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The publication of the first summary of Roman Catholic teaching in more than four centuries was of major importance. So the American church wanted to use gender-neutral language to make the English-language version acceptable to its flock.

When the dust settled after an 18-month battle with the Vatican, Rome won. The new catechism came out as originally written, using "man" or "men" and not "men and women" as American translators had sought.At times, it seems, the noisy American church carries a small stick in Rome. At the Vatican, its clout is not commensurate with its size.

Disagreements among American bishops themselves, a wariness among some Europeans of anything American and outright policy differences are all seen as undercutting the U.S. voice in Rome.

"The church in the United States has a very good, healthy pastoral life in a highly secularized society. There is a feeling of frustration when the healthy aspects of the (American) church go unrecognized," said Monsignor William Murphy, vicar general of the Boston Archdiocese, who worked at the Vatican for 13 years.

With a flock of 60 million, the U.S. church is among the top five in the world in terms of size. It is second only to Brazil in the number of bishops, with more than 250.

Yet it counts only one man, Cardinal Edmund Szoka, among top, active cardinals at the Vatican. The former archbishop of Detroit watches the Vatican's money as head of its Office of Economic Affairs.

Few Americans hold midlevel positions, many of them in the hands of Italians and other Europeans.

Among cardinals in the United States, only one, Cardinal John O'Connor of New York, has ready access to Pope John Paul II, according to Vatican insiders.

Of course, the size and wealth and the important role that American Catholics do play in their country is not completely overlooked. John Paul's visit Wednesday through Sunday will be the fourth trip to the United States in his 17-year papacy, following previous stops in 1979, 1987 and 1993.

At the same time, the Vatican hasn't restrained itself from criticizing U.S. officials by name, a very rare departure for an institution that usually takes great care not to offend.

Over the past 12 months, it has taken public swipes at Vice President Al Gore over American pro-abortion positions at a population conference and at Geraldine Ferraro, a member of the U.S. delegation to the recent United Nations women's conference in Beijing. The Vatican never disguised its irritation with Ferraro for her pro-choice stance when she was the Democratic candidate for vice president.

On his last trip to the United States, a visit to Denver in August 1993, John Paul publicly rebuked President Clinton on abortion.

One Vatican official, speaking under customary anonymity, said the Holy See receives "mixed signals" on U.S. domestic politics from its bishops. They find themselves aligned with many Republicans against abortion, while embracing Democratic social policy.



Doctrinal split

Most Roman Catholics in the United States approve of the way Pope John Paul II is leading the church but strongly disagree with many of his key teachings, according to three polls released Saturday.

The polls are the latest to measure how sharply U.S. Catholics split with papal doctrine on issues such as divorce, abortion and contraception.

They were reported by U.S. News & World Report, Time magazine and CNN, and CBS and The New York Times in advance of the pope's arrival this week for a five-day visit.

The Time-CNN poll found that 83 percent of American Catholics are satisfied with the pope's leadership, but only 15 percent believe they should always obey his teachings on such moral issues as birth control and abortion. Seventy-nine percent believe Catholics can make up their own minds.

U.S. News & World Report found a similar split, with two-thirds of Catholics saying abortion is not morally wrong in every case and three out of four saying the same about divorce and contraception.

In the CBS-Times poll, 73 percent said knowing that the pope had taken a position on a social or moral issue would make no difference to them.