NBC: Catholics ‘Tired’ of Social Issues; Pope Will Make GOP ‘Uncomfortable’

On Sunday’s NBC Meet the Press, moderator Chuck Todd hyped Pope Francis taking on liberal agenda items: “The incredibly popular pope has been outspoken on his views about inequality and climate change....[in the] Shriver Report snapshot poll of American Catholics, a full 86% think it's a good thing that this pope has emphasized income inequality and environmental issues over things like abortion and same-sex marriage. It’s remarkable.”

In response, liberal activist Maria Shriver – billed as an “NBC News special anchor” – proclaimed: “Yes, and I think Catholics were tired of the discussion about those other issues and they're really excited about this pope....They see him as a religious leader, but also as a political leader.”

Todd turned to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt and asserted: “[The Pope] is going to speak before Congress and he’s probably gonna mention climate change. It’s gonna be uncomfortable for some Republicans, particularly conservative Catholics.”

Hewitt dismissed Todd’s smugness: “Oh, I’m not going to be uncomfortable with anything the Pope says. I'm looking forward to his visit here....He's an energetic, energizing figure for the Church and any time a papal visit happens the Church does well.”

Moments later, Todd fretted over conservative criticism of the pontiff: “I read George Will this morning, who just eviscerates the Pope politically and you're just going, is that what we're going see? The Pope get politicized like this?”

The Atlantic’s Molly Ball noted that President Obama was also guilty of politicizing the Pope: “And you've seen also the White House try very hard to sort of ride the Pope's coattails. You know, the President has talked a lot about trying to sort of embrace the Pope's message, trying to sort of enlist the Pope as an ally.”

She then praised Francis for his supposed left turn:

And I think, of course, the Church doesn't want to be seen as on anybody's side, but like you say, by emphasizing these issues, these liberal goals, like the environment, over the social issues that have been so divisive and that a lot of American Catholics are not on board with, he's really changed the tenor, changed the tone of, I think, how outsiders perceive the Church. How the rest of the country – how non-Catholics view the Catholic Church.

On Monday, Shriver appeared on the Today show to promote her organization’s findings, telling co-host Savannah Guthrie: “Well, since becoming leader of the world's billion-plus Catholics, Pope Francis has made headlines for steering the Church in what many see as a more progressive direction than ever before....we recently polled Catholics of all ages, races, and political leanings here in the United States, and this morning a revealing look at the modern American Catholic under Francis's papacy.”

NBC failed to mention that the Shriver Report poll was conducted by Democratic political firm Hart Research Associates, which has touted itself as “one of the most respected and successful political polling firms in the country for Democratic candidates and progressive causes.”

The makeup of respondents definitely tilted left, with 44% identifying themselves as either leaning Democratic or mostly Democratic. Only 33% identified as leaning Republican or mostly Republican. 23% identified as “completely independent.”

In addition, the question cited by Todd on environmental/economic issues versus social issues was clearly skewed in its wording:

Pope Francis has emphasized certain teachings of the Catholic Church such as the environment and looking out for the poor and is talking less about certain teachings such as sex and reproductive rights. Which of the following comes closer to your point of view:  

This is a good thing because Pope Francis is emphasizing teachings that are more in line with general cultural shifts of society today and shows that the Catholic Church is responsive.

This is a bad thing because Pope Francis is talking less about teachings that are moving away from the traditional focus of the Catholic Church and weakening the institution.

On Today, Shriver declared: “...the poll also shows that within the modern American Catholic is a complex balance between accepting more progressive ideals for society while preserving traditional Church teachings in their own lives.”

She explained:

When it comes to same-sex marriage, 76% said a good Catholic could support it, but only 54% would be comfortable if their own child was in a same-sex marriage. 71% believed a good Catholic can be pro-choice, yet just a mere 16% would be comfortable supporting their own child's choice to have an abortion. And on women in the priesthood, 88% believed one could be a good Catholic and support women becoming priests, yet only half that number, 44%, say they would attend a Church with a female priest.

Wrapping up the segment, Guthrie informed viewers that Shriver would be the network’s go-to correspondent for the papal visit: “And we’re so happy you're be with us all this week. She’s going to help lead our coverage of the Pope's visit to America.”

Here is a full transcript of the September 20 Meet the Press panel discussion:

11:24 AM ET

CHUCK TODD:  What you're seeing here are some live pictures of the Pope. He's in Cuba, he was at Revolutionary Plaza. Pope Francis is holding a huge outdoor mass there. The incredibly popular pope has been outspoken on his views about inequality and climate change, and when he lands in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, he will not only have a religious schedule, but a pretty political one, too. And Maria, according to your Shriver Report snapshot poll of American Catholics, a full 86% think it's a good thing that this pope has emphasized income inequality and environmental issues over things like abortion and same-sex marriage. It’s remarkable.

MARIA SHRIVER: Yes, and I think Catholics were tired of the discussion about those other issues and they're really excited about this pope. It's historic that he's speaking to the Congress, and in our poll it showed that they find that his teachings very closely align with theirs and that they want political figures to also talk about these subjects. So I think that there's 70 million Catholics in the united States who will listen very closely. They see him as a religious leader, but also as a political leader.

TODD: Hugh Hewitt, he's going to speak before Congress and he’s probably gonna mention climate change. It’s gonna be uncomfortable for some Republicans, particularly conservative Catholics.

HUGH HEWITT: Oh, I’m not going to be uncomfortable with anything the Pope says. I'm looking forward to his visit here with Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal Dolan and then Archbishop Chaput has the huge family meeting in Philadelphia. He's an energetic, energizing figure for the Church and any time a papal visit happens the Church does well.

TODD: David, you and I were talking earlier this week. You thought the Pope's visit was gonna – it's coming at a fascinating time in our politics. Explain.

DAVID MARANISS [ASSOCIATE EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST]: Yes. Well, you had Donald Trump on earlier and I – when I think of the Pope I think mostly about the Pope versus Donald Trump. And it’ll either be proved wrong or right very quickly. But my sense is the Pope is such a stark contrast in what he represents from what Donald Trump and sort of the celebrity culture represents that it's going to get people in the middle thinking a little but differently and it might have a profound effect on the Republican race.

TODD: Molly, it is – he's going to insert himself in the political debate in a way that – I mean, I couldn’t believe – I read George Will this morning, who just eviscerates the Pope politically and you're just going, is that what we're going see? The Pope get politicized like this? But it might, right?  

MOLLY BALL [STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC]: I think we have. And you've seen also the White House try very hard to sort of ride the Pope's coattails. You know, the President has talked a lot about trying to sort of embrace the Pope's message, trying to sort of enlist the Pope as an ally. And I think, of course, the Church doesn't want to be seen as on anybody's side, but like you say, by emphasizing these issues, these liberal goals, like the environment, over the social issues that have been so divisive and that a lot of American Catholics are not on board with, he's really changed the tenor, changed the tone of, I think, how outsiders perceive the Church. How the rest of the country – how non-Catholics view the Catholic Church.

TODD: Maria, you and I were talking earlier and you were saying you were really impressed with him as a politician. That he’s pretty good at this.

SHRIVER: Yeah, he's very strategic. Liberals think he's liberal, moderates think he's moderate, and conservatives think he's kind of moderate to conservative, so – and they like him much better than the, quote, "institution" or the Church he represents. So I think that there's a lot that political leaders can learn. He's an outsider, people call him a prophet, he’s the people’s pope, and yet he’s kept the people in the pews.

TODD: It is, and he's bringing people to the pews. Anyway, it’s going to be fascinating.

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