Pope Benedict's First 100 Days

Pope Benedict XVI completes the first 100 days of his papacy. The pontiff, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, was inaugurated April 24. Are any trends developing?

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

And today's the 100th day of Pope Benedict XVI's papacy, and traditionally a time to examine where the pope wants to take the Catholic Church. Benedict was inaugurated amid much pomp during a ceremony at the Vatican on April 24th.

(Soundbite of ceremony)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in Latin)

BRAND: Since then he's issued a flurry of statements. Parsing through them, John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter has found a pope less doctrinaire than some had feared.

Mr. JOHN ALLEN (National Catholic Reporter): There has been no knight of the long knives, where he has tossed out dissident theologians. He has not decreed that the Mass is going to go back to being celebrated in the Latin language. He has not rolled the clock back on issues. And moreover, he has also revealed himself to be a fairly collaborative leader that is open to soliciting advice and acting on it.

BRAND: Most notably, he's reached out to the Jews.

Rabbi GARY BRETTON-GRANATOOR (Anti-Defamation League): I think that this is a wonderful continuation of the papacy that was started by John Paul II.

BRAND: That's Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, director of interfaith affairs for the Anti-Defamation League.

Pope John Paul II famously made overtures to the Jews, including visiting Jerusalem's Wailing Wall. In recent days, Pope Benedict has caused some controversy when he left Israel off a list of countries that have suffered from terrorism. But Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor says despite that, Pope Benedict is committed to good relations with Jews.

Rabbi BRETTON-GRANATOOR From the very moment of his inauguration as pope, he reached out to the Jewish community. He actually invited a number of representatives of the Jewish community to come to his installation. Unfortunately, it fell on the first morning of the Jewish festival of Passover, but that gesture in and of itself was a very important statement.

Ms. FRANCES KISSLING (Catholics for a Free Choice): The big element of the 100 days is he reached out to everybody, but it seems he reached out to everybody but Catholics.

BRAND: Frances Kissling runs the group Catholics for a Free Choice. On their Web site Pope Watch, they monitored his first 100 days.

Ms. KISSLING: He didn't do good.

BRAND: ...on a variety of issues: lifting the ban on condoms to prevent the transmission of AIDS; promoting women to top positions in the Vatican; and meeting with and apologizing to victims of the priest sex abuse scandal.

Ms. KISSLING: He made absolutely no outreach whatsoever to the community of those who have survived sexual abuse, did not meet--as is true of his predecessor, did not meet with a single victim of sexual abuse, has made absolutely no statement about sexual abuse that would be considered reassuring to anyone. So in terms of business, we think it's business as usual and the old boys club is alive and well.

BRAND: But recently, Pope Benedict removed a priest from active ministry who was accused of sex abuse, and he appointed an American cardinal to the position he held under John Paul, the church's overseer of doctrine. That signals to pope expert John Allen Pope Benedict's willingness to deal with the American priest scandal. But Allen says it does not signal that the pope is open to the many suggestions on how to fix the problem: ordaining women, letting priests marry or allowing for openly gay priests.

Mr. ALLEN: I think some people in the Catholic world would like to see some room for debate and even defense on some of those questions. I don't think that's what the pope has in mind. I think he believes the most important thing is for the church to be clear about what it stands for. And if that means pruning in terms of Catholics who perhaps aren't completely in sync with those teachings, then I think he'd be willing to accept that.

BRAND: But not without regret. Just last week, the pope lamented the declining church attendance in the West and the rise of secularism, which he famously decried a day before he was elected pope as `a dictatorship of relativism.'

Mr. ALLEN: The pope believes there are certain truths about human life and about human morality that simply are non-negotiable. What that means concretely is that this is going to be a very politically engaged pontificate and especially on what we could in the States the culture wars.

BRAND: And that's translated into two instances where he's tried to influence legislation. In Italy, he pushed for a rejection of a referendum that would have allowed for medically assisted reproduction and in Spain, he came out against a plan to legalize gay marriage. He won in Italy and lost in Spain.

In the US, he has already gotten involved in politics. Before he was elected pope, he said that Catholic politicians who support abortion should be denied Communion. It became a campaign issue that contributed to Democrat John Kerry losing the Catholic vote. And that worries critic Frances Kissling, who's thinking about another prominent Catholic, Supreme Court nominee John Roberts.

Ms. KISSLING: If this pope will intervene in the ways he has already in Europe, it certainly raises questions for us in the immediate sense in terms of whether he thinks he can tell John Roberts how to vote when he gets on the Supreme Court.

BRAND: But for the pope's fans, Benedict is right to enter the political fray. Michael Novak at the American Enterprise Institute says these are not political battles; they're moral battles.

Mr. MICHAEL NOVAK (American Enterprise Institute): They have to do with what we think human beings are, what we think men are, what we think women are, what we think family is. And they're rather fundamental about the meaning of human life. He can't avoid them. I mean, he would be really quite delinquent if he avoided them.

BRAND: On his desk right now is a document dealing with another contentious topic: Whether or not gay seminarians should be ordained. Already the pope has called homosexuality an objective disorder, but he could pursue a sort of `don't ask, don't tell' policy.

Pope Benedict is less flashy, less a public personality than his predecessor, John Paul. But he was John Paul's director of policy for 24 years and now, as pope, is turning out to be just as dedicated to preserving the Catholic Church as he sees it.

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