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Criticizing cardinals for things they never said

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 06, 2013

For reasons I don’t fully understand, weekends always seem to bring out the most egregious distortions in media coverage of the Catholic Church. Consequently, on Mondays I often feel obliged to warn readers about stories that are misleading, or just plain false.

Today I’ll highlight two eye-catching headlines that fall squarely into the “just plain false” category:

The Huffington Post carried an inflammatory article by someone named Joseph Amodeo (who is identified as a “Catholic researcher”), with this headline: “Cardinal Dolan Denies Catholics Entry at Cathedral Because of Dirty Hands.” But Cardinal Dolan didn’t deny anyone entry into the St. Patrick’s cathedral. In fact the cardinal wasn’t even in town when the incident in question occurred.

Here’s what actually happened: Amodeo was a member of a group of homosexual activists who planned a demonstration at the cathedral. They were met at the door by a security official, who told them that demonstrations were not allowed inside. They were allowed to enter the building, and some of them did. Others remained outside to demonstrate.

So Cardinal Dolan wasn’t involved, and no one was denied entry. The headline was false in two respects. But what’s this about dirty hands?

Well, last week, in an effort to explain why active and avowed homosexuals should not receive the Eucharist, Cardinal Dolan had told one of his homespun stories, about bringing a boyhood friend home to supper. His parents had welcomed the young guest, he said, but told the boy that he would have to wash his hands before eating. The message, of course, was that a community—whether it’s the Dolan family or the Catholic Church—has standards.

Homosexual activists resented the cardinal’s argument, and dramatized their resentment by appearing at the cathedral with dirty hands. Thus for the sake of cheap theatrics, they put themselves in the awkward position of suggesting that people should be allowed to eat dinner with dirty hands. Then they approached the cathedral, not because they wanted to join the Catholic community in prayer, but because they wanted to protest against the Catholic community. Taken on its own merits, their argument made no sense. Their little protest could only command a bit of public sympathy if Cardinal Dolan barred them from the cathedral. Which he didn’t. But why let the facts stand in the way of the story?

In Ireland, meanwhile, as legislators prepared to vote on a proposal to allow legal abortion, the Irish Independent whipped up readers’ emotions with this headline: “Cardinal keeps excommunication threat hanging over abortion TDs.” Irish Central carried the same story with a slightly more inflammatory headline: “Cardinal Brady says threat to excommunicate politicians who vote in favor of abortion remains.”

If the threat to excommunicate politicians “remains,” and the cardinal left “hanging over” legislators, then the threat must have been issued, right? Wrong. Neither Cardinal Brady nor any other prominent Irish prelate had suggested that politicians would be excommunicated for supporting the bill. Actually the Irish Independent conveyed the prosaic reality just a few paragraphs below the dramatic headline:

Asked if a TD who voted for the legislation as published would not automatically be excommunicated and should not therefore present himself/herself for Holy Communion, Archbishop Brady replied: "That is down the line at the moment, as far as we are concerned.”

That paragraph is confused and confusing. Being advised not to present oneself for Communion, is not the same thing as being excommunicated. But Cardinal Brady has clearly stated that he is not inclined to use either ecclesiastical sanction. When asked last week whether bishops would bar pro-abortion politicians from Communion, he answered: “There would be a great reluctance to politicize the Eucharist.” Now he says that any question of excommunication is “down the line”—in other words, presumably not under active consideration. So when did he issue a threat? He didn’t.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: jg23753479 - May. 07, 2013 7:47 PM ET USA

    Irish Central is not a bastion of truth; of inflammatory headlines, of course, but truth? Then there is the question of this fellow's name: Ama deo? There is clearly need for truth in naming here.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - May. 07, 2013 3:40 PM ET USA

    Don't Catholics who aid in the procurement of abortion in any way incur automatic excommunication? What's this line about "politicizing the Eucharist"?

  • Posted by: Defender - May. 07, 2013 2:10 AM ET USA

    If you can't find someone to "make" the news, invent it yourself and you can put the words right into their mouth (without them even knowing it) - it saves so much of a hassle, not that you always quote things correctly, anyway. Too bad that the cardinal didn't threaten excommunication...the politicians everywhere say and vote how they like and tell everyone how much of a good Catholic they are - there is no one in the Church who tells them differently - does this mean they're right?

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