Last week, when the USCCB meeting in St. Petersburg coincided with the Catholic Health Association summit in Denver, the Catholic News Agency (CNA) ran several stories based on the testimonies of bishops attending the meeting.
One of these stories got a great deal of attention. In it, Cardinal George castigated Sr. Keehan and the CHA for attempting to set up a “parallel magisterium” by defying the bishops’ opposition to the recent health care legislation.
That same day, John Allen, from the National Catholic Reporter, interviewed Cardinal George on the issue. The Cardinal effectively corroborated what CNA had reported based upon the testimony of others who had attended the USCCB meeting.
Allen quoted Cardinal George as saying, “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.
Yesterday, Helen Osman, Secretary of Communications for the USCCB disputed the CNA report — but not Allen’s from NCR — on the USCCB media blog:
It appears that [the] Catholic News Agency would benefit from a similar strategy. To put it plain and simple, the quotes they attribute to Cardinal Francis George in their story (also posted on EWTN) are just wrong. I was in the room, as a member of the USCCB staff, for the presentation. And the official audio file that recorded the session for USCCB archives confirms my memory.
While the cardinal did present a sequence of events to the bishops, he never used the phrase “so-called Catholic,” accused the Catholic Health Association of creating a “parallel magisterium,” or said the meeting of the three bishops with Sr. Keehan had “frustrating results.” And that’s just three examples. Not to mention that the reporting of the events is just plain wrong: for an example, the Stupak Amendment was not defeated in the Senate in December 2009, as the article states.
The Catholic News Agency responded here.
The executive director of CNA, Alejandro Bermudez, stated: “Allen’s report validates CNA’s reporting of the remarks made by Cardinal George at the executive meeting.”
Most of the religious outlets who covered the disagreement between the bishops and CHA, such as Commonweal, America Magazine, and the National Catholic Reporter did not support the bishops’ decision to oppose the health care bill, and criticized the USCCB, not based on our report, but on Allen’s.
What is then the reason for 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.”
It’s 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.
Given both the seriousness of the charges brought by Ms. Osman, as well as the insulting tone, I find it surprising that Ms. Osman claims to have a recording proving her account, but says she is not willing to make it public.
I find it impossible to believe that CNA would put such a serious charge against Sr. Keehan in the mouth of Cardinal George, president of the USCCB, knowing the seriousness of the consequences. CNA has an established reputation for accuracy which Ms. Osman’s attempt to defame will not harm.
If Ms. Osman is willing to contradict the reports of Cardinal George’s comments on Sr. Keehan, based upon testimonies of bishops who were present, and corroborated by NCR’s John Allen, she should make public the recordings of the session (not a transcript!)