A view from the Tablet's Rome correspondent:
"Before he became Pope, Joseph Ratzinger was known as a very staunch Catholic," said one of New York's local TV personalities. The reporter said Benedict XVI had shown that "he really is a people person', and that he is very open to change".The "gentle Bavarian visitor" (as one Wall Street Journal commentator called him) charmed the fickle American media and even converted some of his longstanding critics within the Catholic Church during a dozen public events in Washington and New York City. Fr James Martin, acting publisher of the Jesuit magazine America, boldly confessed in the New York Times that he "was one of those (many) liberal Catholics who was disappointed by (Benedict's) election". But he said last week's visit left him "feeling real admiration - and even affection" for the Pope.Whether or not it was a planned strategy, Benedict disarmed his critics. He coupled his preaching of the hard moral "truths" of conservative Catholicism with the Gospel message of love and hope. Even papal vestments and his softly spoken and distinctively accented English seemed to enhance his religious authority and impress ordinary Americans, most of whom were getting their first long look at the Pope. "Americans love anyone whose first name is the'," said a former Washington priest who tried to explain the Pope's unexpected appeal.But image was only part of the allure. Benedict XVI won points from nearly everyone for expressing "deep shame" over the clerical sex-abuse scandal and, even more dramatically, for meeting several of the victims - a private encounter that the Franciscan Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston helped arrange. The Pope admitted that the sex-abuse problem was "sometimes very badly handled" by the US bishops, though he later said they were now dealing with it "effectively".The overall effect of his repeated references to the abuse crisis throughout his time in the United States was a sign for many Catholics that "the Pope gets it". Before the visit many wondered if he really did. Even leaders of Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the group that has been most critical of church authorities for the way they have handled this issue, voiced appreciation for the Pope's words and gestures, while also demanding further action be taken against bishops who reassigned the abusing priests.
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