Saturday, April 05, 2008

The America of Benedict XVI

~by Sandro Magister in Chiesa. Lots of commentary on what Pope Benedict will say in the US. Magister, a veteran Vatican watcher has this to say:
This is an easy forecast to make, if one only looks at what the pope said last February 29, while receiving the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon. For Benedict XVI the United States is a model to be imitated by all. It is the country born and founded "on the self-evident truth that the Creator has endowed each human being with certain inalienable rights," among the first of which is liberty.

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With this pope, the United States is no longer held up for scolding by the Vatican authorities. Until a few decades ago, it was tasked with being the temple of Calvinist capitalism, of social Darwinism, of the electric chair, with a hair trigger in every corner of the world.

Today these paradigms seem to have been set aside to a great extent. The Church of Rome vigorously contested the military attack on the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. Even Benedict XVI. But it is not now pressing for the withdrawal of the soldiers. It wants them to remain there "on a peacekeeping mission," including the defense of the Christian minorities.

In any case, the general judgment on the United States has shifted to the positive, to the same extent that judgments on Europe have become more pessimistic. To ambassador Glendon, Benedict XVI said that he admires "the American people's historic appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public discourse," a role that in other places – read, Europe – is "contested in the name of a straitened understanding of political life." With the consequences that stem from this on the points that are most crucial to the Church, like "legal protection for God's gift of life from conception to natural death," marriage, the family.

The Church of Rome has more often found itself in harmony with the Republican presidents, from Reagan to Bush Sr. and Jr., than it has with the Democrat Clinton, precisely because of the greater dedication of the former to safeguarding life and promoting religious freedom in the world. In Cairo in 1994, and in Beijing in 1995, at the two international conferences convened by the United Nations on the demographic question and on women, both held during the Clinton presidency, the delegation of the Holy See fought tenaciously against the United States and Europe, which wanted to incentivize abortion in order to reduce births in poor countries.

And who led the Vatican team in Beijing? Mary Ann Glendon, a former feminist, a law professor at Harvard University later appointed by John Paul II as president of the pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, and today a United States ambassador. Her speech in Beijing fell like a sharp sword: "Does the conference want to combat the violence suffered by women? Very well. Then let's take note of this. Among these forms of violence are mandatory birth control programs, forced sterilizations, pressure to abort, sex selection and the consequent destruction of female fetuses."

In a collection of her essays just released in Italy, published by Rubbettino, Mary Ann Glendon again criticizes what happened in Beijing and in the following years. She accuses rich countries of cutting off financial aid, preferring the shortcut of abortion and zero cost population curbs. Above all, she accuses the secular Western elites of replacing the "full, rich, balanced" language of the universal declaration on human rights with the "mediocre jargon" of individual desires without duties or responsibilities. Her indictment has been republished by "L'Osservatore Romano."

For these same reasons, on multiple occasions in recent years the Vatican authorities have criticized the UN and the European Union. This does not take away from the fact that the Holy See continues to trust in and support the United Nations as a peaceful means of solving international controversies.

The Holy See is present at the UN as a "permanent observer state." It cannot vote, but it has the right to speak and to reply. The campaign for its removal, orchestrated a few years ago by non-governmental organizations committed to population control, annoyed over the opposition from the Vatican, produced the opposite effect. In July of 2004, the UN general assembly unanimously approved a revolution that not only confirmed, but even reinforced the presence of the Holy See in the organization.

From the dais of the UN, Benedict XVI will speak to the entire world, in which Catholics are less than one sixth of the population. Not even in the United States are Catholics in the majority. They are about 70 million out of 300 million, 23.9 percent, according to a very recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted on a sample of 35,000 Americans. But they have a significant presence nonetheless, much more so than the Catholics in Italy, and they belong to a strongly Christian country, with rates of religious participation much higher than in Europe.

In the presidential elections of 2004, Catholics played no small role in the reelection of George W. Bush. But the members of the hierarchy did not tell them how to vote, nor will they do so in the upcoming elections. Pro-life Catholics are inclined to vote for the Republican John McCain, while Catholics in favor of peace and justice are for the Democrat Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. The Church authorities appreciate in any case the fact that all of the candidates have given a prominent place to the religious dimension.

Because that's the way the United States is. It is at the vanguard of modernity, and at the same time is the most religious nation in the world. It is a model of separation between Church and state, at the same time is a country with a significant public role for the religions. The study by the Pew Forum has found that at the numbers of atheists and agnostics are very small, 1.6 and 2.4 percent respectively, in spite of the fact that they seem much more numerous and outspoken in the media.

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