Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) is not shy about his Catholic faith. He holds a master's degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, and has spoken openly about his beliefs.
Recently, he was featured on CNN’s new miniseries, Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History. Fortenberry spoke to CNA about his experience with filming, and his thoughts on balancing his faith with being a public figure.
The congressman first became involved with the project about six months ago, when CNN producers reached out to him about the show. He said he had “a little hesitancy” initially, but after meeting with the network, he agreed to contribute to the series.
“I was impressed by their outline of the topics under consideration and how they wanted to look at the papacy through a historical lens, as well as the intersection of both papal power and temporal power,” Fortenbery told CNA.
On the show, Fortenberry said he wanted to present both an accurate portrayal of Catholics as well as faithful commentary to the issues that were discussed. He told CNA that he tried to focus on how the world is a “duality of sorts,” and that Catholics today have to balance living out their faith as well as living in the secular world.
“Spirituality is not left for Sunday, and Monday is other things. As Catholics, as Christians, we operate in two realms all at once, both the spiritual and temporal,” he said.
Shows like this being broadcast on secular networks are important, said Fortenberry. He believes that “the world is screaming for deeper meaning,” and that the only way this meaning can be found is through “authentic dialogue” with people who may not believe the same things.
“Even if it’s in secular media, as long as the media’s attention is reasonable,” explained Fortenberry. “I think we absolutely have to participate in these types of media presentations.”
Reflecting on the papacy, Fortenberry believes the institution is regarded as an “immovable, unchangeable force for good” in the middle of an ever-changing world.
“In fact that's one of the things I reflected on in the show, that we're living in a context of upheaval and change, and it's bewildering to most people, particularly the older generation, who see everything around them that gave them stability and lessened vulnerability crumbling.”
The papal visits to the United States of Benedict XVI in 2008 and Pope Francis in 2015 resulted in an “outpouring of joy and love,” which the congressman believes is a reflection of the respect for the stability of the office.
“In an age of real anxiety, and ever-shifting change, the permanency of the papacy gives people something to cling to that is higher, and everlasting. And it has deep meaning for people even of non-Christian traditions, even people who are just authentically striving for good through goodwill.”
Fortenberry said that in the end, he believes CNN was “very faithful” to the comments he provided, and “integrated them holistically” into the larger theme of the historic aspects of the papacy.
“I’m glad I did the show, I was impressed by the sincerity of the producers,” he said.