The size and complexity of an event like Pope Benedict's visit make it virtually certain to attract mixed media reactions, but as the Pope headed from Washington to New York yesterday, he was getting rave reviews in the often skeptical Washington Post.
The newspaper's lead editorial said in part:
"With a moving message of hope and healing during his historic visit to this city, Pope Benedict XVI opted to speak not only to the Catholics who claim him as their spiritual leader. He spoke to all Americans. His words were a positive reminder of our national character and its potential to do great good; they should serve as a challenge that we hope will outlast the memories of this visit....
"We were glad to hear the pope make a special appeal to American church leaders to 'renew' their commitment to Catholic schools, particularly those in poorer areas. But perhaps the most heartening aspect of the pope's visit to the region...is the effect it had on Washington, a city widely viewed as cynical if not faithless. The excitement--manifested by crowds clamoring for tickets to the Mass or, at the very least, a view of the cleric in the Popemobile--extended beyond the celebrity and the pageantry to respect for a man of unwavering belief."
Over on the Op Ed page, Post columnists E.J. Dionne, Jr., and Michael Gerson were holding forth.
Dionne, a Catholic and a political liberal, noted Benedict's use of the word "countercultural" and called it the key to understanding his message that cuts across conventional liberal-conservative lines. "Benedict directly challenged an assumption so many Americans make about religion: that it is a matter of private devotion, with few private implications," Dionne wrote. And he added:
"This is the thinking of a communitarian counseling against radical individualism....That's why I suspect that American Catholics of all political hues will find themselves struggling with this message. For myself, I admire Benedict's distinctly Catholic critique of radical individualism in both the moral and economic spheres, and his insistence that the Christian message cannot be divorced from the social and political realms."
Gerson, a non-Catholic and a political conservative, called Catholicism "indispensable" and cited several reasons for that. "Despite charges of dogmatism, the church is the main defender of reason in the modern world....By asserting that the human mind can grasp moral truth, Catholicism...defends the realiability of reason against the superstitions of our time."
This in turn, Gerson added, makes the Catholic Church "the main defender of human dignity against a utilitarian view of human worth." He concluded: "An institution accused of superstition is now the world's most steadfast defender of rationality and human rights. It has not always lived up to its own standards, but where would those standards come from without it?"
-- Russell Shaw