WASHINGTON - After a dramatic three days in which he put the country's clergy sexual abuse scandal front and centre, Pope Benedict turned his attention Friday to the original purpose of his first U.S. visit as leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
The pope, after an early morning flight from the nation's capital to New York City, will deliver an address to the General Assembly of the United Nations, taking his first opportunity to truly talk globally.
The setting will contrast dramatically with the intimacy of a meeting Thursday, in which he prayed with weeping victims of childhood sexual abuse by priests.
When Benedict addresses diplomats from around the world, he'll likely touch on several broad themes, said Jo Renee Formicola, a Seton Hall University political science professor who has studied the papacy and international affairs.
Among them: a call for bedrock ethical and moral principles as a guiding force even in pluralistic societies, a human rights agenda that encompasses religious freedom and the sacredness of human life, and the responsibility of first-world countries to aid developing ones.
The Pope will encourage the notion that individuals and states can rise above their own self interests and pursue the common good, Formicola said.
"This is his first real foray onto the world stage," she said. "I think he recognizes this as a historic moment. I don't think it's going to be about divisive issues. It's going to about all the things that unite us - themes of peace, opportunity, aid and assistance."
The forum also gives Benedict license to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq, subjects he avoided at the White House as he stood next to the architect of the five-year-old war.
Benedict's New York visit will also include a visit to ground zero, though he is not scheduled to speak. He will also lead a Mass at Yankee Stadium, visit a synagogue, and meet with leaders of other Christian denominations.
What remains to be seen is whether Benedict will continue to talk about the sexual abuse crisis. He is widely expected to broach the subject on Saturday when he says Mass for priests, deacons and members of religious orders at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.
On Thursday, Benedict met privately with abuse victims between an open-air Mass at Nationals Park and a meeting with Catholic educators.
Rev. Federico Lombardi, a papal spokesman, said that Benedict and Boston Sean Cardinal O'Malley met with a group of five or six abuse victims for about 25 minutes, offering them encouragement and hope. The group from O'Malley's archdiocese were all adults, men and women, who had been molested when they were minors. Each spoke privately with the pope and the whole group prayed together.
One of the victims, Bernie McDaid, told The Associated Press that he shook the Pope's hand, told him he was an altar boy and had been abused by a priest in the sacristy of his parish. The abuse, he told Benedict, was not only sexual but spiritual.
"I said, 'Holy Father, you need to know you have a cancer in your flock and I hope you will do something for this problem; you have to fix this,"' McDaid said. "He looked down at the floor and back at me, like, 'I know what you mean.' He took it in emotionally. We looked eye to eye."
Olan Horne, another Boston-area victim who prayed and talked with Benedict, told the AP, "I believe we turned the Pope's head a little in the right direction."
Both men have worked with church officials in the aftermath of the crisis, and met with a new office established by U.S. bishops in response to the scandal.
Their sentiments were echoed by O'Malley, who called the meeting "a very moving experience for all who participated."
Benedict's address to the presidents of Catholic colleges and universities was among the most anticipated of his trip, but was overshadowed by the meeting with victims.
The Pope, a former academic, said academic freedom has "great value" for the schools, but does not justify promoting positions that violate the Catholic faith.