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Pope Seeks to Bolster America's Catholics

Bishop of Tucson Gerald F. Kicanas kisses the hand of Pope Benedict XVI upon the pope's arrival at Andrews Air Force Base.
Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
Bishop of Tucson Gerald F. Kicanas kisses the hand of Pope Benedict XVI upon the pope's arrival at Andrews Air Force Base.

Pope Benedict XVI is visiting the United States for the first time as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

R. Scott Appleby, a professor of religious history at the University of Notre Dame, tells Renee Montagne about how American Catholics and the church have responded to the theology and leadership of Pope Benedict since his election three years ago.

Appleby says many Catholics are "cafeteria Catholics," that is, they pick and choose, creating their own religious profile.

"The church wants Catholics to resist that tendency, which is widespread in American culture, because we're a culture of choice, we are independent, individualistic, and there are many sources of so-called wisdom in the culture," he says.

There's a tension in the relationship between the Catholics in American culture and the freedoms of that culture, he says. "But the church says, 'Look, we have a coherent truth, we have a way of life and in fact a lens through which to view all these choices,' and that needs to be instilled and held tight by Catholics."

Appleby says Pope Benedict has been a pleasant surprise for most people. Coming into his papacy, he was considered quite strict. He has turned out to be strict on adherence to Catholic teaching, but "his message, in essence, has been more constructive and positive and life-giving, in a way, than one might have expected," Appleby says.

In his U.S. visit, Pope Benedict won't focus too much on issues that have driven a wedge between American Catholics and the Vatican, such as birth control and women as priests, Appleby says.

Pope Benedict understands that the church in the United States needs "encouragement, gratitude, uplift" after coming through the sexual abuse crisis and struggling with a shortage of women religious figures and the challenge of retaining the loyalty of younger Catholics. So, he won't focus too much on differences, Appleby says. "I believe the message to Catholics will be positive."

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