Southern Religion

Catholic News Agency blistered for journalistic malpractice [Addendum]

USCCB [US Council of Catholic Bishops] Media Blog called out the right-leaning Catholic News Agency this week for “fabrication.”

Bold Faith Type deftly summarizes:

Helen Osman, the Secretary for Communications at the bishops’ conference, writes in the USCCB blog that the Catholic News Agency simply “cobbled together its own fabrication of the session.” Osman, who attended the executive session closed to reporters, also went back and reviewed the transcript to verify the errors. In contrast to CNA’s report, Cardinal George “never used the phrase ‘so-called Catholic,’ accused the Catholic Health Association of creating a ‘parallel magisterium’ or said the meeting of the three bishops with Sr. Keehan had ‘frustrating results,” Osman writes. Disagreement between the USCCB and CHA over health care legislation has been well documented. But, as Osman points out, to “confuse the situation with quotes that aren’t true is just plain dishonest.”

Osman also called out CNN:

For CNN to elaborate even more on what CNA said in error is even more disturbing. If CNN had tried to verify the citations, it would have learned that CNA fabricated quotes. It also would not have made its huge and erroneous assumption that the issue in question was an example of the bishops at odds with the sisters.

None of this appears to undercut analysis based upon the reporting of the National Catholic Reporter’s John L. Allen Jr., who also covered that meeting. Using Allen’s account, Mark Silk argued:

So now we know: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops cares more about its authority than being right. That’s the clear import of a fine piece of reporting by NCR’s John Allen on the split between the USCCB and the Catholic Hospital Association (CHA) over the health care bill (which, you’ll recall, the former opposed and the latter supported).

Nor would it be fair to argue (we were tempted) that the sting from such analysis helped prompt the corrective, which stands quite well on its own merits.


CNA stood by its story.

The Catholic weekly America averred that perhaps the USCCB and CNS were “telling the truth,” albeit “In very different ways, and that is the bad news.”


es, Helen Osman was in the room, CNA was not, and we have no reason to doubt that the quotes she mentioned were, in fact, fabricated. Even though CNA is a tendentious and slanted media outlet, fabricating quotes goes beyond the pale. Why anyone would trust them before this is beyond me, but now their reputation is in tatters. You do not put a person’s remarks in quotes unless you know that they said it. This is reason enough for Bishop John Wester, who has a column at CNA, to disassociate himself from the organization immediately.

CNA would argue that their sources – “several bishops” – provided the quotes, leading me to think that no one at CNA ever played the game of telephone, in which a group of people sit at a table, and the leader whispers something into the ear of the person on their right. The whisper goes around the table and it is often unrecognizable by the time it gets back to the leader. The “several bishops” may have heard what they wanted to hear, that is to say, they placed their own prejudices and arguments in Cardinal George’s mouth. CNA needs to evaluate these “several bishops” as sources going forward but, arguably, the reporters and editors at CNA thought when they published their original article that the quotes were accurate.

But, here is where it gets dicey. What if the quotes are not “fabrications” and “several bishops” did tell CNA what they thought Cardinal George had said. It is one thing for Cardinal George to have difficulty with a fringe right-wing media outlet. It is a different, and larger, problem to have “several bishops” who have decided to leak to the press in order to push the USCCB towards their more conservative position. Cardinal George’s first task as leader of the USCCB is to keep the body of bishops on the same page, to keep them together and I think a case can be made that while his raw intelligence has helped, the principal reason for his success as president of the Conference is that all the bishops trust him. The question now is: Can he trust them? Why did these “several bishops” go leaking to the press after the meeting? Given the nature of the quotes, they obviously want some severe sanctions taken against the Catholic Health Association, they want some kind of showdown and, I think it is safe to venture that, not detecting sufficient movement in their direction at the USCCB meeting, they decided to take their arguments to the press.

Which, if they were thus taken in, does little to redeem CNS. Being aware that axes are being ground, and communicating that, is after all part of a journalist’s job.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | Catholic, Religion | , , | Comments Off on Catholic News Agency blistered for journalistic malpractice [Addendum]

Commonweal explains the hardline error of U.S. Roman Catholic bishops

The independent,lay Catholic journal Commonweal in an editorial, A Pattern of Missteps, writes:

Instead of addressing the legitimate concerns of those who oppose the church’s teaching on abortion—such as concerns for the health of women—American bishops too often seem to fear that any acknowledgment of the complexity of this issue would weaken their own position. And instead of speaking from the real strength of their position, and assessing their political situation rationally, too many bishops are in a hurry to warn of impending betrayals and persecutions, suggesting that their prochoice political opponents have more power and fewer scruples than they actually do.

Thus, American bishops spent a fortune on a campaign to defeat the illusory threat posed by the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which has almost no chance of becoming law. Rather than concede that they may have exaggerated the threat posed by FOCA, some bishops talk as if they themselves averted it by means of their furious warnings. Then there were the denunciations of the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Barack Obama to give its 2009 commencement address, an act some bishops seemed to equate with apostasy. More complicated and consequential was the role played by the USCCB during the congressional debate over the recently passed health-care-reform bill. The bishops ended up opposing the bill because of their dubious reading of its provisions to restrict abortion funding and protect existing conscience clauses (for more on this, see Timothy Stoltzfus Jost’s “Episcopal Oversight”).

Jost dissects the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops continuous parade of false and misleading arguments about health reform. Arguments which tend to discredit the USCCB and confuse those who trust them:

Public polling repeatedly reveals that Americans are confused about what the health-reform legislation does. The legislation is long and complicated, and some misunderstanding of the bill is inevitable. It is unfortunate, however, that this confusion continues to be fed by mischaracterizations of the legislation by the USCCB.

June 3, 2010 Posted by | Catholic | , | 1 Comment

Is the USCCB a staple from approving health reform?

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) says the Senate version of health reform does not go far enough in limiting abortion.

Howard M. Friedman, primary author of the blog Religion Clause, explains why.

He writes:

The Bishops’ concern seems to be that under [the current version as amended], abortion coverage will still be in some policies that receive government subsidies, so long as a separate check is written for the part of the premium applicable to that coverage. Instead, according to a Dec. 14 letter from the Bishops, they want language in the House bill that was proposed as an amendment by Sen. Ben Nelson, but was defeated by the Senate. That language provides that no federal funds could be used “to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes abortion coverage.” After that loss, Sen. Nelson negotiated the language in the Manager’s Amendment and according to AP argued that the differences were “about a staple.” By that he means that the disagreement is over whether abortion coverage — which would be paid for separately in either case — would be a part of the subsidized policy (not acceptable to the Bishops) or in a separate rider stapled to it (acceptable to the Bishops).

December 23, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Health | , , | Comments Off on Is the USCCB a staple from approving health reform?

Bishops defend the Catholic Camapign for Human Development

Archbishops John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and Charles J. Chaput of Denver. responded to the far-right hammering of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), for which collections are being made this weekend.

Chaput, one of the investigators of the Legion of Christ, was reported by the Catholic News Agency to have said of blog attacks: “People shouldn’t believe everything they read or be upset with the kind of intensity that I’ve seen, because I think that intensity leads to blindness.”

According to CNS, Nienstedt explained that the Campaign aims to “break the cycle of poverty” for 40 million people in the U.S. by funding local “self-help, anti-poverty” organizations. Many of these are not under the auspices of the Church, but agree to follow guidelines which prevent them from violating Catholic teachings, the archbishop explained. And had “immediately cut off” violators.

November 22, 2009 Posted by | Catholic | , , | Comments Off on Bishops defend the Catholic Camapign for Human Development

Tuesday’s briefly religious

That much-promoted hate crime ralley in front of the U.S. Department of Justice was a bust, but not busted as organizers seemed to hope they would be.

ACORN support and its end was the topic of a US Conference of Catholic Bishops report. Their Campaign for Human Development is under right-wing fire again this year.

Rifqa Bary’s Christian activist supporters rallied in front of the Columbus, Ohio, courthouse. She is in foster care in Ohio now and restricted so that she can no long hold cellphone prayer meetings or exchange email with supporters.

Public schools can still censor valedictory speeches, it seems, and the failed Brittany McComb attempt to detail her faith by departing from the approved valedictory text was denied U.S. Supreme Court review.

Students and their families are suing a Tennessee school for promoting the religion preferred by school officials. Of course most news reports subly nurture the ACLU-plot meme.

BBC said “no” to including non-religious speakers on a “Thought for the Day” radio show. It seems that “religious output and that it is a matter of editorial discretion for the BBC executive and its director general as editor-in-chief as to whether the BBC broadcasts a slot commenting on an issue of the day from a faith perspective.” Take that atheists, et al?

November 17, 2009 Posted by | Religion | , , , , | Comments Off on Tuesday’s briefly religious

Will USCCB propose a revised Stupak?

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting in Baltimore, where Michael Sean Winters says a Stupak revision is being developed. Because:

… as currently written it makes it impossible for women, with their own money, to purchase health insurance that covers abortions. I pray for the day when no woman wants such coverage, but I have to acknowledge that in this regard, Stupak goes beyond the Hyde Amendment, which only forbids the use of federal funds for abortion. The bishops should not turn Stupak into a totem: Even if the Stupak language stays exactly as it is, many women will still get abortions and the task of building the Culture of Life will remain. The victory in the U.S. House of Representatives was a great victory, and we should not squander it, and kill health care reform, by over-reaching. In politics, as in physics, every action produces a counter-reaction. If we over-reach, we might get pushed back further than we anticipated. The line in the sand is no federal funding of abortion.

[H/T: Mark Silk]

November 16, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Health, Religion | , , | Comments Off on Will USCCB propose a revised Stupak?