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 CNS Story:

POPE-DEFEND Mar-25-2009 (470 words) xxxi

Do not mock the pope, Italian cardinal and India's bishops say

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- Mockery is not acceptable in public discussions, especially when the subject is the pope, said the president of the Italian Catholic bishops' conference.

At the same time, India's bishops defended Pope Benedict XVI's leadership of the Catholic Church.

"We will not accept that the pope, in the media or anywhere else, is mocked or offended," said Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, opening the spring meeting of the permanent council of the Italian bishops' conference.

Cardinal Bagnasco told other members of the council March 23 there has been "a heavy activity of criticism -- from Italy and, especially, from abroad -- regarding our beloved pope."

He said the public criticism began in January when the pope lifted the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops belonging to the Society of St. Pius X, including a bishop who denied the extent of the Holocaust, and continued into March when Pope Benedict said the distribution of condoms was not the key to stopping the spread of AIDS.

Some of the sharpest criticism came from France's former prime minister, Alain Juppe, who describes himself as a Catholic. He was quoted by French television as saying the pope was "becoming a real problem" and "lives in a situation of total autism."

Cardinal Bagnasco said Catholics and all people of good will should try to understand what the pope was saying and what he meant, rather that immediately going on the attack.

The cardinal said the Italian bishops would continue asking people "to never abandon the language of respect, which is an indication of civility" even when they disagree with him.

The pope represents "a moral authority" in the world, which his March trip to Africa highlighted once again, he said.

"For Catholics he is Peter who, with the nets of a fisherman and in the name of the lord Jesus, continues to reach the shores of the world," Cardinal Bagnasco said.

The Asian church news agency UCA News reported that India's bishops also denounced media coverage of the pope and comments that he is a "loser" and out of touch with reality.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India said in a March 24 statement that the conference "considers these kinds of statements ... irresponsible and irreverent."

The bishops defended Pope Benedict as "the most loved and respected spiritual leader of Catholics all over the world." They argued that the world had received with respect his views on the recession, terrorism and moral issues such as AIDS and abortion.

The pope has often urged the world to become "more God-fearing while building a society based on humanitarian values and moral principles of life," they said.

"It is the moral duty (of the pope) to direct and guide the consciences of people in general, and of Catholics in particular," the statement added.


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