Pope’s visit to bring message of hope and faith to all Christians

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI recognizes the damage and pain caused by the clergy sex abuse crisis and will seek to heal wounds during his U.S. trip next week, the Vatican’s No. 2 official said yesterday.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, in an interview with The Associated Press, said Benedict will deliver a message of “trust and hope” when he meets American clergy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

Benedict “will try to open the path of healing and reconciliation,” said Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state.

The abuse crisis has caused “so much suffering for the victims, for the families of the victims and above all to the church because it was a contradiction with the great educational mission of the church,” Bertone lamented during the 30-minute interview in the frescoed Treaty Hall of the Apostolic Palace.

U.S. dioceses have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in claims since the crisis began six years ago in Boston, where Cardinal Bernard Law ultimately resigned as archbishop. Nearly 14,000 molestation claims have been filed against Catholic clergy since 1950 – a substantial chunk of them in recent years.

Catholics in Boston had hoped Benedict would visit their city in the wake of the scandal. Bertone said Benedict, who will turn 81 during next week’s visit to the U.S., is fit but could not meet all the invitations from U.S. cities and had to limit himself to Washington and New York.

“The pope is well, everyone sees it, all those who are near to him see his freshness,” Bertone said.

Turning to security during the visit, the cardinal said he is aware of anti-papal rhetoric from Islamic extremists. But he noted that Benedict visited the predominantly Muslim nation of Turkey in 2006, just two months after he touched off a fury in the Islamic world by linking that faith to violence in a speech in his native Germany.

Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden recently accused the pope of helping in a “new Crusade,” but Bertone said “I must say the Holy Father is very tranquil and serene. … We have faith in the means of protection the government will implement.”

“He entrusts himself to God and also to his guardian angels who won’t be lacking on this trip to the United States,” Bertone said with a smile.

Bertone worked as a close aide to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when the future pope headed the Vatican’s office supervising doctrinal orthodoxy. He then served as archbishop of Genoa before Benedict appointed him secretary of state.

He now plays a highly visible role in the papacy.

Bertone was in Cuba on a long-scheduled visit when Raul Castro assumed the presidency in February, and their discussions touched on political prisoners in Cuba and Cubans jailed for spying in the United States.

The cardinal reiterated the Vatican’s long-held position against the U.S. embargo against Cuba and some European Union sanctions in his interview with the AP.

Bertone, who will be meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington, said the embargo “does not help the positive development of Cuban society, rather it impedes it.”

“The role of the church in Cuba is recognized. I would like to make a positive observation – also comparing to other nations of the world – that Cuba, even under the regime of Fidel Castro – never interfered with the nomination and election of bishops of the Catholic Church.”

He did not elaborate on the other nations but might have been referring to China, where the Communist government sees the Vatican tradition of the pope naming his own bishops as interference in the country.

Earlier in the day, the Vatican released a videotaped message from Benedict saying he hopes his trip will be seen as a sign of friendship toward all Christian denominations and other religions.

He will meet with President Bush, visit a Manhattan synagogue and address the United Nations.

Bertone said “the dignity of the human being” will be at the center of Benedict’s U.N. address, linking the visit to the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Asked what impact the speech might have on U.S. policy, the Italian cardinal noted that “the United States shares the ideals of the United Nations.”

The theme of the trip, “Christ our Hope” is a reflection that Benedict is “not a pessimistic pope,” Bertone said.

He noted the importance of religion in American life and the Catholic Church in America. While the pope is aware that Catholics in the United States and elsewhere in the world stray from church teaching, the cardinal said, Benedict wants his pilgrimage to give his flock “reason for faith and for hope.”