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Monday, April 14, 2008

How much can the Pope heal the American flock's decline of trust?

The American visit poses an unprecedented pastoral challenge for the 80-year-old pontiff. Benedict's is the first papal trip to the United States since the priest sex abuse crisis erupted in 2001. It is a controversy that has left much of the American laity bitterly disillusioned with their Church's leadership. For many of the 67 million American Catholics, how the Pope confronts the lingering fallout from the pedophilia scandal may largely determine the success of this visit.

Benedict's arrival in the U.S. is being seen as a make-or-break moment for Rome to regain the trust of its American flock, the third largest national contingent within a worldwide Catholic Church of 1.1 billion faithful. In recent days, the Vatican has confirmed that on at least one occasion Benedict will specifically address the issue. The Vatican's No. 2 official, Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, told FOX News that the Pope will confront the "open wound" of sex abuse during the April 19 morning mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral for New York-area clergy. It is unclear whether his words will amount to a Mea Culpa similar to those pronounced by John Paul II back in 2000 for the sins of the Church over past centuries, including persecution of Jews and heretics. Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who heads the Vatican office for the clergy, sent a letter to bishops around the world in January, urging special prayer sessions for the victims of sexual abuse by priests.

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