where such discussions are considered inappropriate.

Despite the different traditions in the United States and Europe, which the French author Alexis de Tocqueville noted in the 1830s, both societies were under strong pressure from modern secularism, Benedict added.

"Even now in the United States, there is an onslaught of new secularism which is completely different (from de Tocqueville's time) and therefore there are new problems," he said.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Writing by Tom Heneghan; Editing by David Storey)

(For more on religion, see the Reuters religion blog FaithWorld here )

    Pope praises role of faith in U.S. public life, R, 15.4.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSL1543563720080415






Victims in Boston Criticize Pope’s Comments


April 15, 2008
The New York Times


BOSTON — Pope Benedict XVI may have expressed his regrets on Tuesday for the child sexual-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, saying he was “deeply ashamed,” but several abuse victims here, where the crisis erupted in 2002, said his comments rang hollow.

“I think they were rehearsed,” said Robert Costello, who says he was abused by a priest in West Roxbury, Mass., starting when he was 10. He and other victims spoke at a news conference organized by Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who has represented hundreds of victims of clergy abuse.

In particular, Mr. Costello questioned why the pope would say the scandal has caused “great suffering for the church” and “for me personally” without acknowledging the pain of abuse victims themselves.

“What about the suffering of the children?” said Mr. Costello, who will travel to New York to read aloud the names of victims on Friday while the pope addresses the United Nations. “He doesn’t have any empathy for victims because he doesn’t talk to us.”

David Carney, who says a priest abused him during his freshman year at Catholic Memorial High School in West Roxbury, also dismissed the pope’s comments as insincere.

“Don’t sit around on your plane and talk about it,” said Mr. Carney, 41, who also attended the news conference. “If you’re ashamed about it, do something about it. A good company runs from the top down, right? Be a good boss.”

Mr. Carney also expressed bitterness about the pope’s decision not to visit Boston, where the Archdiocese of Boston, struggling financially after paying settlements to numerous victims, has closed parishes and schools. At best, he said, the pope’s comments on the abuse scandal were lip service to Boston Catholics.

“You’re on the fringes of Boston, you’re in New York, so you just better touch on it just in case,” Mr. Carney said. “Why doesn’t he come try to fix all of the problems?”

    Victims in Boston Criticize Pope’s Comments, NYT, 15.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/15/us/15cnd-reax.html






The Pope's Visit

Pope Expresses Deep Shame Over Priests’ Sexual Abuse


April 16, 2008
The New York Times


Pope Benedict XVI said on Tuesday that he was “deeply ashamed” by the Roman Catholic Church’s child sexual-abuse scandals in the United States, and said it is causing “great suffering” for the church and “me personally.”

Speaking to reporters on an airplane taking him for his first visit to the United States as pope, he addressed the scandal in the U.S. that has produced more than 5,000 sexual abuse victims since it erupted in 2002 and cost the church more than $2 billion.

In his most extensive remarks so far on the issue, the Pope expressed his personal remorse about the abuse scandal and said the church is increasing its efforts to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood.

“It is a great suffering for the church in the United States and for the church in general and for me personally that this could happen,” he said. “As I read the histories of those victims it is difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betrayed in this way. Their mission was to give healing, to give the love of God to these children. We are deeply ashamed and we will do what is possible that this cannot happen in the future.”

Apparently drawing a distinction between priests with homosexual tendencies and those inclined to molest children, the Pontiff said: “I would not speak at this moment about homosexuality, but pedophilia which is another thing. And we would absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry.”

“Who is guilty of pedophilia cannot be a priest,” he added.

The Pope said church officials were going through the seminaries that train would-be priests to make sure that those candidates have no such tendencies. “We’ll do all that is possible to have a strong discernment, because it is more important to have good priests than to have many priests.”

“We hope that we can do, and we have done and will do in the future, all that is possible to heal this wound.”

The Pope is not new to issues involving abusive priests. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger he headed the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and was responsible for deciding whether to discipline priests accused of sexual abuse.

He read dossiers on the cases forwarded to him from bishops around the world. Aides said he was deeply distressed reading the accounts of victims whose trust in the church was betrayed by the priests who violated them.

In a homily he gave just before he was elected Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger decried the “filth” in the priesthood, which many interpreted as a reference to the abusers. As Pope, he ordered the Rev. Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaires of Christ, to be removed from his ministry and to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penitence. Rev. Maciel died in February.

But as Pope, he has done or said or done little publicly about the abuse issue until now.

Advocates for victims have criticized the church for failing to call to account bishops who allowed abusive priests to remain in the ministry.

After hearing of Pope Benedict’s remarks, Peter Isley, a national board member of the Survivor’s Network of Those Abused by Priests, said: “The Pope has established a worldwide policy of saying Mass in Latin. He has not established a worldwide policy on child sex abuse. Three year into his papacy, Benedict has done what John Paul II did — make a few vague, brief remarks about the continuing crisis, and nothing more.”

One of the repercussions of the child abuse scandals in the United States is that lay Catholics across the country are demanding more financial accountability from their bishops and more control over decisions, particularly when it comes to parishes.

The Pope, who spoke for about 15 minutes, answered four questions from reporters that were submitted in advance and selected by the Vatican. He also talked about immigration and said he would discuss the issue with President Bush, who is scheduled to meet the Papal airplane when it lands this afternoon at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

“I have seen the breadth of this problem above all the grave problem of the separation of families,” Pope Benedict said about immigration. “This really is dangerous for the fabric social, moral, human of these countries.” He said it was important to think about both long-term and short-term solutions. “The fundamental solution is that there would be no need to emigrate because there would be sufficient jobs,” he said.

Asked if the United States could serve as a religious model for Europe and other areas of the world, the Pope replied, ”Certainly Europe can’t simply copy the United States. We have our own history. We all have to learn from each other.”

But he said the United States was interesting because it “started with positive idea of secularism.”

“This new people was made of communities that had escaped official state purges and wanted a lay state, a secular that opened the possibility for all confessions and all form of religious exercise,” he added. “Therefore it was a state that was intentionally secular. It was the exact opposite of state religion, but it was secular out of love for religion and for an authenticity that can only be lived freely.”

The Pope plans to spend several days in the Washington area before traveling to New York to hold services, address the United Nations and visit a synagogue.

Laurie Goodstein contributed reporting.

    Pope Expresses Deep Shame Over Priests’ Sexual Abuse, NYT, 16.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/16/us/nationalspecial2/15cnd-pope.html?hp






Pope T-Shirt, Anyone? Turning to Big Donors, and Souvenirs, for a Costly Visit


April 15, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — From printing tickets for the papal Masses to organizing street closings and security, a hefty bill looms for the hosts of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States.

The Archdiocese of Washington predicts that the pope’s three days in the capital, starting on Tuesday, will cost at least $3 million, but the Archdiocese of New York, where he will spend an additional three days, has not ventured an estimate.

Past papal visits provide some benchmarks. Pope John Paul II’s trip to the East Coast in 1995 cost $1 million to $1.2 million a day, said Msgr. Robert F. Coleman, an organizer of the papal visit that year to the Archdiocese of Newark and dean of Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University. But tightened security after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, will probably push the costs higher, he said.

Representatives of the Archdioceses of Washington and New York said it was unclear how much the entire papal visit would cost, or what economic and even pastoral benefits might accrue.

“The Mass at Nationals Park, security, transportation of bishops and people, planning — we don’t have a playbook for this,” said Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese in Washington, which had its last papal visit in 1979.

The two archdioceses have taken different approaches to financing the visit. Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington decided that parish and diocesan money should not be used, Ms. Gibbs said, given the financial pressures the archdiocese faces. Instead, Archbishop Wuerl established a foundation, Christ Our Hope, which has raised more than $3 million, mostly from wealthy donors.

Ms. Gibbs declined to identify the donors or the size of their contributions.

Any surplus will be donated to a charity of the pope’s choice, in his name, Ms. Gibbs said. But security costs may eat up much of the foundation’s resources.

Carrie Brooks, a spokeswoman for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty of Washington, said the Secret Service was taking the lead on coordinating the pope’s security in the capital. Ms. Brooks said the city’s Police Department would be most involved in coordinating street closings for processions. The cost to the city to provide security, close streets and clean up after parades is expected to be about $2.2 million, she said.

Ms. Brooks said in an e-mail message that the city had tried to get back from the federal government what it spent on such efforts, and that it had “also reached out to the archdiocese to discuss cost-sharing.”

A spokesman for the New York Archdiocese, Joseph Zwilling, said the archdiocese would also appeal to wealthier donors for support. He said he was not concerned about asking parishioners to contribute, despite the archdiocese’s other financial needs.

“People in the archdiocese welcome an opportunity to help support a tremendous moment in the history of the archdiocese,” Mr. Zwilling said.

The New York Archdiocese is getting a break here and there: it will not have to pay for extra security provided by New York City or for the use of Yankee Stadium for a papal Mass, Mr. Zwilling said. The Washington Archdiocese will have to pay to rent Nationals Park, the new baseball stadium, though Ms. Gibbs said she did not know the amount.

The sale of souvenirs of the visit should generate some money but not enough to make a sizable dent in the cost of the trip, representatives of the archdioceses said. At events in the two cities and online, at popevisit2008.com, people can buy memorabilia, including framed photos of the pope, T-shirts that say “Property of Pope Benedict XVI,” and “I ♥ the Pope” bumper stickers.

The retail chain Build-a-Bear is offering, online and at its stores in the Washington area, a “tiny tee” for its bears with the visit’s logo and the pope’s picture. A company spokeswoman declined to say how much money had been raised by the sale of the shirts, which cost $6, but part of it will go to Christ Our Hope.

Past papal visits have sometimes yielded a windfall for hotels and restaurants. In New York, which last had a papal visit in 1995, and Washington, officials said they could not quantify possible economic dividends from the visit. But in Washington, any income might be modest.

“Most of those attending the Mass are from the area,” said Carla Barry-Austin, a spokeswoman for Washington’s tourism corporation. “Also, many people are just coming to town for the day and not checking into hotels.”

Most archdioceses lack data on the impact of papal visits on pastoral life. But after Pope John Paul II visited Denver in 1993 for World Youth Day, attendance at Mass there rose by more than 7.5 percent, said Jeanette DeMelo, a spokeswoman for the Denver Archdiocese. The number of converts also increased substantially, Ms. DeMelo said.

Similarly, Monsignor Coleman of the Seton Hall seminary said, “Certainly, after the papal visit, just in my recollection, did the number of applicants to the seminary increase? Yes.”

He added: “I think there is a spiritual impact on the faithful, though it is hard to measure. The visit gives inspiration to people to embrace the faith, to return to the faith.”

Ian Urbina contributed reporting.

    Pope T-Shirt, Anyone? Turning to Big Donors, and Souvenirs, for a Costly Visit, NYT, 15.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/15/us/nationalspecial2/15money.html






With Faith in the Spotlight, Candidates Battle for Catholic Votes


April 15, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Many years have passed since the Democratic Party was as much a part of American Catholic identity as weekly Mass and parochial school. But it still came as a shock to many Democrats to lose the Catholic vote, a key group in must-win states like Ohio, in the 2004 presidential election.

It is an experience they are determined not to repeat.

The presidential candidates are in the middle of an escalating battle for Catholic voters — most immediately between Senators Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, but also between the two parties as they look ahead to the general election. This struggle is an important part of the backdrop for Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to the United States starting Tuesday, which has drawn gestures of respect from all of the presidential contenders.

There is widespread agreement that American Catholic voters are far more diverse than monolithic. Even so, both the Clinton and the Obama campaigns have hired Catholic outreach directors, deployed an army of prominent Catholic surrogates testifying on their behalf and created mailings that highlight their commitment to Catholic social teachings on economic justice and the common good.

Dismayed at losing so many Catholic and other religious voters to the Republicans in 2004, Democrats talk far more often, and more comfortably, about their values and the importance of their own faith these days.

Essentially, they have tried to broaden the definition of “values” issues beyond abortion rights, on which they disagree with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and many religious conservatives. Mrs. Clinton, for example, spoke recently about the economy and the needs of working families to a crowd of more than 2,000 at Mercyhurst, a Catholic college in Erie, Pa. The college and the candidate went ahead with the event despite the objections of the local bishop, who argued that a Catholic institution should reflect the church’s “pro-life stance” on abortion.

On Sunday, the Democratic candidates appeared separately at a forum at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., for a televised discussion of poverty, health care, energy prices and the rest of the party’s policy agenda as moral and spiritual issues. (The forum also offered Mr. Obama a chance to note that he had once attended Catholic school, and Mrs. Clinton a chance to praise the Vatican as “the first carbon-neutral state in the world.”)

Mrs. Clinton, a Methodist, carried the Catholic vote overwhelmingly in Ohio, Texas and several other major states that have held primaries and caucuses this year, according to surveys of voters leaving the polls; she hopes to do so again in Pennsylvania, which holds its primary next week. (Aides say she is particularly popular among nuns.) In an open letter to Pennsylvania Catholics, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., two children of Robert F. Kennedy, wrote, “Catholics have a partner in Hillary Clinton, one who will work to advance the common good of all Pennsylvanians and all Americans.”

Burns Strider, senior adviser and director of faith outreach for the Clinton campaign, said: “There’s no grand clandestine or secret message or formula here. It’s just a matter of middle-class and working-class people whose values match up very well with Senator Clinton’s.”

Bill Clinton carried the Catholic vote in 1992 and 1996. Some analysts say that considerable loyalty remains to the “Clinton brand,” notably on bread-and-butter issues like health care. The Obama campaign is acutely sensitive to the notion that their candidate is vulnerable among these voters; some of Mr. Obama’s allies argue that it makes little sense to even think of Catholics as a voting bloc, given the huge differences among them.

Even so, on Friday, the Obama campaign unveiled its national advisory council of prominent Catholics, including elected officials, theologians, academics, nuns and social advocates. On a conference call, Representative Patrick J. Murphy — who represents Bucks County, Pa., and prefaced his remarks by noting that he was St. Anselm’s Altar Boy of the Year in 1987 — said that Mr. Obama spoke “to the better angels in all of us.”

Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, another prominent Catholic supporting Mr. Obama, noted: “I don’t agree with him on some issues. We disagree on abortion.” But Mr. Casey said he believed that Mr. Obama, as president, would advocate for “the least, the last and the lost.”

Republicans said their party raised its share of Catholic voters from 37 percent in the 1996 presidential election to 52 percent in 2004, part of their overall success in wooing and mobilizing church-going voters. They vow to hold them this time.

“We’re going to devote substantial resources to winning the Catholic vote,” said Frank Donatelli, deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee. “I think the natural home of Catholics is the Republican Party.”

The campaign of Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, recently rolled out his National Catholics for McCain Committee, with Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, as a co-chairman.

Mr. Brownback’s chief of staff, Rob Wasinger, said Mr. McCain was “the full package” for Catholics, with his opposition to abortion and his support for overhauling immigration laws, a major issue for Hispanic Catholics. Against this backdrop, the pope’s words and gestures will be scrutinized not just by the faithful and the theologians, but also by political professionals in both parties.

“The Republicans are just hoping and praying he’ll say something about abortion and gay marriage, and the Democrats are terrified he will,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow and political scientist at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. “But at the United Nations, he will also say a lot of things to the left of Hillary and Obama.”

In fact, some conservatives worry that the war in Iraq, opposed by the Catholic Church from its inception, is hurting the Republican Party among Catholic voters — just as it is with other independent and swing voters.

“There’s one big question mark hanging over the Catholic vote, and that’s the Iraq war,” said Deal Hudson, an informal adviser to Mr. McCain and a longtime adviser to President Bush on Catholic matters.

Catholic voters are hardly monolithic, either in their demographics or in their political philosophy. They range from upscale suburbanites to first-generation working-class Hispanics. The church itself has teachings that, taken as a whole, do not fit neatly into either party — often to the left on poverty, health care and economic justice, for example, and to the right on abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.

But Catholics play enough of a role as a swing vote to draw the intense focus of political strategists. Catholics were a reliable part of the urban, New Deal coalition for many years but trended Republican in the 1970s and 1980s, becoming an important element of the so-called Reagan Democrats. After swinging back to the Democrats in the early 1990s, and then voting 53 percent to 37 percent for Mr. Clinton in 1996, they voted narrowly for Al Gore in 2000 but then returned to the Republicans in 2004.

That was a difficult year for the Democrats in several respects. Their nominee, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, was himself a Catholic, but his support for abortion rights drew the ire of some conservative bishops who challenged his right to receive communion. After that election, Democrats went through soul-searching about the way they approached Catholic and other religious voters.

Whoever ends up with the Democratic nomination, Pennsylvania is proving to be an important testing ground for both candidates’ ability to speak to these voters. G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist and pollster at Franklin & Marshall, estimated that “somewhere between 32 and 36 percent” of the voters in the primary would be Catholic.

Theories abound for why Mr. Obama runs less strongly in that group, including the possibility that he has a evangelical speaking style that, as Mr. Reese put it, is “just not what they hear in their churches.”

But Dr. Madonna noted that there were “overlapping demographics” at work — the group includes a lot of older and blue-collar workers — that tended to explain Mrs. Clinton’s advantage.

    With Faith in the Spotlight, Candidates Battle for Catholic Votes, NYT, 15.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/15/us/politics/15catholics.html?hp






An Effort to Market the Priesthood


April 15, 2008
The New York Times


The banners hanging in the main corridor of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers declare, “Through Faith We Grow.” The class portraits that line that very same corridor tell the opposite tale. Half a century after the halcyon days when several hundred men at a time studied to be ordained as priests for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, only 22 are enrolled.

Even more alarming to Catholics, although six men expect to be ordained in May, none are entering the first-year theology program. While seminary officials attribute the sudden drop to extra preparatory course requirements that went into effect this year, it is nonetheless a jarring development.

“You do what you can, as well as you can, for as long as you can, and hope it works,” said Bishop Gerald Walsh, the seminary’s rector. “I’d be optimistic if we had enough clergy present for young people and willing to talk to them.”

He will have enough — and then some — on Saturday, when Pope Benedict XVI visits the seminary for a prayer service and youth rally. The pope’s mere presence will be a jolt of encouragement to the seminarians. It will also offer them and other priests and nuns the chance to mingle with 20,000 young people and plant a seed for vocations.

There will be flashy videos, with quick cuts, stirring sound tracks and fearless priests on New York streets. Goody bags will include glossy post cards of the pontiff emblazoned with the word “Willkommen!” — and the Web address nypriest.com, the seminary’s recruiting site. In coming weeks, the archdiocese will send its schools posters that announce, “The World Needs Heroes,” including one of black-suited priests crossing an intersection — looking like “Going My Way” meets “Reservoir Dogs.”

Officials of the archdiocese do not apologize for embracing Madison Avenue marketing to counter a sharp decline in vocations.

An increasingly secular and materialistic culture, reluctance among the young to accept lifelong celibacy, and anger over the church’s handling of sexual abuse scandals have all contributed to the precipitous drop, the officials say.

Vocational directors recognize that the public’s confidence has been shaken by the scandals. They have chosen, however, to focus their marketing campaign on an upbeat message.

The Rev. Luke Sweeney, director of vocations for the archdiocese — which covers the Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island and seven counties west and north of the city — says the church must make its case if it hopes to reinvigorate a priesthood that is increasingly elderly. “How do we get the ‘cool’ factor back into the priesthood?” Father Sweeney said. “If we don’t sell the priesthood, we can’t legitimately ask a young man to consider the priesthood as a vocation.”

What the seminary lacks in numbers, it may make up for in intensity and eagerness. The seminarians speak of finding a joy and purpose that eluded them in secular careers.

“We live in a very confusing world, a world where there is a lot of evil in it, and good men need to step forward,” said Brian Graebe, a former high school teacher who is finishing his first year. “You can stick your head in the sand, or you can do something to change it. What more heroic life is there than to touch these eternal mysteries?”

St. Joseph’s Seminary — informally known as Dunwoodie, after its neighborhood — is hardly alone in its diminished fortunes. Nationally, the enrollment of seminarians in four-year theology programs has been flat for the last decade, currently numbering 3,286, said Sister Katarina Schuth, a professor at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, part of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. More than a quarter of those seminarians, she said, were foreign born.

“It’s a tough time for the church,” Sister Schuth said. “Dunwoodie has lost proportionately more than most. It really is a puzzle, given the huge population of New York and the boroughs.”

When St. Joseph’s opened in the late 1800s, its stone castle, topped by a gleaming cupola and perched majestically atop a hill, was described by Bishop Bernard McQuaid of Rochester as “the grandest seminary building in Christendom.” It was also, according to the Rev. Thomas J. Shelley, a Fordham University professor, one of the most progressive seminaries of its age, with an intellectual tradition to rival the best Catholic universities, until a Vatican crackdown on modernist thought a century ago led to a more orthodox approach.

Still, priests who were seminarians during the 1940s and ’50s recall a tranquil place whose daily rhythms were marked by the clanging of the bell for classes, meals and Mass. Many came from immigrant, working-class homes where the religious life was seen as a step up.

The Rev. Gerard J. DiSenso, who grew up poor in the Bronx, said the first time he had a room all to himself was when he entered the seminary in 1947.

That he was surrounded daily by more than 200 seminarians was encouraging and humbling.

“You sensed that you were not absolutely needed,” said Father DiSenso, who is now retired. “There were enough candidates that the seminary could afford to discharge people.”

He still goes to the seminary weekly to use its library, though he has little contact with the few men who are now there. “It’s like a shell of itself,” he lamented. “It’s completely different.”

Yet some changes have been for the better, he and other priests of his generation say. Unlike past years, when seminarians hardly left the grounds, today’s students come and go. They are assigned to work in parishes each summer to learn the demands they will encounter upon ordination.

And while enrollment is down, it better reflects the city’s changing demographics, in that there are more Hispanic candidates, both at the seminary and in a program aimed at cultivating high school students for the priesthood. In addition to the 22 seminarians to be ordained for the archdiocese, 14 candidates were sent to Dunwoodie by religious orders.

The biggest change, however, is in the age and backgrounds of seminarians. Decades ago, young men entered the seminary in their teens. Today, many have college degrees and have worked in business, science or even the military — experiences that can give them an added measure of empathy for their congregants.

“They have more experience in the world, more than we had,” Bishop Walsh, the rector, said. “They’re probably a little more secure in their choice.” Among the current seminarians are former teachers, engineers, executives and even a funeral director.

At 39, Ronald Perez is the oldest candidate for ordination next month. A former paralegal at a Midtown law firm, he moved to New York from Los Angeles 10 years ago to change his life. By the time he decided to become a priest, he had worked at a failed manufacturing company and a dot-com that missed the boom.

His decision to become a priest was gradual, he said, coming after years of involvement in activities at his home parish, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He credited the talks he had with visiting seminarians for nudging him closer to the religious life. Like many other contemporary candidates for the seminary, he started studying philosophy with other prospective priests.

“The door was open, so if it was for you, go on, but if not, leave, no questions asked,” he said. “That first year was crucial. It gave me a chance to look back at my life and the world around me. Nothing I could have done as an engineer or a paralegal would give me contentment and happiness. Something was missing. I realized what it was: becoming a priest.”

The other great shift in recent decades has been a growing conservatism among seminarians, marked by an emphasis on ritual and on being set apart from the laity. In interviews, some older priests said their ministry was rooted in a deep understanding of the social and material needs of their congregants. Younger priests and seminarians emphasized the sacramental aspects of their vocation.

“Something that attracted me was the priest’s proximity to Christ at the Mass,” said Steven Markantonis, a second-year student. “He is using the same words Jesus used 2,000 years ago, when the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.”

He said that after ordination, he expected to be “nothing more” than a parish priest tending to his congregation’s spiritual life.

“Regarding their social needs, it is a fine line,” he said. “You have to know where your job ends and another person’s job begins.”

Dean R. Hoge, a sociologist at Catholic University who has studied recently ordained priests, said there were indications that they were less collaborative with the laity. “They are more concerned about their status of being set apart,” Dr. Hoge said. “The younger ones are more concerned about moral teaching. The old guys hate to even talk about that.”

He cautioned that the American laity, now the most educated in history, want to have a bigger say in parish decisions.

Bishop Walsh, who once served as a pastor in Washington Heights, home to many struggling immigrants, said the church had to be understanding of its members and their burdens.

“Many people in the parishes I was in had jobs on Sunday that they had to do to put food on the table,” he said. “That is a religious value, too, raising a family. We can’t say, if you do not go to church 52 Sundays a year, you are failing as a Catholic.”

His seminarians, he said, should be gentle to the people in the pews. “People will never forget the priest who is nasty to them,” he said. “They could care less about who knows theology.”

However conservative the younger generation of clergy may be, Bishop Walsh said, it is increasingly committed to working with young people. For winning new recruits to the priesthood, no brochure or video can compete with the friendship and example of a parish priest.

Anthony Mizzi-Gili Jr. still remembers the priests of his childhood, men who graduated from Dunwoodie and earned his trust and admiration. After years of indecision, he ultimately followed in their footsteps and is now a third-year seminarian.

During midday Mass last week, he played the organ with gusto, as the chapel reverberated with “Sing With All the Saints in Glory.”

Afterward, he took lunch in the refectory, which was built to hold hundreds but now could fit the entire student body at a few tables. Mr. Mizzi-Gili looked around but refused to sound discouraged. “It shows vocations are still there,” he said. “Regardless of the numbers, we’re still there.”

    An Effort to Market the Priesthood, NYT, 15.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/15/us/nationalspecial2/15seminarians.html?hp#






From Texas to East Coast, Pilgrimage to See the Pope


April 14, 2008
The New York Times


SPRING, Tex. — The Texas sky was still dark and studded with stars Sunday when Ricky Pequeño Jr., rubbing sleep from his eyes, stumbled downstairs to add his bag to a pile of backpacks, sleeping bags, food cooler, baseball glove and ball, football, drum and guitar — everything a family of ardent Roman Catholics might need for a 1,600-mile pilgrimage to see the pope.

They would end up in a borrowed van with a hastily added trailer and, with little spare cash and no overnight reservations, set off. “It’s up to God in the end,” said Ricky’s father, Ricardo Sr., 44, a machinist who grew up in Mexico, before driving off for a final blessing from their pastor.

As Pope Benedict XVI prepared for his first papal voyage to America, Mr. Pequeño and his family — his Mexican-born wife, Maria, 40; Ricky, 17; Andrea, 11; Rachel, 8; and Emily, 3 — and 14 neighbors were leaving from this blue-collar suburb north of Houston in two packed vans, headed for Washington and New York and, they hoped, at least a glimpse of the pontiff.

“We don’t know if we’ll ever see Benedict up close,” said Rosalind Alvarez, a fellow passenger. But Ms. Alvarez added, “Somehow the word he says is going to reach us.”

Only Ricky had a prized ticket — two, in fact — to enter Nationals Park in Washington, where the pope is to celebrate Mass on Thursday. They were gifts from his pastor, the Rev. Miguel Solorzano of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Houston, who had managed to get 11 from his bishop, although he had asked for 100.

Ricky had once voiced an interest in the priesthood, and Father Solorzano said he wanted to encourage the boy. Ricky ended up inviting a friend, a girl. “He’s young,” the priest said, laughing.

With the church struggling to stem an erosion of faith in the face of secularism and scandal, the fast-growing Hispanic population of Texas and the Southwest has long been a major bulwark of Roman Catholicism in America — and an avid constituency for Pope Benedict’s visit.

The Pequeños and their fellow pilgrims are a particularly ardent band. They are followers of the Neocatechumenal Way, a communitarian church movement, founded in Spain in the 1960s and accepted by the Vatican, that emphasizes a return to early Christian roots, evangelism, intense religious practice and sacrifice.

The Pequeños’ house is filled with Bibles and Christian images. Over the fireplace hangs a copy of an icon by the Spanish painter Francisco (Kiko) Argüello, who co-founded the movement.

Before they joined, Mr. Pequeño said, “we would just go to church for Sundays and holidays.” Now they go several times a week, he said, and often evangelize door to door, sometimes playing music.

“We use a lot of instruments,” added Ricky, who plays the drum. “The devil uses a lot of noise, and we fight against the devil, also with a lot of noise.”

The family credits their faith for helping them through many crises. Mr. and Mrs. Pequeño, who migrated to the United States from Mexico and became citizens, said their marriage had undergone strains. Mr. Pequeño said he complained about his wife but learned through prayer that “the way to change my wife is me.” He said they were also distraught when a medical condition prevented his wife from bearing more children. They prayed over it, he said, and quickly learned of a 2-year-old girl needing adoption. They happily took in the child, Emily.

Mr. Pequeño earns about $45,000 a year making couplings for oil-drilling tools. Mrs. Pequeño studied cosmetology and hopes to get a license soon.

The family, then living in a poor neighborhood in the Greenspoint section of Houston, was traumatized in 2005 when Ricky fell in with a gang, began committing petty crimes and vandalism, and was kicked out of school. (He said he had no police record.) Comrades, he said, savagely turned on him, forcing the family to flee for safety and often change addresses before settling in Spring two months ago.

“That’s when I started getting into the church a lot,” said Ricky, who now expresses contrition.

A junior in high school — he lost a year — he said he had considered becoming a priest but now feels attracted to a career in law enforcement, perhaps with the F.B.I. “I like solving crimes, things of that nature,” he said.

Father Solorzano said he knew of Ricky’s problems and credited God’s workings.

This is not the Pequeños’ first trip to see Pope Benedict. In 2005, leaving the younger children with a relative, Ricky and his parents spent almost $5,000 to travel with a group to World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, attended by the pope, although they were too far away to see him. The family raised money for the trip by holding garage sales and other fund-raisers. In Europe, they detoured to Amsterdam, where they say they proselytized among prostitutes and drug addicts, and visited a former German concentration camp.

This pilgrimage — in showery April, like Chaucer’s to Canterbury — will be cheaper, although the Pequeños figure it should cost about $1,000 in gas alone, which the travelers will split. The pilgrims, who hope to make side trips to Christian shrines like the tomb of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia, expected to lodge free with other Neocatechumenal followers but planned to stay in a motel Sunday in Tennessee.

Early Sunday, as the pile of luggage by their door grew to alarming proportions, Mrs. Pequeño carried a still-sleeping Emily to the family’s Chevrolet Suburban and strapped her in. Ricky retrieved sports equipment his mother had removed from the pile and restored it.

“We can get bored,” he said.

Andrea, who had been wearing a jokey T-shirt reading “Doesn’t Play Well With Others,” exchanged it for one reading simply, “Benedict XVI.”

The sun was coming up.

“Ricardo!” Mrs. Pequeño shouted to her husband. “Vamanos!”

They set off to a rendezvous point at St. Charles Borromeo Church, where the Pequeños and their neighbors swapped vehicles. Mr. Pequeño took over a 12-person van for six passengers plus his family; someone else would drive his S.U.V., packed with eight. But the supplies overflowed the van. Someone was sent to pick up a trailer.

Father Solorzano finished Mass and came out to bless the pilgrims. He was also going to Washington, to concelebrate Mass with the pope. But he planned to go by plane.

He sprinkled holy water on the bowed heads. “Bless them O Lord,” he said, “as they begin this journey.”

    From Texas to East Coast, Pilgrimage to See the Pope, NYT, 14.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/14/us/14pilgrim.html






In U.S., an Uncertain Church Awaits the Pope


April 14, 2008
The New York Times


Less than two weeks ago, as final preparations were being made for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States, the bishop of Camden, N.J., announced plans to close or merge nearly half the parishes in his diocese. Meanwhile, Catholics in New Orleans, Boston, New York, Toledo, Ohio, and nearly three dozen other dioceses are mourning the loss of parishes and parochial schools they grew up in.

So when the pope arrives in the United States on Tuesday, he will find an American church in which many Catholics are eager not only for his spiritual guidance, but also for his acknowledgment that their church is going through a time of pain and uncertainty.

Hundreds of parishes are being closed and consolidated, and the reasons are usually intertwined with the other big challenges facing the church: a shortage of priests, fallout from the sexual abuse scandal, insufficient funds to maintain aging churches, demographic changes and sometimes not enough people attending Mass to justify keeping parishes open.

And yet for most observant Catholics, their primary experience of the church is their local parish.

“It’s frustrating because you start to see the bishop as the enemy, and it puts you where you’re conflicted,” said Leah Vassallo, a lawyer whose parish in Malaga, N.J., is among those to be closed. “Obviously you don’t want to give up your faith or go to a different religion, or not go to church at all. But it does disenfranchise you. We’re going to be a lot more hesitant before we give money to the church.”

A resistance movement to church closings that began in Boston has spread to other dioceses. On Sunday, Catholics in six dioceses — New York, Boston, Buffalo, Camden, New Orleans and Toledo — announced that they were forming a national group, the Coalition for Parishes, to try to prevent the closing or merging of viable churches.

In addition to the issues the closings and consolidations present, this will be the first visit by any pope since the sexual abuse scandal erupted in 2002, taking a spiritual, emotional and financial toll on Catholics across the country. The scandal revealed more than 5,000 victims, and left behind five bankrupt dioceses. It has cost the church more than $2 billion, so far, and it is not over. Last week the family of two young boys filed a civil lawsuit against a Massachusetts priest accusing him of molesting the boys as recently as 2005.

One of the scandal’s repercussions is that lay Catholics across the country are demanding more financial accountability from their bishops and more control over decisions, especially when it comes to closing parishes.

Many dioceses are also closing parochial elementary, junior and high schools that have provided a rigorous education for generations of Catholics and non-Catholics.

The cost of legal fees and settlements to abuse victims has put financial pressure on many dioceses. But in many cases, the far larger reason for the closings is demographic.

Urban enclaves of Italian, Irish, Polish and Eastern European Catholics who had their own ethnic parishes are dispersing to the suburbs and seeing their previous parishes shuttered — or having to learn to share their churches with immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa. In some parishes the new mix has been joyous, in others uneasy.

The pope is expected to praise the American church’s vibrancy during his visit, and there is much for the church to celebrate. Catholics are the biggest religious group in the United States, about 23 percent of the population, a proportion that has held steady. Many parishes are healthy, and some are growing, with the influx of immigrants, especially Hispanics.

A poll released on Sunday by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University showed a mixed performance review for the American bishops: 22 percent of Catholics are “very satisfied” with the bishops, 50 percent are “somewhat satisfied,” 21 percent are “somewhat dissatisfied,” and 6 percent are “very dissatisfied.” It is an improvement from 2002, the outbreak of the scandal.

But most priests, and even many bishops, will acknowledge the woes.

Of 18,634 parishes in 2007, 3,238 were without resident pastors. More than 800 parishes have been closed since 1995, most since 2000. (Some bishops are preparing their parishioners for more closings ahead.) The number of priests ordained in 2007 fell to 456, less than half the number of new priests in 1965. Nearly 3 in 10 Catholics who attend Mass weekly or more said they had been personally affected by the priest shortage, according to the Georgetown poll.

“There’s a crisis,” said William V. D’Antonio, a fellow of the Life Cycle Institute at the Catholic University of America. “We’re running out of priests. The average age of priests currently active is over 60. We have recruitment of new priests way below replacement level.”

Groups that advocate opening the priesthood to women and to married men are using the pope’s visit to promote their causes. But there is nothing to suggest that the Vatican is close to reversing itself. The solutions promoted by American bishops are to work harder at recruiting candidates for the priesthood, and to ordain permanent deacons — laymen who can preach and perform many ministerial duties.

Peter Borre, a parishioner who helped form the Council of Parishes in Boston, said that if he could address Pope Benedict XVI, he would say: “The shortage of priests, Your Holiness, is both a symptom and a problem itself. The deeper problem is not a responsibility of the flock, it’s a failure of bishops to inspire and draw more people into the priesthood.”

Some bishops, like Joseph Galante in Camden, have tried to involve the laity in the painful restructuring process. But since the sexual abuse scandal, they are finding many of their parishioners have become more confrontational.

The restiveness is not only among laity. In Belleville, Ill., last month, 45 priests took the step of publicly releasing a letter to the Vatican’s representative in Washington calling for their bishop to step down. They accused the bishop, Edward K. Braxton, of poor communication with priests and of misappropriating more than $17,000 and using it to buy liturgical garments and furniture. (The bishop has apologized, but said he would not resign.)

In Boston, Catholics have spent the last four years taking turns camping inside five churches that the archdiocese wants to close. They figure that if the church is occupied, the archdiocese will not be able to padlock it.

In Boston and Toledo, some Catholics are suing the church to prevent the closings.

The quandary for the church is that the agitation is coming from some of the most religiously committed Catholics, said Mr. D’Antonio, co-author of a recent book that surveyed the members of “Voice of the Faithful,” another church reform group.

“These are really the loyal Catholics speaking out for change,” Mr. D’Antonio said. “They are the ones who have been the Eucharistic ministers, they went to Catholic parochial schools and colleges, got a terrific education, and now they want to change the church.”

Ms. Vassallo, the lawyer in Camden who objects to the closing of her parish (the diocese there is reducing the number to 66 from 124), spends every Thursday from 11 p.m. to midnight in her church praying before the Blessed Sacrament. She is one in a chain of parishioners who keep up this Eucharistic Adoration for 48 uninterrupted hours every week.

As Catholics they are devoted to their church, but don’t necessarily agree with all of its decisions. As Americans, accustomed to life in a democracy, they think they have a right to say so.

Dan Thiel, a contractor and excavator in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, was in a ministerial training program for five years in the Toledo diocese, which assigned him to help gather information from parishes on which ones could be closed or clustered. In the end, he said, he was appalled because some very alive parishes were cut. His own was reduced to a chapel, without a resident priest.

“They’ve totally abandoned our community,” said Mr. Thiel, who is now president of United Parishes, a group that is fighting parish closings in Toledo. “They took the buildings, they took the money, and said, ‘You guys can go somewhere else.’ ”

“There are so many people that want to be active in this church, that want to know more about their faith, and now they’re so offended,” Mr. Thiel said. “I tell people all the time, ‘Don’t leave your church. It’s not the pope. It’s not the bishop. It’s your community.’ ”

    In U.S., an Uncertain Church Awaits the Pope, NYT, 14.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/14/us/14church.html






Catholics seek bold papal action on sex abuse


Sat Apr 12, 2008
11:45am EDT
By Daniel Trotta


NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Catholics angered and demoralized by the priest sex abuse scandal say one man can help revitalize the Church with bold action: Pope Benedict.

The pope's trip to Washington and New York next week marks the first U.S. visit by a pontiff since a wave of sex abuse scandals began in 2002, provoking lawsuits that have forced dioceses to pay more than $2 billion in settlements.

Some advocates for the victims want the pope to apologize, others want him to permanently ban child molesters from the priesthood, or publicly identify them.

The Vatican has said Pope Benedict will discuss the scandal during his U.S. visit in an effort to heal wounds. Meetings with sex abuse victims are not on the pope's public schedule, but sometimes events are added at the last minute.

"In addition to apologizing, Pope Benedict and all our bishops should meet with survivors, listen to their stories, and treat them with respect and compassion," said Dan Bartley, president of Voice of the Faithful, a Boston-based group formed after the scandal erupted there.

Bartley called it "good news" that Benedict will address the issue, but the group wants more accountability and transparency from the Church.

The Church commissioned a study that found 10,667 people accused 4,392 priests of child sexual abuse from 1950 to 2002. Church leaders have said the study illustrates how serious they are about the problem, laying bare secrets while other institutions have not.

Moreover, it has changed its rules to more easily dismiss priests whenever there is a credible claim of abuse, said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Walsh could not say how many of the more than 4,000 priests were removed -- many had died or retired by the time the report came out -- but she said the pope would address the victims' suffering.

"It's very close to Holy Father's heart. He's just horrified by this crime," Walsh said.



The Boston Globe reported in 2002 that 130 people were abused by a former priest over three decades and he was reassigned to different parishes rather than removed from contact with young boys.

The scandal grew from there, forcing Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law to resign. The Boston Archdiocese later agreed to pay up to $85 million to settle lawsuits filed by hundreds of people who said they were sexually abused by clergy.

More claims and suits led dioceses across the country to file for bankruptcy protection. Others paid settlements, including the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which agreed to pay a record $660 million to 500 victims of sexual abuse.

The image of bishops suffered but has rebounded. A poll of U.S. Catholic adults scheduled for release on Sunday shows 72 percent are somewhat or very satisfied with their bishops, up from 58 percent in 2004, Walsh said.

Barbara Blaine, who formed the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, suspects the pope may meet with carefully selected victims in what she called a public relations gesture.

She said the Church continues to protect the identities of abusers and the bishops who know of their sins.

"The stakes are so high. Children are at risk. There's a public safety crisis still in America today," Blaine said. "We need something bold from the pope and we sure hope it will come during his visit."

(Editing by Stacey Joyce)

    Catholics seek bold papal action on sex abuse, R, 12.4.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN0929070820080412






FACTBOX: Sex scandals in U.S. Roman Catholic Church


Sat Apr 12, 2008
8:02am EDT


(Reuters) - Details of the recent sexual abuse scandals and related developments affecting the U.S. Roman Catholic Church:

* 1984 - Abuse scandals in Louisiana begin to attract attention leading freelance journalist Jason Berry to shed new light on the issue of cover-ups. His 1992 book "Lead Us Not into Temptation" contends 400 priests and brothers were involved in abuse cases during the previous eight years in North America.

* January 2002 - The Boston Globe reports 130 people were abused by former priest John Geoghan during three decades where he was reassigned rather than removed from contact with young boys. The Boston scandal starts to grow from there.

* April 2002 - U.S. cardinals called to Rome to meet with Pope John Paul II on the issue; in June 2002 the bishops approve plan for dealing with abuse, calling for accused offenders to be removed from ministerial duties pending investigation and evaluation.

* December 2002 - Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law, the most senior Roman Catholic official in the United States, resigns over his handling of clergy sexual abuse.

* September 2003 - The Boston Archdiocese agrees to pay up to $85 million to settle lawsuits filed by hundreds of people who say they were sexually abused by clergy.

* February 2004 - U.S. bishops issue report on abuse of children by priests over 52 years beginning in 1950. It finds 10,667 people accused priests of child sexual abuse from 1950 through 2002, and more than 17 percent of the accusers had siblings who were also allegedly abused.

* July-December 2004 - The dioceses of Portland, Oregon; Tucson, Arizona; and Spokane, Washington, become the first to file for bankruptcy protection in the face of growing abuse-related claims and suits.

* June 2005 - The Archdiocese of San Francisco and its insurance carriers announce payment of $21 million to 15 people to settle lawsuits charging sexual abuse.

* February 2006 - The Diocese of Covington, which covers a large area of Kentucky, settles abuse claims for $85 million.

* July 2007 - The Archdiocese of Los Angeles agrees to pay $660 million to 500 victims of sexual abuse dating back as far as the 1940s in the largest compensation deal of its kind.

* December 2007 - A lay body appointed to oversee efforts to end abuse says nearly all dioceses have complied with an audit to make sure they have protective measures in place; warns that "prevention, healing and vigilance will be demanded for the rest of our days."

(Editing by Bill Trott)

    FACTBOX: Sex scandals in U.S. Roman Catholic Church, R, 12.4.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN0840055320080412






Polygamous Sect Encouraged Fear


April 12, 2008
Filed at 3:27 a.m. ET
The New York Times


SAN ANGELO, Texas (AP) -- Texas child welfare officials have brought in mental health professionals and behavioral experts as the agency tries to ensure a sense of normalcy for the more than 400 children removed from a polygamous sect's enclave, an agency spokeswoman said.

But for all their lives, the boys and girls of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have been told the outside world was hostile and immoral. Venturing beyond the brilliant white limestone walls of their compound would consign them to eternal damnation, their church leaders preached.

Now, if the state gets its way, hundreds of children could be put in foster homes, in what could be a wrenching cultural adjustment that may require intensive counseling.

''What they are up against is having to deprogram an entire community,'' said Margaret Cooke, who left the sect with seven of her eight children near the end of 1994. The children ''are so naive and they have been sheltered to the point that they don't even trust their own judgment.''

Marleigh Meisner, a spokeswoman for the state Children's Protective Services, said the agency is working with mental health and other experts to meet specific needs of the children. That information would be passed to foster families if a judge decides the children should be transferred to foster homes, she said.

''We want to keep their world as normal as possible,'' Meisner said. ''We also want to be certain that these children have gained a trust with us. We want these children to know that even if they may not have been safe in the past, they will be safe as long as they are with us.''

Meanwhile, in court papers unsealed Friday, authorities said they found a ''cyanide poisoning document'' in their search of the compound in the town of Eldorado. But the 80-page list of items seized gave no further explanation.

Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange said the document consisted of pages torn out of a first-aid book on how to treat cyanide poisoning. But she said she didn't know why the sect would have such information on hand.

Child welfare officials seized more than 400 children, most of them girls, in the raid on the FLDS compound known as the Yearn for Zion ranch, saying the youngsters were in danger of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

The renegade Mormon splinter group requires girls at puberty to enter into polygamous marriages with much older men and produce children, authorities say. The sect also teaches children to fear the outside world, including the very authorities who removed them until a court hearing Thursday that will help determine their future.

''You're taught to fear everyone and everything,'' said Cooke, herself a 16-year-old bride.

The children and the 139 women who followed them voluntarily out of the compound are being so secretive that child welfare officials are having trouble sorting out who the youngster' parents are.

Most of the children are the offspring of the faith's inner circle -- including its now-imprisoned prophet, Warren Jeffs -- who were born since construction began on the compound in 2003, or were hand-selected by Jeffs to come to the enclave, which the sect regards as part of Zion on Earth.

In 2003 and 2004, Jeffs, the spiritual leader of an estimated 6,000 followers in two adjoining towns along the Utah-Arizona line, plucked children under the age of 6 to bring to Texas, some without their parents, former sect member Isaac Wyler said.

''Over age 6 they were too contaminated for the world to be of use to God,'' said Wyler, who still lives in Colorado City, Ariz., and has 38 siblings. ''He picked the ones that would be the most obedient, the ones that would be qualified to go to Zion.''

Authorities raided the Eldorado ranch April 3 after a girl from the clan made a whispered telephone call for help to a family violence shelter. The 16-year-old, who indicated she was a few weeks' pregnant, said her 50-year-old husband beat and raped her. The girl has not yet been identified among the 416 children and may not even be among them.

In the call, the girl said that sect members warned her that if she ever left, outsiders would hurt her and force her to cut her hair, wear makeup and have sex with many men.

Most of the sect's children have never attended public schools or worn modern clothing. The girls wear long, pioneer-style dresses and keep their long hair pinned up in a braid.

In their search of the compound, police uncovered dozens of journals and other documents that contain birth, marriage and other genealogical records. That may help social workers match children with their parents.

The hearing next Thursday will determine whether the state gets full custody of the children or whether they can return to the compound in Eldorado.

The women and children are being held at Fort Concho and nearby at the Wells Fargo Pavilion. Men from the YFZ ranch and any other relatives are not being allowed to visit.

''I think under the circumstances the folks are as happy in their environment as they can possibly be,'' said Kevin Dinnin, the shelter manager from the Texas governor's Division of Emergency Management.

Beyond the basic needs of food, fresh water, showers and bedding, Dinnin said his agency has worked to provide toys for the children and address the unique clothing and laundry needs of the FLDS, who wear long, religious underwear year-round which are not meant to be seen by outsiders.

The educational needs of the children were being assessed as were medical needs, including the treatment of about a dozen kids with chicken pox and prescription medications, he said. Mental health services are also being provided.

''We have encouraged sibling groups and mothers to stay together,'' Dinnin said of the living arrangements.

More than 500 people are working with the shelter ''guests,'' and the agency is spending between $25,000 and $35,000 daily, Dinnin said.


Associated Press writer Betsy Blaney contributed to this report from Lubbock.

    Polygamous Sect Encouraged Fear, NYT, 12.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Polygamist-Retreat.html






Pope Benedict is coming to America


Thu Apr 10, 2008
8:50am EDT
By Philip Pullella


VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict is coming to America and American Catholics may be in for some surprises.

Like Catholics globally, American Catholics are still mesmerized by the 27-year papacy of the late John Paul II and will get their first close-up look at Benedict next week when he visits Washington and New York.

Known as a fierce conservative when elected three years ago, he has surprised people with his gentle manner and stressing of the positive in Catholicism rather than the negative.

"The differences between the two popes is more stylistic than substantive," said Rev. Tom Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

"They both hold the same theological views, the same views about Church doctrine, Church teaching and Church practices but their styles are very different," he said.

Indeed, John Paul was a larger-than-life personality who, because of his acting background, knew how to dominate the stage and ignite a crowd.

Benedict, who will mark both his 81st birthday as well as the third anniversary of his election during the trip, is reticent and shy but also charming.

"I do think that to some extent there is a disconnect between the public impression of this man and the private personality. You will never meet a more gracious figure," said John Allen, a prominent U.S. Catholic author and journalist.


Allen, speaking last week at the Pew Forum On Religion and Public Life in Washington, said even Church liberals had stopped seeing Benedict as "a sort of Darth Vader" and now give him high marks for his papacy.

When he was elected, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger brought with him the baggage of his role as the Church's chief doctrinal enforcer, a position he held for nearly 25 years.

He now seems not so much an enigma but someone who takes time to get to understand.

An opinion poll by the Pew Forum this month showed that fewer Catholics in the United States now automatically attach the "conservative" label to his name and an increasing number identify him as moderate or even liberal.

George Weigel, a leading American lay theologian and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, has described the change as a Catholic "hunger to be fed by a master teacher".

"This man so widely regarded as a kind of enforcer, a kind of heavy, turns out in this role (teacher) to be the gentle and brilliant grandfather who knows how to explain things and make the most complex parts of Catholic doctrine and practice make sense to ordinary people," Weigel said at the Pew Forum event.

Since his election, Benedict has seen his role as a strong re-assertion of a traditional Catholic identity but with a positive spin -- what Allen calls "affirmative orthodoxy".



While some Muslims, Jews and Protestants have seen some of his actions and comments as alienating, Benedict has offered his own flock a clearer sense of what makes them Catholic.

"I think Benedict's diagnosis is that people are far too familiar with what the Catholic Church is against rather than what it's for ... so I think his effort is to try to present a positive vision of what the Catholic Church represents," Allen said.

Benedict, a professor and prolific author before he was elected, seems to have settled well into his role of being chief teacher and leaving more administrative affairs to his aides.

Although he was formed socially and culturally in Europe, he has a deep awareness of the religious vitality of U.S. society.

"I think he is going to be an inspiration but at the same time challenging," said Reese.

"We are the richest, most powerful country in the world and he has an obligation to come here and challenge us to use our wealth and our power for good," he said.

Vatican officials also said the pope will seek to heal wounds from the sexual abuse scandal that shook the Church in the United States and urge reconciliation with victims.

Before his election as pontiff in 2005, then Cardinal Ratzinger went out on a limb to decry the "filth" in the Church.

(Editing by Stephen Weeks)

    Pope Benedict is coming to America, R, 10.4.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSL0934354020080410






FACTBOX: America's Roman Catholic population


Thu Apr 10, 2008
7:59am EDT


(Reuters) - Once solidly Irish, Italian and Polish, the U.S. Roman Catholic Church, the largest Christian denomination in the country, has become increasingly Hispanic in recent years.

Like other mainline denominations it is also losing members to competing faiths such as evangelical Protestant churches.

Following are some facts and figures about the U.S. Catholic population, which will greet Pope Benedict when he visits the United States from April 15 to 20.

- According to a recent nationwide survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 23.9 percent of the adult U.S. population identifies itself as Catholic. This tallies with estimates by the U.S. Catholic Church itself.

- Since the early 1970s the percentage of the population counting itself as Catholic has remained stable at around 25 percent. But according to Pew, no other major faith has experienced greater net losses with 31.4 percent of U.S. adults saying they were raised Catholic and about one in 10 describing themselves as former Catholics.

- In the face of these losses the Church has maintained its share of the U.S. population by winning its own converts but mostly through immigration, especially from Latin America. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says that about 39 percent of U.S. Catholics are Hispanic.

- The USCCB also says that since 1960, 71 percent of U.S. Catholic population growth has been Hispanic and that by the second decade of the 21st century, more than 50 percent of U.S. Catholics will likely be Hispanic.

- The USCCB estimates that there are 2.3 million African American Catholics. There is also a growing population of Vietnamese Catholics in areas like north Texas.

- The U.S. Northeast remains one of the centers of American Catholicism, with 29 percent of all adults there belonging to the faith.

- One indicator of the resiliency of Catholicism in any country is the Mass attendance rate among the flock. According to a 2007 survey by Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, about one fifth of U.S. Catholics attend Mass at least once a week while 11 percent go almost every week.

(Sources: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life; United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Reuters; Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate)

(Compiled by Ed Stoddard;

Editing by Mike Conlon and Xavier Briand)

    FACTBOX: America's Roman Catholic population, R, 10.4.2008,




home Up