CBS Boosts Catholic Dissenters, Lets Them Bash 'Extremely Cruel' Church

CBS's Barry Petersen lined up three radicals who back feminist and other left-leaning ideologies inside the Catholic Church on the December 4 edition of the Sunday Morning program, letting only one bishop speak in support of the Church's teachings on abortion and the role of women. The correspondent omitted the dissenting beliefs of his guests, labeling one as merely an "outspoken critic of the Church."

Petersen led his report with the case of Sister Mary McBride, who incurred automatic excommunication in 2009 after she sanctioned the abortion of a eleven-week-old unborn child, as a member of the ethics committee of St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. After turning to St. Joseph's chief medical officer, who spoke in favor of the "respected nun," as the correspondent labeled Sister McBride, he played a clip from Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmstead, who argued that the excommunicated woman didn't show "an equal concern for the mother and for the child."

The CBS journalist continued that Sister McBride's excommunication "prompted a lot of comments in the press" and introduced the first Catholic dissident, Father Thomas Boyle, who stated that "the excommunication of the sister, I thought, was an extremely cruel act. I can't describe it in any other way." Petersen stated that Fr. Boyle "specializes in Church law, and once worked for the Vatican's embassy in Washington, DC. He is now an outspoken critic of the Church." But he failed to mention that the cleric dissents from Church teaching in a number of areas.

In an April 2010 interview with an Australian news program, Boyle denounced the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility: "We need infallibility about as much as a duck hunter needs an accordion." He also defended Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who, like Sister McBride, incurred automatic excommunication after he participated in a breakaway Catholic sect's ordination of a woman in 2008. The National Catholic Reporter, a publication infamous for its dissent from Catholic teachings on many issues, noted in an September 14, 2011 article that "Doyle contends that the church’s prohibition of female ordination is not infallible teaching."

However, Pope John Paul II declared in a 1994 document that "the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

Later in the report, Petersen played four sound bites from Professor Gary Macy of Santa Clara University. While he disclosed Macy's occupation and his role as "theologian," he omitted that the professor wrote a book titled "The Hidden History of Women's Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West." Thus, Macy is also an advocate of changing the Catholic Church's teaching on priestly ordination.

Petersen gave only one hint of the ideological leanings of the dissenters during his report. After playing his second sound bite from Fr. Doyle, who claimed that "there's an inability, I think, to deal with the twenty-first century" amongst the Catholic hierarchy, the CBS journalist outlined that "the U.S. Conference of Bishops critiqued and investigated the writings of Sister Elizabeth Johnson, a feminist theologian whose book has become popular among liberal Catholics."

There is actually a connection between Sister Johnson and the third dissenter featured in the correspondent's report, Sister Mary Ann Hinsdale. Sister Hinsdale, in her role as president of the Catholics Theological Society of America, voiced her "concern about the process" whereby the bishops' conference examined Sister Johnson's writings. But Petersen didn't mention this detail at any point, only describing Hinsdale as "a member of the order of the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary" and a "professor of theology at Boston College." Hinsdale, like Doyle and Macy, endorses women's ordination and specializes in "feminist theologies."

The correspondent played 10 sound bites total from the three dissenters, versus only three from Bishop Olmstead. Petersen concluded with an additional clip from one more dissident- no other than Sister Mary McBride- giving the segment a final 11 to 3 slant. The journalist noted that the clip came from a speech McBride gave at "an event sponsored by an organization that often challenges Catholic hierarchy," but didn't disclose that the name of the group is Call To Action, which, in addition to endorsing women's ordination, called on the Church to "reevaluate its positions on issues like celibacy for priests...homosexuality, [and] birth control."

The full transcript of Barry Petersen's report from the December 4 edition of CBS's Sunday Morning:

LEE COWAN: When a church is divided over a matter of faith, there are no easy answers, particularly when the divide is over some very fundamental principles- principles that sometimes involve matters of life and death.

Our cover story this morning is reported by Barry Petersen.

Bishop Thomas Olmstead, Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona; & Barry Petersen, CBS News Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgBARRY PETERSEN (voice-over): It is a battle between Catholic and Catholic, between the past and the present- a battle centuries old, that rages yet today. In Phoenix, Arizona-

BISHOP THOMAS OLMSTEAD, DIOCESE OF PHOENIX, ARIZONA (from Catholic Mass): And the Son of Man-

PETERSEN: It's a battle between Bishop Thomas Olmstead and the city's oldest hospital, St. Joseph's, whose staff includes a respected nun. It began in November 2009, when a pregnant twenty-seven-year-old mother of four, in her eleventh week, was admitted with severe pulmonary hypertension. Her doctors say it was dramatically worsening because of the pregnancy. Doctor Charles Alfono is St. Joseph's chief medical officer.

DR. CHARLES ALFONO, ST. JOSEPH'S HOSPITAL: The hormonal changes of pregnancy, the changes in blood flow in this patient, created a situation where her heart began to fail, and that failure, despite the efforts of the physicians, progressed. She was very near death.

PETERSEN: Modern medicine presented two equally grim options: terminate the pregnancy and save the mother, or lose both mother and child.

ALFONO: And as a result, we've made the difficult decision- but the decision that we had to make- to terminate the pregnancy.

PETERSEN (on-camera): So no matter who you guys had done, the child would have died.

ALFONO: Correct.

PETERSEN (voice-over): Before moving forward, doctors consulted the hospital's ethics committee, which included Sister Margaret Mary McBride. The committee approved terminating the pregnancy, which doctors did- saving the mother's life, losing the fetus. In the months following, word of events at St. Joseph's reached Bishop Olmstead, whose role includes being the moral leader of Catholics in his diocese, and he began his own inquiry, speaking with, among others, Sister Margaret.

OLMSTEAD: I sat down and visited with her. So I gathered information from her directly. Now, that didn't involve her giving me the charts and things. But in that description, I did not hear an equal concern for the mother and for the child. The child was not- nor was the uterus- infected. There was nothing wrong with that. So what was directly intended was to kill the unborn child.

PETERSEN: The bishop ultimately found that officials at St. Joseph's- quote, 'had not addressed in an adequate manner the scandal caused by the abortion.' And for that, he decreed St. Joseph's Hospital is no longer Catholic. As for Sister Margaret, Bishop Olmstead informed her that she'd been excommunicated. That prompted a lot of comments in the press. But as she has consistently in this matter, Sister Margaret said nothing.

FATHER THOMAS DOYLE: The excommunication of the sister, I thought, was an extremely cruel act. I can't describe it in any other way.

PETERSEN: Father Thomas Doyle specializes in Church law, and once worked for the Vatican's embassy in Washington, DC. He is now an outspoken critic of the Church, and says what happened in Phoenix points to an unfolding trend within the Church.

DOYLE: It tells me that within the hierarchy, there is a great deal of fear- that there is an almost obsession with control; that there's an inability, I think, to deal with the twenty-first century. And the bishop in Phoenix is not unique. There are many, many like him.

PETERSEN: Take Archbishop Allen Vigneron in Detroit, who has spoken against the American Catholic Council, a group promoting change within the Church, including the ordination of women; or the U.S. Conference of Bishops- they've critiqued and investigated the writings of Sister Elizabeth Johnson, a feminist theologian whose book has become popular among liberal Catholics. Some see these events, taken together, as symptomatic of a larger effort to reverse reforms set down by the 1960s advisory council that came to be known as Vatican II- reforms which, back then, were seen as an effort to bring the Church closer to modern times.

GARY MACY, SANTA CLARA UNIVERSITY: There was a sense that we should try to bring Catholicism up to the twentieth, and then, the twenty-first century.

PETERSEN: Gary Macy is a professor of theology at California's Jesuit Santa Clara University.

MACY: In all kinds of ways, in scholarship- and so, how do we relate to psychology? How do we relate to political science? How do we relate to modern ethics? All of those questions were opened up. There was much more involvement of the laity in the liturgy, so people felt much more involved. There were less spectators, and more participants.

PETERSEN: Catholics were no longer expected, as some put it, to simply pay, pray, and obey; but now can make their own decisions about their faith. (clip of music during a Catholic Mass) Another reform hallmark of Vatican II: use of the English-language Mass.

UNIDENTIFIED PRIEST (from clip of a Catholic Mass): These offerings we make, gathered from among your gifts to us-

PETERSEN: The Vatican has now directed American churches to institute a new Mass, featuring an English translation more faithful to the original Latin-

UNIDENTIFIED PRIEST: The sins of the world-

PETERSEN: A Mass, critics say, is harder to understand, less English speaker-friendly. (clip of Catholic nuns singing) But, perhaps, the most striking example of the Vatican's apparent about-face on reforms may center on American nuns.

SISTER MARY ANN HINSDALE: I think sisters actually, ironically, really took Vatican II seriously, perhaps more than other segments of the Church, and that 's causing some friction. We're doing exactly, in a sense, what the document on the religious life asked us to do.

PETERSEN: Sister Mary Hinsdale is a member of the order of the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

HINSDALE: What does the Catholic Church really teach about this particular controversial issue?

PETERSEN: She's also a professor of theology at Boston College.

HINSDALE: I think there's always a tendency, particularly when it comes from the Roman Curia, who, in fact, are the kind of bureaucracy of the Church, to think they are the Church and they're in control.


PETERSEN: And not long ago, the Church in Rome exercised that control, launching what's called an apostolic visitation, a process shrouded in mystery, allowing it to investigate orders of nuns here in the United States. We asked Phoenix Bishop Olmstead just why the probe was ordered.

OLMSTEAD: I think the apostolic visitation of the religious sisters in our country was prompted primarily by a concern about the decline of the number of religious that we have in our country. It's really on a steep decline, and that's a grave concern.

PETERSEN (on-camera): We reached out to many orders of nuns across the country, hoping to get their viewpoints about all of this. In most cases, someone would agree to be interviewed. But when the interview was imminent, we'd be called and it would be canceled.

PETERSEN (voice-over): In the end, Sister Mary Ann Hinsdale agreed to speak with us, partly she said, out of concern that if she didn't, no one would.

PETERSEN (on-camera): Do you think this apostolic visitation is something that nuns, like yourself, who are out there in the world, should be worried about?

HINSDALE: I really don't know, but I think the most problematic aspect of it is that we are not going to see a report, and we don't know what is going to be done with this. We were never told what was going to be done with this. And we think this is, you know, a travesty, really, and insulting even, about who we are in the Church, because we think we're trying to be loyal to the Church. We're trying to make, you know, plausible explanations, where people are saying- well, why is the Church doing this? Why are they excommunicating people who are- you know, seem to be wanting good for the Church?

MACY: Why the nuns? This is my suspicion: they can.

PETERSEN (voice-over): Theologian Gary Macy-

MACY: It's interesting that they would take the women religious order and not the men's religious orders- although, you know, for so many centuries and centuries and centuries in Christianity, women have taken a hit first.

PETERSEN: Phoenix's Bishop Olmstead admits he sees no future role for women in the priesthood. Still, he says they're valued members of the Church.

OLMSTEAD: We wouldn't have all our Catholic hospitals if it wasn't for Catholic sisters. We wouldn't have a lot of our Catholic universities if it wasn't for them.

PETERSEN: It's a battle between Catholic and Catholic; between past, present, and future. Yet, even with these differences, some things endure.

PETERSEN (off-camera): Why do you stay?

HINSDALE: Because it's my church. I have a responsibility to speak the truth that's been given to me. There's a lot of pain and suffering, I think, in belonging to the Catholic Church today. But I think that I'm following, as best I can, what I think God is asking me to do today in this church as we have it.

PETERSEN (voice-over): As we told you earlier in our story, Sister Margaret Mary McBride in Phoenix has consistently declined to discuss the events at St. Joseph's Hospital. But not long ago, she did speak out in an event sponsored by an organization that often challenges Catholic hierarchy.

SISTER MARGARET MARY MCBRIDE: As we move forward in this very disappointing time in our church, I think it's the time when we need to be the example of mercy and forgiveness and love.

PETERSEN: In fact, her excommunication has now been lifted. But Bishop Olmstead also asked that she resign from the hospital's ethics committee- she has. As for the hospital, to regain its Catholic status, the bishop insists that it must say the medical procedure that resulted in the abortion, and saved the mother of four, was in violation of religious and ethical policies, and will never happen again. So far, the hospital has refused to do so. It still cannot call itself Catholic.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center