The leader of the world's Roman Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI, will visit the United States April 15-20 for the first time since becoming pope in 2005. As VOA's Kent Klein reports, officials of the Catholic Church in America discussed their expectations for the visit on Sunday's television talk shows.
It's likely that one of the first things Americans will notice about Pope Benedict is that he is somewhat quieter than his charismatic predecessor, Pope John Paul II. The president of the Catholic University of America, Father David O'Connell, said on CNN's Late Edition he believes that's not necessarily a disadvantage.
"I hope that people, first and foremost, will get to know him a little bit," said Father O'Connell. "Unlike his predecessor, who had rock star status, this man, because of his intellect and scholarly reputation, he's a little more reserved, and there's a little more mystery. In fact, I think it's intentional on his part. When he became pope, he indicated that he wanted the attention to be focused on Jesus Christ, and not on the person of the pope."
In his five-day visit to Washington and New York, Benedict will meet with President Bush, speak at the United Nations, and celebrate Mass at two large baseball stadiums. The pontiff will also meet with representatives of other religions, and pay a brief visit to a Jewish synagogue.
The pope comes to America in the midst of a contentious presidential election campaign, but Father O'Connell says Benedict will strive to avoid politics, even though the Catholic Church encourages its members to vote for candidates who oppose abortion rights.
"There are going to be many things about our own country and its current situation, the good and the bad, that are very well known to this pope," he said. "I don't know what's going to be in the text of his speeches, but I would be very surprised if he touches on anything that could be co-opted."
Still, Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said on the C-SPAN network's Newsmakers program he expects Pope Benedict to discuss his opposition to the U.S. military involvement in Iraq, both with President Bush and at the U.N.
"The opposition to our going into Iraq was clear," said Cardinal George. "The concern for how we get out is also very clear. The Holy See hopes that we will leave a pacified Iraq that is one where the Iraqi people themselves are able to control their future, hopefully by democratic means. And I think that goal is shared by our administration as well. The difficulty is how to reach that goal and what are the proper means to do that."
The Roman Catholic Church in the United States has some 67 million members, and the state of the Church in America will probably be addressed during Benedict's visit. The Church is still recovering from the scandal surrounding the sexual abuse of children by priests and other Church officials. It's estimated that the Church has paid out $1.5 billion in settlements to abuse victims. Cardinal George says he expects Pope Benedict to address the issue during his visit.
"It bothers him immensely that children have been abused by priests or bishops," he said. "This is a complete betrayal of our own office and of Jesus Christ, and of our Catholic people. He's very clear on that, and I imagine he'll express it forcefully."
Both Cardinal George and Father O'Connell say the focus of the papal visit will be a message of hope and celebration, including a commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the five oldest archdioceses in the United States.