Catholic Bishop Schools Anti-Catholic NPR Host

When NPR Fresh Air host Terry Gross conducted an "I feel your pain" interview with radical-feminist Sister Pat Farrell on July 17, she promised a rebuttal from Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo. But Gross was much tougher in that interview on July 25. She laughably said "I don't mean to speak on their behalf here," but that's exactly what she did throughout the interview.

Gross said her "ultimate question" was why wouldn't the Catholic Church bend to changing times and liberalize on female priests, contraception, and homosexuality? "Churches change," so why won't the Catholics? Bishop Blair very calmly educated Gross that churches that have tried to obey Gross's dogmatism and follow "the spirit of the times" like the Episcopalians are having trouble retaining members:

GROSS: I guess what my ultimate question is, churches change; religions change. Religions - many religions are dealing right now with issues of sexuality, equality of women. the question of homosexuality. Does the religion see homosexuality as being acceptable? Do they see homosexuals as being equal, or as people in need of treatment or change, or repression of their feelings? Is gay marriage acceptable? Should women be equal within the religion? Should there be women rabbis, should there be women priests, should there be - you know - women ministers? These are questions that -- you know, what is the role of women in Islam? Every religion, it seems to me, is asking -- at some level, if not at all levels -- these questions. And I think that through their questioning, or through their silence, that the LCWR is asking some of these questions, too. And I don't mean to speak on their behalf here. It's my interpretation of what they're saying.

BLAIR: Well, I think the question is even more fundamental. What does it mean to be a man; what does it mean to be a woman; and - is the question for the world today. And that's what the church tries to address from the point of view of Christian anthropology; from the Gospel, and from her teachings. As I said earlier, you know, it's one thing to question, in the sense of trying to grapple with the issues of the day and the challenges that are made to faith, and to what one believes. But you do it from the principle of what your fundamental teachings are, and not move into an area where you deny those teachings.

You know, it's very interesting. In the New York Times earlier this month, there was an article, "Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?" [by right-leaning Times columnist Ross Douthat.] And, you know, the author -- and I don't mean to pick on Episcopalians, because I'm just quoting what this writer said in the New York Times - but he said today, the Episcopal church looks roughly how Roman Catholicism would look if Pope Benedict suddenly adopted everything urged on the Vatican by, you know, liberal theologians and thinkers, and people who dissent. But he said instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded group, he said the church is really experiencing a tremendous drop in its - in practice. And I mean, Catholicism is, too, having its share of problems. But, you know, this is -- just becoming like the world, and just accepting the secular culture's answer to all these things, is not really a solution for people of faith.

Gross's toughest question was also the longest, hammering the Bishop and Catholics as "very hypocritical" for cracking down on radical feminist sisters and somehow not cracking down on sexually abusive priests. Gross read a long passage from an op-ed in the leftist newspaper National Catholic Reporter:

GROSS: I want to read you something from the National Catholic Reporter. This is an article by Kathy Galleher - I'm not sure if I'm pronouncing her name correctly - from July 17th of this year. For nearly eight years, she worked as a psychologist at a treatment center for priests and religious, and she worked with a number of men who had committed sexual abuse. She writes:

(Reading) The church has not yet been willing or able to examine its own role as an institution, in concealing and enabling decades of abuse. The bishops have not taken collective responsibility for their actions and inactions, and for the enormous pain they've caused. As much as the abuse itself, it is this failure by the hierarchy to acknowledge and accept their responsibility, that has angered and disillusioned so many current and now-former Catholics.

(Reading) The church hierarchy has started a fight with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. In the doctrinal assessment, they've accused the women of the church of betraying the core values of the church, and of not being sufficiently trustworthy to reform themselves. They have ordered the women to be closely supervised.

(Reading) These accusations seem more rightly to belong to the sexual abuse scandal, rather than to the actions of LCWR. It was the bishops who, by protecting abusers, betrayed core values of the church, and caused scandal to the faithful. It is the institutional church that appears not to be able to reform itself, and to be in the need of outside supervision.

What's your reaction to that? Because I think that expresses the views of a lot of people, inside and outside the Catholic Church.

Blair asserted the church had made major strides:

BLAIR: Well, clearly, I'm not -- wouldn't even attempt, nor would I want to, defend the indefensible. There's not a day that goes by that I don't pray for the victims of sexual abuse in the church. And I will say this; that I do think the bishops, in the last 10 years - at our meeting in Atlanta recently, we received a report from our National Review Board, reminding us of things that we are already aware of - for the most part; of the tremendous efforts that we've done and made in order to address this problem. And we've tried to be a real leader in examining the root causes and the condition of people who do this. We've tried to reach out to the victims, and I think we've been - we've made major strides in that area.

He continued in that vein, but in her long recitation of Galleher's Reporter piece, she left out the sentence just before her passage began: "In the past 10 years, the church has taken steps toward responding to the tragedy of sexual abuse in the church at the individual level, including responding to allegations more quickly, involving law enforcement, and developing child protection policies."

Gross would rather leave that reality on the cutting-room floor. NPR deserves some credit for allowing both sides most of an hour to speak, but the host's biases were incredibly obvious. To assert (as the Reporter piece asserts) that the Catholic Church should be a democracy and not a hierarchy, and that it must repeal its belief in an apostolic succession back to the time of Christ is quite simply anti-Catholic. In America and other democracies, private organizations that you can join or quit should have every right to operate a hierarchy.

This must be said again: it's quite ridiculous that an organization like NPR that fired Juan Williams for daring to go on Bill O'Reilly's show would lecture anyone else on hierarchy and allowing dissent.

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Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis