Click here if you don’t see subscription options

Last week, I called attention to what appeared to me an extraordinarily biased report over at the Catholic News Agency (CNA) regarding the bishops’ meeting in St. Petersburg. The report contained quotes from what the report said was Cardinal George’s speech to the bishops at a closed-door meeting. I wondered about the use of such quotation marks from a speech one was not present to hear, but figured they had gotten a leaked copy of the text. The CNA report claimed Cardinal George made disparaging remarks about Sr. Carol Keehan and the Catholic Health Association, lumping them with "other so-called Catholic groups." It said that CHA met with three bishops of an ad hoc committee on health care, but that the meeting yielded "the same disappointing results." The report said that Cardinal George had warned his brother bishops that CHA was in danger of creating a "parallel magisterium."

Needless to say, Raymond Arroyo led his EWTN program on Friday night with the CNA story. Mr. Arroyo never passes on an opportunity to slam Sr. Carol and, to hear him tell it, the CNA story was a fifth Gospel. It also got picked by various crank sites in the RC blogosphere. You could almost hear and see the bobble-heads nodding at once, "Bad Sr. Carol." As the American Papist wrote, "These are very strong words and Cardinal George would not express them lightly."

It is true that Cardinal George would not express such words lightly. But, the problem lay elsewhere: Cardinal George did not express those words at all. At the USCCB’s media blog, they posted an article by Helen Osman, a member of the USCCB staff who, unlike the unidentified CNA reporter, was in the room when Cardinal George addressed the group. She identified the three supposed quotes in the CNA story above that were never said. Indeed, she went back to check the tape of the meeting to be sure. Osman labeled the quotes "fabricated," which is arguably the most damning condemnation in the journalistic world.

The USCCB may not always be pleased with my arguments regarding the health care debate, but at least they know that we at America magazine do not fabricate stories. Surely, Archbishop Chaput, in whose archdiocese CNA is located, will launch some kind of investigation into what amounts to not only false witness but also false advertising. Conservative Catholics like to accuse progressive Catholic voices of being "so-called Catholics." The American Papist labels progressive Catholic groups "catholyk," which reminds me of a particularly obnoxious high school girl who would change the spellings of words and put smiley faces over a lower-case "I" or turn the "o" in the word "love" into a heart. But, in this instance, the Catholic News Agency has amply warranted being labeled a "so-called news agency." I leave the issue of their Catholicity to their confessors.

CNA’s complete fabrication of a story should not obscure us from remembering the important thing to come from the bishops’ meeting in St. Petersburg. It is abundantly clear that Sr. Carol is not persona non grata. It is abundantly clear that the bishops and Sr. Carol are committed to repairing whatever breach in their relationship grew out of their disagreement over the final health care bill. As Cardinal George told NCR’s John Allen, a reporter who does not fabricate quotes, both CHA and the bishops are committed to "reshap[ing] the relationship in dialogue together." Cardinal George added, "We're dealing with people of good will, so dialogue should be possible." I do not expect Mr. Arroyo will lead with that quote next week, nor shall I hold my breathe waiting for CNA and the rightwing Catholic blogosphere to admit their errors. But, really, what do they say to themselves when they are caught just making stuff up? How do their well-formed Catholic consciences respond when they are caught with their journalistic pants down? The inevitable question wells up: Have you no shame?

Michael Sean Winters

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
13 years 11 months ago
This article inaccurately implies that the Catholic Health Association resisted the Bishops' entreaties to find common ground, stating ''The bishops repeatedly tried to reach out to Sr. Keehan both before and after the vote.'' Sr Keehan has said publicly that she met over a prolonged period of time with representatives of the USCCB, and made a good faith effort to find common ground to advance their common goals.

The other misrepresentation is that the bishops were all of one accord in opposition to the healthcare law. All evidence suggests that most of the bishops never had an opportunity to weigh in with the USCCB leadership after their meeting last November, and I suspect many were quietly supportive of the administration's efforts to finally end the tyranny of nearly 50 million people having no health insurance.
James Lindsay
13 years 11 months ago
This is why I don't read CNA and American Papist or watch EWTN. This strain of media reminds me of the Catholic news outlets that would never let a supposed Marian apparation go unreported, even when the local bishop has told them not to do so. It is best to stay out of their echo chamber.
David Nickol
13 years 11 months ago
Well, what DID Cardinal George say? There's a recording. Why not let other reporters hear it?
Fran Rossi Szpylczyn
13 years 11 months ago
Regrettably, and in line with what Michael Bindner says, some sources lack credibility. To their credit, in a manner of speaking, CNA and EWTN have greater foundational sources. The American Papist is a blogger -and I say that as a Catholic blogger myself. I would never presume to ''report news.''
The issue with all 3, from my perspective, is that they are all quick to pounce on all things but charity.
Your words about their Catholicity are well put. Thank you.
Mark Harden
13 years 11 months ago
''Well, what DID Cardinal George say? There's a recording. Why not let other reporters hear it?''
Good question. And it's the same question CNA has:
John Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, published a story on the same day as CNA's report, in which he spoke with Cardinal George about the meeting he had just held with the bishops and the disagreement with CHA.
Cardinal George told Allen, “the dispute with the CHA involves a core ecclesiological principle 'about the nature of the church itself, one that has to concern the bishops' – namely, who speaks for the church on faith and morals?”
“The bishops have to protect their role in governing the church,”' the cardinal said.
Alejandro Bermudez, the executive director of Catholic News Agency, stated that “Allen's report validates CNA's reporting of the remarks made by Cardinal George at the executive meeting.”
“What is then the reason the the outcry from Ms. Osman over their decision? Her post denying our reporting is disturbing, dishonest and unfairly selective, ” Bermudez stated, adding, “We stand by our report.”
“Is easy for Ms.Osman to claim she has proof of CNA's alleged dishonesty, and then say that she will not release the audio recording that would corroborate her claims.” ''We support the release of the audio to see who is right.''
13 years 11 months ago
I read the CNA article and the one by Helen Osman.  If you take out the quotes in question that Helen Osman said did not happen, the force and the content of the CNA article remains essentially the same.  The CNA article loses some of its rhetorical splash but not its meaning.
Also CNA has spoken out about Helen Osman's report and they stand by their report:
Just out of curiosity what is a ''right wing'' Catholic?  Is that a libertarian catholic?  
James Lindsay
13 years 11 months ago
The fact of the matter is still that the bishops still lost on this issue - and did so because they could not promise to get just one little Republican to go along with going to conference to take care of their issues. Neither could they convince - nor did they likely try to convince - the National Right to Life Committee to go along with health care had all of their objections been answered. If you can't get your staunchest ally to budge, there is really nothing you can bring to the debate besides disruption. CHA and the sisters saved the Church from itself in this matter.

The bishops need to pull back from their self-justification tour - since CHA and Obama Catholics will be necessary allies should their concerns prove true (which many suspect is not the case). This is either a leadership problem or a staff problem. Whatever problem it is, the bishops need to handle it before their worst fears are realized. I would hope they adopt such a strategy, rather than letting the worst happen for PR purposes - however they are on the road to the latter if they don't change course.
William Kurtz
13 years 11 months ago
Thanks for the heads-up on the "Catholic News Agency," which seems to be an online-only competitor of The Wanderer.
As for the question of what is a right-wing Catholic, I would quote the conservative Southern Baptist blogger Russell Moore. In a post on how the gulf oil spill should spur greater concern for the environment, he observed that "Too often we've been willing not simply to vote for candidates who will protect human life (as we ought to), but to also in the process adopt their worldviews on every other issues."
That seems like a pretty good description of many right-wing Catholics.
13 years 11 months ago
''a right-wing Catholic,''  is one who votes to protect human life.  I do not understand the necessary connection of that to describe a religious orientation with a term that means libertarian politically.  So protecting human life is a libertarian position.
Does that then make Mr. Winters a ''right wing'' Catholic?  He certainly votes to protect human life or does he.  If he votes Democratically is that a vote for human life?
Mark Harden
13 years 11 months ago
"The inevitable question wells up: Have you no shame?"
Given the still open question as to whether the CNA article is accurate or not, and especially the fact that supposed proof of the charge of falsehood lies in the hands of the CNA detractor, this seems a hasty judgment at this point...so hasty, in fact, that MSW might yet be posing the same question to himself.
Rick Fueyo
13 years 11 months ago
This quote from John Allen's article caught my eye:

Cardinal George told Allen, “the dispute with the CHA involves a core ecclesiological principle 'about the nature of the church itself, one that has to concern the bishops' – namely, who speaks for the church on faith and morals?”

Beyond dispute, the Bishops speak for the Church on faith and morals. But the point of dispute was over legislative interpretation, not faith or morals. Both the Bishops and the CHA unequivocally stated that they would not support any legislation that altered the existing law (Hyde Amendment) with respect to public funding for the evil that is abortion. Where they disagreed is whether this legislation would alter the law.

Since when are the Bishops entitled to ecclesiastical deference on issues of legislative interpretation. Speaker Pelosi was rightly put in her place when she attempted to provide her view of the Church's historical teachings. That is not within her competence. But the Bishops are not entitled to any deference on their interpretation of the legal effects of legislation. The Bishops have every right to participate and advocate in the minutiae of the legislative process. But they should not expect that their legislative summaries are treated as pastoral letters setting forth magisterial teachings. If they wade in, they have to understand tat they will be treated as a political participant, not as a religious authority.

I believe the ultimate effect of this bill is that it will be the most pro-life bill passed since Roe v. Wade in terms of saving lives. I pray I am not proven wrong.
Robert Burke
13 years 11 months ago
In categorizing Catholics, it's closer to the truth to state that a "right-wing" Catholic - such as you can define this term - has the following characteristics:
1. Severe authoritarianism, as contrasted with authority. You do what the pope says, what the bishops say, what your bishop says, simply because you're told to do it. Or else you're not Catholic.
2. A single-issue perspective on social justice issues. To legitimately claim to be Catholic, you must agree that abortion is the only social justice issue that matters, and that someone who agrees with all positions except the pope's, or the bishops', or your bishop's, political policy position on abortion is anathema.
3. A willingness to align him- or herself with right-wing secular movements, regardless of where the church's official teaching parts from the views of right-wing secular movements.
That's about as close as this old social psychology major and practicing policy researchers can get to defining a "right-wing Catholic." The term really doesn't fit church matters - you can fit category 1 and not be allied with secular right-wingers, for example. 
13 years 11 months ago
''a ''right-wing'' Catholic - such as you can define this term - has the following characteristics:''
''Severe authoritarianism, as contrasted with authority. You do what the pope says, what the bishops say, what your bishop says, simply because you're told to do it. Or else you're not Catholic.''
So one who believes in the traditional authority of the Church as it flows from Peter and the original Apostles to our day is a right wing Catholic.  My experience was that nearly all the Catholics I knew growing up were that way especially the religious since that it what they taught me and my classmates in Catholic schools (16 years including Jesuits.)  Since that time I have come to recognize that there are some who challenge this authority from Peter.  Over the last 500 years many of these have established thousands of new religions and some are still within the Catholic Church which I find strange.  I also knew that nearly all those Catholics who were traditional were most often not authoritarian in the world outside of religion.  So traditional Catholics who believe they are like most of the Catholics since the time of the Apostles are ''right wing.''  Interesting concept.  Who are ''left wing'' Catholics?  Those who do not believe in the authority of the pope and bishop?
''A single-issue perspective on social justice issues. To legitimately claim to be Catholic, you must agree that abortion is the only social justice issue that matters''
I know no Catholic who fits that description.  It certainly would not describe anyone who was a traditional Catholic in Church history and when I was growing up.  Abortion has only been an issue for about 50 years and social justice was part of the Church since Christ.  I never met anyone who focused only on abortion in my memory.  So does that mean there is no such thing as right wing?  But all traditional Catholics are supposedly ''right wing.''
''A willingness to align him- or herself with right-wing secular movements, regardless of where the church's official teaching parts from the views of right-wing secular movements.''
So you are saying libertarians (the right wing in our society) who are Catholics, also disagree with the official teaching of the Church (but also they believe what the pope and bishops tell them.)  Now I am really confused.  Cannot one be a libertarian politically and also a traditional Catholic.  I understand that many libertarians believe in divorce, abortion, free use of drugs, sexual liberty etc. but there are some libertarians who limit their beliefs to the political arena.  Is this latter group the ''right wing'' Catholics you are talking about?  Do they not believe in the official teaching of the Church?
I have had graduate courses in social psychology and my conclusions were that authoritarian personalities were generally left wing in our society.  It is the left that wants to impose restrictions on your behavior.  Authoritarians cannot be right wing because that is libertarian and by definition a libertarian lets you do your own thing, hardly dictatorial.  And since political conservatives also share a lot of the views of libertarians they are also by nature not authoritarian.  It seems kind of strange to say ''I demand that you be free.''  
Now when one operates within an organization such as a business, military or government, it is often necessary to enforce a hierarchy of command in order to avoid chaos but does that make one ''right wing.''  For example, President Obama requires discipline within the chain of command with respect to the military and other areas of government.  I would hardly call him 'right wing' when he does that.
Adam Rasmussen
13 years 11 months ago
It is amusing to watch you and Thomas (AmP) go at it. Unfortunately, I think Thomas's blog has just gotten more and more conservative over the past year or two. Watch out! Or you'll be on his blog with the label "outrageous." (You're already in a post labeled "catholycs.")

The latest from america

Pope Francis accepts the offertory gifts during Pentecost Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on May 19, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)
The pope devoted his entire Pentecost homily to describing how the Holy Spirit works in the lives of Christians with both “power and gentleness.”
Gerard O’ConnellMay 19, 2024
Today’s text from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith makes clear that henceforth, as a rule, the Holy See will not declare any alleged spiritual phenomenon, such as an apparition, as authentic‚ that is, “of divine origin.”
Gerard O’ConnellMay 17, 2024
Cardinal Robert McElroy, Bishop Robert Barron and Bishop Daniel Flores joined moderator Gloria Purvis for a roundtable discussion on the rise of polarization in the church.
Michael O’BrienMay 17, 2024
Whether carefully reflected upon or chosen at random, picking a confirmation name is a personal and spiritual journey for Catholics, reflecting a connection to the saints or a loved one and a commitment to embodying their virtues.
America StaffMay 17, 2024