Meet the Press | March 17, 2013
>> kathleen kennedy townsend , you wrote in your book, i'll skip ahead to that, "failing america 's faithful," something about the role you'd like to see the church play more generally, and he seems to speak to that, pope francis . you quote, "my own catholic church has allowed its social agenda to be trumped by an all-consuming focus on contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage, embryonic cell research, none of which are mentioned in the gospel. the issues at the core of the gospel, suffering, poverty, sickness." cardinal george , i asked him about that. how did he respond?
>> my heart is full at the moment. i'm very excited about this pope because he seems to represent simplicity and humility and willingness to listen. he understands the port-au-prince importance of symbols, riding on the bus, saying to the other cardinals, come in, we're all in this according to. we took the same st. francis because he said he's the saint of the poor.
>> he paid his own bill, by the way, at his room this week after getting the job. pretty special.
>> and we should share what chris said so true, what all catholics have shared is a caring and attention to the poor. and that's what we need. we need something that brings us all together, that we are all human together, and i'm very excited about him. i love that he chose st. francis because one of my favorite words from st. francis is preach the gospels and use words only if necessary. and i like the idea that it's -- that as a jesuit , as well, you look to yourself, you have to improve yourself and then you go out so that it's not this hierarchical church in their gowns and princes of the church but the humility and simplicity.
>> frank keating --
>> robert francis , of course.
>> chris of course is pointing out my father was robert francis . chris makes the connections that nobody else even tries to go there.
>> frank keating , we can also in a way, without being disrespectful at all, sort of look at the pope as politician in a way and the " national journal " this week had some advice, focus on messaging administration, take advantage of larger-than-life personality, use social media but use it wisely, know its limitations, revamp the pr strategy. there are aspecting of all of that that he has got to bring to bear to lead this church .
>> happy st . pat's.
>> thank you very much. i wore my green tie.
>> i'm not irish.
>> i agree with everybody here how exciting it is to have, after 1,200 years, somebody outside of europe, how exciting to have a jesuit . i've got to say to have a jesuit embracing francis of assisi , take his name, and as a francis , i'm thrilled about that. but the reality is, and everybody has made this point, you have an individual who lives a life of humility and will insist that the church live a life of humility, which means what? in the united states , 50% of social services are provided by the catholic church , but what this pope is saying to the cardinals and bishops in united states , i think, is we need to care about the defenseless, the left out, the left behind , the poor, lift them up, love them as christ loves them. but realize we are an institution to serve, not an institution to be served. and i think that's what's remarkable about this papacy.
>> what about the political element, though? and by that i mean the fact that the church wants to influence american debates. and look at this in terms of how catholics view whether the church is out of touch with their own thinking, their own development of conscience and their life experience. 53% in a poll recently said the church this is out of touch. only 39% said that it's in touch. chris mathews , the cardinals talking about continuing to preach from the gospels on this, but there is a real split on some of the issues that we are debating in america right now that are about social policy . pope benedict was quite conservative on the issue of gay marriage , for example.
>> yeah. i mean, i can't say all this on television because a lot of us who go to church talk about, a lot of it doesn't sound right on television, but there's always been a real suspicion, generally speaking, about the way the church handled this sexual abuse of altar boys . and governor keating was involved in trying to deal with that horrible thing. but it was never dealt with quick enough. i think speed is -- it's like watergate. you have to be there all those years that nothing was getting done. every time you drive by the vice president's house in washington here, across the street, the papal -- this guy is standing on the corner who said -- and i believe it looking at him -- who was abused by priests back when he was a kid. that guy was on the corner every day i drove home. every single day he's out there with a sandwich board . and he was there before 2000 . and all those years the church was slow to act. and i think that slowness made a lot of us suspicious they were covering up more than just this, that there are a lot of people with their own embarrassments, perhaps sexual they didn't want to go out. every catholic that goes to church thinks like this. they don't like talking about it. maybe i shouldn't have just now. but the church wasn't on top of this thing. people said, what side are they on, the priests or the altar boys ? it should be the altar boys .
>> i don't think you should feel any catholic guilt talking about this. we must air it out. this pope needs to understand and does this is part of what he needs to do as his duty. i'm a catholic who's grown very distant from the church and it has been over this sexual scandal. i just can't get over the cover-up. i can't get over putting the institution above the people. this is something that i hope he brings me back, and i think there's a lot of american kath catholics who feel the same way i do. we want that hope, the hope from the new pope, and hope he brings it back.
>> i share that. i think we catholics have a tendency to wait to be told as opposed to participate in the debate. and when i was asked to chair the board, i didn't choose -- we had a wonderful group of very active catholic , and we were horrified at the extent of this. and the three elements of the catholic review board -- transparen transparency, if you're settling a case, we want to know about it, criminal referral, anybody who does this should go to jail, and zero tolerance . i insisted on due process and zero tolerance . and a very small number of prooelss and religious were involved, but it was an agonizing, embarrassing, humiliating moment for the church . the bishops were up front and aggressive, but then some started sliding backward and saying, well, let's don't get too carried away. but it was a very, very difficult moment for the faith, and we haven't, to your point, ana gotten over it yet, and hopefully this pope, the new pope, will be very aggressive to see that righteousness and virtue is paramount and common denominators .
>> does it overwhelm, kathleen, this issue -- when i showed the poll about the views of the church being out of touch, the ability of the church to then impact these other political debates, whether it's women in the church or abortion or contraception, which we've seen play out or gay marriage , which is now front and center for us now?
>> just to go back with what frank said earlier, i think what happened during the scandal is our priests, our bishops weren't protecting us and we who loved our church had to take control of our church ourselves. you've seen that with the nuns who have done a terrific job of saying we're catholic , we're part of the church , and if the bishops aren't doing the right thing, we'll be able to stand up and say that. and that's been i think in a way a great liberation for what it means to be catholic . and i think that this pope, by actually saying to the other bishops, you know, i'm the bishop of rome, i'm not the head of -- i'm not the pope of the whole church , is saying that we are going to have to take much more control of our lives. now, what role they play on these issues is the question, is the church has always had a range of issues, and what have they focused on? unfortunately in the last 20 years i would say they've focused mostly on sex. and i hope that with this pope they'll focus more on something that brings us together rather than individually saying you're bad on sex. it's just the church of sex.
>> as catholics , you know, a pope is human.
>> we don't have to agree with him on everything. but we just have to know that he's coming from the right place.
>> chris , quickly, before i get to a break, beyond this conversation that's going on among catholics , as you look at this catholic moment in american politics , what does he mean?
>> i think, you know, our background are different. you're jewish and i'm catholic . everybody in america -- one thing catholics are taught from the time we got here, we're mott the majority. we are a minority religion . we have to get used to the fact we're americans, too. therefore, this is a very different attitude than you see from other churches. we are not spain or ireland even. we recognize all the other religions have an equal right to their beliefs. that's why catholics are hesitant on the choice/pro-choice issue, hesitant to tell other people about their deepest beliefs. but i want to get back to -- let me stick to that because the first thing the pope did the other day, saturday, was call the chief rabbi in rome and ohm up a relationship. these things we talk about, being good to the poor, being good to each other, respect to women, respect to people with different sexual orientations , is universal. we as americans can agree on these things and i think that would be nice. i think we have an american religion and agree on a lot of these things together. i'd like to unite behind this. i know what you meant saying you were inspired. i think there is a common hope we find a good common morality.