Article follows my notes;
I am pleased that the Pope understands the dominant pluralistic traditions of America and am pleased that he is visiting members of different faith traditions.
Given his position as guardian of the Christian Catholic denomination, and given his conflict producing speeches recently, I hope he would not have a condescending attitude toward the other faiths and his dialogue would be based on giving full value to the other beliefs as he would give to his own belief set.
If we can learn to accept and respect every which way humans express their gratitude to the creator then conflicts fade and solutions emerge.
As beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, faith is in the heart of the believer.
What the pope will see in America
James A. Donahue Monday, April 14, 2008
When Pope Benedict XVI sets foot on American soil today, he will find a Catholic Church and a Catholic community that very much reflects the country of which it is a part. His visit presents an opportunity for greater understanding - because one of the long-standing challenges in the relationship between the Vatican and the American church has been to understand the issues of American Roman Catholics as distinctive, and as an outgrowth of American culture.
The unifying power of the Catholic Church, represented primarily through the primacy of the papacy, has resided in its ability to speak in a common voice across nations and cultures. And though this goal of "universal" commonality has been significantly strained in the contemporary world, the American Roman Catholic community reflects a people who seek to identify across cultural divisions. There are many issues that may capture the pope's attention next week, but several stand out as the most significant.
Pope Benedict will see that American Catholic identity and beliefs are not monolithic. Rather, within a core set of beliefs, Catholic identities cut across race, class, gender and ethnicity. In California alone, Latino Catholics in Los Angeles are different from Catholics in suburban San Francisco, and also different from Catholics in rural Northern California.
The pope will see that religious pluralism is the primary context for Roman Catholicism in America. A recent Pew Foundation survey of American religious affiliation suggested that while most Americans ascribe to some religious belief, the forms that belief takes are significantly diverse and the patterns of practice and engagement are fluid. So American Catholicism finds itself in continuous conversation with other religious forms and beliefs, and the American Catholic experience is no longer either sectarian or mainstream, but a mixture of both.
The pontiff is well aware that the reality of religious pluralism in America presents the opportunity for interreligious dialogue to flourish. He signaled this as a priority in his first public Mass and has since indicated that dialogue among Christians, Muslims and Jews is important for the future of Catholic theological thinking. Indeed, his inclusion of visits to a New York synagogue and to a Washington meeting with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and leaders of other faiths suggests the continuing importance of interreligious dialogue to the pontiff. While the dialogue could address conflict resolution and the search for harmony, the pontiff has indicated that the central point of dialogue is the search for truth of the Catholic tradition in relationship to the truths of other religious traditions.
The pope will find that American culture does not represent a hotbed of secular relativism, which he has articulated as a persistent enemy of the truths of the Catholic faith. He will see an American people, a church and Catholic communities in a country that is hungry for religious and spiritual meaning. The challenge for the American Catholic Church is determining in what ways it can meet these spiritual and religious longings. The church's attempts to modernize and appeal to the local customs of American culture while being faithful to tradition will be closely scrutinized by observers inside and outside the church.
Perhaps most significant for the pope to observe is that the American Catholic Church shares the impulse of American society for the dynamics of democratization in institutional and organizational life - which presents enormous challenges to the existing structural authority and organizational dynamics of the church. Pope Benedict will see that Americans desire and demand participation in the political processes, transparency in decision-making processes and accountability from their leadership. He might see the hierarchical, male-dominated decision-making of the Catholic tradition, the lack of structural accountability of leaders as manifested in the recent sexual abuse scandals, and the emerging interface of religion and politics as significant issues for the Roman Catholic Church in America to address. What remains to be seen is not whether, but how, the church can or should adapt to these demands.
Also available for Pope Benedict to observe in America is that engaging youth - the next generation of American Catholics - will be a significant challenge. While the pope will address youth and leaders in Catholic higher education during his visit, the question is, will younger Catholics see the practice, worship or ethical behaviors of American Catholic life as relevant or as hopelessly "out of touch" with their own lives? The role of women in the American church, who have been theologically and pastorally excluded from leadership positions, will also be up front and center for Pope Benedict to consider, especially as many Americans have already voted in primaries for a candidate, who, if elected, will be the country's first female president. The church will be pressed to justify its exclusion of women from leadership positions, and it seems unlikely that the historical positions of the Roman Catholic Church on these matters will be satisfying to many in American society.
Pope Benedict visits America at a time of enormous ferment in the American church. He has shown careful and thoughtful attention to many of these issues. With firsthand evidence, he may see the challenges and the possibilities for renewed conversations between the Vatican and the American Catholic Church. The dialogue that could ensue could offer American Catholics - still the single largest religious denomination in the United States - the opportunities they seek for relevant participation in the church, and for religious and spiritual connection across diverse American Catholic identities. It could also offer Americans in general the chance for deeper understanding and tolerance of each other's religious beliefs and traditions.
James A. Donahue, a Catholic theologian with a specialty in theological ethics, is president and professor of Ethics at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif.