Catholic Bishops’ Media Director: Straight Talk from a Sister!
Michael Sean Winters, one of the most intriguing and even-handed writers exploring the intersection of faith and politics, has been running a series of interviews at his recently launched National Catholic Reporter blog, Distinctively Catholic. Among commentators recently profiled on his blog include FPL Executive Director Jennifer Butler, who recently spoke about the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform.
Winters’ Q & A this morning with Sister Mary Ann Walsh, Director of Media Relations at the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops, caught my eye. (Full disclosure: Walsh was my boss when I worked at USCCB.) Winters asked her “what the Shirley Sherrod episode tells us about race and politics in the age of Obama.” Sister Mary Ann blasts what she calls “pseudo-journalists” like blogger Andrew Breitbart, who “broke” the Sherrod non-story, and reminds us that in-the-gutter reporting is not just a recent phenomenon, but a modern-day incarnation of yellow journalism practiced during the late 19th century when newspaper publishers like Hearst and Pulitzer battled for readers.
Walsh compares today’s pervasive “journalistic hit squads” to fringe groups that often claim the mantle of Church teaching and orthodoxy to do their dirty work. In particular, she condemns the Catholic News Agency’s recent claim that Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S bishops’ conference, criticized the Catholic Health Association and Catholic sisters in a closed-door meeting for supporting health care reform:
Journalistic travesty includes more than anonymous attacks. In June, a news agency pursued its agenda by inventing quotes and ascribing them to Cardinal Francis George. When first called on it, the agency defended the story. When top editors realized they’d done wrong, they still did not issue a public correction or apology.
Many such groups claim the word “orthodox” for themselves. They dismiss those who do not agree with them or their approach as “unorthodox.” People of a different opinion or approach are accused of setting up a “parallel magisterium.” These are serious condemnations in a church which holds fidelity to its teachings as paramount. Despite the fact that theology and canon law are matters of careful analyses, these groups bring the subtlety of a meat cleaver to church discussions. In what is not unrelated, many of these groups use such attacks as part of their fundraising apparatus.
As we noted when this story emerged, CNA is more of a right-wing propaganda outlet than a legitimate news source, but such powerful condemnation is rare from the U.S. bishops – influential religious leaders whose teachings are often hijacked by self-righteous zealots with partisan agendas. Deal Hudson, Bill Donohue and Co. should consider themselves put on notice.