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.
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