Pope Will Bypass Boston in US Visit

By Michael Paulson
Boston Globe
November 13, 2007

BALTIMORE - Pope Benedict XVI will visit New York and Washington next spring, but will not come to Boston, the Vatican's top diplomat in the United States announced yesterday.

In his first US visit as pope, from April 15 through 20, Benedict will speak at the United Nations, visit ground zero, and meet at the White House with President Bush. He will also celebrate Mass at Yankee Stadium in New York and at the new ballpark under construction in Washington for the Washington Nationals baseball team.

The decision is a disappointment for Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, who had pushed hard for Benedict to visit Boston, which will be celebrating its bicentennial as a Catholic diocese next year. O'Malley had spoken with the pope several times to press the invitation and had spoken with Vatican officials in Rome and Washington. He said that he believed Boston was seriously considered, but that Vatican officials were concerned about overtaxing the pontiff, who is 80.

"I'm disappointed, because I think we had a chance, but I'm just glad the Holy Father is coming to the United States - I think it's very important that he do that - and I was glad that we got a hearing anyway," O'Malley said in an interview in Baltimore at the semiannual meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

O'Malley, who said he was informed of the decision by Vatican officials yesterday morning, added that he would push for a trip to Boston if Benedict were to visit the United States again. O'Malley said he does not believe Boston's role as the epicenter of the sexual abuse crisis was a major factor in the Vatican's decision.

"That's not what I'm being told," he said. "I presume the Holy Father will have to address the abuse crisis in the United States, but it certainly wasn't a disqualifying factor in giving us an initial consideration. I think we got more consideration than Baltimore or Philadelphia did, I think in part because of the pastoral need and also because of the size of Boston."

As for the pope's decision to speak at Yankee Stadium, the home of Boston's baseball nemeses, O'Malley said jokingly, "it's his mission to the underdogs."

The details of the trip were announced by the papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, at the start of the bishops' meeting yesterday.

In Washington, the pope will meet with all US bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, with Catholic educators at the Catholic University of America, and with interfaith leaders at the John Paul II Cultural Center. His visit to the White House will be the second by a pope: John Paul II visited President Carter in 1979.

"President and Mrs. Bush are honored to welcome His Holiness to the White House next April," White House spokesman Blair Jones said yesterday.

In New York, the pope will hold an ecumenical event at a Manhattan parish, will say a Mass for priests at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and will hold a youth event at St. Joseph Seminary in the Dunwoodie section of Yonkers. His visit to the United Nations will be the fourth by a pope. Paul VI spoke to the UN in 1965, and John Paul II in 1979 and 1995.

Multiple bishops and church observers said yesterday that the itinerary was a reflection of Benedict's limited stamina - they said the Vatican has tried to limit the schedule to two events per day - and of the fact that Washington is the nation's capital, while New York is the home of the United Nations. Benedict will celebrate his 81st birthday during the visit. John Paul II was 59 when he first visited the United States, starting in Boston, in 1979.

"The priorities have to be the UN and the seat of government," said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown. "I don't think it's an insult to Boston, but just an indication of the kind of travel this pope is doing."

The possibility of a Boston visit had sparked debate among church officials about whether it was wise for the pope to visit a diocese so closely associated with the abuse crisis. O'Malley had argued that it would be appropriate for the pope to minister to an archdiocese that had suffered in the crisis, but others were worried.

"If he goes to Boston, the story is the abuse crisis," said Benedict biographer John L. Allen Jr. "I don't think the people around the pope want that to be the story of this trip."

Victim advocacy groups were disappointed. "The pope, by leaving Boston off his trip, may be missing a perfect opportunity to promote healing," said David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.Michael Paulson can be reached at


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