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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

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

From: JCY Sent: Wed 4/16/2008 9:28 PM To: CRPL Subject: NYT: Pope Praises U.S., but Warns o
LATEST NEWS Pope Praises U.S., but Warns of Secular Challenges Pope Benedict XVI completes his address in the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images Pope Benedict XVI completes his address in the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. 3 more images By IAN FISHER and SHERYL GAY STOLBERG Published: April 17, 2008 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 that this secular tradition often prevents Americans from living their beliefs fully, accepting divorce, abortion and cohabitation outside of marriage. "Perhaps America's brand of secularism poses a particular problem," he told American bishops here. "It allows for professing belief in God, and respects the public role of religion and the churches, but at the same time can subtly reduce religious belief to a lowest common denominator." "The result is a growing separation of faith from life," he said. For the second day, on his first official visit to America, the pope acknowledged the pain caused by the sex abuse scandal that has divided and weakened the American church. He called the behavior of pedophile priests "evil" and agreed that the scandal as it unfolded was "sometimes very badly handled." But he said the measures taken to prevent such abuses - measures he said are "bearing fruit" - needed to be put it into "a wider context," pointing to a society that he said does not always live up to Catholic teaching. "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? "We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike," he said. His comments to bishops seemed in contrast to the festive and highly celebratory greeting he received at the White House. But his general tone, on a day when he was feted by thousands of flag-waving supporters on the streets of the capital, appeared aimed at challenging more than scolding. Page 1 of 5 1.NEXT PAGE Pope Praises U.S., but Warns of Secular Challenges Pope Benedict XVI completes his address in the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images Pope Benedict XVI completes his address in the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. 3 more images By IAN FISHER and SHERYL GAY STOLBERG Published: April 17, 2008 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 that this secular tradition often prevents Americans from living their beliefs fully, accepting divorce, abortion and cohabitation outside of marriage. "Perhaps America's brand of secularism poses a particular problem," he told American bishops here. "It allows for professing belief in God, and respects the public role of religion and the churches, but at the same time can subtly reduce religious belief to a lowest common denominator." "The result is a growing separation of faith from life," he said. For the second day, on his first official visit to America, the pope acknowledged the pain caused by the sex abuse scandal that has divided and weakened the American church. He called the behavior of pedophile priests "evil" and agreed that the scandal as it unfolded was "sometimes very badly handled." But he said the measures taken to prevent such abuses - measures he said are "bearing fruit" - needed to be put it into "a wider context," pointing to a society that he said does not always live up to Catholic teaching. "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? "We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike," he said. His comments to bishops seemed in contrast to the festive and highly celebratory greeting he received at the White House. But his general tone, on a day when he was feted by thousands of flag-waving supporters on the streets of the capital, appeared aimed at challenging more than scolding. Vatican officials have portrayed this trip as an opportunity to show Americans a fuller picture of the pope, beyond his reputation for doctrinal orthodoxy. Still, he found fertile ground for his conservative brand of faith in President Bush, who has made his own Christian faith a central tenet of his life as an American politician. Christian conservatives - and, increasingly, Catholics - are a key component of the president's political base, and the White House has made aggressive efforts to reach out to them. That was reflected in the crowd of 13,500 who turned out on the South Lawn on Wednesday morning, where the pope was welcomed by a 21-gun salute, a fife and drum band, a soprano 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. More obscure, but still significant, the president adopted a phrase of the pope himself when he said the nation needs 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 that his fellow cardinals went into the conclave that elected him Pope Benedict XVI, decried the idea that all belief is equally true. "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." 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. "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." 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 played host to Pope John Paul II. After the public ceremony, the pope and the president had a private meeting in the Oval Office. The White House issued a statement afterward saying the two "devoted considerable time in their discussions" to the Middle East, particularly resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. While the pope has expressed his opposition to the war in Iraq, the White House press secretary, Dana Perino, said Mr. Bush brought up the topic in their meeting. Ms. Perino said the discussion was "largely about the plight of Christians" - an issue that the pope raised when the two met for the first time at the Vatican last year. She would not elaborate, saying "they had an understanding that it would be private." Leaving the White House, the pope returned to the home of papal nuncio, giving thousands of bystanders - waving flags and white-and-yellow Vatican pennants, strumming guitars and banging drums - a glimpse. "It was close - I couldn't believe it!" said Martha Littlefield, 44, a native of Mexico who traveled from Houston with 200 Catholics to see the pope. The pope ate lunch privately with American cardinals and in the early evening met with Catholic charity groups. He then traveled to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, for his meeting with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, with about 300 bishops in attendance. The meeting was significant as the pope's opportunity to outline his vision of the state of the American church to the people who must carry out that vision. It was also significant as the first meeting with the pope since the sex scandal erupted in 2002. Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago and president of the conference, greeted the pope with frank remarks, saying he is a source of encouragement and hope when the church is in a trying time. Cardinal George acknowledged that the sexual abuse by priests was "sometimes very badly handled by the bishops" - the phrase that the pope directly quoted - which he said has made "both the personal faith of some Catholics and the public life of the church herself more problematic." He said that while the church "rejoices in her cultural diversity," it is "troubled by ideological differences that weaken not only our witness to the world but the life of faith itself." In an address whose transcript ran six dense pages, the pope tackled a broad range of issues, praising the vitality of the church but worrying that many Catholics are not fully living their faith in so secular a culture. "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," he said. "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 said. "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. Ian Fisher contributed reporting.

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