Storm of protest brews ahead of Pope's US visit
Miami — Pope John Paul II's 10-day trip to the United States this September is hitting some rough weather before it begins. Millions of American Roman Catholics eagerly await the Pope's visit, which is expected to draw the largest crowds ever gathered in some cities. New Orleans is planning a mass for 400,000 people. San Antonio is planning for half a million, 100,000 of them from Mexico.
But the Pope has become a controversial figure in the US since his first visit here in 1979.
Jewish leaders, invited to meet with the Pope at his first stop in Miami, are balking after the Pope's generous reception in June of Austrian President, and alleged Nazi collaborator, Kurt Waldheim.
In San Francisco, the local archdiocese has been negotiating for six months to avoid violence or disruption by homosexual-rights groups planning protests of the Pope's traditional views on sex and morality.
The president of the nation's largest Protestant denomination, Adrian Rogers of the Southern Baptist Convention, has declined to meet with the Pope. A small group of independent Baptists plans to greet the Pope in Columbia, S.C., with billboards touting scriptural passages meant to refute Roman Catholic doctrine.
The Pope may also encounter protests from American Indians opposed to the sainthood, now under Vatican consideration, of Father Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions.
The American Civil Liberties Union and various allied groups, from religious fundamentalists to women's organizations, are fighting the use of public facilities for the papal visit. The US Secret Service estimates it will spend $5.7 million to protect the Pope. The Miami public school system plans to use 600 buses to ferry people to the Papal mass.
A flight attendants union has threatened to picket every stop along the Pope's tour because his entourage is flying TWA, which has not given back the jobs of 4,300 attendants who struck the airline last year.
The visit, beginning Sept. 10, will sweep across the Sunbelt with stops in Miami; Columbia, S.C.; New Orleans; San Antonio; Phoenix; San Francisco; Monterey, Calif.; and Detroit. Much of the itinerary stresses the growing presence of Hispanics - now a quarter of the US Roman Catholic population - in the church.
The purpose of the Papal visit is generally to reinvigorate the Roman Catholic field and bring a greater sense of unity with the worldwide church.
This conservative Pope, however, is often at odds with Americans in his own church, raising questions of whether this visit will take on a disciplinary or hard-line, confrontational tone.
Most Catholic observers don't think so.
The Pope met with American bishops in March to get their counsel on his trip. Based on reports of that meeting, the Pope is likely to take a conciliatory, centrist tone in his meetings and speeches here, says Rev. Richard O'Brien, theology chairman at Notre Dame University.
Yet he is likely to cause some dismay, notes Georgetown University theology instructor Leo Madden, among ``people who would like the freedom to express their Catholicity in an American way.'' This includes American notions of the equality of women and democratic institutions.
The Pope opposes the ordination of women into the priesthood, birth control, abortion, and other practices condoned by many liberal American Catholics.
If many US theologians and Catholic officials have reservations about Pope John Paul II's traditionalism, rank-and-file Roman Catholics of the Sunbelt, and especially the Catholic Poles of Detroit, are likely to give him an enthusiastic reception, Fr. O'Brien says.
John Paul II's first US visit in 1979 was regarded as something of a disappointment. ``The first trip, on balance, was not considered a pastoral triumph. It left behind some bad feelings,'' Fr. O'Brien says.
This trip is designed to overcome some of the weaknesses of the earlier one, especially by stressing ecumenical meetings with other religious leaders.
Jewish leaders want a meeting apart from the ceremonial one in Florida or a policy statement from the Pope clarifying his views on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Key Jewish leaders met with Agostino Cardinal Casaroli, the Vatican's secretary of state, in New York early this month and expect a response from the Vatican by the end of July.
Relations between American Catholics and Jews remain ``excellent,'' says Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum of the American Jewish Committee, in spite of strains over the Pope's reception of Mr. Waldheim.
In San Francisco, where tension over the papal visit has run highest, archdiocesean spokesman Norman Phillips says both the churches and protesters have agreed to discourage violence. The particular concern is that homosexual-rights protesters could be attacked. The negotiations, Deacon Phillips says, have provided an opportunity ``for some healing in the community.''
The Rev. Billy Graham declined to meet the Pope in South Carolina, with regrets, because of longstanding plans in mainland China. But he commented: ``Pope John Paul II's strong stands for morality and justice have won the respect of people around the world, Catholic and non-Catholic.''