By John-Henry Westen

  WASHINGTON, April 16, 2008 ( – During the in-flight press conference yesterday Pope Benedict XVI was asked about the public role of religion in the US and that being seen as a model for secularized Europe.  The Pope said that the traditional pro-freedom secularism, “seems to me a fundamental and positive model to be considered also in Europe.”

  The Holy Father drew a distinction between a positive secularism which was traditional to the US and a new and dangerous anti-religious secularism.  “What I find fascinating in the USA is that it began with a positive concept of secularism,” he said.

“Because this new people was made up of communities and persons who had escaped the State religions and wished to have a lay, secular State, which opens the doors to all confessions, to all forms of religious exercise. It was thus a willingly secular State, it was really contrary to a State Church, but secular truly for love of religion, of its authenticity, which can be lived only freely.”

  He added: “And thus we find this fusion of a willingly and honestly secular State, but really for a religious will, to grant authenticity to religion.”

  The Pope stressed that “the secular institutions depend on a de facto moral consensus which exists among the citizens.”

  Benedict however warned against a “new Secularism”.  “Now, there is even in the US an attack of a new Secularism,” he said, “a new completely different Secularism.”

  Concluding the press conference, the Pope remarked on his feelings as he approached the United States of America.  “I’d like to say that I’m going with joy,” he said. “I’ve been in the United States several times, I know this great country, and I also know the great life of the church despite all the problems. I’m happy to be able to meet in this historical moment, both through the church and my visit to the United Nations, this great country.”