The Pope and the Pennsylvania Primary

The Pope's recent visit to the U.S. offers us a glimpse into what our society so desperately needs at this moment, and which is so glaringly absent from the current Pennsylvania primary campaign. If only the presidential candidates would address the so-called "regular people" of Pennsylvania with the same forthrightness that Pope Benedict chose to handle the Catholic Church's child abuse scandal during his recent visit. From the outset of his visit, the Pope answered the call to address the explosive issue of child abuse which came at the hands of Catholic priests. Now, I know many people believe the Pope�s visit was a triumph of public relations and spin over truth. They argue that the Pope sought to masterfully manipulate public opinion to blot out a stain on the Catholic Church. They rightfully point out that he was merely here for a handful of days, and that many skilled public figures could manage the maladies he had to confront. Time will tell.

But I see a leader who never ducked this issue; rather, he chose to speak out. He started this process before he touched down on U.S. soil, with a press conference aboard his plane after take-off from Rome. His actions came as the Pennsylvania Primary heated up, and turned increasingly nasty and sadly irrelevant. Here's how Pope Benedict approached his challenge:

�    The Pope spoke out on a taboo issue we all know exists.

�    He talked about the issue directly from his heart to our hearts. He spoke in human (and deeply personal) terms about shame and regret, rejecting the safety of putting forth convoluted proposals intended to make us think he was taking action

�    His words were relatively few. He didn' drone on with long speeches, seemingly written by someone with little or no relationship to the topic. In this case, fewer words translated into deeper meaning, because we were able to actually see and hear the Pope.

�    He talked directly to whomever he was with, instead of talking to cameras or some intended audience. This was not about doing yet another event; or about being cajoled into showing up (like a politician who holds a press conference after getting caught in a compromised position); or about winning converts; or about using people as props. The Pope sought to be with others. This seldom happens with leaders in public life.

�    He spoke out over the course of his entire visit, even if it was only for a handful of days. His comments were less a smattering of one-off speeches or events, and more of an unfolding of a �public conversation� that took on increasingly deeper meaning as it evolved.

�    Lastly, the Pope met with the aggrieved, in private, and with purpose. Yes, he did not meet with a large group of victims. But he did reach out, and by all accounts the event was genuinely about love and healing, not persuasion or photo ops. For me, the meeting turned into an example of what can become  of how other Catholic leaders and victims can come together.

Think, then, of the Pennsylvania primary, where people are being clumsily categorized into clusters of �rural,� �urban� and �suburban� voters, and little more; where there is a fight over how �bitter� people are and various stereotypes; where issues such as �race� and �closed factories� and �poor schools� are raised one day, only to be forgotten the next; where the personal stories of candidates and their mistakes overshadow the stories of Pennsylvanians and their concerns; where candidates talk incessantly about policies, as if having a �position� is the same as speaking directly to someone�s hurt and aspirations.

Just at the time when the Pope vigilantly sought to address the inescapable realities of a very tough issue, the candidates in the Pennsylvania Primary seem to be spinning beyond any reality we recognize.

I know some people will wonder if I have amnesia, that somehow I have forgotten the history of the Catholic Church, and its slow dealings with the child abuse scandal. I see the shortcomings and failures, but I am not blind to the ways in which this Pope has chosen to step forward at this time.

In the Keystone State, votes will be counted tonight and someone will be declared the winner and another the loser. Then the candidates will hop on their chartered jets and leave for some other town, in some other state, looking for some other voters. And yet, it is not another speech or policy position that I seek from these candidates. I wish for them to engage us in real ways about our individual and collective lives