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Q&A: What you need to know about the pope

Why is Pope Benedict coming to the United States? Is he a Republican? What does he like about America? What does he dislike? Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions.
/ Source: NBC News

Why is Pope Benedict XVI coming to America?

1. To address the United Nations.
2. To celebrate the bicentennial of organized Catholicism (East Coast Dioceses) in the United States.
3. To show his appreciation for the American people and the third "most Catholic" country (by population), after Brazil and Mexico.

What does he like about America?

1. Freedom of religion that really works.
2. It's the only wealthy country where religion flourishes and is encouraged. In most other countries, especially those in Western Europe, the increase in prosperity has resulted in the decrease, and even disdain, of religious practice.
3. The generosity of Americans, witnessed firsthand in his youth by the rebuilding of a devastated post-war Germany.

What does he dislike about America?

1. Rampant consumer capitalism and wealth "worship" right alongside millions of fellow Americans in poverty.
2. Easy abortion. The death penalty.
3. "Pick-and-Choose" Catholicism (aka "Cafeteria Catholics") which has roots in a philosophy of moral relativism, (values shifting based on historical context). He abhors relativism, considers it the greatest evil of our time.

What does he want from American Catholics?

1. To go to church: only 1 out of 4 currently go to mass every Sunday.
2. To embrace all, (not cafeteria selections) of the teaching on faith and morals, because it's one consistent package.
3. To take more direct responsibility for improving the lives of the very poor in the Third World.

Who are today's American Catholics?

1. Around 24% of the population.
2. 65% White and 29% Latino.
3. 1 of out of 3 Catholics live in the Northeast.
4. The future of American Catholicism is Hispanic, with 77% of Hispanic Catholics under 50.
[Source: The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life]

Why should the pope matter to non-Catholic Americans?

1. Because he is the highest moral authority in the world. No other moral or religious leader comes close. People don't necessarily pay attention to what he says, but he has the highest "podium" for moral pronouncements.
2. Because a pope's efforts can move opinions among Catholics, and as a large segment of the American population, a shift in Catholic opinion can affect national public opinion. [John Paul did that with the death penalty.]

Is the pope a Republican?

Not at all. Republicans have tried to appropriate the pope and Catholics, because of commonality on anti-abortion, anti-stem cell research, and anti-gay marriage positions. But what many Republican Catholics don't realize is that the pope's pro-life stance applies to the death penalty as well, which he calls immoral and opposes because it interferes with God's primacy over life and death, just like abortion does. [Being against abortion but for the death penalty is just as much "Cafeteria Catholicism" to the pope as having a Catholic wedding after years of premarital sex.] The pope is also anti-war for nearly anything but defensive measures, believes climate change is real, and maintains that the government has a positive role to play in the alleviation of poverty.

How does Benedict differ from John Paul?

In style, immensely; in substance, not at all. As a cardinal, Benedict was John Paul's watchdog of doctrinal orthodoxy, serving as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the modern descendant of the "Holy Office of the Inquisition."), where he earned the nickname "God's Rottweiler" for his crackdowns on liberal theologians and controversial pronouncements on homosexuality and the primacy of Catholicism over other faiths.

John Paul was the stage-crafted master of the dramatic gesture, improvisation and crowd-manipulating oratorical skills. By comparison, Benedict is like Al Gore dancing "The Macarena". But what he lacks in personality, he more than makes up for in brains, and his writings, and speeches, are much easier to understand than John Paul's, because they proceed in very simple, logical, deductive, and orderly fashion.

A few final numbers

- Benedict was 78 when elected, 3 years ago this Saturday, April 19.
- 81 years old April 16, Wednesday, his first full day in the United States.
- 6 languages spoken: German, Italian, French, English, Spanish and Latin. Also reads ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew.,
- 265th pope, the first being St. Peter [" are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.."]

Stephen Weeke was NBC News' longtime Rome Bureau Chief who covered Pope John Paul II extensively. Read his story "Traveling through history with John Paul, Vatican reporter recalls excitement, adventure of covering pontiff." He is now based in New York.