Catholics are looking forward to the pope’s six-day visit to the U.S. So are journalists, for different reasons: A papal visit, like a papal succession, is ideal for stories that are so ready-made they are practically pre-printed. The rebellious American flock; the pope’s hostility to war; the contrast between his “progressive” stances on foreign policy and economics and his “reactionary social views.” There will be — already have been — two new twists in the coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit: the alleged paradox that the pope has tried to “enforce” Church teaching yet also speaks of love; and what the new atheists say about him.
Our advice to readers: Skip most of the coverage until you reach the direct quotes or, better, read his speeches. This pope bears close reading. Benedict previewed his view of this country in February, when he welcomed our ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon. He said, “I cannot fail to note with gratitude the importance which the United States has attributed to interreligious and intercultural dialogue as a positive force for peacemaking.” It would not be wrong to see an allusion to the pope’s Regensburg lecture last year. In that lecture, you will recall, he challenged Islam to see God as Reason, not just Will, and hence to eschew violence in His name.
Benedict fears that reason is besieged in the West, as well. He has worried in public about “the dictatorship of relativism” — the dogma that we cannot discover the truth about the most important human topics through reason or revelation.
We expect him to champion religious freedom, not least in Iraq, where an archbishop has recently been murdered. We expect him to remind his coreligionists that freedom is freedom for truth. Catholic universities need to remember what is distinctively Catholic in their mission. It is a matter, one might say, of truth in advertising. Catholic politicians, meanwhile, need to be instructed that they are obligated to seek justice for the unborn.
The pope has already announced the theme of his visit: “Christ Our Hope.” There is no need to speculate about the fundamental content of his message to American Catholics, and all those who are willing to listen: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”