Pope Benedict XVI in NYC...

Behind The News
April 18, 2008 12:53:06 PM PDT
By comparison to the headlines generated from tackling the priest child sex abuse scandal, the Pope's speech to the U.N. was far less juicy. But it wasn't without substance. The speech, the Pope's official reason for this visit, leaned hard on what the world would expect from the spiritual leader of the world's second largest religion. Benedict XVI dealt with the so-called "modern-day commandments" he has added; thou shalt not pollute, thou shalt not become excessively rich, thou shalt not manipulate genes.

He also talked about human rights and freedom, human dignity, and making sure that underdeveloped countries share in the benefits of globalization.

The CEO of the biggest church in the world reminding CEO's of the world's biggest corporations of the world is at once both important and disappointing. Providing moral and ethical guidance to business is a noble calling, but how unfortunate that it needs to be done.

He didn't deal with Iraq and the Middle East directly, but he did talk about dialogue as the way to solve problems and ensure religious freedom. The remarks, I'm sure, were not lost on the U.N., which, over the objection of the Vatican back then, approved the use of force in Iraq. Many of the countries that voted in favor have since come to regret the vote.

The Pope's speech - and reaction -- will be included in our coverage, tonight at 11.

We're also following the Pope as he makes his way through New York today -- including the first-ever Papal visit to a U.S. synagogue. The historic irony abounds, because this Pope, like most youngsters in World War II Germany, was a member of Hitler Youth; the rabbi at the synagogue is a Holocaust survivor.

As for the traffic - it's not that bad today, which is often typical when gridlock is predicted. People simply stay away. In fact, there's a great headline on a travel website that says, "Unless you must see the Pope, avoid New York this weekend at all costs." Mayor Bloomberg won't like it. But when the warning has been widespread: Stay away, especially from the East Side of Manhattan.

And it appears people are.

There is no small degree of irony that, while the Pope is visiting the Park East Synagogue, across the park, on the Upper West Side, a documentary is opening called Constantine's Sword, that examines the Church's sometimes violent anti-Semitic role throughout history. Pope John Paul II made history by apologizing for the Church's anti-Semitism. But this documentary tells the story of James Carroll, an ex-priest who is obsessed with religious violence throughout history.

The current leaders of the Church, as we saw with the Pope's speech to the U.N. are clearly trying to end up on the other side of this issue in more modern times.

But the juxtaposition of the two events seemed fascinating and, one assumes, not just coincidental. Speaking of violence, two war-related items of note tonight. The first is the 25th anniversary of the U.S. embassy bombing in Beirut, which back then was perhaps the most dangerous city in the world. The bombing killed 52 people, including 17 Americans, and it changed the way U.S. embassies around the world are protected.

The other item comes from the National Defense University, the Pentagon's think tank. It has just published what can only be described as a devastating study on the Iraq war. "Measured in blood and treasure," says the study, "the war in Iraq has achieved the status of a major war and a major debacle."

This is, a reminder, from the Pentagon's own think tank, and was authored by Joseph Collins, who worked for the Pentagon and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld from mid-2001 to 2004. "To date," says Collins, "the war in Iraq is a classic case of failure to adopt and adapt prudent courses of action that balance ends, ways and means."

And, as if on cue with the report's release, comes word from the military that Al Qaeda operatives have made their way into Baghdad and are planning suicide attacks in the capital city. Planning them "in the near future."

The Pentagon tonight warning troops to be especially cautious.

We'll have the latest developments from Iraq, tonight at 11.

And I don't want to end this column without a word about Danny Federici, the long-time keyboardist for and great friend of Bruce Springsteen. The obit on the wire heralds Federici's contributions as ranging from "Hungry Heart" to "The Rising," but the Flemington, New Jersey native goes back a lot farther than that with The Boss.

The two met when they were 18, and played the Stone Pony and other now-famous clubs on the Jersey shore -- long before they became successful and well known.

He was only 58, and died after a three-year battle with melanoma.

It's very sad.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's weekend AccuWeather forecast, and Marvell Scott (in for Scott Clark) with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11, right after a special 20/20, during which our old pal Sam Champion takes us through a series of "weather myths."

And a reminder, Liz and I will anchor our coverage this weekend of the Pope's mass at St. Pat's Saturday morning, and his mass at Yankee Stadium Sunday afternoon.

BILL RITTER

BILL RITTER


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