Saturday, December 12, 2009

Author Calls on US Bishops to Reform Catholic News Service (CNS)

Says powerful USCCB news agency rebuked by Archbishop Burke for good reason

Commentary By Louie Verrecchio

WASHINGTON, DC, December 11, 2009 ( - Wouldn't it be wonderful if the Christian faithful had ready access to reliable media sources that consistently address important issues truthfully and completely while also communicating the authentic doctrine of the faith so dependably that the information provided could be received with complete confidence?

The Second Vatican Council thought so.

In the Decree on the Media of Social Communications, Inter Mirifica, the Council Fathers spoke of the "inherent right of the Church to have at its disposal media as necessary or useful for the instruction of Christians, and all its efforts for the welfare of souls." (cf IM 3)

Along with this right, the Catholic media has the duty "to instill a fully Christian spirit into readers," (cf IM 14) and for this purpose the Council Fathers envisioned, "A truly Catholic press with the clear purpose of forming, supporting and advancing public opinion in accord with natural law and Catholic teaching and precepts." (ibid.)

Enter Catholic News Service (CNS) - an agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that was created more than forty years before the Council specifically for the purpose of carrying out this very mission.

Today, CNS is the largest news organization of its kind; generating news items and editorial pieces that are reprinted in more than 200 publications worldwide. In fact, Catholics from New York, NY to Sydney, Australia read content provided by CNS every week in their official diocesan newspaper.

Mission accomplished, right? Well, not exactly.

Catholic News Service has long been viewed with a suspicious eye by "conservative" Catholic groups, but any perception that this wariness is confined to some traditionalist fringe, however, was officially put to rest earlier this year.

By January 2009, CNS' failure to consistently apply reliably Catholic editorial standards had become so problematic that Archbishop Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura at the Vatican, was moved to take the extraordinarily bold step of criticizing CNS from Rome.

"The bishops need to look at our Catholic News Service; they need to review their coverage of [the Church's moral and social teachings] and give some new direction," he said.

The problems at CNS, which has been under the directorship of Editor-in-Chief Tony Spence since 2004, are well illustrated by the case of Pepperdine law professor Douglas Kmiec.

In the months leading up to the recent U.S. Presidential election, Kmiec - a Catholic - not only campaigned for Barack Obama, he became the self-appointed spokesperson for moral relativists everywhere by publically insisting that Obama's radically pro-abortion agenda fits comfortably within authentic Catholic social doctrine.

Naturally, Kmiec's views drew the criticism of a number of American bishops, including Archbishop Charles Chaput who said that Kmiec had "done a disservice to the Church, confused the natural priorities of Catholic social teaching, and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue."

Following the election, Kmiec cemented his place as the Obama Administration's chief Catholic apologist; rankling the pro-life community by applauding the nomination of pro-abortion Catholic Kathleen Sebelius to head the Department of Health and Human Services and offering praise for the President's decision to overturn the "Mexico City Policy" thereby forcing American taxpayers to fund overseas abortions.

In July 2009, the President Obama rewarded Kmiec for his faithfulness with a diplomatic appointment; he is now the Ambassador to Malta.

Based on this brief snapshot alone it is painfully obvious that Kmiec's agenda is the antithesis of the Council's vision for a media intent on "advancing public opinion in accord with Catholic teaching and precepts." (IM14)

How then can anyone explain why Catholic News Service - an organ of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops - would grant Kmiec's opinions a de facto Imprimatur by syndicating his columns for distribution to Catholic publications all over the world?

To be fair; everyone makes mistakes in judgment. Good will or the lack thereof, however, is easily discernable by examining the way in which one amends their ways, or does not, after being called to account; as in the case of Archbishop Burke's stunning rebuke of CNS.

In April 2009, Tony Spence left little room for doubt in the matter when he decided to publish a Kmiec column that hailed the National Institute of Health's newly proposed guidelines for Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research as "ethically sensitive" and a move "in a noticeably more Catholic-friendly direction."

This CNS sanctioned apologia on the Obama Administration's assault on human life was so out of bounds that Cardinal Justin Rigali, who chairs the USCCB's Pro-Life Committee, was moved to refute Kmiec's falsehoods point-by-point in a column of his own, ultimately evaluating Kmiec's CNS piece by saying, "The truth is opposite."

It is bizarre theater indeed when an American Cardinal must directly refute the errors in a piece that was syndicated, published and propagated by the news service owned by the very Bishops' Conference to which he belongs, and this just months after the leadership of said news service was put on notice by a powerful Vatican prelate.

Can any reasonable observer view this series of events and fail to conclude that Tony Spence has made a conscious decision to throw down the gauntlet, and is now daring the USCCB to hold him and CNS to accountability?

* Part II to follow on Monday

Louie Verrecchio is the author of Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II; an international faith formation tool endorsed by George Cardinal Pell that explores the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

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