The Pope likes America. He likes Americans. "God's Rottweiler" has a soft spot for the ideals cast in our Constitution. What does this fondness for things American mean, either about him or about how he sees America's place in the world? It does not translate into uncritical support for the Bush Administration's foreign policies or into willingness to overlook the U.S. Catholic Church's sexual-abuse scandal. Indeed, I anticipate a scathing, blistering sermon on that. But a close scrutiny of his lifetime of visiting and writing about the U.S. helps provide insight into what drives Benedict: his intellectual curiosity, his search for models that can accommodate Catholicism as the minority (a position that he may feel is its next world role) and his firm commitment to combine faith with practical reason. It is also a sweet & touching gesture and a testament to Benedict's surprising openness toward a very different culture that he sees us as a good example of how such things can be done.
QUOTE...John Paul II described faith and reason as the twin wings that lift the church. And yet a balanced takeoff has remained elusive. The U.S. is one of the few places where it seems to happen regularly. "America is simultaneously a completely modern and a profoundly religious place. In the world, it is unique in this," says a senior Vatican official. "And Ratzinger wants to understand how those two aspects can coexist." Almost all the things the Pope likes about us--our faith in the real value of plainspokenness, our pluralistic piety and even our wrangles around applying religiously grounded moral principles to increasingly abstruse science--can be understood in light of this quest. If he finds answers in the U.S., they could help define his papacy.
When he arrives on U.S. soil on April 15, we in the press will no doubt be parsing Benedict's every sentence for his opinions on U.S. policy or remonstrance of American morals. But the most important waves emanating from this contact may reverberate well beyond tomorrow's news cycle. John Paul II and the U.S. played as anticommunist co-leads on the 20th century stage. This Pope, more a student of global drama than an eager protagonist, knows that rising religious conflict may be the 21st century's great challenge. He also appears to sense that American power alone won't solve it--but that the power of American values still might. In rummaging through our founding precepts for a path for his own purposes, he might find something important for us to remember too. UNQUOTE