“Are you willing to sacrifice Catholic charities, colleges and hospitals if you don’t get your way on the contraceptive mandate?” reads one proposed question for a bishop.
“Are you willing to drop all health insurance for your employees?” reads another.
The e-mail encouraged journalists to “ask critical questions” about the bishops’ “sweeping claims” in light of a “charged political backdrop” ahead of the 2012 election. It noted that both the June 8 “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rallies and the June 21-July 4 “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign include Catholic dioceses.
CNA sought comment multiple times from Gehring and Faith in Public Life but did not receive a response.
On its website, Faith in Public Life describes itself as “a strategy center for the faith community advancing faith in the public square as a powerful force for justice, compassion and the common good.” It runs strategic communications and “narrative-setting” campaigns. The organization says it can identify “moments of opportunity when a targeted event or campaign can effectively broaden or shift the values debate.”
It works to insert its perspective into political debates and to highlight “progressive and moderate people of faith at key moments.”
Gehring’s June 7 e-mail focused only on contraception and “birth control.” It did not mention coverage of sterilization or contraceptive drugs that may cause abortion.
He wrote that several Catholic bishops have used “inflammatory and irresponsible rhetoric” that conflates “working through complex policy issues with a fundamental attack on the Catholic Church.”
The leaked e-mail also suggested that reporters should reject as “fiction” any claim that there is a “war on religion” and a “war on the Catholic Church.”
It classified as “fiction” U.S. bishops’ conference president Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s statement that the administration is “strangling” the Catholic Church. Gehring also suggested news media ask whether bishops should be concerned about the religious freedom campaign “becoming politicized in an election year.”
Over 40 Catholic institutions have filed lawsuits challenging the mandate, while Catholics and other faith leaders have organized religious freedom rallies around the country, including the upcoming “Fortnight for Freedom.”
Gehring encouraged reporters, columnists and journalists to ask who is funding the religious freedom effort.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
“Reporters should consider asking about the Knights of Columbus, an organization with deep pockets,” the e-mail advised. Gehring tried to paint Supreme Knight of Columbus Carl Anderson as a political partisan, noting his work in the Reagan administration and his time as a legislative assistant to Republican Sen. Jesse Helms in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Faith in Public Life’s recommended sources for interviews, as listed in Gehring’s e-mail, are John Gehring, Duquesne University law professor Nicholas Cafardi, Fordham University theology department chair Terrence W. Tilley, Boston College theology professor Lisa Sowle Cahill, Note Dame Law School professor M. Cathleen Kaveny, Fairfield University religious studies professor Paul Lakeland, and Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J. of the Woodstock Theological Center.
The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue was critical of the media effort, saying Gehring’s e-mail encouraged the media to “victimize the victim” and target those who refuse to compromise their principles.