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CFC in the News - 2008


A Cake for Benedict XVI

Piotr Gillert

16 April 2008

The pope called upon Americans to base their political and social decisions on moral values. Benedict XVI was welcomed by thousands of people on the streets of Washington.

“I come as a friend and preacher of the word of God, filled with respect for this big pluralist society,” said the pope in front of the White House. “Holy Father, you have decided to come to America on the day of your birthday and birthday is the time you spend with your friends,” said George W. Bush to welcome Benedict XVI on the lawn in front of the White House.

A record number of guests participated in the official welcome ceremony on that beautiful morning. According to the White House, there were some 12,000. The celebrations took place in a joyful and solemn atmosphere. When the pope sat down, the gathered crowd sang, slightly out of tune, “Happy Birthday” for his 81st birthday. The president was pleased and nodded his head to the rhythm played by the military band.

“I am certain that in the face of the ever-more complex moral and political issues, the American people will find a valuable source of knowledge and inspiration in their faith,” the pope said. He stressed the importance of faith in democracy. “Freedom is not only a gift but also a call for personal responsibility. To remain free one needs to cultivate virtue, self-discipline and sacrifice for the common good,” said the Holy Father. “God bless America!” he finished, leading to applause.

“We need your message that every life is sacred. In the world where some people have ceased to believe that it is possible to differentiate good from evil, we need your message to reject the dictatorship of relativism,” Bush replied in a short speech. He stressed that Americans are the “praying nation” and faith plays a very important role in their everyday lives. “In a world where some people use the name of God to justify acts of terror, murder and hate, we need your message that God is love,” he added.

Thousands of people waited along the streets to see the pope—for a moment, anyway. In the evening, Benedict XVI met with the American bishops. Today he will hold a mass at the baseball stadium and make a speech at the Catholic University of America.

“He sent a clear signal by choosing the flagship Catholic university,” says professor Bronislaw Misztal. “If he wanted to stress such vales as entrepreneurship, he would have chosen Notre Dame in Indiana. If he had decided to talk about doctrine, he would have visited the Jesuit Loyola University in Chicago. The lecture at our school symbolized the continuation of the social justice policy of John Paul II,” he added.

Interview: Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice.

I hope the pope knows how to listen

Rzeczpospolita: As the president of an organization representing Catholics who support the right to abortion, what are your expectations regarding the pope’s pilgrimage?

Jon O’Brien: “I hope that Benedict XVI will act like a pope who can listen to ordinary Catholics and wants to know how they experience their faith and the role it plays in their lives. A listening pope could reduce the distance betweenthe clergy and the faithful. Not only in America, but also in Poland, Spain, Italy or the Philippines. It is clear that people of faith do not listen to the church hierarchy on key matters. In the US, the percentage of Catholic women over 18 years of age, who more or less regularly use contraception, reaches 97 percent. Eighty-five percent use hormonal pills. The conclusion is simple: the faithful have stopped listening to church dictats on these issues. The Vatican’s lobbying against contraception has hindered the effective protection against HIV for people in developing countries. American politicians now realize that Catholic voters’ opinions on many problems differ from those of the church hierarchy.”

Rzeczpospolita: Also on abortion?

Jon O’Brien: “Yes. Catholic women in America have abortions as often as people of different faiths or no faith. Only 22 percent of American Catholics agree with the hierarchy that abortion should be illegal. Seventy-four percent believe that one may vote for a candidate who is in favor of abortion. Catholics follow their own consciences and not church teachings in many matters. They have their own views about whether something is right or wrong, about what is good for them and their families. The Vatican has a lot to say on many things. This pope, as any other, can lift the ban on abortion. He has this kind of power.”

Rzeczpospolita: But who should he listen to? Maybe it’s the faithful who are having a problem?

Jon O’Brien: “In our church, it’s not as if the bishops make the rules and the laity must obey them blindly. If the great majority of people of faith reject part of church teachings, it means something is wrong with those teachings, that they are not right.”

Rzeczpospolita: Many priests in the States say that the Americans don’t like sacrifices, that they don’t understand the value of suffering…

Jon O’Brien: “In my opinion it is highly inappropriate to expect people to make sacrifices. This is relevant in the developing world in particular, as the ban on contraception can mean a sacrifice of human life. It is the hierarchy who should sacrifice their pride, listen to the faithful and consider changing the rules.”

This article originally appeared in the 16 April 2008 edition of Rzeczpospolita