On Friday's CBS This Morning, Mark Phillips all but hinted that Pope Francis had "taken sides" with Russia's Vladimir Putin and against President Obama in the international debate over military strikes in Syria. Phillips proposed that the Pope's letter to Putin "must have been music to the Russian president's ears."
The journalist also turned to a "Vatican historian" who once publicly attacked Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, as a "dictator", and likened him to Islamists. He also labeled the Pope's upcoming prayer and fasting vigil for peace in Syria a "religious street protest." [audio available here; video below the jump]
Phillips led his report by noting that "popes have urged peace before. Remember, John Paul II was firmly against the Gulf War. This pope, Francis, is now actively arguing against military action against Syria. And the question is, does it matter?"
The CBS correspondent continued by outlining Pope Francis's recent actions on the Syria issue:
MARK PHILLIPS: This pope with the common touch has been uncommonly active, lobbying against an attack on Syria. He's used his last two major public appearances in St. Peter's Square to appeal to world leaders – and that primarily means President Obama – not to do it....Pope Francis has followed up his appeal by writing to Vladimir Putin as current president of the G-20. 'Armed conflicts create profound divisions and deep wounds, which require many years to heal,' he said. It must have been music to the Russian president's ears.
The Pope may be taking a moral position, in his mind, but in arguing against military action, he has entered into the world of partisan international politics. He's taken sides.
Phillips then played his clip from British author Michael Walsh. An on-screen graphic labeled Walsh a "Vatican historian", but the journalist didn't once mention that Walsh is a former Jesuit priest who maligned then-Pope Benedict XVI in the dissenting Catholic publication The Tablet in 2012:
...The present Vatican regime, despite the obviously incompetent and dysfunctional administration, is a dictatorship....Whether the Pope [Benedict XVI] is a benevolent dictator or not rather depends on one's point of view, but a dictator is what he is....And what do dictatorial regimes do when they are challenged? They lash out at all possible challengers to their power base, as we have seen across North Africa and the Middle East.
This isn't the first time the CBS correspondent has given a platform to dissenters inside the Catholic Church. On the night of Pope Francis' election, he singled out two radical feminists who were present in St. Peter's Square, and let them spout in favor of women's ordination and "LGBT issues [and] reproductive health care".
Near the end of the segment, Phillips pointed out that the pontiff has "called for a mass prayer, fast, and peace vigil for St. Peter's Square this Saturday", but then referred to it as a "religious street protest".
[Update, Friday, 3:30 pm Eastern: the full transcript of Mark Phillips' report from Friday's CBS This Morning can be read at MRC.org]