Catholic professors comment on Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to the United States
(Posted on April 2, 2008) Dr. Nancy Dallavalle, associate professor of religious studies at Fairfield University, teaches a course on the papacy and is the author of "Facing east: In anticipation of Benedict's visit," in the April 4, 2008 issue of the National Catholic Reporter.
Pope Benedict XVI's April visit will certainly strike the usual notes and provide "Catholic visuals" even if somewhat less colorful than those of John Paul II. The media temptation will be to rehearse the (yes, ongoing) tensions in the U.S. Church. Can his message cut through this?Benedict will be most effective if he can turn the eyes of U.S. Catholics toward the world, as he steps forward to address the United Nations. Catholics are tired of the sense that being an American Catholic means being a pawn in the never-ending culture wars. At the UN, Benedict has an opportunity to propose a broad vision of the Catholic contribution to the common good, and a language for thinking carefully and critically about the place of religion, and the commitments of faith, in a globalized world. After years of the sense that being Catholic is a smudged proposition, U.S. Catholics might just be ready for the high road.
Department of Religious Studies
Fr. Richard Ryscavage, S.J., was a member in 2006-07 official delegation of the Holy See to the 61st session of the UN General Assembly in New York and is aformer national director of the Jesuit Refugee Service USA. He is the director of the Center for Faith and Public Life at Fairfield University:
Pope Benedict is leader of a billion-member global Church that occupies a unique place in the international political system. Over 175 sovereign states have formal diplomatic relations with the Holy See. It is the only world religion that holds permanent observer status at the United Nations, participating in debates and drafting of UN documents. Although the Church understands itself as a kind of non-governmental organization, it also has the special benefits of sovereign status in the international system of states. It regularly participates in the deliberations of the Atomic Energy Commission, the UN High Commission for Refugees, the Organization of American States, and the World Health Organization.
So when the Pope addresses the international community at the UN he offers both the critical perspective of a non-governmental outsider combined with the familiarity of a diplomatic insider. We can expect from the Holy Father a ringing endorsement of the United Nations matched with some pointed criticisms. The Church vigorously supports the UN work on reducing poverty, disease and promoting education culture and peace. John Paul II often called for strengthening the UN as a sign of human global solidarity. But expect a more critical eye to be cast on attempts by UN agencies to promote abortion and artificial birth control. He may also urge the UN to fight the tendency to reduce the universal applicability of human rights. He might urge the organization to anchor itself in the understanding that human rights is not a "Western", relativistic notion. Human rights are part of the objective values rooted in the universal nature of the human person.
Fr. Richard Ryscavage SJ
Professor of Sociology/ International Studies
Director of the Center for Faith and Public Life at Fairfield University
Dr. Lakeland is director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University and the author of "The Liberation of the Laity: In Search of an Accountable Church," awarded first place 2004 Catholic Press Award. He gave the keynote address at the Boston College Conference: "Towards an Ecclesial Professional Ethic:"
Pope Benedict XVI's first visit as pope to the United States is eagerly awaited by many and with not a little anxiety by some. It is to be expected that he will speak forcefully to American Catholics about doctrinal faithfulness and a "consistent ethic of life," and to the assembled United Nations about the Church's yearning, along with all of humanity, for that justice without which peace is an empty word. But it is also important that he recognizes and celebrates the vigor and fervor of the American Catholic Church, the healthiest of all national churches in the so-called developed world. The Church is still struggling with the fall-out from the sex abuse scandal, dealing with polarization on some ethical issues, and struggling towards a renewed church of lay/clergy cooperation. But it is alive and healthy, and it would be good to know that Benedict sees it and honors it.
Paul Lakeland, Ph.D.
Rev. Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J., Professor of Catholic Studies, Professor of Religious Studies, and Director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University
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Vol. 40, No. 226