On Monday evening and Tuesday, ABC, CBS, and CNN all highlighted a Catholic priest's call for Pope Benedict XVI's resignation due to his alleged mishandling of the Church sex abuse scandal, labeling him "outspoken," and even going so far to compliment him as "brave" and "gutsy." All three networks, however, ignored the priest's affiliation with a liberal group and his dissension from Church teaching.
During a report on the wider abuse scandal on Monday's World News With Diane Sawyer, ABC's Dan Harris mentioned Father James Scahill's public call for the Pope to step down during a recent sermon at his parish in Massachusetts. Before playing a clip from Father Scahill, Harris stated that "anger is clearly rising within the [Catholic] Church. In his Sunday sermon this week, Father James Scahill of Massachusetts called for the Pope to resign." The ABC correspondent did not give any details on the priest's background.
Father Scahill is the pastor of St. Michael's Catholic Church in East Longmeadow. In 2004, he accepted the "Priest of Integrity Award" from Voice of the Faithful. The organization, which purports to be Catholic, achieved some visibility in the media after the 2002 revelation of the sex abuse in the Boston archdiocese. It has taken heterodox positions on Church issues, such as calling for an end to priestly celibacy, and endorsed liberal dissenting theologians such as Rev. Charles Curran. CNN featured Dan Bartley, the president of VOTF, during a March 26, 2010 segment which also featured two other liberal Christians who advocated radical changes inside the Catholic Church.
More egregiously, Father Scahill refused to sign a petition championed by the bishops of Massachusetts against same-sex "marriage" in 2005. The Republican, a newspaper out of Springfield, noted in a December 30, 2005 article that the "Rev. James J. Scahill, the East Longmeadow priest who has been outspoken critic of the church's leadership, said the clergy's lack of support for the petition reflects the refusal of priests to back an anti-gay measure. He said some of the priests are gay. He said priests' refusal to sign the petition is an acknowledgment that same-sex unions are among people willing to make public commitments of genuine love. Scahill said he didn't sign the petition because the state wasn't asking the church to 'sacramentalize' same-sex unions." By this public stance, the priest dissented from the Church's longstanding opposition to the legalization of same-sex "marriage."
On Tuesday, CBS's Early Show played two clips from Father Scahill during the 7 am Eastern hour. Correspondent Elaine Quijano highlighted that he was a "longtime critic of the Church's response to the sex abuse scandal," but didn't mention his dissenting positions.
Two hours later, CNN anchor Kyra Phillips lauded the Massachusetts priest as "brave," and played a report from their affiliate in the commonwealth, WCVB. Janet Woo, the local correspondent, asked Father Scahill, "Do you think the Pope is being untruthful?" He replied, "I would think- he's not being truthful." He later continued, "This church will not have my myopic obedience from me, like the myopic obedience of the soldiers of Hitler." This reference to Hitler is likely intentional, given the fact that the Holy Father was drafted into the German army during World War II. Phillips also played a sound bite of Scahill just after the beginning of the 10 am Eastern hour during a news brief, where she noted that "one outspoken pastor from Massachusetts [was] taking an extreme position regarding the on-going priest sex abuse scandal."
Later in the afternoon, anchor Rick Sanchez chose the priest as one of his "Most Intriguing People" at the bottom half of the 3 pm Eastern hour of his Rick's List program. After playing a different clip from Father Scahill, taken from an interview with CNN correspondent Mary Snow, Sanchez gushed over him: "Father Scahill is critical, outspoken, gutsy, and for that reason, whether you agree or disagree with what he has to say, he finds himself today on 'The List' of 'Most Intriguing Person' in the news."
Just under two hours later, The Situation Room played the full report from Snow:
WOLF BLITZER: Highly unusual for Catholic clergy to criticize the Pope, but one American priest is making the extraordinary move, suggeting the Pontiff should either take firm action in the sex abuse scandal, or resign.
CNN's Mary Snow spoke with him today. Mary, what is he telling you?
MARY SNOW: Well, Wolf, Father James Scahill told us that he believes people need to hear the truth about the Catholic Church, however harsh that may be. And on Sunday, as he celebrated Mass in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, he felt it was time to take a stand.
FATHER JAMES SCAHILL: ...Yours, almighty Father, forever and ever.
SNOW (voice-over): As he offers prayers, Father James Scahill is also call for punishment, over the handling of sex abuse cases involving priests. He calls Church leaders who covered up abuse felons, and takes direct aim at Pope Benedict.
SCAHILL: He should stand for the truth.
SNOW (on-camera): Does that mean stepping down?
SCAHILL: If he can't do it- if he can't take the consequences of being truthful on this matter, his integrity should lead him, for the good of the Church, to step down, and to have the conclave of cardinals elect a pope with the understanding that that elected pope would be willing to take on this issue transparently, not just in promise, but in fact.
SNOW (voice-over): Scahill says he doesn't understand why so few of his fellow priests haven't spoken out about the abuse scandals. His anger was reignited this past Easter, when Italian Cardinal Sodano dismissed criticism of the Pope's handling of the crisis as- quote, 'petty gossip.'
SCAHILL: I have met with countless victims of abuse. I have lives that I can relate this to, and I grieved for them- to be so insultingly dismissed as this whole case as 'petty gossip.' You know, anyone with an ounce of intelligence knows the media has not created this scandal.
SNOW: Sex abuse scandals have haunted this Massachusetts community. In 2004, the bishop of the Springfield Diocese resigned, and was later indicted on molestation charges, but he was never prosecuted.
SNOW (on-camera): You are one priest in one parish. How much influence can you have?
SCAHILL: One voice listened to can accomplish more than people might realize.
SNOW: Scahill has been pastor of the church for eight years, and is known for standing his ground. When a former priest pled guilty to abusing two boys, Scahill withheld church donations to the diocese until the priest was defrocked in 2003.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1: Patty at St. Michael's- do you have messages?
SNOW: The phones have kept ringing at St. Michael's since Sunday's Mass, when Father Scahill delivered his sharp words. He says a majority of the messages have been supportive, but not all. And the bishop of Springfield issued statement saying, 'There is a sad irony in that Father Scahill's remarks were delivered on Divine Mercy Sunday, a day on which the Church throughout the world reaffirms Christ's forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy towards all his followers.' The bishop goes on to say, 'We are vigilant in the efforts undertaken to ensure such tragedies can never happen again.'
Last month, a senior Vatican official said the Pope had displayed wisdom and courage when he was a cardinal with responsibility for reviewing sex abuse cases. Father Scahill agrees the Vatican has made some progress, but only after scandals were exposed in the media.
SCAHILL: The Church is trying to do the right thing, but any healthy institution has to have a healthy, strong, secure foundation, and I believe all of these efforts are being built on a garbage heap of denials and coverups. Get rid of the garbag- confess to the garbage- build a healthy foundation from the ground up. You can't be healthy if you're untruthful.
SNOW (live): I asked Father Scahill about whether he worries about losing his job for being so outspoken. He does worry about that, and even though he has been an outspoken for critic for years, he says it has been stressful for him to take the stand, and he says doesn't see himself as a rebel. Wolf?
BLITZER: Interesting stuff, and we are going to stay on top of this story- Mary, thank you.