W. Virginia ads confuse laity about bishops’ opposition to health care bill

An image from the Catholics United TV ad in support of the Senate health care bill.
An image from the Catholics United TV ad in support of the Senate health care bill.


Catholics and others in West Virginia are “very upset” by a Catholics United ad campaign backing the Senate health care bill, the local diocese says. Because of “misleading” messages, a number of the ads’ viewers wrongly think that the diocese or Church officials are now backing the controversial bill.

Bryan Minor, executive director of Communications and Development for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, told CNA in a Thursday e-mail that his office is hearing of “numerous” television ads that began airing on March 17 in the northern West Virginia area.

Minor explained that the ads ask U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan to vote in favor of the Senate bill to expand health coverage.

“I have not seen the ad myself, yet, as we are handling a number of phone calls about it. It is minimizing the abortion issue, apparently.”

“Catholics and non-Catholics alike who call the diocese are very upset when they first reach us … they think that the Diocese or Church officials have now agreed to back the Senate bill.”

Minor reports that the diocese tells concerned callers that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the diocese are not behind the messages.

Callers are told that Catholics United is “an independent political organization that is not sanctioned or recognized by the U.S. bishops,” Minor told CNA.

After learning this, callers “tend to calm down and then express their concern for the name ‘Catholic’ being somewhat hijacked for the purposes of encouraging phone calls to elected officials.”

Asked how the Catholics United campaign might affect public knowledge of the U.S. bishops’ position on the health care legislation, Minor suggested the ads’ position may help further mobilize the Catholic population to become “even more active” as the House vote on the Senate bill becomes “imminent.”

“In any event, it does require the average parishioner to carefully scrutinize what they see and hear in the mass media so as to gain (the) truth (as) to what the Bishops are espousing in such important matters,” Minor commented.

A statement on the diocese’s website says “confusing messages” have been sent from groups such as the Catholic Health Association (CHA) and NETWORK. Citing phone calls to the diocese, it remarks that parishioners across West Virginia have “grave concerns regarding deceptive political advertisements and public statements” from the groups.

These messages “are not consistent with the position of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops” on conscience rights and public funding of abortion.

“Furthermore, political action groups such as Catholics United—that are in no way affiliated with the diocese or Catholic Church—have started secular media campaigns that confuse Catholics with misleading images and messages that are not consistent with the position taught by the Bishops of the United States, including Bishop Michael Bransfield,” the website’s statement continues.

The “clear and unchanged position” of Bishop Bransfield and the USCCB is that unless flaws on conscience rights and abortion funding are addressed, the Senate bill “should not be passed in the House,” the diocese said on its website.

Minor told CNA the website message had been approved by Bishop Bransfield.

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