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A story not worth covering

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Mar 26, 2009

 If you spend a good deal of time on the internet, browsing Catholic blogs and news sites, you might have noticed a story that was prominently featured elsewhere yesterday, and completely ignored on our site. It wasn't an oversight. 

The story involved a press conference in Washington in which pro-life activist Randall Terry lashed out at several Catholic bishops for their failure to invoke Canon 915 and refuse Communion to politicians who support abortion. As backing for his argument, Terry played a videotaped interview with Archbishop Raymond Burke, the head of the Apostolic Signatura. Now Archbishop Burke has issued a public statement distancing himself from the criticism of other bishops, and making it clear that he had not given his consent to Terry's public campaign. 

The net result is a non-story. Randall Terry is making an argument that others have already made. Unfortunately he is also picking a public fight with local bishops, and trying to involve Archbishop Burke in that fight. It has been an unfortunate episode, and it's still more unfortunate that it has generated so much public attention.

Archbishop Burke, in his videotaped remarks, indicated that he reads Canon 915 as a clear directive, instructing bishops and priests to deny the Eucharist to abortion advocates. But then Archbishop Burke has said as much before in interviews that he did intend for publication. The archbishop is fully capable of making the argument for himself, and pushing it as hard as he considers it prudent to push. The news value in the March 25 press conference lay not in what Archbishop Burke said, but in how Randall Terry exploited the archbishop's remarks.

Frankly, from the time the first press release arrived in my email (the first of many press releases, I might add), this story looked suspicious to me. Archbishop Burke may have strong opinions, but he does not have a flamboyant public style, and this was a flamboyant public campaign. And regrettably Randall Terry, who once played a valuable leadership role in the American pro-life movement, has in recent years shown a penchant for publicity stunts that have served no evident purpose beyond his own self-aggrandizement. 

Journalists are trained to be skeptics, not enthusiasts. Many good Catholics jumped quickly aboard this campaign, enthusiastic about the cause. As it happens, I share their enthusiasm for the cause in general. But cheap publicity does not serve that cause. 

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