Vatican City, Apr. 15, 2008 (vaticans.org) - During an exchange with reporters who accompanied him on an April 15 flight from Rome to Washington, Pope Benedict XVI said that he was "deeply ashamed" of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests.
The Holy Father told reporters that he would "do everything possible to heal this wound." Specifically, he said that it was important to exclude pedophiles from the priesthood.
The Pope's reaction to the sex-abuse scandal is a leading concern among reporters covering the papal visit to the United States. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, prior to his election as Pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was responsible for disciplinary action imposed on pedophile priests. Close associates report that the future Pontiff was appalled by the information he received from the US about priestly misconduct.
Vatican officials have indicated that the Pope will address some remarks to the scandal during his visit to the US this week-- probably when he addresses seminarians in New York.
Pope Benedict was due to arrive at Andrews Air Force base, outside Washington, at 4 on Tuesday afternoon. President George W. Bush was to lead the official US delegation at an informal welcoming ceremony. Upon his arrival the Pope is due to travel directly to the residence of the apostolic nuncio in Washington; there are other events on the Pope's schedule for the day.
The White House has scheduled a dinner to celebrate the Pope's arrival, which will be attended by various Catholic dignitaries. Pope Benedict himself was never expected to attend the dinner and-- contrary to some reports circulated on internet news sites-- did not turn down a White House invitation to the event.
Pope Benedict XVI will not bring political directives during his U.S. trip, but his reflections should help Americans make a "deeper moral judgment" during this year's election campaign, a leading U.S. cardinal said.
Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, one of two U.S. cardinals who will accompany the pope from Rome to the United States in mid-April, said he thinks Americans will listen closely to what the pope has to say.
"The pope is coming at a particularly sensitive time, with the presidential election scheduled for November," Cardinal Stafford told CNS in an interview April 8 in his Vatican office.
The cardinal said he does not expect the pope to address partisan political issues, but to "heighten people's awareness" about what is right and what is wrong.
"That is what a religious leader is about, to remind people that there is virtue. And how we, as an American people, can create a higher level of virtue in this country through the choices we make in November," he said.
"My experience is that Americans are very reflective about candidates and the issues. The pope, as a religious leader, will prod them to a deeper moral judgment on these issues," he said.
Cardinal Stafford, the head of the Vatican office that deals with penitential issues, was archbishop of Denver when Pope John Paul II visited for World Youth Day in 1993.
Based on that experience, he had some advice for people following Pope Benedict April 15-20, including those who cannot attend events in Washington and New York: Watch as many events on TV as possible, and try to create a personal space for the pope's spiritual message.
It would help if people spend more time in prayer and meditation during this period, he said.
"I heard recently that in modern and postmodern times, the morning paper has replaced morning prayer. At least during this period, people might want to reverse that, in order to prepare themselves to be receptive to the transcendent," he said.
The cardinal said he was pleased to read that, according to recent polls, a majority of Americans are looking forward to what the pope has to say.
They seem very open to the pope as a person, he said, but their openness will also require a "stretching of their own minds and a deepening of their own hearts to the mystery of God and to the mystery of Christ."
Cardinal Stafford said he expected the pope's most important speeches to be his address to the United Nations in New York and his talk to U.S. Catholic educators in Washington. Measuring the success of his talks will involve a number of factors, he said.
At the United Nations, he said, one can assume the pope will address the threat of "planned violence" that every nation faces today, and whether the world's major religions can be considered a substantial part of the resolution of this violence.
The cardinal said the question is whether the pope's message will be heard and acted upon, or whether the differences in the philosophical and religious traditions are so great that real dialogue is impossible.
He said that when the pope talks with Catholic educators he expects the pontiff to invite them to make a deeper contribution in the dialogue between faith and reason and to emphasize that rationality cannot be reduced to pure subjectivism, in which the human being is perceived as unable to discover what is true and what is not.
The church's teaching tradition holds that reason can reach the truth, and modern Catholic universities and schools should help the whole church understand and promote that, the cardinal said.
In this case, he said, the measure of the pope's success will be the response of Catholic educators.
Pope Benedict XVI will pray for peace and understanding in the world.
On April 10 the Vatican posted on its Web site the missal Pope Benedict will use during his April 15-20 visit to Washington and New York; the missal includes the prayer he will recite at ground zero April 20.
Describing the site as "the scene of incredible violence and pain," the prayer asks God to grant eternal light and peace to all who died there when terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center. It also recalls those who died the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa.
According to the missal, the pope will pray: "God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the earth."
The pope will ask God to "turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred."
And he will say, "God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance as we confront such terrible events.
"Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain," the prayer says.
"Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all," it concludes.
The missal says the pope will begin the visit by kneeling in silence. He will then light a candle and recite the special prayer written for the occasion.
After he has finished the prayer and before he offers a solemn blessing to the small group of survivors and family members scheduled to attend, he will use holy water to bless the ground.
Vatican City, Apr. 10, 2008 (vaticans.org) - Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone , the Vatican Secretary of State, has offered a preview of next week's trip by Pope Benedict XVI to the US, in a pair of interviews with American news outlets.
Speaking to an Associated Press reporter, Cardinal Bertone said that the Holy Father will address the effects of the sex-abuse scandal when he speaks to the clergy in New York. The Pontiff "will try to open the path of healing and reconciliation," the cardinal said. He added that the Pope is keenly aware of the suffering endured by victims of priestly abuse, and the damage done to the Church as a whole, "because it was a contradiction with the great educational mission of the Church."
In a separate interview with the Fox News network-- which was taped for a future telecast-- the Secretary of State added the observation that the sex-abuse scandal has left an "open wound."
Some American observers have questioned whether Pope Benedict avoided a visit to Boston because of the acute fallout from the scandal there. But Cardinal Bertone said that the Pope was limiting his trip to two cities, Washington and New York, in order to conserve his energy. He added, however, in his remarks to AP, that the Pope's health is fine. Even as he maintains a busy works schedule, the cardinal said, "all those who are near to him see his freshness."
The Pope's chief deputy confirmed that when he speaks at the UN, Pope Benedict will focus on human rights and the crucial importance of recognizing natural law. In his remarks to the Fox News network, he said that the Vatican feels some kinship with Americans on the issue of natural law and "the value of religion-- not only in private life but also in public life." The US and the Vatican have frequently been allies, he added, in defense of human life and marriage.
Cardinal Bertone conceded that the Holy See has not always agreed with US policy-- an indirect allusion to Vatican criticisms of the war in Iraq. He spoke to Fox News about a "difference of opinion" on the justification for the use of military force.
In his discussion with AP, the Secretary of State acknowledged that security will be tight during the papal trip, particularly in light of threats issued by Al Qaida that named the Pope as an enemy of Islam. But the Pope will not be deterred by threats, he said. "He entrusts himself to God."
In his message the Holy Father says that he is coming to the US to proclaim that "Jesus Christ is hope for men and women of every language, race, culture, and social condition." The Pontiff also confirms that in his address to the UN he will emphasize the importance of natural law, "the law written on the human heart."
The papal message, released by the Vatican press office on April 8, came in the form of a video. The message was released one week before the Pope is scheduled to arrive in the US. The Pope spoke mostly in English, with a brief portion in Spanish.
The full text of the Pope's message follows:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the United States of America,
The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you! In just a few days from now, I shall begin my apostolic visit to your beloved country. Before setting off, I would like to offer you a heartfelt greeting and an invitation to prayer. As you know, I shall only be able to visit two cities: Washington and New York. The intention behind my visit, though, is to reach out spiritually to all Catholics in the United States. At the same time, I earnestly hope that my presence among you will be seen as a fraternal gesture towards every ecclesial community, and a sign of friendship for members of other religious traditions and all men and women of good will. The risen Lord entrusted the apostles and the Church with his Gospel of love and peace, and his intention in doing so was that the message should be passed on to all peoples.
At this point I should like to add some words of thanks, because I am conscious that many people have been working hard for a long time, both in Church circles and in the public services, to prepare for my journey. I am especially grateful to all who have been praying for the success of the visit, since prayer is the most important element of all. Dear friends, I say this because I am convinced that without the power of prayer, without that intimate union with the Lord, our human endeavors would achieve very little. Indeed this is what our faith teaches us. It is God who saves us, he saves the world, and all of history. He is the shepherd of his people. I am coming, sent by Jesus Christ, to bring you his word of life.
Together with your bishops, I have chosen as the theme of my journey three simple but essential words: "Christ our hope." Following in the footsteps of my venerable predecessors, Paul VI and John Paul II, I shall come to United States of America as Pope for the first time, to proclaim this great truth: Jesus Christ is hope for men and women of every language, race, culture, and social condition. Yes, Christ is the face of God present among us. Through him, our lives reach fullness, and together, both as individuals and peoples, we can become a family united by fraternal love, according to the eternal plan of God the Father.
I know how deeply rooted this Gospel message is in your country. I am coming to share it with you, in a series of celebrations and gatherings. I shall also bring the message of Christian hope to the great assembly of the United Nations, to the representatives of all the peoples of the world. Indeed, the world has greater need of hope than ever: hope for peace, for justice, and for freedom; but this hope can never be fulfilled without obedience to the law of God, which Christ brought to fulfillment in the commandment to love one another. Do to others as you would have them do to you, and avoid doing what you would not want them to do. This "golden rule" is given in the Bible, but it is valid for all people, including non-believers. It is the law written on the human heart; on this we can all agree, so that when we come to address other matters we can do so in a positive and constructive manner for the entire human community.
Dirijo un cordial saludo a los católicos de lengua española y les manifiesto mi cercanía espiritual, en particular a los jóvenes, a los enfermos, a los ancianos y a los que pasan por dificultades o se sienten más necesitados. Les expreso mi vivo deseo de poder estar pronto con Ustedes en esa querida Nación. Mientras tanto, les aliento a orar intensamente por los frutos pastorales de mi inminente Viaje Apostólico y a mantener en alto la llama de la esperanza en Cristo Resucitado.
Dear brothers and sisters, dear friends in the United States, I am very much looking forward to being with you. I want you to know that, even if my itinerary is short, with just a few engagements, my heart is close to all of you, especially to the sick, the weak, and the lonely. I thank you once again for your prayerful support of my mission. I reach out to every one of you with affection, and I invoke upon you the maternal protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.