- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 13, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI rejected a request by the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, to visit a city considered the epicenter of the U.S. priestly sex abuse scandal, Vatican sources say, as part of a strategy to reassure Americans that there is no place in the church for child abusers.

In part, the decision not to make a stop in Boston reflects the pontiff’s general preference to keep his foreign trips as tight as possible so that he can get back to Rome, the sources said.

The German pontiff always has been keen to eschew the long, grueling journeys that characterized the pontificate of his Polish predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who died three years ago.

“The short trips favored by Benedict underline how different he is to John Paul,” said one veteran observer, who asked not to be identified. “The Polish pope was willing to risk burning himself out by making pilgrimages around the world, but this pontiff wants to conserve his energy.”

Pope Benedict also decided to decline the request by Cardinal O’Malley on the advice of the papal nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who felt inserting such an item in the pope’s schedule might set off protests and revive an issue the Vatican wants to put behind itself, said the sources.

“Why be a hostage to fortune?” one Vatican correspondent quoted the nuncio as asking the Holy See in a report.

“Benedict will say something on the sex scandal and the need to get over it,” added the source. “He will reassure the public that there is no place in the church for it. He cannot say nothing, but his remarks will be in the sense that ‘the thing is behind us now.’ ”

The pope was determined to make the visit to bolster the morale of American Catholics and insist on the role of those of Catholic identity in many areas of American life such as education. “He’s always admired two aspects of the United States especially: the democracy and the melting pot, and he will affirm the need to respect different cultures,” said Gerard O’Connell, a Vatican correspondent for the international Catholic weekly the Tablet.

The pontiff is expected to acknowledge the changing face of American Catholicism with half of an estimated 69 million American Catholics of Hispanic descent. He also is expected to express papal gratitude at the traditionally substantial contribution made by the U.S. Catholic flock to Rome.

“He will praise the American Catholics for their generosity. They are always very good givers,” said a source at the North American College in Rome, the seminary where young Americans study for priesthood.

Vatican watchers initially expressed surprise that the pope should go to the White House on his 81st birthday. However, they noted that previous hostility between the Holy See and the White House over the invasion of Iraq has abated as the Vatican seeks, above all, to support embattled Iraqi Christians.

Rome fears that a hasty U.S. pullout would leave nothing to stop Islamist forces in Iraq from a bloody all-out revenge campaign against Christians, whom some Muslims see as tools of U.S. and Western “crusaders.”

“It is clear that the Iraqi chapter is over in terms of war, that now the question as seen from Rome is how to rebuild Iraq,” said Mr. O’Connell. In addition to discussing Iraq with President Bush, the pope wants to speak about the place of Christians throughout the Middle East and stability in the region, “The Israeli-Palestinian question is a major concern of the Vatican.”

The pope’s speech at the United Nations nevertheless is expected to stress the need for dialogue rather than military force to resolve international conflicts, sources said. He also is expected to speak out strongly in the speech against terrorism, to focus on concern over what the Vatican sees as the pernicious impact of climate change and to underline the need for religious liberty.

Pope Benedict also is expected to reaffirm the right to life during his trip by making a strong attack on abortion and euthanasia. However, it is not thought that this will have much impact on the U.S. election campaign, given that U.S. bishops are divided over whether Communion should be denied to Catholics who flout church teaching on key moral issues.

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