Pope's Visit Brings Focus To Tenuous Intersection Of Faith And Politics Many Americans are reassessing Pope Francis' triumphant U.S. tour because of his meeting with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis.

Pope's Visit Brings Focus To Tenuous Intersection Of Faith And Politics

Pope's Visit Brings Focus To Tenuous Intersection Of Faith And Politics

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Many Americans are reassessing Pope Francis' triumphant U.S. tour because of his meeting with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis. Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a lifelong Catholic, shares his perspective and talks more faith and politics with host Michel Martin.


As we talked about earlier in the program, Pope Francis is back in Rome and leading the church's Synod of Bishops on the Family. As we mentioned, this is of great interest to Catholics around the world and here in the U.S., where many Americans are still pondering the impact of the Pope's recent visit to three U.S. cities. And that's especially true in light of news that while here, the Pope met separately with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who's become famous for her opposition to same-sex marriage. And he also met with a former student of his who's openly gay. And we're wondering how all this may affect discussions about faith and politics in this superheated political environment we find ourselves in now. So to talk about this, we called political analyst Michael Steele. He is the former chair of the Republican National Committee, a former lieutenant governor of Maryland and someone whose own Catholic faith has been a touchstone for him throughout his career. Welcome.


MARTIN: Thank you so much for joining us.

STEELE: It's great to be here with you.

MARTIN: Conservatives, if I can use that term...


MARTIN: ...You know, liked his messages around religious liberty and life, and liberals or progressives liked his messages around the environment.

STEELE: Right.

MARTIN: And, you know, people are still kind of puzzling through what it means that he met with - both with Kim Davis and with this former student and this student's partner. So what do you think it means?

STEELE: Well, I think one of the big mistakes people are making with this pope is that he is not coming at these issues from a political perspective. He is calling us to think about the individuals. The meeting with Ms. Davis was, for me, not some political point to show he embraced this woman's agenda, but rather a demonstration of his ability and really demonstrating to leaders they capacity they should have to listen to everybody's argument so you that you can then make the right choices and the right decisions on their behalf.

MARTIN: Speaking of that, how do you think our political leaders are talking about matters of faith right now? 'Cause some of them are very pointedly, particularly around certain issues. I mean, what's your...

STEELE: Well, you can make your own - Michel, you can make your own personal story a part of the overall narrative as an illustration of - what are some of the guiding principles and beliefs that you bring into making policy decisions? I know, as lieutenant governor of Maryland, I'm pro-life, and therefore, I'm against the death penalty. And so one of the real important moments for me was when we got our first death penalty case. And I remember just being able to take that file of that individual and go through the law and go through the facts and go through the arguments, but then not lose sight of my particular faith tradition.

And at the end, I recommended to the governor - I said, look, you know, I get everything that the law says should happen to this individual, but I can't lose sight of the fact that this is a human life and that we are not charged to take that life. So my recommendation, Governor, is that we give life without parole. So I felt, you know, after that journey, very comfortable in my space, if you will, because I brought to that conversation and to the governor's attention my own legal opinion as a lawyer, my professional as lieutenant governor, but I also could bring to the conversation my own moral understanding, as well.

MARTIN: But to that end, though, this is exactly the argument some people are making about Kim Davis on all sides of that question.


MARTIN: Some people are saying, well, she should not have to be forced to act in a way that is diametrically opposed to her core beliefs. On the other hand, people say she is a servant of the public, and that is the law.

STEELE: Right, right.

MARTIN: She's not obeying the law.

STEELE: It is a delicate balance. And I thought that she, by her actions, had raised the conversation. I thought she also should have removed herself because she was so firmly one way that she could not make an objective decision relative to her responsibilities as a constitutional officer of the court.

MARTIN: I'd like to end this conversation where we started it with the Pope's visit and what you think he was trying to reflect by his own actions, which is that leaders must listen to all sides. Do you see that happening right now? Do you think that's happening?

STEELE: No, I don't. I don't see that happening, and I think that the problem is that the political class - as you can already see, they've fallen back into old behaviors. The finger-pointing, the name-calling is back on the table again. And so those lessons from those brief shining moments that he was here have not been absorbed by the political system. And that's going to take leadership from within that class to do that, and I just don't see it at this point, unfortunately.

MARTIN: Michael Steele is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and he was kind of enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C., studios. Michael Steele, thank you so much for speaking with us.

STEELE: My pleasure.

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