Pope Benedict XVIprays in San Bartolemeo Basilica during his visits at the Memorialplace of witnesses to faith in the XX century, and the Community ofSant’ Egidio on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, at tiberineisland in Rome, Italy on 07 April 2008. EPA/ALBERTO PIZZOLI / POOL
Apr 11, 2008, 11:12 GMT
Rome - The week before Pope Benedict XVI is to head to the UnitedStates, questions remain about how he will address the priest abusescandal that has shaken the world's third-largest Catholic community.
Reporters have pressed the Vatican's spokesman on whether Cardinal Bernard Law, who has resided in Rome since resigning as Archbishop of Boston in the wake of the scandal, would accompany the pontiff on the trip.
During his pastoral visit, Benedict is to celebrate the 200thanniversary of the founding of five US dioceses including Boston, whereLaw's tenure as archbishop lasted for 18 years.
Father Federico Lombardi confirmed that several Rome-based Americancardinals would travel with the pope. He had 'no information' onwhether Law would be one of them.
Law stepped down in 2002 in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal thatshook the US Roman Catholic Church. Since then it has paid out hundredsof millions of dollars to the victims who were children when theviolations occurred.
The former Boston archbishop has been accused of, at best inaction,at worst covering up for several known offenders in the clergy, and hisinclusion on the pope's April 15-20 visit could prove embarassing.
Still, Benedict, who has denounced the 'dirt' within the church,apparently has no intention of sweeping the scandal under a carpet.
According to Lombardi, the pontiff is likely to broach the issuewhen he addresses US bishops in Washington on April 16, and during twoApril 19 engagements in New York: a Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral fornuns and priests and a meeting with students at St Joseph's Seminary.
Wider ethical and spiritualissues are destined to dominate other aspects of Benedict's visit tothe United States, where Roman Catholics number around 70 million - thethird largest concentration in the world after Brazil and Mexico.
'A survey shows that most Americans expect to hear the pope speak on religionand morality,' Lombardi said. He said they are 'less interested' toknow what the pontiff thinks about the war in Iraq. The Vatican opposedthe US-led invasion in 2003.
But when Benedict meets President George W Bush at the White Houseon April 16, his message may not be what proponents of an early USwithdrawal from Iraq want to hear.
'The pope won't call for the troops to leave. He wants them to stayon a 'peace mission' - also to defend Iraq's Christian minority,' saidSandro Magister, a Vatican expert for the weekly magazine L'Espresso.
Meetings are also planned between the pontiff and leaders of other religious faiths - Judaism, Buddhism,Hinduism and Jainism - on April 17 in Washington and with leaders ofseveral other Christian denominations the next day in New York.
The talks offer the pope an opportunity to continue a sometimes tense dialogue.
Recent controversies include Benedict's baptizing of Italy's mostprominent Muslim critic at a Easter Vigil ceremony and protests over arevised Catholic prayer for the conversion of Jews.
The Vatican has also drawn criticism from Protestants in the UnitedStates and elsewhere for describing their groups as Christiancommunities, instead of churches.
Human rightsconcerns, including religious freedom and Catholic opposition toabortion and capital punishment, promise to feature prominently in whatthe Vatican has described as the 'highlight' of the trip: Benedict'sspeech before the United Nations General Assembly in New York on April18.
A non-binding moratorium on the death sentence on an Italianinitiative was approved by the General Assembly in December 2007 andreceived strong Vatican support, overcoming opposition from the UnitedStates.
In New York, Benedict is likely to appeal for more nations toendorse the initiative during 2008, which marks the 60th anniversary ofthe UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But the visit to the world body also comes just five months afterthe pontiff said 'moral relativism' - an aspect of the modern world heconsiders evil and under which he has categorized abortion, embryonicstem cell research and euthanasia - dominates debate at internationalorganizations.
While Benedict's trip takes place ahead of US presidential electionslater this year, he is unlikely to express a preference for anyindividual candidate.
Asked if the pontiff intended to meet Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama or Republican candidate John McCain, Lombardi replied: 'I'd be surprised'.