.- Controversy continues about the Catholic News Agency story on Cardinal Francis Georgeâs criticism of the Catholic Health Associationâs (CHA) actions during the health care debate. Defenders of CNA note the substance of the report is supported by other sources, while critics focus on the accuracy of several quotations.
At the U.S. bishopsâ executive session last week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishopsâ (USCCB) president reportedly discussed the fallout resulting from CHAâs support for the health care legislation despite the bishopsâ opposition. Among the bishopsâ objections to the bill were that its abortion restrictions were insufficient.
Several bishops who wished to remain anonymous told CNA that Cardinal George charged CHA and other Catholic groups with providing âcoverâ for undecided legislators to support President Obamaâs legislation. According to these sources, the cardinal clearly remarked that CHA president Sr. Carol Keehan and her colleagues were to blame for the passage of the bill. He said these groupsâ actions also weakened the moral voice of the bishops in the U.S., caused confusion and wounded Catholic unity.
In response, USCCB Secretary of Communications Helen Osman criticized the CNA story, suggesting it was unfortunate if the news agency âtried to take an educated guess at what the cardinal might have said and cobbled together its own fabrication of the session.â
She criticized CNA for attributing several remarks verbatim to the cardinal and said he never accused the CHA of creating a âparallel magisterium.â
In response, CNA executive director Alejandro Bermudez said that the news agency stands by its report. He cited Cardinal Georgeâs June 16 interview with journalist John L. Allen, Jr. as validation of CNAâs reporting and charged that Osmanâs blog post denying that reporting is âdisturbing, dishonest and unfairly selective.â
Bermudez also called for the release of an audio recording of the cardinalâs remarks âto see who is right.â
The CNA report has drawn attention from several quarters.
Michael Sean Winters, a blogger for the Jesuitâs America Magazine, wrote on Tuesday that the bishops âmay not always be pleased with my arguments regarding the health care debate, but at least they know that we at America magazine do not fabricate stories.â
Discussing CNA and âthe rightwing Catholic blogosphere,â he added, âBut, really, what do they say to themselves when they are caught just making stuff up? How do their well-formed Catholic consciences respond when they are caught with their journalistic pants down? The inevitable question wells up: Have you no shame?â
Then, in a Wednesday post, Winters reiterated his agreement with the charge that some of the quotes attributed to Cardinal George in the original CNA report were âfabricated.â
âWhy anyone would trust them before this is beyond me, but now their reputation is in tatters,â said Winters, who has been critical of CNA in the past and characterizes it as âa fringe right-wing media outlet.â
He suggested that CNAâs episcopal sources âmay have heard what they wanted to hearâ and âplaced their own prejudices and arguments in Cardinal Georgeâs mouth.â
Winters then speculated whether CNAâs sources in the USCCB decided to âleakâ their account to the press to push the conference towards what he called âtheir more conservative position.â He charged that these bishops who spoke to the news agency âchose to break the confidentiality of the meeting and to make Cardinal Georgeâs job more difficult.â
He implied that the Catholic Key, the paper of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, was associated with one of CNAâs sources. Its post defending the substance of the CNA report was âone telling indication,â he continued.
In response, Catholic Key editor Jack Smith pointed out that Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph Robert W. Finn did not attend the June bishopsâ meeting âand so any suggestion that he leaked the comments is false,â Smith wrote at the newspaperâs blog.
Besides the Catholic Key, defenders of CNAâs report include Kathryn Jean Lopez of the conservative web site National Review Online (NRO) and Deal W. Hudson of InsideCatholic.com.
In a blog post at the NRO site, Lopez said that John Allenâs interview with Cardinal George shows the cardinalâs âsimilarly adamant, scolding criticism of the Catholic groups that played a role in making sure Obamacare passed.â
She suggested that Osman âheard what she wanted to hear from Cardinal George,â noting the difficulty of arguing against the CNA report with no evidence to the contrary and with the cardinal making similar statements in the Allen interview.
âClearly he is unabashedly critical of the Catholic Health Association, which should come as no surprise,â Lopez wrote at National Review Online. âThe CHA did undercut the moral authority of the bishops (not to mention the natural and moral law) in the health-care debate, even as the bishops were unambiguously working to defend innocent human life, a clear obligation of the Catholic when it comes to public policy.â
âThe Catholic Health Association did a lot of damage,â continued the commentator, saying that the bishopsâ opposition to âleft-wing policymakersâ is going to be hard to deny especially as it becomes âincreasingly obviousâ that the executive order on abortion funding secured by Rep. Bart Stupak was âa lie.â
Deal Hudson responded to Osmanâs comments and CNAâs defense of its report in a blog post at InsideCatholic.com.
âGiven 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,â Hudson remarked, also calling for the recordingâs release.
âI 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.â