Papal inflight press conference

Here are Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks to reporters on his plane. His remarks in Italian have been translated into English.

(Introductory remarks)

My trip has above all two objectives. The first objective is the visit to the church in America, in the United States, naturally to the entire nation. There’s a particular reason: the Archdiocese of Baltimore 200 years ago was elevated to a metropolitan see, and at (the) same time three other dioceses were born, as far as I recall Philadelphia, Boston and Louisville. So it’s a great jubilee for this nucleus of the church in the United States, a moment of reflection about the past, and above all also a reflection about the future and how to respond to the great challenges of our time, of the present and the future.

Naturally the interreligious and ecumenical meetings also are part of this visit, and particularly the meeting in the synagogue with our Jewish friends on the vigil of their celebration of Passover. So (there is) this religious and pastoral aspect — the church in the United States in this moment of our history — and the meetings with all the others, in this common fraternity that connects us and in our common responsibility. In this moment I would also like to thank President Bush who is coming to the airport and is reserving much time for our discussion, and who is also receiving me on the occasion of my birthday.

The second objective is the visit to the United Nations. Here, too, there is a particular reason: It has been 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is the anthropology, the founding philosophy, of the United Nations and the spiritual and human foundation on which it is constructed. So it is truly a moment of reflection, of regaining awareness of this important moment in history. In this declaration of human rights, diverse cultural traditions came together in an anthropology that recognizes in man a subject of rights that come before all the institutions, and (that recognizes) common values that must be respected by all. So this visit, precisely in a moment of a crisis of values, seems to me important in order to reconfirm together what was begun in that moment and to develop it for our own time and for the future.

(In response to the question about the sex abuse scandal and the need for healing.)

Really it is a great suffering for the church in the United States and for the church in general and for me personally that this could happen. If I read the histories of these victims, it’s difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betrayed in this way their mission to give healing, to give the love of God to these children. We are deeply ashamed and we will do all possible that this cannot happen in the future.

I think we have to act on three levels. The first is the level of justice, a juridical level. We have now also norms to react in a just way. I would not speak in this moment about homosexuality but pedophilia, which is another thing. We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry. This is absolutely incompatible, and who is really guilty of being a pedophile cannot be a priest. So this first level is, (as much) as we can, do justice and help clearly the victims because they are deeply touched. So there are two sides of the justice, on one hand that pedophiles cannot be priests and on the other hand to help in possible ways the victims.

The second level is a pastoral level, a level of healing and help, of assistance and reconciliation. This is a big pastoral engagement, and I know that the bishops and the priests and all the Catholic people in the United States will do (what is) possible to help, to assist and to heal and to help that in the future these things cannot happen.

This is the third point: prevention. We have made a visitation of the seminaries, and we will do also (what is) possible in the education of the seminarians for the deep, spiritual, human and intellectual formation … so that only really sound persons can be admitted to the priesthood, and only persons who have a deep personal love for Christ and have a deep sacramental love, to exclude that this can happen. So I know that the bishops and the rectors of seminaries will do all that is possible so that we have a strong, strong discernment because it’s more important to have good priests than to have many priests. This is also our third level, and we hope that we can do, and we have done and will do in the future, all that is possible to heal this wound.

(Responding to challenges and problems connected with immigration in the United States; he was asked to say something in Spanish if possible):

(In Italian) Unfortunately, I don’t feel capable of speaking in Spanish (begins speaking in Spanish) but I send blessings and greetings to everyone. (Back to Italian) Certainly the pope is ready (to address) this. I recently had “ad limina” visits with the bishops of Central America, and South America, too, and I saw the dimensions of this problem. Above all the great problem of the separation of families, and this is something truly dangerous for the social, moral and human fabric of these countries.

I think we need to distinguish between measures that need to be taken immediately and long-term solutions. The fundamental solution is that there would be no more need to emigrate, that there would be a sufficient number of jobs and an adequate social fabric so that no one would have to emigrate to find these things.

We all need to work together toward this objective, that social development be such that (those countries) themselves have all the possibilities to offer work and a future to their citizens. I would like to talk to the president about this point, too, because above all the United States also needs to help so countries can develop in this way. This is in the interest of everyone, not only in the interest of (developing) countries but of the world and precisely of the United States.

Then, as for short-term measures, for me it is very important above all to help the families. This follows from discussions I had with the bishops on the primary problem, that the families be protected and that they not be destroyed, and on what can and should be done. And then naturally to do what is possible against precarious situations and against all forms of violence, and to help so that these people can truly have a worthy life where they find themselves at present.

But I would also like to say that there are many problems and much suffering, but also much hospitality. I know, especially, that the U.S. bishops’ conference cooperates very much with the bishops’ conferences of Latin America in order to bring assistance in a joint manner — the priests help, the laypeople help. So therefore with all the painful things, let’s not forget so much real humanity, and so much positive action that exists.

(Responding to a question on the role of religion in the United States, comparing it to church-state relations in Europe.)

Certainly we in Europe cannot simply copy the United States. We have our own history. But we should all learn from one another. What I find fascinating about the United States is that it began with a positive concept of secularism. Because this new people was composed of communities and individuals who had fled from state churches and who wanted to have a lay, secular state that would open the possibilities for all the churches and for all forms of religious practice. So it was designed as a secular state, it was really against a state church, but secular specifically for love of religion and of its authenticity, which can only be lived freely. And so we find a combination of a state that is sincerely and by design secular, but precisely for a religious reason, in order to give authenticity to religion. And we know that Alexis de Toqueville, studying America, saw that these secular institutions live according to the de facto moral consensus that exists among its citizens. This seems to me to be a fundamental and positive model that should also be considered in Europe.

In the meantime, more than 200 years have passed, with many developments. Now even in the United States there is the attack of a new secularism, a new secularism that is completely different, and therefore new problems. … Therefore the situation has been complicated, made different by history. But the fundamental model seems to be still today worthy of consideration.

(Responding to a question about whether the United Nations is capable of protecting the values that the church says are based on natural law.)

This is precisely the fundamental objective of the United Nations, that it should protect the common values of humanity on which is based the peaceful coexistence among nations, the respect for justice and development in justice. I consider it very important that the foundation of the United Nations is precisely the idea of human rights, the rights that express nonnegotiable values that precede all the institutions, and which are the foundation of all the institutions. It’s important that here there is this convergence among cultures, which found a consensus that these values are fundamental and are truly inscribed in man himself. And renew this awareness that the United Nations with its peacemaking function can work only if it has a common foundation of values, which are expressed in rights that are observed by all. To confirm this fundamental idea and to update it as far as possible is an objective of my mission.

(His closing remarks):

As for my sentiments, I am going really with joy. I have been several times in the United States, I know this great country, and I also know the great liveliness of the church despite all the problems. At this historic moment for the church and for the United Nations, I am happy to meet this great people and this great church. Thank you all.

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