On bicentennials, materialism, sexual abuse and the quiet, attrition of Catholics

Here is the pope’s address to the American 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 travelled 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. Continue reading

‘…a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator’

And here are the pope’s remarks at the White House:

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Mr. President,
Thank you for your gracious words of welcome on behalf of the people of the United States of America. I deeply appreciate your invitation to visit this great country. My visit coincides with an important moment in the life of the Catholic community in America: the celebration of the two-hundredth anniversary of the elevation of the country’s first Diocese – Baltimore – to a metropolitan Archdiocese, and the establishment of the Sees of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Louisville. Yet I am happy to be here as a guest of all Americans. I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society. America’s Catholics have made, and continue to make, an excellent contribution to the life of their country. As I begin my visit, I trust that my presence will be a source of renewal and hope for the Church in the United States, and strengthen the resolve of Catholics to contribute ever more responsibly to the life of this nation, of which they are proud to be citizens.

From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the “self-evident truth” that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God. The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideals and aspirations.

In the next few days, I look forward to meeting not only with America’s Catholic community, but with other Christian communities and representatives of the many religious traditions present in this country. Historically, not only Catholics, but all believers have found here the freedom to worship God in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, while at the same time being accepted as part of a commonwealth in which each individual and group can make its voice heard. As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society.

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate. In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good (cf. Spe Salvi, 24). Few have understood this as clearly as the late Pope John Paul II. In reflecting on the spiritual victory of freedom over totalitarianism in his native Poland and in eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows, time and again, that “in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation”, and a democracy without values can lose its very soul (cf. Centesimus Annus, 46). Those prophetic words in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent “indispensable supports” of political prosperity.

The Church, for her part, wishes to contribute to building a world ever more worthy of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27). She is convinced that faith sheds new light on all things, and that the Gospel reveals the noble vocation and sublime destiny of every man and woman (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 10). Faith also gives us the strength to respond to our high calling, and the hope that inspires us to work for an ever more just and fraternal society. 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.

For well over a century, the United States of America has played an important role in the international community. On Friday, God willing, I will have the honor of addressing the United Nations Organization, where I hope to encourage the efforts under way to make that institution an ever more effective voice for the legitimate aspirations of all the world’s peoples. On this, the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the need for global solidarity is as urgent as ever, if all people are to live in a way worthy of their dignity – as brothers and sisters dwelling in the same house and around that table which God’s bounty has set for all his children. America has traditionally shown herself generous in meeting immediate human needs, fostering development and offering relief to the victims of natural catastrophes. 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. In this way, coming generations will be able to live in a world where truth, freedom and justice can flourish – a world where the God-given dignity and rights of every man, woman and child are cherished, protected and effectively advanced.

Mr. President, dear friends: as I begin my visit to the United States, I express once more my gratitude for your invitation, my joy to be in your midst, and my fervent prayers that Almighty God will confirm this nation and its people in the ways of justice, prosperity and peace. God bless America!

Back with my press pass

Be glad you’re not waiting for media credentials to see the pope.

I just got back from several hours on line and, well, there are more than a few glitches.

But I’m back. I passed by St. Joseph’s Seminary while on the Westchester Cross County Parkway (which will be closed Saturday, by the way) and saw the great stage that is being constructed for Saturday’s youth rally. It should be something.

Here is the joint statement from the White House and Holy See on this morning’s meeting between the president and the pope:

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His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and President George W. Bush met today in the Oval Office of the White House.

President Bush, on behalf of all Americans, welcomed the Holy Father, wished him a happy birthday, and thanked him for the spiritual and moral guidance, which he offers to the whole human family. The President wished the Pope every success in his Apostolic Journey and in his address at the United Nations, and expressed appreciation for the Pope’s upcoming visit to “Ground Zero” in New York.

During their meeting, the Holy Father and the President discussed a number of topics of common interest to the Holy See and the United States of America, including moral and religious considerations to which both parties are committed: the respect of the dignity of the human person; the defense and promotion of life, matrimony and the family; the education of future generations; human rights and religious freedom; sustainable development and the struggle against poverty and pandemics, especially in Africa. In regard to the latter, the Holy Father welcomed the United States’ substantial financial contributions in this area. The two reaffirmed their total rejection of terrorism as well as the manipulation of religion to justify immoral and violent acts against innocents. They further touched on the need to confront terrorism with appropriate means that respect the human person and his or her rights.

The Holy Father and the President devoted considerable time in their discussions to the Middle East, in particular resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict in line with the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security, their mutual support for the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon, and their common concern for the situation in Iraq and particularly the precarious state of Christian communities there and elsewhere in the region. The Holy Father and the President expressed hope for an end to violence and for a prompt and comprehensive solution to the crises which afflict the region.

The Holy Father and the President also considered the situation in Latin America with reference, among other matters, to immigrants, and the need for a coordinated policy regarding immigration, especially their humane treatment and the well being of their families.

Happy birthday to you

Happy 81st birthday to Pope Benedict XVI.

It’s also Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s birthday. And Bobby Vinton’s. And Ellen Barkin’s. And the late Charlie Chaplin’s. I only know this because it’s mine, too.

I keep reading/hearing media reports that the White House is having a dinner tonight in the pope’s honor — but that the pope won’t be there! Shocking. I mean, can you imagine Benedict XVI sitting at some dais or schmoozing and swapping stories with ambassadors and diplomats’ wives?

Anyway, I’m off to the media HQ in NYC this morning to get papal credentials for me and my Journal News/LoHud colleagues. I hope I filled out all the applications correctly…

Someone’s taking his vitamins

tjndc5-5jlqu199sqg1as84e3tn_layout.jpgI wonder if my initial impression is shared by others.

Boy, the pope looks good for a fellow who is turning 81 tomorrow. He practically skipped down the stairs from the plane — and we’re talking about after a long flight.

I’m half his age, and when I take a transatlantic flight, I can hardly straighten my back for an hour afterward.

B16 looks strong and fit.

He’ll have to be to keep up with his schedule for the next week…

Another perspective on Catholic schools

The Archdiocese of NY recently announced that it would close 6 more Catholic schools

One Catholic teachers union in New York is striking, days before the pope comes. The other, larger union went on strike for the first time in decades before settling a new contract a few days ago.

It might be worth reading some recent comments about Catholic education from Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. (who will begin hosting the pope in about 2 hours).

bishopwuerl.jpgIn advance of the papal visit to D.C., Wuerl met with editors of the Washington Post and Washington Times.

Wuerl has been under tremendous heat in D.C. for proposing that seven Catholic schools be transformed into secular, taxpayer-funded charter schools. He says that the Catholic school system cannot hold up without government support (private-school vouchers).

He told the Post:

We simply don’t have the resources to keep all those schools open. We have exhausted the resources available to us.

And the Times:

The whole idea of vouchers is that the money that we all pay in taxes for education should follow the child. The child is being educated at the school the parents decide on. Until that happens, we’re just going to gradually see a continual challenge to the ability of the church to sustain all of these schools, particularly in the poorest, urban areas.

It’s no wonder that the Washington Post editorialized yesterday: “Pope Benedict XVI should address the crisis in U.S. Catholic schools.”

Maybe the pope will do just that when he addresses Catholic education officials on Thursday.

Part of the papal media pack

My Journal News/LoHud colleague Shawn Cohen is in Washington for the pope’s arrival.

At the moment, he is on one of 5 media buses preparing to head for Andrews Air Force Base. They will receive a police escort the whole way.

He filed this post:

With all the pre-planning that has gone into the pope’s first visit to the United States, I was a bit startled this morning when I showed up at the press center downtown to get my media credentials and found out there were two Shawn Cohens on the reporters list. The other one, I was told, was a woman working for the Washington Times. They had her pass waiting for her, with her picture on it. Mine was nowhere to be found. I was told they didn’t receive my photo in advance and that the Secure Service therefore couldn’t completed my background check. Bottom line: I couldn’t get the bus to greet the pope at Andrews Air Force base or go to any other events I was planning to cover. Thus began my mad dash through the city to the offices of the Secret Service, where — to make a long story short — I learned that Shawn Cohen for the Washington Times also shared my social security number. Someone goofed. I cleared it up. Problem solved. So now I’m actually on that bus heading to Andrews. It’s now 12:30 p.m. and the pope is set to arrive at 4. The president will be waiting. And, fortunately, so will I.

The pope’s thoughts (from the air)

Here is the latest — I mean the very latest — from the papal plane, as Benedict XVI heads to the U.S.:

By VICTOR L. SIMPSON
Associated Press Writer

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) _ Pope Benedict XVI said Tuesday he was “deeply ashamed” of the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church and will work to make sure pedophiles don’t become priests.

Benedict was answering questions submitted in advance by reporters aboard a special Alitalia airliner as he was flying from Rome to Washington to begin his first papal pilgrimage to the United States.

“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,” Benedict said. “It is difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betray in this way their mission … to these children.”

“I am deeply ashamed and we will do what is possible so this cannot happen again in the future,” the pope said.

Benedict pledged that pedophiles would not be priests in the Catholic Church.

“We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry,” Benedict said in English. “It is more important to have good priests than many priests. We will do everything possible to heal this wound.”

tjndc5-5jk41ox8nltxpq68ord_layout1.jpgBenedict’s pilgrimage was the first trip by a pontiff to the United States since the scandal involving priests sexually abusing young people rocked U.S. dioceses. The church has paid out more than $2 billion in abuse costs since 1950, with hundreds of millions in settlements just since 2002. Six U.S. dioceses have declared bankruptcy in recent years because of the financial toll of the scandal.

Pedophilia is “absolutely incompatible” with the priesthood,” Benedict said.

Vatican officials selected four questions to be read by the journalists to the pontiff aboard the plane.

Benedict described his pilgrimage as a journey to meet a “great people and a great church.” He spoke about the American model of religious values within a system of separation of church and state.

From a presidential welcome, to two Masses at baseball stadiums, to a stop for prayer at ground zero in New York, Benedict will get a heavy dose of the American experience.

President Bush planned to make the unusual gesture of greeting him at Andrews Air Force Base — the first time the president has greeted a foreign leader there.

The pope said he will discuss immigration with Bush, including the difficulties of families who are separated by immigration.

While the pope and Bush differ on such major issues on the Iraq war, capital punishment and the U.S. embargo against Cuba, they do find common ground in opposing abortion, gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research.

White House press secretary Dana Perino, asked about the pope’s comments about the clergy sex abuse scandal, said she wouldn’t rule out that the topic would come up in conversation between the pope and the president.

But she added that “I don’t think it’s necessarily on the president’s top priorities” for his agenda in talking with the pope.

Perino said the two leaders would likely discuss human rights, religious tolerance and the fight against violent extremism.

As for the war in Iraq, Perino said, “Obviously, there were differences years back.” She downplayed those, emphasizing instead a strong bond between Bush and the pope.

Peter Isely, a board member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the pope should go further and establish child protection policies for the worldwide church. He said penalties should be established for church leaders who fail to discipline predatory priests.

“It’s easy and tempting to continually focus on the pedophile priests themselves,” Isely said. “It’s harder but crucial to focus on the broader problem — complicity in the rest of the church hierarchy.”

Although a few bishops accused of molestation have stepped down, no bishop has been disciplined for failing to keep abusive clergy away from children. Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as archbishop of Boston in 2002 after church files were made public showing he and other church leaders had allowed accused clergy to continue in public ministry.

Benedict will give a speech at the United Nations during the second, New York leg of his six-day trip.

A crowd of up to 12,000, larger than the gathering for Queen Elizabeth II, is expected at the White House Wednesday to greet Benedict on his 81st birthday. Aides say he is in good health.

After making little headway in his efforts to rekindle the faith in his native Europe, the German-born Benedict will be visiting a country where many of the 65 million Catholics are eager to hear what he says.

A poll released Sunday by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University found eight in 10 Catholics are somewhat or very satisfied with his leadership.

Benedict is expected to stress the importance of moral values and take on what he sees are the dangers of moral relativism — that is, that there are no absolute rights and wrongs.

Also, while in New York, Benedict will visit the Park East synagogue, part of his efforts for close relations with Jews. Like his predecessor John Paul II, he has referred to Jews as “our older brothers in faith.”

He also will celebrate Mass at Nationals Park in Washington and Yankee Stadium in New York, his last major event of the trip.

Looking ahead at the papal weather

Hours before the pope arrives in Washington, I can’t help looking at the weather forecast for New York for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

And it’s mighty iffy.

Friday, the pope’s first day in New York, looks great. About 70 and sunny.

bi-clouds-weather_1.jpgBut for Saturday and Sunday, when tens of thousands will be outdoors all day to be near the pope, things are less clear.

The Weather Channel shows occasional showers for both days. 68 degrees on Saturday for the youth rally in Yonkers, but only 58 degrees on Sunday for the Mass at the stadium.

But the National Weather Service forecast for the Bronx shows mostly sunny with only a 10 percent chance of rain on Saturday, and cloudy with a 20 percent chance of rain for Sunday.

The archdiocese will have 100,000 ponchos on hand (no umbrellas allowed).

But pray for sun.