In the News 2008

Pope’s visit brings out other views


NEW YORK — Inside security barricades along Fifth Avenue, a wall of admirers gathered around St. Patrick’s Cathedral Saturday morning, cheering and applauding Pope Benedict XVI on the third anniversary of his election.

Three blocks from the cathedral, outside the barriers and out of view of the cameras tracking the pontiff, a small band of Catholics quietly waved protest placards rather than papal flags.

The group showed up primarily to call more attention to the plight of victims of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

But throughout the country, the pope’s visit has been occasion to raise other long-standing concerns — such as disillusionment with the church’s insistence that its priests be celibate males and disdain for a Vatican teaching prohibiting married couples from using artificial birth control.

“The chasm between the hierarchy and the Catholic people is really quite broad,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. “There are serious difficulties within the family.”

The Vatican shouldn’t interpret the broad adulation for Benedict as adherence to its doctrines, O’Brien said.

“Visit or no visit, it’s not going to make a lot of difference in the practice of Catholics here,” he said. “Keep in mind when someone is standing there in the crowd waving the flag, the man on the left-hand side is probably using contraception, the woman on the right-hand side may have had an abortion and the person behind him might be divorced.”

Benedict hasn’t hesitated to address the sex abuse scandal in his first pontifical visit to the U.S., which concludes today with a Mass in Yankee Stadium.

He has brought up the matter on four separate occasions, including during Saturday’s Mass, the first ever to be celebrated by a pontiff inside St. Patrick’s. He acknowledged being ashamed of the scandal and said it was “very badly handled.” He even met briefly with several victims.

The words were “very encouraging” and the pope “seemed sincere,” said Mark Lyman, one of two-dozen or so Catholics wearing white arm bands in support of sexual abuse victims on Fifth Avenue.

Terry McKiernan, founder of the group BishopAccountability. org, which tracks how prelates handled abuse cases, said he gives Benedict “points for trying” but remained skeptical about whether the pope’s words would translate into anything more.

“It’s good that he’s mentioned the issue, and it’s good that he’s spent time with survivors,” said McKiernan. “That, though, doesn’t bring it out of the realm of Vatican travel PR.”

If the pope disciplined some of the bishops who allowed abusive priests to stay in active ministry, “people would stand up and take notice,” he said.

Thousands of people lined Fifth Avenue to watch Benedict in the popemobile following the two-hour Mass and a luncheon with Cardinal Edward Egan of the Archdiocese of New York.

The Rev. Carlos Viego, a Newark, N.J., pastor, carried a sign that read, “The Media Loves Scandal” on one side and “We Love Benedict” on the other. He didn’t want to elaborate on the message.

In his homily to about 3,000 bishops, clergy and women religious, Benedict remarked that although dwarfed by the Manhattan skyline, the cathedral’s spires were a “vivid reminder of the constant yearning of the human spirit to rise to God.”

The Mass was attended by Bishop Edward U. Kmiec and Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz of the Diocese of Buffalo, as well as three priests who work in the diocesan chancery.

Benedict hasn’t mentioned anything about the closing of many Catholic churches in dioceses throughout the Northeast and Midwest, including Buffalo.

Throughout his American visit, though, the pope has encountered an enthusiasm for the faith unlike anything he’s seen in Europe, where he is trying to rekindle Catholicism, Kmiec said. “No matter what diminishment we have, we are still a pretty vibrant church,” Kmiec said.

Yet some of the faithful worry about the future of the faith. “Statistics don’t look so good. They say 68 percent of people don’t go to church,” said Bernadette Jacobus of Orange County, standing on Fifth Avenue for the papal procession.

She acknowledged that she is not as active a Mass attender as she once was, and admitted feeling that faith practice “should be you and God” — a type of approach that Benedict has cautioned against.

Kris Ward traveled from Dayton, Ohio, as part of Voice of the Faithful, a lay group that advocates for more say in the governance of the church.

Ward expressed concern not only about the church’s handling of sexual abuse but also its reluctance to fully involve lay people in matters such as parish finances. She also wonders why conversation about the ordination of women and married men is off the table in a church that is closing churches and potentially limiting the sacraments to the faithful because of a priest shortage.

Benedict later went to St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, for a rally of 25,000 young Catholics and seminarians.

During his speech, he reflected on the repression of his youth under Nazism. He urged the young people and seminarians to carry on the faith while enjoying the liberties that they were fortunate to have.

“My own years as a teenager were marred by a sinister regime that thought it had all the answers,” he said. “Its influence grew — infiltrating schools and civic bodies, as well as politics and even religion — before it was fully recognized for the monster it was.”

This article originally appeared in the 20 April 2008 edition of the Buffalo News.

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