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A \"one-stop-shopping\" guide to Pope Benedict's U.S. visit

This week's column is intended as a "one-stop-shopping" guide to the April 15-20 visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States. There's a lot of material, and it may be best read in chunks rather than at one sitting. I hope it proves a useful overview not just of the highlights of the pope's schedule, but also the trip's background and context.



At the end, I provide links to Benedict XVI's itinerary and to other resources. I'll be accompanying Benedict XVI on the papal plane and throughout the trip, and will be filing regular news postings under my "Daily Updates" section of johnallen.ncrcafe.org.


Overview


When a pope hits the road, he usually addresses two basic audiences. First, he appeals as a voice of conscience to the people of the country and region he's visiting, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, about broad social, ethical and cultural matters. Second, he speaks directly to the local Catholic community in his role as a pastor and head of the universal church.


When Benedict XVI comes to the United States April 15-20, however, he'll actually have three audiences in mind:

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  • In his address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York on April 18, the pope will be speaking to member states and, in effect, to the entire world. (It's worth recalling that the U.N. address is the original purpose of this trip.)

  • The pope will also have a message specifically crafted for the United States, which will likely be expressed most clearly in his meeting with President George W. Bush at the White House on April 16. Benedict's presence at Ground Zero on April 20, even though he's not expected to speak, will also be a statement of solidarity. Other occasions crafted for "outsider" audiences include his session with 200-plus religious leaders on April 17 in Washington, and an ecumenical session on April 18 in New York.

  • Finally, Benedict will also be speaking to the 70 million Catholics in the United States. He'll have American Catholics in mind particularly during homilies in National's Stadium on April 17 and Yankees Stadium on April 20, as well as in sessions with priests, deacons and religious, with seminarians and Catholic youth, and with the American bishops.

Over six days, therefore, we should get a synthesis of Benedict's thoughts about the world, the role of the United States as the world's "lead society," relations with other religions and other Christians, and the internal life of the Catholic church. This won't be just another foreign trip, the eighth of Benedict's pontificate; in a sense, it will be his entire papacy in miniature.


What to Expect


The United Nations: Traditionally, the Vatican's top two diplomatic concerns are the Middle East, especially the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (in part out of concern for Christians in the Holy Land), and human rights, especially religious freedom (again, including concern for Christian minorities around the world). Both are likely to loom large in Benedict's U.N. address. Based on his annual speech to diplomats accredited to the Holy See, which provides a summary of the pope's foreign policy priorities, other hot spots likely to surface include Lebanon, Iraq, Darfur, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Cyprus and Kosovo. In that speech in January, Benedict also discussed refugees and displaced persons, inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue, bioethics and the defense of human life, the death penalty, the arms trade, and climate change.


Benedict's core message to the U.N., however, is likely to cut much deeper. He will argue for a global moral consensus strong enough to provide a foundation for legal instruments such as charters of human rights -- something Benedict sees as an especially pressing task, given oft-voiced arguments that human rights represent a "Western" notion. In Benedict's view, such a consensus must be rooted in common humanity and, ultimately, in God. During his May 2007 trip to Brazil, Benedict argued that the failures of both Communism and Capitalism to adequately protect human dignity demonstrate the toxic consequences of ignoring transcendent truths.


Though Benedict knows that specifically Christian doctrines cannot be the basis for such a global consensus, he will argue that "natural law," meaning universal moral truths grounded in human nature and open to spiritual wisdom, is the best way to secure the principles expressed in documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


As a footnote, some have been surprised by Benedict's increasingly strong environmental message, and that's likely to come through at the U.N. For Benedict, the environmental movement is the most promising avenue for recovery of natural law. His instinct is this: If people are willing to accept that nature comes with a set of rules, and that we transgress those rules at our peril -- as climate change, pollution, etc., demonstrate -- than perhaps we'll become more open to natural law in other areas, such as personal morality and international relations. In that sense, Benedict is not just hopping on the eco-bandwagon … he's painting a distinctively Catholic shade of green.


Finally, Benedict XVI is also likely to voice strong support for the United Nations itself. Although the Vatican has waged titanic battles with some U.N. agencies over the years on abortion and population control, the Holy See remains committed to the U.N. as the lone realistic instrument for global solidarity and cooperation.


The United States: Benedict XVI's February 29 address to Mary Ann Glendon, the new Ambassador of the United States to the Holy See, offers a foretaste of what he's likely to say to Americans. In just under 1,000 words, Benedict touched upon six crucial points:



  • Appreciation for the vibrant public role of religion in American society;

  • Encouragement for the United States to help forge a global moral consensus based on natural law;

  • The need to promote security not just by combating terrorism, but also by fostering economic development and peace;

  • Support for the United Nations and a multilateral approach to international policy;

  • Commitment to inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue;

  • Strong defense of a "culture of life," including the protection of unborn life and the institution of marriage.

All six are likely to surface during Benedict's 11 public speeches in the United States, and will probably also be on the table for his behind-closed-doors session with Bush.


In general, I suspect many observers will be surprised by the pope's broadly positive tone about the United States. To some extent, this is a matter of his personal and pastoral style (more on that below). In part, however, it's also related to a significant transformation in Vatican attitudes towards the United States over the last decade.

Not long ago, Vatican officials still took a somewhat skeptical view of the United States. They saw it as a predominantly Protestant (Calvinist) culture, overly individualistic and consumerist, with a rambunctious and sometimes disorderly Catholic flock. While those stereotypes endure, today the view in Rome has become much more positive. America is now seen as a remarkably dynamic religious society, one in which churches thrive and expressions of religious faith are welcome in public, in stark contrast to contemporary Europe.


Recent European episodes that have left a bitter aftertaste include:



  • Debate over the so-called "God clause" in the new constitution of the European Union, a battle the Vatican lost despite strenuous public appeals from two popes;

  • Italian politician Rocco Buttiglione was blackballed as European Commissioner of Justice because of his private adherence to Catholic teaching on abortion and homosexuality;

  • Spain has elected, and recently re-elected, a markedly anti-clerical Socialist regime;

  • A spin doctor for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair famously quipped that European public figures "don't do God."


Collectively, such experiences have convinced senior Vatican officials that Europe is today dominated by an aggressive form of secularism, often hostile to religion and to the Catholic church in particular. Europe is still the prism through which the Vatican perceives the rest of the world, so when Vatican officials were basically pro-Europe, everyone else suffered in comparison; now that the Vatican has soured on Europe, other places, especially the United States, look much better.


To be sure, Benedict will not shrink from laying down some challenges. He'd like to see the United States adopt a more multi-lateral approach to foreign affairs, devote as much energy to development for the world's poor as it has to prosecuting the war on terrorism, and do more to protect human life from conception to natural death. On the whole, however, the dominant note will likely be appreciation for the religious vitality of American society.


American Catholics: We'll turn to specific challenges facing the American Catholic church in a moment. Here the focus is on Benedict's broad message to Catholics, not just in the States but everywhere. At that level, Benedict is likely to offer some version of what I've come to regard as the interpretive key to his papacy: "Affirmative Orthodoxy."


By "affirmative orthodoxy," I mean a strong defense of classic Catholic doctrine and practice, pitched in the most positive fashion possible. Virtually everything Benedict has said and done over the last three years can be understood as an expression of this basic impulse.


Job number one of Benedict's papacy is to resist what he calls a "dictatorship of relativism" in the West, meaning hyper-secularism and a collapse of confidence in objective truth. To protect the church, he wants to restore a "thick" sense of Catholic identity, rooted in traditional Catholic thought, speech and practice. Reviving the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass and declaring that Catholicism alone remains the "true church" offer examples.


At the same time, Benedict also worries that defending Catholic identity in the past too often came off as a negative exercise, so that the church has come to be perceived in some quarters largely as a system of rules and regulations. Over the first three years of his papacy, he's been determined wherever possible to put the accent on what the church is for rather than what it's against.


Four examples of "affirmative orthodoxy":



  • In Deus Caritas Est, Benedict presented a vision of sexual morality without rehearsing the church's well-known prohibitions on birth control, abortion and gay marriage;

  • Benedict recently said that the church no longer requires the theological hypothesis of limbo, since it's enough to trust in the loving mercy of God;

  • In Spe Salvi, Bendedict wrote that the doctrine of the Last Judgment is not a warning but a promise of hope;

  • In his Dec. 21 address to the Roman Curia, Benedict argued that the motive for mission is not that souls will otherwise be lost, but rather that so that the peace and reconciliation of the Kingdom of God can reach their maximum potential in history.

In that spirit, one can expect Benedict to treat the pastoral basics in the States, as he's done on other foreign trips: the Eucharist, the priesthood and religious life, confession and the other sacraments, and devotion to the person of Jesus Christ and to Mary. Rather than lamenting abuses, Benedict is likely to offer a positive exposition.


Once again, it's not that the pope avoids contentious issues. In Brazil, he called bishops to defend "the integrity of the faith, together with ecclesiastical discipline." Given historical tensions between the Vatican and Brazil over liberation theology, no one missed the point. Yet his overall thrust was still strikingly positive. His focus at the end was not on the church's problems, but the growth of new religious orders and lay movements.


Despite a recent flurry of speculation that Benedict will take Catholic educators to the woodshed when he meets with them on April 17 at the Catholic University of America, I suspect the pope's tone during that session, as elsewhere, will come off as basically upbeat.


Catholic Challenges in America


Benedict is likely to touch upon a few specific challenges facing the Catholic church in the United States. At least three seem especially compelling.

The Sex Abuse Crisis: This will be the first papal visit to the United States since the sexual abuse crisis erupted in late 2001. (John Paul II visited Toronto in August 2002, where he briefly touched upon the crisis.) The fallout is well-documented: five dioceses bankrupt, more than $2 billion in total payouts, demoralization among clergy and laity, and an enormous blow to both the public image of the church in the United States and the credibility of American bishops.


In the early stages of planning for Benedict's trip, there was speculation he might go to Boston to address the crisis head-on. In the end, that prospect fell by the wayside -- in part because Benedict typically does not visit more than one or two sites in a country, even when he travels long distances; in part because organizers did not want to make the crisis the subtext for the entire trip. Despite a request from two American cardinals, Benedict is also not planning to meet with victims.


Nonetheless, the pope is expected to address the crisis on multiple occasions. It will likely come up in his address to the American bishops on April 16 in Washington's Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, and it may also surface in his public homilies in Washington and New York, as well as his Mass for priests, deacons and religious on April 19 in St. Patrick's Cathedral.


Broadly speaking, the pope's chief aim will likely be to offer a "shot in the arm" to the American church, encouraging American Catholics not to lose heart, and a vote of confidence for the American bishops. He will also try to assure the American public that the Catholic church is committed, from the highest levels on down, to the protection of children and to removing sexual predators from the priesthood.


Benedict probably will not address, at least directly, the major "open questions" that various groups of Catholics still associate with the crisis. Liberal Catholics sometimes argue that priestly celibacy, clericalism, a lack of accountability for bishops, and the church's teachings on sexuality are partly to blame; conservatives fault, among other things, excessive tolerance of dissent and homosexuality in the priesthood. At this stage, it seems likely that Benedict will leave those topics for another day.


Changing Demographics: Immigration is transforming the face of the Catholic church in the United States. The U.S. bishops currently estimate that 39 percent of the Catholic population in America is Hispanic, and by mid-century Hispanics may well be a majority. In some regions, the future is now. The Catholic population of the Dallas diocese, for example, has exploded from 200,000 in the late 1980s to more than 1 million today, with most of that growth driven by a surging Hispanic presence. Benedict XVI is aware of these trends, having named Daniel DiNardo of Houston as the first cardinal in Texas last November.


While "Hispanicization" is the dominant demographic force, many parts of the United States are also seeing a significant influx of Catholics from other backgrounds -- for example, Vietnamese, Filipinos and Nigerians. While Catholicism is being buoyed by these new arrivals, it's also struggling to hold onto existing members; a recent Pew Forum study found that one in ten Americans is an ex-Catholic. (In reality, many other religious groups have a substantially higher rate of loss, but the raw numbers are greater for Catholicism.)


Benedict is likely to address the challenges posed by demographic change at two levels. First, he will want to promote unity among various ethnic and cultural groups, so that Catholicism in America doesn't unwittingly adopt a "separate but equal" pastoral model. Second, the pope is also likely to address the social and political dimensions of immigration, broadly encouraging the United States to be welcoming. In that respect, Benedict will be affirming recent positions taken by the U.S. bishops -- positions that have not always gone down well in some Catholic circles, given that the Catholic population in America is often as divided as the rest of the country on immigration policy.


A Divided Soul: Demographic change -- including not just new arrivals, but also the rise of a younger generation not fixated on the debates of the past -- is shaking up older ways of thinking about "issues in the church." Nonetheless, in many ways American Catholicism remains badly divided, including polarization between liberals and conservatives that is especially sharp among "insiders": theologians, priests and religious, lay activists, and journalists and pundits. Such division is hardly unique to the United States, but the polarized character of broader political discussion in America exacerbates the problem.


One area where this division becomes clear is Catholic engagement in politics. Recent elections have revealed a deep gap between staunchly pro-life Catholics who often veer toward Republicans, and peace-and-justice Catholics likely to embrace the Democrats.


Benedict may not tackle this situation explicitly, and he's unlikely to directly address the controversial question of communion for pro-choice Catholic politicians. (The Vatican learned its lesson from Brazil; the pope answered a question on the papal plane about excommunicating politicians, and it blotted the rest of the pope's message out of the sky on the first day of the trip.) Instead, Benedict is likely to try an "end-run" around partisan politics, encouraging the formation of a Catholic culture capable of acting as a "leaven" within the existing formations, trying to transform them from the inside out.


Why it Matters


For Catholics, the presence of the Holy Father on American soil carries obvious spiritual significance. Outsiders, however, may wonder what the fuss is about -- religious leaders visit the United States all the time, often without much discernible impact.


Why should anyone outside the Catholic world care?


Simply put, the political, cultural and social attitudes of any group of 70 million Americans, representing roughly one-quarter of the country's population, obviously matter. To take the most obvious example, debates over abortion in the United States would be considerably different without the engagement of a cross-section of Catholic clergy and lay activists in defense of a "culture of life."


Of course, no pope can push buttons and automatically move the entire Catholic community in the United States, or anywhere else, in a given direction. American Catholics are notoriously divided, and some strongly disagree with the pope on many questions. Nonetheless, the pope plays a unique role in setting the tone for Catholic conversation, and over time papal leadership can move opinion. John Paul's strong anti-death penalty push is one clear case in point. Polls carried out by John Zogby in 2005 found that American support for the death penalty had dropped across the board, but the shift was especially decisive among Catholics; 50 percent of American Catholics were opposed to capital punishment, up 20 points from previous surveys, and the percentage who said they "strongly support" capital punishment had dropped from 40 to 20 percent.


Zogby said at the time the results show that American Catholics "are listening to the message of the pope and the bishops."


(In this regard, I can name least one American who needs no persuading that papal visits can make a difference: convicted murderer Darrell Mease, who was scheduled for execution in Missouri during Pope John Paul II's 1999 visit to St. Louis, and whose life was spared after a personal appeal from the pope to then-Governor Mel Carnahan.)


A whole series of public debates in the United States, from Iraq to gay marriage to immigration, have been influenced by the positions taken by Catholics. A decisive papal push in one direction or another could have important consequences, making Benedict's visit a news story for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.


On the world stage too, the papacy remains a premier "bully pulpit." Benedict's comments on Islam at the University of Regensburg in September 2006 remain controversial, but whatever view one takes, the massive global reaction illustrates that what the pope says and does carries enormous potential resonance.


How Americans See Benedict XVI


Because Benedict often speaks in a distinctively Catholic, and deliberately unspectacular, sort of language, he sometimes struggles to get his messages across to "outsider" audiences. Truth to be told, Benedict XVI has not established a strong public image among Americans, including most American Catholics, over the first three years of his papacy. Consider that in all of 2007, Benedict XVI finished on the front page of the New York Times exactly twice. By way of comparison, in the third year of his papacy, John Paul graced the front page a robust 25 times.


If one were to stop average Americans in the street to ask what they know about Benedict XVI, you'd likely get some combination of three points:



  • He seems nicer than some people suggested when he was elected;

  • He had a problem with Muslims some time back;

  • He wears Prada shoes.

Insiders, of course, could tick off a whole host of other points: Benedict's two encyclicals on love and hope, the Vatican document on gay priests early in his papacy, the pope's decision to broaden permission for celebration of the Latin Mass, personnel decisions in the Vatican and around the world, his seven foreign trips, his diplomatic engagement on Africa, China, and the Middle East, and so on. To date, however, little of that activity has broken through the broad secular fog.


On the other hand, Americans seem broadly positive about what they have seen. Last September, the Pew Forum released a poll that found 68 percent of Americans felt they knew enough about Benedict to at least offer an opinion, and 73 percent of that group had a favorable impression. Among Catholics Benedict did even better, drawing an 86 percent approval rating. Those are numbers that most politicians or celebrities would obviously drool over.


The bottom line is that Americans don't know much about Benedict XVI, but most seem inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. It may be frustrating for the Vatican that after three years, the pope hasn't carved out a more substantial profile. On the other hand, Benedict at least has an opportunity to introduce himself to an American public that seems favorably disposed.


What to Watch For


In recent weeks on the lecture circuit, people have asked what they should "watch for" when the pope comes. My snappy answer is that it's a "John Paul" question; he was the master of the symbolic gesture, so just keeping one's eyes open was often enough to get the gist. With Benedict, it's rarely enough just to watch. One also has to listen, and perhaps equally importantly, to read. One has to sit with his texts in order to "get it," because this is a public figure who expresses himself not in sound-bites but in carefully crafted paragraphs.


(Just to prove that every generalization has exceptions, however, Benedict can communicate in images when he wants to. He spoke thousands of words in November 2006 in Turkey, but the defining moment of that trip remains the image of the pope standing alongside Grand Mufti Mustafa Cagrici, engaged in a moment of silent prayer inside Istanbul's Blue Mosque.)


Benedict's texts are never just delivery vehicles for isolated phrases. Every paragraph matters, and they're integrally related to one another. That's why reading his texts is a rewarding experience, and it's also why individual snippets lifted out of context can sometimes generate tremendous misunderstanding.


Benedict, in other words, is something of an acquired taste.


To some extent, this is a question of personality. If John Paul II had not been a pope, he would have been a movie star; if Benedict had not been pope, he would have been a university professor. No surprise that John Paul took the world by storm, while Benedict stands a bit off the beaten path.


To some extent, too, Benedict's lower profile is a matter of conscious strategy. He doesn't want to feed a cult of personality, insisting that the proper focus should be on God rather than him. To take just one example of how that plays out in practice, Benedict will say Mass on April 19 in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, the first time a pope has celebrated Mass inside St. Patrick's. Under John Paul, such an event would likely have been held outdoors to accommodate an overflow crowd. Whenever possible, Benedict prefers to celebrate in an authentic liturgical space, so that attention centers on worship rather than the person of the pope. (Of course, Benedict knows that making himself available to the people comes with the territory, hence his two Masses in baseball stadiums. Clearly, however, an amphitheatre is not this pope's natural habitat.)


One can debate whether all this amounts to laudable humility, or stubborn indifference to the dynamics of modern communications. To some extent, it may be both -- but in any event, it's who Benedict is.


Will the trip be worth it?


Papal travel doesn't come cheap. The 2002 edition of World Youth Day in Toronto, which featured Pope John Paul II, left behind a deficit of $20 million. A one-day layover in St. Louis in 1999 cost $7 million. Such expenditures have sometimes drawn criticism; after a November 1982 papal trip to Spain cost $10 million, the auxiliary bishop of Madrid, Alberto Iniesta, publicly apologized for its "fatuousness and triumphalism."


This time around, Archbishop Donald Wuerl estimates that the Washington leg of the trip alone will cost a minimum of $3 million, all of it to be covered through donations. When everything is said and done, the total tab for Benedict's six-day swing may exceed $10 million. Given the resources involved, it's a fair question to ask whether the expense is worth it.


On a strictly dollars-and-cents basis, most hosts of papal trips seem to think so. Denver, for example, reported that it got a $100 million bump in travel and tourism from the pope's 1993 visit. The New York State Department of Commerce and Economic Development concluded that a 1995 papal Mass at Giants Stadium, all by itself, generated $3.4 million in hotel, concessions and restaurant spending, in exchange for an outlay of $800,000. St. Louis officials say they made $14 million from 54,000 extra out-of-town visitors in 1999, meaning the city doubled its money in a day.


Local Catholic leaders generally say the same thing. When John Paul II visited Los Angeles for two days in 1987, the tab was $3.5 million. The media-savvy Cardinal Roger Mahony put that figure in context by pointing out that the visit drew near-constant coverage; L.A.'s Channel 5, for example, broadcast the entire visit round the clock. To buy that kind of publicity in the Los Angeles media market, Mahony said, would have broken the bank.


Although Benedict is not the same magnet for humanity that John Paul II was, he still draws impressive crowds that can produce similar economic and PR effects.


It's harder to evaluate the payoff at a spiritual and pastoral level, but here too there are indications that papal trips sometimes get results. In 1994, one year after Denver's World Youth Day, the archdiocese registered 2,000 converts, more than any diocese in the country. Mass attendance was up 8.05 percent, whereas before it had been falling. Enrollment in Catholic schools increased 7.72 percent. Over this period, the total number of Catholics increased only 1.76 percent, so most of these gains came from pre-existing Catholics more interested in practicing the faith. In Ireland, applicants for the priesthood spiked by 20 percent in 1980, one year after a September 1979 papal visit. French Catholic authorities reported a similar phenomenon after John Paul's August 1997 visit for World Youth Day.


It must be said, however, that many other nations and dioceses popes have visited cannot point to similar concrete gains.


Under Benedict XVI, insta-analysis of a trip has become even more difficult. Unlike John Paul II, Benedict seems largely uninterested in the next day's headlines, or in changing history in the here-and-now. He has little expectation that because he shows up on Thursday, by next Sunday the churches will be full, or that by Monday the government will have changed. Benedict thinks against a much longer arc of time, worrying about the state of the church, and the world, a century or more down the line. For that reason, the normal measures of a trip's impact -- crowd size, media coverage, dramatic moments, and immediate results -- are often of little use.


Benedict's aspiration seems to be that over time, as his messages are pondered in seminaries, colleges and small faith groups, as his liturgies and other spiritual experiences are savored, something will gradually shift -- a stronger, more intentional Catholic culture will begin to sprout at the grassroots. It may not reach the masses right away, but as Benedict said last summer in a session with priests from northern Italy, "statistics are not our divinity."


It's not that we won't eventually get a handle on what difference, if any, Benedict's American swing makes. We may have to wait, however, until 2108 or so for the results to come in.


Links


Benedict XVI's itinerary:
http://uspapalvisit.org/itinerary_en.htm


A blog on the trip run by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: http://uspapalvisit.org/


The Vatican web site, where Benedict's texts will be posted:twww.vatican.va


Benedict XVI's January 2008 address to diplomats: http://212.77.1.245/news_services/bulletin/news/21418.php?index=21418&po_date=07.01.2008〈=it#TRADUZIONE%20IN%20LINGUA%20INGLESEE


Benedict XVI's February 29 remarks to Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon: http://212.77.1.245/news_services/bulletin/news/21754.php?index=21754&po_date=29.02.2008〈=it

t

A September 2007 Pew Forum poll on American impressions of Benedict XVI: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/602/public-expresses-mixed-views-of-islam-mormonism


* * *


Briefly, the NCR web site has posted an interesting transcript of a 2003 exchange between two Catholic legends, both of whom have since gone to their reward: the Belgian Jesuit theologian Fr. Jacques Dupuis, whose writing on religious pluralism drew a critical 2001 notice from the Vatican, and Cardinal Franz König of Vienna, Austria, who was deeply sympathetic to Dupuis' work. (König died in May 2004, Dupuis in late December of the same year).


Though Dupuis' thought was complex, in a nutshell he argued that religious diversity is not just an accidental product of human sinfulness, but a positive aspect of God's plan for humanity. Critics, including then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, felt that Dupuis' theology weakened the church's commitment to mission, as well as its traditional teaching that Christ is the lone and unique savior of all humanity.


The exchange between König and Dupuis is a dialogue among two people who share the same broad orientation, as opposed to a debate, and it offers a fascinating "insider" glimpse into both the issues raised by religious pluralism and the inner workings of the Vatican. Readers can find it here: http://ncronline2.org/drupal/index.php?q=node/509.

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is jallen@ncronline.org

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