Senior Policy Analyst for the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, Daniel Moloney shares his thoughts and predictions on Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States:

The primary purposes of the Pope’s trip are to visit American Catholics as their pastor and to address the UN on the 60th Anniversary of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights.

  • I expect that he will give particular emphasis to the need to protect and promote religious liberty. As a religious leader you might expect the Pope to do this, but this emphasis on religious freedom isn’t just special pleading.
  • He sees religious liberty as the most important human right, the foundation of all the others, because it protects man’s ability to pursue his greatest aspirations. If a person has the right to look for God, then his dignity is safe. If a citizen’s other rights are strongly protected—e.g., the right to life, to property, even to health care—but he lacks the right to worship freely, then in his innermost soul, he is not free but is a “mere creature of the state.”

On the Pope’s White House Visit

Whatever disagreements there might have been about the decision to go into Iraq, in their broader human rights agenda, the Pope and the President see the world much the same way.

  • Both are very alive to the religious dimension of the war against terror, that, unlike Communism, Islam is a religion and one that millions of people practice willingly, and humanely. The terrorists are using—or abusing—Islam’s religious vocabulary, and therefore part of our war against terrorism involves a very delicate policy of distinguishing the global jihadism, which is a threat, from the Islam they claim to represent.
  • Both recognize that we cannot expect Muslims all over the world to become secularized—nor do either of them want that. Both believe from their own experiences that it is possible to be completely modern and devoutly religious, and they believe that this is possible for Muslims just as much as for Christians. In this they are different from many in the secular international relations establishment.
  • The Pope will probably ask for US support in a few key diplomatic initiatives with US allies in the Middle East. The Vatican has had surprisingly frank conversations with Muslim religious leaders, and one of the fruits of these contacts is that some states, including perhaps Saudi Arabia, are allowing Catholics to build churches and practice a modicum of religious freedom.

On What the Pope Expects to Learn

  • Europe is secularized. Abortion is one of the leading causes of death. Atheism is assumed by most people. Fertility is shockingly low. Different religious groups are constantly arguing over their place in public life.
  • On the other hand, Americans are religious, the Catholics are equal participants in public life without having ever been the state religion, there is this wonderful religious pluralism—he has an interreligious meeting with Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews on Thursday. He is looking and wondering whether American religious freedom can be a model for the world.
  • The Pope’s first encyclical, God is Charity, talks about the importance of private charitable giving. In the US, this is common—Americans are the most financially generous people in the world, and the religious people are leading the way. Europeans give very little money outside of their taxes, and the Pope argues that this takes the Christian idea of charity and bureaucratizes it.