Pope Pleases Faithful on U.S. Trip

Pope Benedict XVI wins support with his warm demeanor during a visit to the U.S. His speeches to bishops and Catholic educators and his meeting with victims of clergy sexual abuse, have pleased both conservatives and liberals.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In New York today, Pope Benedict XVI spoke at the United Nations. Benedict talked about his belief that human rights, not violence, are central to solving the world's problems.

NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports that during the Pope's visit to the U.S. he has defied his authoritarian image.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: In his speech today, Pope Benedict called for sharing wealth with the poor, saving the environment, and protecting human rights. In what some pope watchers considered a veiled reference to Guantanamo Bay, he said legalities should not prevail over justice. And in a possible allusion to China and Muslim countries, the pope called for religious freedom.

Pope BENEDICT XVI: It is inconsiderable that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves, their faith, in order to be active citizens.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Pope Benedict has criticized those countries in the past for stifling Christianity. This was a less explicit, more diplomatic Benedict XvI. After all, when he became Pope his nickname was God's rottweiler - the keeper of Orthodoxy. Many people thought he might be dour where his predecessor was brilliant, that he might scold Catholic educators and soft pedal the sexual abused scandal.

Monsignor KEVIN IRWIN (Dean of Theology, Catholic University of America): He surprised people's expectations and that becomes the story, doesn't it?

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Monsignor Kevin Irwin is the dean of Catholic University School of Theology. Exhibit one, he says, the sex abuse crisis. Over the past three days, Benedict has rebuked U.S. bishops for mishandling the crisis, confessed he was deeply ashamed of the scandal, and astonished almost everyone by meeting personally with some victims of abuse.

Irwin wasn't surprised. He says that before becoming pope, Joseph Ratzinger oversaw the Vatican department that handled every allegation.

Monsignor IRWIN: I believe that changed his mind and heart, and therefore, soon after becoming the Holy Father, took much more initiative on this - dare I say - than I think John Paul II did in the waning years, literally, of his pontificate.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Irwin acknowledges that some have accused Benedict of taking to long to defrock abusive priests. But, he says the Vatican under Benedict has quietly forced abusers out of the priesthood.

Benedict's approach to Catholic educators was also unexpectedly gentle. Thomas Reese, a theologian at Georgetown University, says some Catholic educators expected to be scolded for advocating liberal views on say, ordination of women and homosexuality.

Father THOMAS REESE (Theologian, Woodstock Theological Center; Georgetown University): Catholic academics were very pleased when he reaffirmed his commitment to academic freedom.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Benedict told the educators last night that he's not happy when Catholic professors deviate from Catholic orthodoxy, but…

Father REESE: What he did not say is that these people should be fired.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: And while Benedict is not as charismatic as Pope John Paul was, Irwin says American Catholics have warmed to his style.

Monsignor IRWIN: I think that he's a very purposeful, focused, German priest professor and he's given us truly himself, with a bit more personality than I think people expected.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: And he says this Pope has given American Catholics plenty to digest in his speeches and his actions over the past few days.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Pope Lauds Human Rights, Cooperation at U.N.

Pope Benedict XVI told the U.N. General Assembly that strengthening human rights should be the key to solving the world's problems and that nations should guard against a relativistic interpretation of moral principles.

The international community must be "capable of responding to the demands of the human family through binding international rules," Benedict said on his first papal trip to the U.S.

Collective interventions by the international community are needed, the pope said.

Benedict warned against power being concentrated in the hands of just a few nations.

"Multilateral consensus," he said, speaking in French, "continues to be in crisis because it is still subordinated to the decisions of a small number."

The pontiff praised the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights, which applies "to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high-point of God's creative design for the world and for history."

This week has brought celebrations of that document's 60th anniversary.

Pope Benedict also warned that human rights should be protected from becoming "a relativistic conception," which he said would result in rights' definitions varying and "their universality … denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks."

Benedict is only the third pope to address the United Nations. His remarks came after three dramatic days in which he repeatedly discussed America's clergy sexual abuse scandal.

Later Friday afternoon, Pope Benedict will make history as he becomes the first pontiff to visit an American synagogue, the 118-year-old Park East Synagogue.

In New York, the pope also plans to visit Ground Zero and to celebrate a Mass at Yankee Stadium.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.