Two Catholic priests who appeared as guests during back-to-back segments on Thursday’s No Bias, No Bull program were treated noticeably differently by CNN’s on-air personalities. Father Michael Pfleger of the Archdiocese of Chicago, who is best known for his racially-charged rhetoric against Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic presidential race, as well as his defense of former Obama pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, faced only a couple of pointed questions, most notably about his recent decision to fly an American flag upside-down. In the following segment, Father Mitch Pacwa of the orthodox Catholic TV network EWTN faced a more skeptical and sustained line of questioning from the CNN panel about the practice of priestly celibacy.
Anchor Roland Martin brought on Father Pfleger 43 minutes into the 8 pm Eastern hour of the CNN program to talk about his continuing push against street violence in Chicago, especially when it involves minors, as 36 school-aged children so far this year have been violently killed . He only introduced the priest as the “pastor of the faith community of Saint Sabina from the South Side of Chicago.” Neither he nor any of the other journalists participating in the panel mentioned any of Father Pfleger’s past controversies during the segment.
Martin first sought the priest’s take on what needed to be done to stop the murdering. As he has consistently done, Father Pfleger pushed for more gun control, and bizarrely brought in the response to the swine flu epidemic:
PFLEGER: I think it’s a comprehensive response that’s got to be done. I think the government does have to do something with the weapons and easy access to guns. I think we need to call a consciousness across this country, just like we do with the swine flu. We have the whole country focused on that and saying, we’ve got to do something about it. I think as communities -- I think as parents -- I think as churches and schools -- we have to say that we cannot longer buy these guns and we can no longer see kids dying in our streets. The blood is in our streets, and we’re getting immune to it in Chicago and a lot of the other major cities. So we got to say no more.
Correspondent Ali Velshi responded cynically to this answer: “What good does saying no more do exactly? What is going to happen? Because it doesn’t occur to me that the kids who are committing these crimes are waiting for you to say no more. What has to happen?” The priest stuck to his points: “...Where are the guns? We’re hiding them in houses and we’re hiding criminals in houses and we got to stop that. But we also got to create a kind of stir and consciousness of say no more in this country where everybody’s involved. No matter where you go...just like we did with swine flu, say, we are going to create an aggressive response to this, and everybody has to be involved. Everybody’s part of this puzzle.”
TruTV’s Lisa Bloom then brought up the upside-down flag issue:
BLOOM: Father Pfleger, there is an upside-down American flag hanging outside your church. You’ve taken some criticism from veterans groups for that. What’s the point that you’re trying to make there?
PFLEGER: Well, I think what we’re trying to say is that the upside-down flag -- the government says is that doing that says that there is a crisis -- there is an emergency, to either life or property. Thirty-six children being killed in Chicago by gun violence this school year -- there was a child shot about four blocks from my house tonight at 4:00, wounded in the back, hopefully -- hopefully going to survive. We want to sound the alarm to say there is an emergency crisis that we’re not addressing. We’ve got to be able to sound this alarm to say, everybody get involved. Is it a radical move with the flag upside-down? Yeah, but it’s also a radical problem.
YELLIN: Sir, may I ask -- may I ask respectfully, there are people who accuse you, though, of sensationalizing this issue and actually distracting from the problem of dying kids by hanging this flag upside-down? Do you fear that this has become a distraction?
PFLEGER: Well, I don't think -- it amazes me that there are more people outraged with the flag upside-down than they are about children dying. But for the last number of years, we go out and march and we do the rallies, and we go out after every child gets shot and we go to the sites where the children are. We offer reward money to get the shooters. We are trying everything. If the flag says this is an American problem that we’ve got to deal [with], we can’t point to Mexico. We can’t point to al Qaeda. This is America’s problem. We have got to face it....
Following a commercial break, Martin brought up another recent news item. Father Alberto Cutié, a Catholic priest in Miami, was recently put on leave by his archdiocese after being caught having inappropriately close contact with a bikini-clad young woman on a beach. The anchor’s second Catholic priest guest, Father Pacwa, hosts a live prime-time program on EWTN, and has written several religious books. This time, more members of the panel got in questions. The CNN anchor made it clear that he was in favor of allowing Catholic priests to marry, while correspondent Erica Hill brought in the obligatory poll numbers showing how the majority of Catholics in the U.S. support marriage for priests. Velshi and Bloom asked about what might happen to Father Cutié. Martin also took two callers, one who was in favor of priestly celibacy, and the other against.
MARTIN: Photos of Father Alberto Cutié and an unidentified woman have caused a major stir in Miami. Many members of his parish demanded that he stay in his job, but his archdiocese has put him on leave. A Florida newspaper reports that just last week, Cutie told the TV station he thinks priests should be able to marry. So we’ve been asking you that question tonight.
Joining us now is the Reverend Mitch Pacwa, a host on EWTN television, where Father Cutie used to have a show of his own. All right, Father, here’s --
REV. MITCH PACWA, JESUIT PRIEST: Good evening.
MARTIN: You’ve got lots of folks in this church who say, look, we want him to stay. They held a rally in front of their church because they want him back. So, shouldn’t the archdiocese follow the wishes of the folks there and say put him back in the church?
PACWA: As a matter of fact, I’m sure that the archdiocese would love to have him back in the church. However, with this kind of a public action, there also needs to be time of reflection. And that’s what the diocese has asked him to do, is take some time to go off on his own, reflect on this and the situation and his commitment to the church, his priesthood and celibacy, and then they’ll negotiate after that. And that makes good sense.
ERICA HILL: Father, there’s been a lot of talk over the last few years about whether or not the Church should consider allowing priests to make celibacy optional and whether or not they should marry. In fact, a Gallup poll found sixty-three percent of U.S. Catholics support marriage. A number of priests have sent letters supporting the option as well. Is it time for the Catholic Church to consider marriage for priests?
PACWA: No. The reason is, at the very least, the tradition that we have of celibacy in the Catholic Church, especially in the western part, is a good 1,800 years old. Because now we have a series of crises over a wide variety of sexual issues, this is one of the worst times to reconsider this. For instance, in the United States and Western Europe, marriage has been in a crisis itself.
MARTIN: Okay, Father --
PACWA: High rates of infidelity, high divorce rates, and so this would not be a good time to consider changing celibacy.
MARTIN: Father, I’m not really mad because he [sic] was a woman. I’m just going to be perfectly honest with you. And, look --
LISA BLOOM: With a woman.
MARTIN: With a woman -- sorry, with a woman. Okay. But here’s my whole deal --
HILL: If he is a woman, that’s a separate issue.
MARTIN: I’m saying this, Father, look, I was in the Knights of Peter Claver, the largest black Catholic organization in the world. And I remember we were asked by our priest once, how many of you want to be priests? Very few hands went up. He said if you could marry -- he said if you can marry, a bunch of hands went up. And so, it’s not biblical that you can’t get married. So I don’t see an issue here.
VELSHI: I don’t think the point is to collect more priests. It doesn’t matter. If you didn’t want to be priest if you couldn't marry, then you shouldn’t be a priest.
MARTIN: Yeah, but if you can marry -- hey, cool.
VELSHI: But then if you can marry, you don’t want to be a priest, be a mechanic.
MARTIN: Yeah, but you can be a Southern Baptist preacher.
MARTIN: You can be an Episcopal priest --
BLOOM: Well, you can. Okay, but I have a question for Father Pacwa. It’s about the vow of celibacy. I mean, if what Father Cutié did is limited to what we see in these tabloid pictures -- maybe a kiss, maybe touching a woman on the beach, has he violated his vow?
PACWA: You know, there’s more to the story that I do not know and I have not sought to pursue. So I don’t know. It certainly is causing scandal because he’s not married to this woman and he has a vow of celibacy that includes much more than just not having a full sexual -- conjugal relationships. But, rather, it’s also a whole attitude, where the priest is to be giving himself over for the Church, and not to the exclusive relationship with a single individual person.
VELSHI: So back to Lisa’s question, would he have been doing something else if he was giving himself to the Church but he happened to be touching a woman?
PACWA: I didn’t quite understand the first part of your question.
BLOOM: Well, another way of putting that is, could he be defrocked for kissing a woman and touching her on the beach if he didn’t have sexual relationship with her?
PACWA: No. As a matter of fact, even if he had sexual relations, that is not grounds for being defrocked. And that’s not what is at stake for Father Cutié. He is not -- they’re not suggesting that he be defrocked.
YELLIN: Right, and we should say he has not admitted to doing anything. He apologized.
MARTIN: He apologized.
After taking the callers and another commercial break, Martin let Father Pacwa get in the last word just before the program ended. The priest gave his honest opinion: “I would say that I absolutely love the priesthood even more now after 33 years. Celibacy is a component that helps to make me available to love the Church and our people all the more. And I love it.”