As Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the United States Tuesday, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon took a few questions from National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez. Among many other accomplishments, Glendon is author of A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What should Americans be listening for when the pope speaks in Washington and New York?
Mary Ann Glendon: How about listening for words that can change one’s life? I’m guessing that’s what the pope is hoping for — that we’ll be moved to live up to what is highest and best in ourselves and in our country’s traditions. I would suggest, though, that in addition to listening we should be prepared to read and ponder his messages. It is characteristic of Pope Benedict to give so much to think about that you need time to process it all.
Lopez: Is Benedict’s vision of human rights different than the one that, say, Amnesty International or the U.N.’s human-rights embody?
Glendon: The pope has spelled out his vision of human rights pretty clearly: They will be precarious unless they can be grounded in acceptance of universal moral principles that are inscribed in human nature. Not every desire or agenda item of this or that interest group is a human right. If a right is fundamental, it is not an item on a menu from which one can pick and choose. Human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent, but there can be different ways of bringing them to life — a “legitimate pluralism in forms of freedom.”
Lopez: As an academic, how can you shed light on the pope’s emphasis on Catholic education during this trip?
Glendon: I’m guessing the pope will encourage Catholic educators to re-appropriate and live up to their long and distinguished intellectual tradition, to insist on excellence in scholarship and teaching, and to provide the best educated laity in history with a faith formation that is at least up to the level of their secular education.
Lopez: What’s up with the Vatican being a carbon-neutral state? Is Pope Benedict a Greenie?
Glendon: The pope’s environmentalism is grounded in the ideas of respect for creation and stewardship. It is best understood in the context of “human ecology,” a notion that appears in Centesimus Annus and that embraces our endangered social environments (family, mediating structures of civil society) as well as natural environments.
Lopez: As far as the Vatican is concerned, how bad off is the Catholic Church in America?
Glendon: From the European vantage point, the U.S. Catholic Church is in good shape. By large majorities, U.S. Catholics say they like being Catholic and like the pope. A remarkable proportion attend Mass regularly. As for the constantly repeated observation that many do not conform to Church teaching in all respects, Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr no doubt spoke for many when he wrote that even a bad Catholic doesn’t necessarily want the pope to lower the bar to the point where almost anything goes.
Lopez: If you could issue one plea to American journalists who are covering the papal visit, what would it be?
Glendon: Take the time to read carefully at least one of Pope Benedict’s important writings — his dialogue with Marcello Pera in Without Roots would be a good place to start.