Papal rebuke for absent fathers

DAVID USBORNE

New York

In a football stadium, at a racetrack and today on the Great Lawn of Central Park, Pope John Paul is returning the adoration of New York's Catholic flock with plain-spoken admonitions on the disintegration of American society.

At a mass celebrated yesterday in the open sweeps of the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, the Pope at times sounded more like a candidate for the Republican right than a messenger of the gospel, decrying the collapse of the family and the failure of fathers to take responsibility for their children.

And in tones that to some might have seemed almost mocking, he noted yesterday that while New York presents itself to the world as the "zenith" of civilisation, the city has all but abandoned the weak, the disadvantaged and the unemployed.

"Not everyone here is powerful. Not everyone here is rich. In fact, America's sometimes extravagant affluence often conceals much hardship and poverty," he declared. "Have the people living in this huge metropolis lost sight of the blessings which belong to the poor in spirit?"

The Pope's reference to absent fathers may have been prompted by statistics released this week showing that, for the first time, more than half of New York's children are being born into single-mother families.

Prompting applause around the racetrack, he said: "Fathers of families must accept their full share of responsibility for the lives and upbringing of their children. Society must strongly reaffirm the right of the child to grow up in a family, in which, as far as possible, both parents are present."

The Pope, who has looked weary at most of his appearances, will, by the time of his departure from the Big Apple tomorrow, have touched almost every one of the rawest social issues in American political debate, including the growing resistance to immigration.

The opposition to abortion has become a central plank in the Pope's teaching, and is one of several issues on which a majority of American Catholics disagree. At Giants Stadium, in New Jersey, on Thursday night, he said: "When the unborn child is declared to be beyond the protection of society, not only are Americans' deepest traditions radically undermined and endangered, but a moral blight is brought on society."

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