Does the Pope Love America?

That is, the nation, not the magazine. David Van Biema and Jeff Israely, two of the most insightful religion journalists working today, ask that question in an extremely provocative and counterintuive cover story in Time this week. "The American Pope" Their argument is that the American brand of Catholicism--strong, clearheaded, in many places a minority denomination, and, overall, flourishing in a multireligious environment--provides an excellent model for the rest of the Catholic church. As Van Biema and Israely write: "The most rapt expression of the Pope’s enthusiasm for the U.S. came in a high-minded 2004 dialogue with the president of the Italian Senate, Marcello Pera, published as the book ’Without Roots.’ It bemoans the European Union’s refusal to acknowledge Christianity in a draft constitution, and Pera wonders about bringing back some kind of multidenominational "Christian civil religion." In response, Ratzinger cites Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and makes the case that America’s Founding Fathers were pious men of different denominations who wrote the First Amendment prohibiting state establishment (that is, sponsorship) of religion precisely because sponsorship would stifle all non-established creeds--which they hoped would achieve full and varied flower." As I said, provocative and well-argued. But does Benedict love the Catholic Church in the United States enough to love its often maddening diversity? After all, that would include loving a church wherein exists dissent, or at the very least disagreement, with the Vatican on both the right (e.g., the Iraq War) and the left (e.g., women’s ordination) not to mention altar girls, gay and lesbian parish ministries and a family of Catholic colleges and universities where intellectual freedom is the norm. To quote Walt Whitman American church not only contradicts itself, but "contains multitudes." To what extent does Benedict love the American church in all its complexity? We’re sure to get a better understanding of that during his visit. James Martin, SJ
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10 years 9 months ago
John Allen had some interesting things to say on the topic in a recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life speech: "But I think the dominant note probably -- and this may be a surprise for some people -- I suspect the dominant note will be deep appreciation for the religious vitality of American society. ". . . I think what has come to be the much more dominant note in terms of what Vatican people see when they look across the water these days is a real fondness and appreciation for what they see as the religious health of American culture in comparison with contemporary Europe. And I think the critical ingredient here is not that anything particularly has changed in the United States; it’s more what has happened in Europe in the last 10 years." I have blogged the topic here:


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