GMA Frets That Pope is ‘Pushing his Pulpit’ and ‘Interfering’ in U.S. Politics

May 11th, 2007 12:35 PM

On Friday’s "Good Morning America," ABC anchors and reporters worried that the Pope may be "interfering in American politics." Correspondent Dan Harris discussed the Pope’s comments about pro-choice Catholic politicians and an ABC graphic offered this leading question, "Is Pope Pushing his Pulpit?"

Talking to conservative pollster Kellyanne Conway, Mr. Harris adopted a tone of surprise that the Pope, who lives way over in Europe, could have an impact on American politics:

Harris: "So even though he doesn't vote here, he doesn't live here, wasn't elected here, he can impact the race here?"

Kellyanne Conway: "Oh, sure. The Pope can have an impact."

Now, certainly the Pope can have an effect on American Catholics and how they might vote, but Harris seemed slightly horrified over this possibility.

Earlier in the segment, after co-host Robin Roberts teased the piece by wondering if the Pope is "interfering in American politics from half a world away," Diane Sawyer speculated on the "tough spot" the head of the Catholic Church had placed certain candidates in:

Diane Sawyer: "Next up in the news now, politics and the Pope. Is the Pope trying to influence American politics? Change the race for the White House? Did his aides edit his transcript? He's putting some presidential contenders in a tough spot this morning. ABC's Dan Harris is here to explain. Diane?"

ABC Graphic: Is Pope Pushing his Pulpit? Will Comments Affect Candidates?"

Harris went on to cite a speech given by the Pope that some took as a call for excommunication of Catholic, pro-choice politicians. (The Pope’s spokseman has since clarified that he was calling for denial of communion, not excommunication.) Shortly thereafter, Harris cited a liberal theologian who suggested that some Catholics would object to the Pope "dictating our political policies":

Harris: "Nonetheless, this comment will likely be taken to heart by many."

Chester Gillis (Professor of theology, Georgetown): "Both by Catholic politicians, who have some fear in their hearts now, by some American Bishops, and some Catholics who may say, ‘Oh, this is not a good sign. This means the church is going to be dictating our political policies."

Chester Gillis, who Harris later refers to by the more familial "Chet," has been used by ABC more than once to decry the Pope’s influence. A 2005 MRC study on religion and the media noted how the network spun the controversy over whether 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry should receive communion:

On ABC’s World News Tonight on May 16 [2004], reporter Brian Rooney put all the pressure on the Church, not Kerry....Rooney then used liberal Georgetown theologian Chester Gillis to claim President Bush was also an unsuitable voting choice for Catholics, who would have to vote for someone closer to perfection, like Mother Teresa.

Harris then went on to focus on how this issue could effect two Republican candidates for the White House:

Harris: "The Pope’s comments shine a brighter light on a thorny, difficult issue for Catholic Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, a supporter of abortion rights."

Rudy Giuliani: "I do not get into debates with the Pope. That is not a good idea. And not just because I'm a Catholic."

Harris: "Giuliani is not the only Republican candidate wrestling with the abortion issue. Thursday, Mitt Romney was greeted by demonstrators in flip-flops that he only decided to oppose abortion in 2004."

To recap, the ABC reporter mentioned two candidates, both Republicans, who could be affected by the Pope’s comments. First off, Mitt Romney isn’t Catholic. So, if the criteria is simply prominent ‘08 contenders, why are no Democrats are mentioned?

The aforementioned MRC study noted how Mr. Harris sympathetically covered Democrat John Kerry’s handing of the issue:

On Good Morning America April 9 [2004], ABC’s Diane Sawyer began the first network morning story by reporting, "There are some in the church, apparently, who believe that Kerry, although he is an observant Catholic, should not be allowed to take communion." Reporter Dan Harris said the Kerry campaign was not worried about "an implied threat from the city’s top church official" that Kerry might be denied communion....The ABC reporter then shifted the "implied threat" from Kerry back on to church officials: "Even as the Boston archdiocese is still reeling from the priest sex scandals, the archbishop might not want to invite any more controversy."

Harris closed the report, which aired at 7:11am, by quoting his good buddy Chet over how the Pope might be okay with driving people away from the church:

Harris: "Chet Gillis, the theologian you just heard from, said he thinks Pope Benedict might be willing to drive some people away from the church if he believes it will make the church more stronger and more orthodox and faithful."

In a related story, Time magazine also filed a report that portrayed the Pope as someone interfering in American politics, rather than advocating religous principles.