Tuesday, June 22, 2010

USCCB Communications Secretary Challenges Veracity of Catholic News Agency Reporting: Helen Osman on CNA Article about Health Care Debate

This posting is a follow-up--in a way I'll explain in a moment--to what I posted yesterday about Anne Hendershott's recent claim in Wall Street Journal that "[t]here are openly gay men and women in leadership positions at a number of Catholic universities and colleges."

Yesterday, Helen Osman, communications secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, posted a statement at the USCCB media blog which states flatly that a recent article published by the Catholic News Agency of Denver is "just wrong" when it attributes to Cardinal Francis George, president of USCCB, statements he did not make at a recent closed-door meeting of the U.S. bishops in St. Petersburg.

To be specific, the Catholic News Agency article about the USCCB meeting claims that, when he discussed the disagreement of the Catholic Health Association with the U.S. bishops about the recent health care reform bill, Cardinal George told his brother bishops that CHA is a "so-called Catholic group" that sought to give Catholic cover to President Obama as health care reform was enacted.

The CNA article also states that Cardinal George said that, insofar as it departs from the bishops' judgment, CHA's verdict about the health care bill sets up a "parallel magisterium" in the church.  The article also claims that Cardinal George told his brother bishops in St. Petersburg that when three bishops met with CHA head Sr. Carol Keehan in April, the results were "frustrating."

And here's the rub: Helen Osman was in the room when Cardinal George addressed his brother bishops in St. Petersburg.  And she did not hear any of those statements in what Cardinal George said to the gathering--though CNA has published them as direct quotes of Cardinal George, and its affiliate EWTN has picked up the quotes and published them, too.  Osman also has access to the audio file of the USCCB meeting, and she states that the CNA "quotes" are not in the audio file, either.

Both Michael Sean Winters at America magazine's In All Things blog and John Allen at National Catholic Reporter have now published articles about Osman's statement.  Osman's posting concludes,

There’s certainly plenty of disagreement between the bishops and the Catholic health care organizations regarding the implications of the health care legislation. But to confuse the situation with quotes that aren’t true is just plain dishonest.

And here's the tie-in to what I posted yesterday about Anne Hendershott's recent unsubstantiated claim that "[t]here are openly gay men and women in leadership positions at a number of Catholic universities and colleges."  I learned of Hendershott's Wall Street Journal essay through a summary of it that was published by CNA--the same Catholic News Agency of Denver that has now been found to have fabricated quotes by the president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference.  I read the CNA summary of Hendershott's essay at Clerical Whispers yesterday.

I'm not surprised to see CNA publishing a summary of Hendershott's essay, with its totally unsubstantiated claim that Catholic universities and colleges in the U.S. have openly gay men and women in leadership positions.  As I've noted in many previous postings on this blog (e.g., here), Catholic News Agency, which is under the thumb of Archbishop Charles Chaput in Denver, has a history of disseminating disinformation about the relationship of the Catholic church to its LGBT members.  As is the archbishop in whose diocese CNA is located, the paper is strongly skewed in an anti-gay direction.

As I noted yesterday, I have seen absolutely no evidence anywhere to confirm Hendershott's claim that there are openly gay men and women in leadership positions in U.S. Catholic universities and colleges.  All indicators I've seen point in precisely the opposite direction: everything I've seen as a scholar teaching in Catholic universities confirms the judgment of W. King Mott at Seton Hall University that "[t]here is no way the current hierarchy will allow a gay person to hold a position of authority [in a Catholic college or university] unless they are closeted and self-loathing."

There is a glass ceiling for LGBT faculty and staff at Catholic institutions of higher learning, and it's strongly in place.  At almost every Catholic university or college in the U.S. about which I have information, only closeted gay and lesbian faculty and staff have job security, and that job security is radically threatened when they come out of the closet.

Once again, I call on Anne Hendershott to release any information she has about the presence of openly gay and lesbian leaders on the faculties of U.S. Catholic colleges and universities.  I find it extremely disturbing that Hendershott makes her statement--one contradicting both the first-hand testimony of many faculty members of Catholic institutions of higher learning, as well as of the Marquette faculty--without offering any substantiation of her claim.

In the absence of such substantiation, I'm inclined to believe that the Wall Street Journal is spreading disinformation through Hendershott's article.  And I'm inclined to believe that this is precisely why the Chaput News Agency Catholic News Agency picked up Hendershott's essay.