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U.S. cardinals try to soften pope's image in America



Published: Thu, April 21, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Some say Benedict is a difficult man.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

ROME -- Several U.S. cardinals here Wednesday sought in unison to put a kinder, gentler face on Pope Benedict XVI, whose election as the successor of Pope John Paul II has drawn mixed reactions from U.S. Catholics.

Their comments about the new pope followed a common theme, urging that a full picture of the man be presented while assuring Roman Catholics of Benedict's human and pastoral qualities.

Until his election as pontiff Tuesday, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany was widely known as the Vatican's keeper of Catholic orthodoxy. Some critics called him the "panzer cardinal." As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he reined in dissident theologians and did not consider proposals for ordaining married men, admitting women to the priesthood or diluting the church's teaching against homosexual acts.

But the U.S. cardinals, apparently mindful of the controversy that has long swirled around Ratzinger, said there was far more to his story.

"In covering events and people, in order to create something clear, certain aspects of someone's personality are singled out and chosen. And while true, it is isolated into a caricature," Cardinal Francis George of Chicago told reporters.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington added, "I think that the vision that some have of the Holy Father as someone who is not a person of dialogue is a skewed vision."

Wanting a good start

The seven Americans, who were among the 115 cardinals allowed to vote in the papal election, were clearly concerned that Benedict's public image could get his pontificate off to the wrong start, said David Gibson, author of "The Coming Catholic Church."

"I think there is a legitimate concern that he comes with a track record -- some would say baggage -- 24 years of the worst job in Christendom," said Gibson, referring to Cardinal Ratzinger's role as the Vatican's chief doctrinal watchdog during the papacy of John Paul. "They're obviously worried that he will start out hamstrung."

Cardinal George said a layman in France called the pope a "humble genius." A cleaning woman called him a "true Christian." "Let's see those two dimensions, seen by ordinary people, as part of the picture of who this man is," Cardinal George said.

Reaching out to youths

Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York spoke of the pope's kindnesses to him in the past. Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles cited Benedict's commitment to attending World Youth Day in August in Cologne, Germany, picking up the torch from John Paul II who energized youth worldwide and who was in turn energized by them.

Cardinal McCarrick said the new pope was committed to listening to cardinals, talking with bishops and had expressed a desire to be "collegial," a code word usually taken to mean that bishops should have more say in the affairs of the church and running their own dioceses.

"I have no doubt that he is a very kind man, a good man, a gentle man," said Sister Christine Schenk, executive director of FutureChurch, based in Cleveland.




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