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US commentators mull results of Pope Benedict’s visit


In a media-saturated culture, Pope Benedict XVI’s 15-20 April visit to the United States is being judged by whether it got "good reviews", and early reactions have been favourable, with commentators remarking that Benedict, who heads the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, addressed the issue of clergy sexual abuse head on.

"That he took this risk impressed me," wrote Peter Steinfels, a columnist for The New York Times and author of "A People Adrift", a study of the recent history of the Catholic Church in the United States. "The face of himself that Benedict chose to show to a public that did not know him well … was the face of the pastor."

This was the face that the public saw much of the time, and seemed to warm to. However, there were other aspects to Benedict’s first official visit as pontiff to the United States.

In his 18 Friday address to the United Nations in New York, the Pope appeared to align himself with those who say that there is a duty for international action in cases where countries are unable to protect their citizens or, still worse, have committed acts of violence against them.

"If states are unable to guarantee such protection, the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the United Nations Charter and in other international instruments," Benedict said.

This has been a long-sensitive topic at the UN because it touches upon the issue of state sovereignty, something that none of the member nations wants to give up.

Yet, the Pope’s remarks came at a time of heated debate about the need for such intervention in the Darfur region of Sudan, where the Sudanese government has been accused of human rights violations and even genocide.

Benedict seemed to align himself with those calling for action in such cases.

"It is indifference or failure to intervene that do the real damage," he said in his UN address.

Still, Pope Benedict was vague about what such action might be in practice, said George A. Lopez, a founding staff member of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

Benedict "did not mention or dwell on the waging of illegal war, or say, as he has elsewhere, that addressing the underlying causes of terrorism is essential," said Lopez, who suggested that the United States "got off easy".

Pope Benedict did say, however, that there need to be better "ways of pre-empting and managing conflicts by exploring every possible diplomatic avenue, and giving attention and encouragement to even the faintest sign of dialogue or desire for reconciliation".

At the least, Lopez told Ecumenical News International, "You could certainly say that his talk heavily underlined the peace and human rights themes so central to the UN Charter."

In doing so, Lopez added, "[The Pope] wrapped them in the blessing of the Church, which would prefer to see multilateral action based on legitimate international law practices as carried out under the UN rubric, rather than the individual and powerful states taking action."

However, said Lopez, "A number of us who were listening were kind of waiting for him ‘to complete the sentence’, as it were … He stayed at generalities." [

(c) Ecumenical News International