The Reid Report   |  March 27, 2014

Obama, the pope unite for social injustice

Early Thursday morning President Obama and Pope Francis sat together for nearly an hour in a closed meeting. Father James Martin, “The New York Times” best-selling author and editor-at-large of the catholic magazine, “America,” joins The Reid Report to discuss how this meeting could impact policies domestically.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> recognizable leaders met for the first time today. pope francis and president obama converge on issues like income inequality and social justice , and diverge on the catholic church 's prohibition on contraception and gay marriage . but the american president will take an alignment with the pontiff, who may now be one of the world's most popular figures and whose calls for tolerance and fairness echo the president's political and economic agenda here at home. at a joint meeting later in the day with italy's prime minister, the president touched on a few specific topics.

>> the largest bulk of the time was discussing two central concerns of his. one is the issues of the poor, the marginalized, those without opportunity and growing inequality. in terms of domestic issues, the two issues that we touched on, other than the fact that i invited and urged him to come visit the united states , telling him that people would be overjoyed to see him, was immigration reform .

>> here's what the president told an italian newspaper before today 's meeting. given his great moral authority, when the pope speaks, it carries enormous weight. that's why i quoted him in my speech on income inequality . the domestic appeal of today's visit can be seen in two recent nbc news " wall street journal " polls. the pope with 55% favorability and just 7% unfavorability among americans. president obama , 41 to 44 respectively. in a country where one in four americans are catholic, that's not nothing. but not everyone wants the pope's input on policy. the group catholics for choice, which supports a woman's right to choose, took out a full page ad in the international "new york times" today with this open letter to president obama . mr. president, the pope may offer you advice and guidance from his perspective. as your constituents, we want you to hear the echo of president kennedy 's words. and here are the words that they're referring to, spoken by then presidential candidate john f. kennedy to the greater houston ministerial association in 1960 .

>> i believe in an america where the separation of church and state is absolute, that is officially neither catholic, protestant, nor jewish. where no public official , either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the national council of churches , or any other ecclesiastical source.

>> father james martin is a jesuit priest and editor at large of the catholic magazine " america ." he's also author of "jesus a pilgrimage." father martin , let's talk about the dichotomies and where the president and the pope converge, and then we'll go to where they diverge. i think the president really was excited to meet this pope, because the issue of social justice is sort of central to what he's doing and what the pope is doing, too.

>> interestingly, president obama worked in chicago for a catholic church as a community organizer and someone who is very steeped in catholic social tradition, so he understands those things. he's on the same page, as you said, in terms of poverty and the marginalized. and i think where they are united is greater than where they're divided.

>> the pope has been tough on this issue of income inequality . this at a time of a domestic win on the president's side. connecticut just raised their minimum wage, something the president is really pushing. can the president use the pope's message, including his pretty tough language about the rich versus the poor, to sort of move forward his domestic agenda?

>> i think he can, and i think he should. i think because he's using, as he said, someone with great moral authority, and he's using someone who also can speak to not only american catholics and bring them into this idea of income fairness, but also someone who speaks to people who might not be catholic, but who look to the pope for his moral authority.

>> now let's talk about where they diverge, because you did have that group that talked about wanting the churches, in general, not just the catholic church , to step back from public policy . so on issues like gay marriage . on issues like contraception. on issues like abortion. the pope may have created a kindler, gentler vision of the papacy, but he hasn't actually changed those policies.

>> that's correct. number one, catholics for a choice is a very small group , so they don't really represent a whole lot of catholics . it is true that a lot of catholics disagree with the pope on those issues. but on the central issues of the christian faith , the resurrection, jesus christ , the gospel, american catholics are right with the pope and that's why you see his ratings so high. i think it's something that president obama would surely want.

>> it's interesting, because now you do have these fights over the contraception mandate in health care , which is really the first time you've seen under this pope, kind of a clash in terms of politics domestically, whereas before, you know, there was this feature of catholic politics where you had people saying so and so should be denied communion because of their views on x. it is a different vibe, right? even the fight over contraception.

>> i think it is. and the pope ihimself in an article for " america " magazine said he believed the church was too focused on those things, abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception, and he said he wanted to move the catholic church to a broader view of more topics. i think a lot of catholics in the united states agree with that.

>> let's listen to president obama , because he did bring up this topic about contraception during his meeting overseas. let's take a listen.

>> in my meeting with the secretary of state and the cardinal, we discussed briefly the issue of making sure that conscience and religious freedom was observed in the context of applying the law.

>> is the contraception mandate going to be that place where everybody loves pontiff x, but with this particular pope and president start to diverge?

>> it depends on the person. it depends on -- you know, i think more politically than it does on your religious believes because there are catholics that are even differing about that. the u.s. bishop's conference has been very clear, though, what they feel about that, what they feel about the conscience exception, those kinds of things. but we're even seeing it in the supreme court in the last few days, so we'll see where that goes. president obama said that they actually didn't spend a whole lot of time talking about that. so we'll see how much influence the pope has and how much obama has on american catholics .

>> do you think this pope is going to wind up changing some policies and dialing back some church policy on gay rights , on contraception, on things like that?

>> on those kinds of things, no. but i do think there are some things that he has already signaled more tolerance on. just his stance in terms of speaking with gays and lesbians i think is very welcome. i know a lot of gays and lesbians have told me they feel more welcome in the church, so something's changing. also this restriction on divorced and remarried catholics receiving union, that's going to be changed or discussed.

>> are you going to go see "noah"?

>> yes.

>> good. and succinct. appreciate you being here.