Md.'s Steele to attend investiture of pope

Lieutenant governor among 3 asked by Bush to represent president

April 23, 2005|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele will be one of three Americans in the delegation representing President Bush at tomorrow's investiture of Pope Benedict XVI, the White House announced yesterday.

Steele, a former seminarian, will join the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Knights of Columbus Chief Executive Officer Carl A. Anderson at the ceremonial Mass in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City.

The delegation will join dignitaries from around the world - and an expected crowd of about a half-million - in watching as the newly elected pontiff receives the papal fisherman's ring and stole that symbolize his leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.

Steele's press secretary, Regan Hopper, said the White House invitation came as a surprise and was not something Steele sought. He was expected to leave last night on a 6 p.m. plane and to arrive in Rome today.

Erin Healy, a White House spokeswoman, said Steele was chosen because he is "a devout Catholic and a dedicated member of the church community."

Steele's office released a statement calling it "a tremendous honor to represent my country and the State of Maryland at the installation."

"I thank President Bush for the opportunity to be a part of this historic moment and to be witness to a tradition in the church that dates back to Saint Peter," Steele said. "I truly believe Pope Benedict XVI will be a Pope of the times, a teaching Pope who will continue in the tradition of Pope John Paul II of reaching people of faith where ever they are."

In the same news release, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said he was "honored that the Ehrlich-Steele administration will be present to witness history."

The governor's office pointed out that Steele, 46, is "one of the highest-ranking African-American Catholic elected officials in the country" and that he spent three years as a seminarian in the Order of St. Augustine before deciding not to enter the priesthood.

The presidential invitation comes as Steele is being widely mentioned as a possible Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes, who is retiring.

Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University, said the role will give Steele "real visibility."

"I suspect there are many Marylanders that don't even know he's Catholic," Crenson said. He said Steele's presence could earn him new esteem among Catholic voters while also serving the White House's needs.

"It's politically correct because there's an African-American," Crenson said. "It makes the national administration look good."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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