MSNBC's Ball Insists Pope Benedict Bashed Dissident Nuns for Caring for the Poor More Than Opposing Abortion, Gay Marriage

Discussing the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI on the February 11 edition of MSNBC's "The Cycle," co-host Krystal Ball praised the retiring pontiff for being a "real advocate for addressing climate change" and for joining Twitter, but lamented that he was "outspoken in keeping women from being ordained" and "went after the largest group of nuns in America for basically spending too much time focused on the poor and not enough on abortion and gay marriage."

But as we at NewsBusters have noted time and again, the nuns who were corrected by the Vatican were NOT attacked for their good social work and most certainly were not denounced for being too busy caring for the poor to deal with the politics of abortion or gay marriage. No, the Vatican's rebuke -- which was tenderly-worded and pastoral in nature, by the way -- was largely centered on questions of Catholic doctrine and ecclesiology, as my colleague Paul Wilson explained in an April 2012 post addressing a similar gripe by the Washington Post's Melinda Henneberger (emphases mine):


Taking care of the poor, of course, is not all that the LCWR has done, as a cursory examination of the LCWR website proves. One of their “featured resources” includes a paper, “We are the 99%,” which at one point declares: “The Occupy Movement is a direct answer to the last years of profit over people and earth.” And Henneberger herself mentioned that the Leadership Conference of Women’s Religious supported Obama’s Affordable Care Act – popularly known as Obamacare.

The assessment itself mentions several instances of grave dissent at the LCWR from Church teaching, citing protests of Catholic teaching on women’s ordination and Sister Laurie Brink’s 2007 Keynote Address, which included: “The Benedictine Women of Madison are the most current example I can name. Their commitment to ecumenism lead [sic] them beyond the exclusivity of the Catholic Church into a new inclusivity, where all manner of seeking God is welcomed. They are certainly religious women, but they are no longer women religious as it is defined by the Roman Catholic Church. They choose as a congregation to step outside the Church in order to step into a greater sense of holiness. Theirs was a choice of integrity, insight and courage.”

But that did not matter to Henneberger, who loaded her column with jabs at the Church. “[T]hey dare to indict the sisters for silence on abortion. (If memory serves, the Vatican itself has now and again been accused of keeping quiet when it shouldn’t have been.)” That’s either twisting the knife of the sex abuse scandals or taking a stab at the definitively debunked slander that Pope Pius XII ignored the plight of Europe’s Jews during WWII – or both. Now, Henneberger wrote, the Catholic hierarchy was engaged in a “common garden power play by a bunch of guys whose control is slipping, their authority undermined by their own failures.” She declared: “The Vatican, of course, knows a lot about scandal – to the point that the nuns are the only morally uncompromised leaders poor Holy Mother Church has left.

“Keep right on like this, your excellencies, and before you know it even more Catholics will be “moving beyond the Church.’”

Henneberger has it precisely backwards. The rapid decline in vocations in the Church since Vatican II was the result of members of the hierarchy rebelling against the teachings of the Church in the first place, causing massive confusion in the Church. And there are strong signs that the traditional Church is making a comeback, as an April 12 Wall Street Journal editorial, “Traditional Catholicism is Winning,” points out.

The doctrinal assessment, of course, is much less hysterical than the ravings of Henneberger might lead one to believe, declaring: “The overarching concern of the doctrinal Assessment is, therefore, to assist the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States in implementing an ecclesiology of communion founded on faith in Jesus Christ and the Church as the essential foundation for its important service to religious Communities and to all those in consecrated life.

Ball, like Henneberger and other liberal journalists before her, prefers a misleading narrative that simplistically casts nuns as innocent, good-works-devoted victims of the Church's overly-political bishops. That makes for a compelling diatribe when you're preaching to the choir, but it's hardly the gospel truth.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters