Sowers of Discord

I’m told by reliable people that there are readers of The Catholic Thing still struggling with mainstream-media addictions. If so, some of you may have been surprised to find your humble editor-in-chief named in a recent Time magazine article by Amy Sullivan as allegedly having said that the Church’s funeral for Senator Edward Kennedy was a scandal “on a par” with the priestly pedophilia scandal. I never said any such thing, of course, as any fair reader can see here, and I find the equating of the two scandals both absurd and repugnant. I’ve demanded a correction from Time and will take legal action if one is not forthcoming.

But Ms. Sullivan was never really interested in accurate reporting. She brought me into the story merely to show that even other traditional Catholics, such as Princeton’s Robert George, disagree with a position I don’t hold. Professor George and I are old friends and have communicated to clarify this issue. His remarks, he has publicly confirmed, were deliberately taken out of context, which – for once – I myself would have preferred, since the view ascribed to me was made up from whole cloth. The manufactured disagreement between the two of us, however, was not the main point. Rather, Ms. Sullivan, who has done similar stories in the past few months, used the two of us as parallel proof for “A Tale of Two Priests,” which is to say the alleged feud between Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley (compassionate because he attended the Kennedy funeral) and (that evil conservative now resident in Rome) Archbishop Raymond Burke, who takes a harder line about Catholics who present grave and longstanding public scandal.

Why does Time care what two high ranking Catholic prelates think? Here’s a plausible explanation. Like many in the media, Ms. Sullivan has noted how the American Catholic bishops as a body have lately worked quite effectively on several fronts. Abortion funding came out of the healthcare bill (though in an earlier confused article Ms. Sullivan absurdly claimed the bishops were asking for new restrictions because, she argued, they had previously seemed to think that existing forms of indirect federal funding were okay). The Church in Maine was instrumental this month in repealing a gay-marriage bill. And bishops like the highly articulate Thomas J. Tobin of Providence have begun to take nominal pro-abortion Catholics like Patrick Kennedy to the public woodshed. So the more outlets such as Time can give the impression that there are differences among bishops, the better on a whole range of issues dear to those who think the Church a baneful public influence.

In this particular case, the relationship with the truth was strained beyond the ordinary. Ms. Sullivan interviewed “an American priest” in Rome who reported that diplomatic Italian bishops “roll their eyes” at the mention of Archbishop Burke. It’s convenient that the American priest is not named. Otherwise someone might have to ask him why, if he is such a laughing stock, Burke, who is already Prefect of the Roman Signatura (the rough equivalent of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), was just also named to the Congregation for Bishops. That means he will play a major role in selecting bishops not only in the United States, but the whole world.

To be fair, Time is not alone in trying to sow discord, as Dante called it, in the Church. (For the punishments Dante thought such persons should receive, take a look at Inferno xxviii). I was stuck in a university faculty club this week where the only news channel was MSNBC. Keith Olbermann was “interviewing” C. Walton Gaddy, president of the liberal Interfaith Alliance. In response to Olbermann’s leading questions, Gaddy explained that the American Catholic bishops were acting childish by threatening to oppose the healthcare bill if they didn’t get their way on abortion coverage. A Catholic understands that a certain kind of Protestant regards every public question as merely a matter of political compromise. Some of us, though, also know Protestants who easily comprehend why Catholics simply cannot compromise on a few crucial issues because such Protestants can’t in good conscience compromise on those issues themselves.

The Washington Post last week engaged in a similar bit of media ventriloquism. It sympathetically reported on members of the D.C. City Council who lashed out at the Church – this time for threatening to suspend social services in Washington connected with the city (as usual, the Church is the largest private provider). The Council is about to approve gay “marriage” and intends to require all agencies with city contracts to practice “non-discrimination.” One council member said she couldn’t believe that the Church would abandon people over “a philosophical difference.”

It never seems to occur to such activists – let alone mooncalf reporters – that they are themselves forcing not only their “philosophical differences” but definite behaviors on others, and are breaking with the majority of people in almost every community across the country when they impose radical new arrangements.

Politico, a national newspaper, allowed a writer to try another familiar tactic this week: The bishops know that a vast majority of Americans, including Catholics, disagree with their hard-line dictates regarding reproductive-health care.’’ Really? Those of us who pay attention to such things – and that includes many in the pro-abortion camp – know from polls widely reported in the mainstream media itself that a majority of Americans now call themselves pro-life. So who is this “vast majority” who disagree with the bishops?

You can’t help but wonder who our media think they are fooling. It’s a tired ploy. But none of us should grow weary or cease to be vigilant about the media blitz that is now seeking to blunt the Catholic voice – and even create divisions among us.

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.