CBS Publicizes Catholic Dissenters' Platform Against Celibate Priesthood

CBS's Barry Petersen slanted in favor of dissenters agitating for the repeal of the Catholic Church's centuries-old practice of celibacy for priests on the March 10, 2013 edition of Sunday Morning. Petersen hyped how "many American Catholics wonder how long celibacy will be a part of today's Church, or perhaps, how soon it may become a fading tradition."

The correspondent also failed to mention that Bill Wisniewski, one of his talking heads, is a board member for a dissenting group headed by Sister Christine Schenk, who was also featured during his report.

Barry Petersen, CBS News Correspondent; Screen Cap From 10 March 2013 Edition of CBS's Sunday Morning | NewsBusters.orgPetersen's bias was apparent from the very start of the segment. He first trumpeted how "many Catholics are hoping a new pope may be a chance to rethink old doctrines, including one of the oldest and, in today's Church, now one of the most controversial: celibacy." Actually, priestly celibacy is not a doctrine, like the belief in the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ, but a clerical discipline.

The correspondent then played four straight clips of Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago and Father John Fitzgibbons, president of Regis University, defending the practice of celibacy. But for the following four-plus minutes, he lined up Gary Wills, a vocal dissident from Church teachings on sexuality; a married Catholic priest of the Byzantine rite, which has a long tradition of married priests; a sister who admittedly once fell in love, but stayed in religious life; and Wisniewski, who abandoned his priestly vows to marry, and who was accompanied by his wife for the interview.

Petersen set up his soundbite from Father Chrysostom Frank, the married Byzantine priest, by outlining how "for Christianity's first thousand years, priests could marry and have families. In fact, Saint Peter, the first pope, had a wife. Celibacy became widespread in the 11th century." This is actually a half-truth, as the CBS journalist omitted the monastic tradition that developed during the first centuries of the Church. The early monks and nuns gave up everything, including the use of their sexual faculties, to follow Christ.

Later, the correspondent's sympathy for Wisniewski came out as he outlined that his guest "left the priesthood, and...[has] been married thirty-four years, with kids and grandkids. And Bill still acts as a minister, as he did at his children's weddings, but not as a priest in a Catholic Church he still loves, and even now, yearns to serve."

Before during to Sister Schenk, Petersen spotlighted that "attitudes among Americans Catholics about celibacy are shifting. A new CBS News/New York Times poll shows 66 percent of them now favor letting priests marry – encouraging news for Sister Christine Schenk....She runs an Ohio-based advocacy group called FutureChurch – as in, a future when celibacy would be optional."

The correspondent didn't point out that in addition to their stance against the discipline of celibacy for most priests, FutureChurch also pushes for the ordination of women and sympathizes with other groups that dissent from the Church's sexual teachings.

Near the end of his report, Petersen did play another clip from Father Fitzgibbons and featured a seminarian who defended the centuries-old practice. But he then played a soundbite from another seminarian who, in his words, has a "surprising new flexibility" concerning the discipline.

Back in 2011, the CBS journalist filed another slanted report where he lined up three radicals against one bishop who defended the Church's teachings on abortion and the role of women. More broadly, the Big Three network has a record of siding with the Catholic dissenters. Former morning anchor Maggie Rodriguez agitated for the end of the "rigid" and "outdated" vow of celibacy on the May 7, 2009 edition of The Early Show. Correspondent Michelle Miller also promoted the idea of a married priesthood on the March 12, 2012 edition of CBS This Morning.

The full transcript of Barry Petersen's report on the March 10, 2013 edition of Sunday Morning:


CHARLES OSGOOD: Celibacy of the clergy has been a part of the Roman Catholic tradition for centuries. So what are the chances, if any, that the Pope about to be chosen will heed any of the voices calling for that tradition to change?

Our 'Sunday Morning' cover story is reported now by Barry Petersen.

BARRY PETERSEN (voice-over): With Pope Benedict retired, many Catholics are hoping a new pope may be a chance to rethink old doctrines, including one of the oldest and, in today's Church, now one of the most controversial: celibacy.

CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: It's that call – leave everything and follow me, and if you do that, then you're not just a functionary providing religious services, you're someone whose whole life is at stake in this.

PETERSEN: Chicago's Cardinal Francis George is now in Rome for the conclave.

GEORGE: If you're going to lead the people in Christ's name, celibacy isn't absolutely necessary, but it is a sign that somebody has left everything for the sake of the Lord.

PETERSEN (on-camera): At what age did you really make this commitment to celibacy? How old were you when you decided this was going to be your life?

FATHER JOHN FITZGIBBONS: I was a senior in high school. I was age eighteen-

PETERSEN (voice-over): Father John Fitzgibbons is president of Denver's Jesuit Regis University. He says the Church teaches that celibacy means a priest or a nun doesn't have family worries, and can, instead, focus solely on their religious work.

FITZGIBBONS: The ability; the wherewithal; the time to give your energies to the people of God in a more concentrated, more full way.

PETERSEN (on-camera): Not distracted by family, kids – things like that?

FITZGIBBONS: And economic well-being, to some degree.

GARRY WILLS: If you really believe that, you would never go to a married doctor. You would never elect a married president, because he would say – oh, he just cares about his family. He doesn't care about the country. He doesn't care about my health. You know, that's such a phony argument.

PETERSEN (voice-over): Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills studied for the Catholic priesthood, but left over the demand for celibacy. He has written extensively, and critically, about the Church.

WILLS: Celibacy in the Church, as it has developed, is unhealthy. Instead of uniting it with communities, it divides them from communities.

PETERSEN (on-camera): You mean by setting them apart?

WILLS: Yeah, setting them apart.

PETERSEN (voice-over): For Christianity's first thousand years, priests could marry and have families. In fact, Saint Peter, the first pope, had a wife. Celibacy became widespread in the 11th century – not so much because of scripture, as for simple economics. Widows of married priests were claiming inheritance rights to church lands. Celibacy ended that, but not for everyone.

FATHER CHRYSOSTOM FRANK: Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses.

PETERSEN: Some parish priests, like Denver's Father Chrysostom Frank, are members of the Church's Eastern Rite branch.

FRANK: For through your goodness, we receive the bread we offer you.

PETERSEN: His is the Russian Byzantine Catholic Church, which still reports to the Pope.

FRANK: Through Him and with Him-

PETERSEN: They celebrate Mass, but unlike Roman Catholic priests, they can marry and have children.

PETERSEN (on-camera): Does that make you a better priest; a more understanding priest?

FRANK: I think for a lot of people, that – that having somebody who has – has experienced what they've experienced is – is a very useful thing, in terms of pastoral counseling.

PETERSEN (voice-over): And the Roman Catholic Church is now welcoming already-married priests, but only those converting from Protestant denominations.

PETERSEN (on-camera): So you took this vow when you were how old – the vow of celibacy?

SISTER PEG MALONEY: Probably twenty-eight, twenty-nine – something like that – yeah.

PETERSEN (voice-over): And even the most devout Catholics, like Regis University faculty member Sister Peg Maloney, must cope with very human feelings.

PETERSEN (on-camera): Did that ever happen to you?

MALONEY: Falling in love? Yes.

PETERSEN: As a nun?

MALONEY: Yes.

PETERSEN: What did you do?

MALONEY: Talked to my spiritual director. (laughs)

PETERSEN: Did you think about leaving?

MALONEY: Oh, I was very panicked.

PETERSEN (voice-over): She decided to stay celibate and in her order.

Bill Wisniewski chose another path. He was ordained at age thirty-one. He later became friends with Pattie, and one day, she found the courage to reach out.

PATTIE WISNIEWSKI: So I met with him, and I said, I – we've got a serious problem here. And he said, what's that? And I said, you know, I'm falling in love with you.

PETERSEN (on-camera): And what did he say?

P. WISNIEWSKI: And he said, I feel the same way.

BARRY PETERSEN: You both knew.

P. WISNIEWSKI: Yes.

PETERSEN (voice-over): He left the priesthood, and they've been married thirty-four years, with kids and grandkids. And Bill still acts as a minister, as he did at his children's weddings, but not as a priest in a Catholic Church he still loves, and even now, yearns to serve.

PETERSEN (on-camera): If the next Pope lifted the rule of celibacy, would you still go back?

BILL WISNIEWSKI: Yes, I would.

PETERSEN: Attitudes among Americans Catholics about celibacy are shifting. A new CBS News/New York Times poll shows 66 percent of them now favor letting priests marry – encouraging news for Sister Christine Schenk.

[CBS News Graphic: "CBS News/New York Times Poll: Should priests be allowed to marry? 66%, Favor; 26%, Oppose"]

SISTER CHRISTINE SCHENK: We can't divorce our plumbing from the totality of our person.

PETERSEN: She runs an Ohio-based advocacy group called FutureChurch – as in, a future when celibacy would be optional.

SCHENK: And given the needs of the people of God, we could be opening ordination, rather than closing parishes.

PETERSEN: Closing even as the population of American Catholics is growing. But the number of priests is falling fast, and those still in the Church are dealing with the pedophilia scandal. Father Fitzgibbons-

PETERSEN (on-camera): People would suggest that the issues of pedophilia are connected with this demand for celibacy. What do you think?

FITZGIBBONS: I think that's incredibly wrong. There are people in every walk of life – married life, single life, clerical life, religious life – who are not healthy.

PETERSEN (voice-over): That said, candidates for Catholic priesthood, like these men at Mundelein Seminary outside Chicago, now go through a battery of psychological tests to assess their attitudes on sex and celibacy. Derek Ho.

DEREK HO: I don't see it as – like, an offense to me to ask those questions. They should be asking.

PETERSEN (on-camera): And you think a better priesthood will emerge from this?

HO: I certainly hope so – yeah.

PETERSEN: Because?

HO: Because maybe they weren't questions that were asked in the past that should have been.

PETERSEN (voice-over): Like the others, Connor Danstrom pledged celibacy as part of his commitment.

CONNOR DANSTROM: This is not easy, but at the same time, I can tell you, from my own personal experience, that this life – this celibate life, dedicated to God, on the way to priesthood, has made me happier than anything else I've ever done in my life. And no one's forcing me to be here.

PETERSEN: But some show a surprising new flexibility. Desmond Drummer-

DESMOND DRUMMER: If the Church changed this policy – this discipline, I would not be crying foul at all. I would embrace that.

PETERSEN (on-camera): Would you still be celibate?

DESMOND DRUMMER: Honestly, I will say this: I have – I have no bones about this. If I had a chance to get married, I would. I would.

PETERSEN: If you could still be a priest?

DRUMMER: Yes, yes, I would. No doubt – no doubt.

PETERSEN (voice-over): A flexibility that is one reason many American Catholics wonder how long celibacy will be a part of today's Church, or perhaps, how soon it may become a fading tradition.

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