Blame the messenger

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles ) | Oct 31, 2003

When Worcester's Bishop Daniel Reilly testified last week before the Massachusetts legislature, everybody-- I mean everybody-- interpreted his remarks as a signal that the Catholic bishops would end their opposition to domestic-partnership legislation.

After his formal testimony, the bishop was asked by a Boston Herald reporter what he thought about the current law, under which same-sex couples do not automatically qualify for partnership benefits. The Herald recorded his response:

"That's wrong, and that's too bad.'' He further said: ``We have to find a way'' to give civil benefits to gay partners.

Sure sounds like an endorsement to me. Does it sound like an endorsement to you?

For a full week after the bishop's public testimony, Massachusetts legislators remained fully and justifiably convinced that the bishops were going to accept domestic-partnership legislation. Opposition to that legislation crumbled; nobody wanted to be in the position of defending a position that even the Catholic bishops had abandoned.

Then yesterday-- a full week after the damage had been done, and after the key lawmakers had broken ranks, and after the passage of domestic-partnership legislation was assured-- the Catholic bishops of Massachusetts announced that Bishop Reilly's testimony has been misinterpreted, and that they still opposed the legislation. The confusion, the bishops' statement insisted, was caused by the media.

Oh, really?

  1. If you don't endorse an idea, why do you say "we have to find a way" to do it?
  2. If your position on a key public issue has been completely misinterpreted, why do you wait a full week before offering any correction?
  3. If you want fair treatment from the media, why do you blame honest reporters for your mistakes?
  4. Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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    • Posted by: - Oct. 31, 2003 4:28 PM ET USA

      Yes, the bishop as politician. I was "misinterpreted", "taken out of context", "what I really meant to say was..." Shades of Wesley Clark and Cardinal O'Brien. Will there be a "Profession of Faith" to follow? All the Mass. Bishops had to do was quote the Vatican's "Considerations" document and there would have been no doubt about the Church's position. Clear, unequivocal directions easily understood by everyone. Except perhaps, the Mass. Bishops...

    • Posted by: - Oct. 31, 2003 4:13 PM ET USA

      The old saying about having your cake and eating it, too comes to mind. Only, I think originally it was "you *can't* have your cake and eat it, too." Perhaps ICEL was in charge of the translation.

    • Posted by: - Oct. 31, 2003 12:26 PM ET USA

      "If your position on a key public issue has been completely misinterpreted, why do you wait a full week before offering any correction?" Because that's how long it takes the Vatican to contact the nuncio, to tell him to tell the bishops to get their act together?