On his return to Maryland from representing the United States on a three-member presidential delegation to Pope Benedict XVI’s April 24 installation Mass in Rome, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele said he was deeply impressed by the new Holy Father’s spirituality. The lieutenant governor believes Benedict XVI will be a “teaching pope” who challenges Catholics and non- Catholics alike to resist the “dictatorship of relativism.”
“John Paul II wrapped his arms around us and said, ‘Be not afraid,’” Lt. Gov. Steele told The Catholic Review. “Cardinal Ratzinger takes us by the hand and says, ‘Learn, listen, understand.’ It’s what parents do every day, particularly when their children fall and hurt themselves.”
A parishioner of St. Mary, Landover Hills, and a former Augustinian seminarian, the Republican lieutenant governor said the new pope will “help us understand what our faith means to us.” The Holy Father will call Catholics to the “classroom of our faith,” Lt. Gov. Steele said.
The lieutenant governor said he was impressed with the way Pope Benedict XVI responded to criticisms several years ago from those who pushed for the church to “keep up with the times” by relaxing its teachings on such issues as contraception and abortion.
“Cardinal Ratzinger told us to look at the churches that have done that,” Lt. Gov. Steele said. “Where are they today? They continue to struggle.”
The pope’s recent warnings about the dangers of relativism are important to all people, regardless of their religious beliefs, Lt. Gov. Steele said.
“The dictatorship of relativism is something that needs to be confronted and challenged,” he said. “We need to gird ourselves for that challenge. Those who lead are going to be examples for all of us.”
Lt. Gov. Steele said he was honored to be selected by President George W. Bush to represent the United States. He was joined by Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Carl A. Anderson, chief executive officer of the Knights of Columbus. Accompanying members of the delegation were Helen Alvare, associate professor of law at Catholic University of America, and Frank Hanley, president emeritus, International Union of Operating Engineers.
The lieutenant governor called the installation liturgy “breathtaking.”
“It was a stunning moment for any Catholic to confront your faith like that and see the majesty of it and see the power the faith has over you,” he said. “ You really do feel a part of the universal church.”
“I take advice from the leader of my church very seriously,” Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida said at a press conference the afternoon before the Mass.
“I also have a duty to uphold the laws of the state. I don’t believe this necessarily has to be in conflict,” he said, adding that religious leaders have a right to take a stand on political issues. “This helps not just Catholic governors, but others as well,” said Gov. Bush, who in 1996 became a Catholic, which is the faith of his wife, Columba.
Asked how he reacts when his views might go against those of church leadership, as in the Iraq War or on capital punishment, the governor admitted the divergence caused him concern.
“ I get uneasy when the Vatican writes me letters when a death penalty case is about ready to take place in Florida. That gives me pause. It makes me pray harder,” he said.
Benedicta Cipolla, Catholic News Service, contributed to this story.
Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org
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