Wuerl on Benedict
When you least expect it, expect it: a sports analogy about Pope Benedict.
Speaking to reporters and editors at The Washington Post yesterday about the pope's upcoming visit to Washington, Archbishop Donald Wuerl said Americans should expect something different from the man than what they saw when he served in his previous job as longtime head of the Congregation for The Doctrine of the Faith. That role required being a watchdog for Catholic doctrine.
Back then, Wuerl said, one of Benedict's key responsibilities was "to throw a flag if someone went out of bounds. If you're going to have intellectual ferment, intellectual discussion, you also have to have someone who throws the flag."
As pope, Wuerl said, Benedict has a different role - to be the living link to the Apostle Peter, to the earliest days of Christianity and to spread a message of hope to Catholics and non-Catholics alike, "that we are capable of a personal relationship with God." That, Wuerl says, is something many Americans want to hear, particularly at a time when religious practice and belief are in dramatic flux. He believes recent data showing one in ten Americans is an ex-Catholic simply reflects normal American "drifting," and "shopping around." The history and truth of Catholicism, he says, will bring them back eventually.
"In our country we are so taken up with the individual. Everyone wants to realize their greatest potential, and that's good, but there are some things we do as a family," he said. People want to know: "How do I verify that what I believe is more than just what I think about things? Our function is to make people realize it's in this 2,000-year-old family that you find that verification."
Articulating the core agenda of Pope Benedict, Wuerl said Catholics drifted in recent decades because the church failed to teach the basics of their doctrine. "We were trying all kinds of new things, and outreach was to be personalized. We didn't tell the next generation what we actually believed." Benedict is often called catechist-in-chief; Wuerl in his previous post in Pittsburgh was called "the teaching bishop."
Wuerl was vague about some hot topics, including whether the pope will discuss the church's sexual abuse scandal and/or speak with sex abuse victims. "I'd assume somewhere he will address that topic. One thing I'd like to renew again is the sorrow of church leadership that this happened."
Asked if the pope would speak out against the war in Iraq when he meets with President Bush, Wuerl said he didn't know what Benedict will say in the private meeting the two men will have April 16 at the White House. The Vatican - and then-Cardinal Ratzinger condemned the U.S. attack before the war began, but "once the decision was made, the question now is: How do we get out in a way that's responsible?" Wuerl said.
But there are other vexing questions being mulled at archdiocesan HQ, Wuerl said, namely: How do we get enough chairs on the infield of Nationals Park without violating city fire code? "I never thought one of my concerns as archbishop would be color-coded seating."
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