Thursday, April 17, 2008

Benedict Makes People Sit Down, Shut Up, and Listen

From the Standard-Times

As Pope Benedict XVI arrives today in Washington, D.C., on the first leg of a six-day visit, local Catholics will be paying close attention to how the pontiff addresses the clergy sex abuse crisis that rocked the American church in 2002.

"Benedict will not be vague or ambiguous in condemning it," the Rev. Roger J. Landry, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in New Bedford, said Monday.

The Rev. Landry is coordinating transportation for 100 parishioners from across the Fall River diocese to attend the April 20 papal Mass at Yankee Stadium.

The local pilgrims will find security at Yankee Stadium to be among the most stringent ever seen in a U.S. venue. Security has been increased in the wake of the Secret Service receiving "credible" death threats against the pope. Tickets to the papal Mass have bar codes with the parishioners' identifications.

Pope Benedict's apostolic visit — its theme being "Christ Our Hope" — is the first papal pilgrimage to the United States since the abuse scandals. The pope is expected to address the issue in his remarks to U.S. bishops and in his homilies in Washington and New York.

At the same time, the pope, who marks his 81st birthday on Wednesday, will face challenges within the American church that include: declining Mass attendance; parishes and schools that have closed; declining numbers of priests, nuns and other religious; and especially disagreements among Catholics over church teachings.

Despite the efforts of Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, the former bishop of the Fall River diocese, Pope Benedict will not be visiting Boston, which was at the epicenter of the clergy sex abuse scandal.

The Rev. Landry said the Vatican did not want the pope's visit to end on that note.

Voice of the Faithful, a lay group formed in response to the abuse crisis, is seeking to keep the issue front and center, raising money to buy a full-page advertisement in the New York Times and other national newspapers.

"We don't think (Pope Benedict) understands what's happening in the U.S. church," John Moynihan, Voice of the Faithful communications director, told The Standard-Times last month. "We want to call his attention to reality."

As prefect for the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Benedict, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had responsibility for reviewing allegations of sexual abuse against priests. Condemning sex abuse, he denounced "filth" in the church, "even among those in the priesthood."

As pope, he has endorsed efforts to examine abuse allegations and to support victims, the Rev. Landry said.

During his U.S. visit, Pope Benedict will seek to promote healing within the church, as well as to remind the clergy of their vocation to a holy or consecrated life, the Rev. Landry said.

"Benedict has no blinders on," the Rev. Landry said. "He's going to be ever firm in calling out the clergy is supposed to be, above all, holy."

Over the next three days, the pope's itinerary in Washington will include a private meeting with President Bush, a prayer service with 350 U.S. bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and Mass at Nationals Park.

Fall River Bishop George W. Coleman will participate in the prayer service and will concelebrate the pope's Mass at Nationals Park.

John Kearns, spokesman for the Fall River diocese, will assist the communications staff of the U.S. Bishops' Conference.

While in Washington, Pope Benedict will also address leaders from Catholic colleges, and meet with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and representatives from other religions.

In New York, the pope will address the U.N. General Assembly, visit Ground Zero, celebrate a special Mass for priests and religious at St. Patrick's Cathedral, visit a synagogue and celebrate the public Mass at Yankee Stadium.

Fall River diocesan priests, the Revs. Kevin Cook and David Pignato, will attend the special Mass for priests at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

The Rev. Landry said Pope Benedict will challenge Catholic Americans to fulfill the hopes enshrined in the nation's founding documents.

"He wants to make sure the focus is on God," the Rev. Landry said. "He sees his whole papacy as reminding people that their lives as Christians are supposed to be filled with joy."

In previous writings and interviews, the pope has articulated a fondness for the United States, admiring the nation for its robust spirituality. Despite the occasional First Amendment tensions over separation of church and state issues, Benedict has said religion is not marginalized in the U.S. the way it is now in Western Europe.

Benedict "is going to try to strengthen what the Vatican sees as America's strengths," the Rev. Landry said.

"He's going to be talking of the history of Catholicism in the United States as this living out of faith, hope and love," said the Rev. Landry, referencing the three theological virtues that have been the subjects of Pope Benedict's first two encyclicals.

Benedict's visit is the ninth papal pilgrimage to the United States, tying Poland with the country most visited by a pope. Popes Paul VI and John Paul II visited the U.S. during their papacies.

While John Paul II wielded immense charisma and an actor's timing on the world stage, Benedict XVI is known more for a low-key scholarly approach. His writings and speeches, while at times sparking controversy, have generally been commended for their erudition and clarity.

"There's a reverence with Benedict," the Rev. Landry said. "Benedict makes people sit down, shut up and listen."

The Rev. Landry said the depth of the pope's thinking has made his writings "just as good as any of those of the early fathers of the church." That would put the pontiff in the company of luminaries such as Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Leo the Great and St. Jerome.

"Watch for masterpieces," the Rev. Landry said in referencing Pope Benedict's upcoming addresses.

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