Pope to Skip Boston in US Tour

By Jeff Israely
November 13, 2007,8599,1683291,00.html

UNITED STATES — Critics are saying one important city is missing on Pope Benedict XVI's coming visit to the United States. In April, he will fly to Washington and New York, in his first U.S. visit as pope, and the first papal trip to the U.S. since Sept. 11. Stops at the White House, the United Nations and the site where the World Trade Center once stood were confirmed this week by the U.S. Bishops conference. Each of those appearances offers an opportunity for the 80-year-old Pope to address international affairs, and the unique role of the American superpower, while two open-air masses at baseball stadiums will allow the Catholic flock in the U.S. to pray with their visiting pastor-in-chief.

Pope Benedict XVI
Photo by Christopher Simon

Pope Benedict XVI leads his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. Exactly ...

Still, the announcement Monday of Benedict's five-day American itinerary is a reminder that 2001 was also the year of a different kind of "9/11 moment" for the U.S. Catholic Church. That year saw the first revelations of what would become a devastating priest sex abuse crisis. But the Ground Zero for that tragedy — Boston, the stronghold of American Catholicism — is one city the Pope will not be visiting.

Boston was where the first spiral of revelations from victims of abusive clerics began to emerge, and where the head of the Archdiocese, Cardinal Bernard Law, was eventually forced to resign after admitting that he'd protected a priest who he knew had sexually abused young members of his church.

Several activist groups that speak out on behalf of victims of priest sex abuse immediately criticized the exclusion of the city from the Pope's April 15-20 trip. According to a statement by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Benedict is missing a "golden opportunity" to confront the crisis head-on. Victims' activist Anne Barrett Doyle told the Agence France Presse that the Pope is avoiding Boston for fear of protests. She added that his three days in New York is a sign of papal support for the city's Archbishop, Cardinal Edward Egan, who has refused to release documents about accused priests, in contrast to the Boston archdiocese's belated disclosure of similar documents. "So the pope is sending the signal that he is honoring the cardinal who may be his most successful keeper of secrets," Doyle said.

But Father Thomas Reese, a senior research fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center in Washington, says other factors were key to Benedict's choice to limit his trip to just two cities. The original purpose of the trip was to speak at the United Nations, as both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II did. Benedict wanted to extend the stay and visit the nation's capital as well, but never intended the trip to be a U.S. tour. "The choice of Washington and New York was preordained," Reese says. "If they went to a third diocese, everyone else would say 'why didn't you come to us?'"

Reese defends Benedict's record on the abuse scandal, pointing out that he worked to respond to the crisis when he was a senior Vatican Cardinal. Some mention of the scandal is expected, but don't expect it to be the focus on his trip to the States. "Will he give a whole speech on sex abuse crisis? I doubt it," Reese says. Another option could be to arrange a more spontaneous meeting between the erudite Pope and survivors of priest abuse. It's the sort of gesture that would have been characteristic of Benedict's popular predecessor — Pope John Paul II.


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