The Pope goes to America
The most unfortunate diary clash comes on Friday. While Mr Brown is delivering his keynote speech on foreign policy - calling for the reshaping of the UN – Herr Ratzinger will be addressing that very body. Mr Brown’s criticisms will be somewhat overshadowed by papal blessings, as the Pope is the only religious leader on the planet who is permitted to address the UN General Assembly. He is, after all, the head of a foreign state with which the United States maintains diplomatic relations. Vatican City may be small, but the implications of its foreign policy are sometimes very large indeed. His Holiness will doubtless echo the theme of his predecessor Pope Paul VI who in the first papal address in 1965 called the organisation ‘a bridge between peoples’ – an interesting echo of his own role as ‘Pontifex Maximus’.
Doubtless he will also be talking a lot of good – the plight of Hispanic immigrants, leading prayers at Ground Zero, challenging President Bush on the Iraq war and capital punishment, and affirming him in his opposition to abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research. But there is also the unavoidable reality that in recent year the US Roman Catholic Church, which has around 65 million followers, has paid $2 billion to settle clergy sexual abuse cases.
The Pope told reporters on board his plane that he was ‘deeply ashamed’ of sexual abuse by US clergy, and he has vowed to work against a recurrence, assuring the faithful that he will ‘absolutely exclude paedophiles from the sacred ministry’. He added: ‘It is more important to have good priests than many priests. We will do everything possible to heal this wound.’
Except, it seems, agreeing to meet some victims of clerical abuse and their families.
And except, it seems, explaining why the Vatican continues to shelter Cardinal Bernard Law, former head of the Archdiocese of Boston, who, according to Christopher Hitchens, ‘was not only aware of egregious sexual misconduct among his subordinates but was apparently engaged in elaborate efforts to cover up incident after incident of child rape.
‘To be specific, the cardinal admitted in a deposition that he knew that the Rev. John Geoghan had raped at least seven boys in 1984 before he approved Geoghan's transfer to another parish where other boys were at risk. Further disclosures revealed that the Rev. Paul Shanley, who at one point was facing trial for 10 counts of child rape and six counts of indecent assault and battery, had been moved from ministry to ministry in what amounted to an attempt to protect him. Law himself lied to a West Coast bishop about Shanley's history and certified in writing that another rapist priest, the Rev. Redmond Raux, had "nothing in his background" to make him "unsuitable to work with children.’
If His Holiness were really prepared to do ‘everything possible’ to heal this appalling wound, he would not only remove Cardinal Law from his Vatican sinecure, he would also remove his cardinal’s hat. As Mr Hitchens states:
‘I think that we are entitled to hear, as the vicar of Christ and holder of the Keys of Peter favors us with his presence, whether he regards his brother Bernard Law as an honored guest in the holy city or as someone who has been given asylum. And even if we cannot get a satisfactory answer, it is essential that we hear the question. Will the press do its job, and will our elected representatives remember their responsibilities to so many thousands of tortured and exploited children? Some of us will be watching and keeping an account.’
Perhaps at this point, His Holiness will be praying that Mr Brown might steal the limelight.
It is reported that His Holiness, 'in a dramatic surprise', has privately met with victims of sexual abuse by priests, consoling them and promising them his prayers.
The 25-minute meeting, believed to be the first time a pope had met victims of such sexual abuse, was held in the Vatican Embassy chapel and kept secret until after it was over.
"They prayed with the Holy Father, who afterward listened to their personal accounts and offered them words of encouragement and hope," a Vatican statement said of the abuse victims. "His holiness assured them of his prayers for their intentions, for their families and for all victims of sexual abuse."