NPR Spins: 'Vehement Hardliners' Vs. Hopeful 'Progressives' at Vatican Meeting on Family Issues

October 6th, 2014 1:19 PM

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli promoted the cause of dissenters inside the Catholic Church on Sunday's Weekend Edition, as she covered the beginning of special meeting of bishops at the Vatican. She featured seven soundbites from four such dissenters (and didn't identify three of them as such), and none from orthodox Catholics. The correspondent also played up the "vehement response" from five cardinals to "the Pope's favorite theologian" over his proposal to loosen the Church's discipline regarding divorced Catholics.

Poggioli later cited one such dissenter (whom she labeled a "veteran Vatican analyst"), who hyped that "a cadre of hardliners has been campaigning for months behind the scenes against Francis," as the Church prepared for the bishops' meeting, which is formally called a synod. By contrast, the one talking head that she did label was referred to as working for an "umbrella organization of progressive groups from all over the world."

Substitute host Ari Shaprio introduced the NPR journalist's report by trumpeting that "not since the landmark Second Vatican Council half a century ago has a Church meeting raised so much hope among progressive Catholics, and so much apprehension among conservatives." Poggioli first noted that "as with every big Vatican meeting, Catholic groups from all over the world descend on Roman in the hopes of contributing to the discussion," and played two soundbites from Rene Reid of Catholic Church Reform International.

The correspondent's words vaguely outlined that the "progressive" coalition has "come to ask for some basic changes." But, as Reid admitted, these "changes" are actually radical proposals: "We would like to see the birth control issue revisited. We'd like to see celibacy become an option. We'd like to see greater respect and equality given to women." Of course, Reid glosses over that the one human creature that is given more respect by the Church than any other is the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Poggioli used her "vehement response" phrase after reporting that "no topic has become more heated in the lead up to the [synod] than suggestions made by Cardinal Walter Kasper – the Pope's favorite theologian – on the possibility on a case-by-case basis of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion." She quoted from Cardinal Raymond Burke, a hero for many Catholics, but continued with two clips from one of the liberal media's favorite "progressive" talking head on Church matters, Father Thomas Reese:

POGGIOLI: ...[Cardinal Kasper's] idea triggered a vehement response from five prominent cardinals, who wrote a book upholding Church teaching on the permanence of marriage. One of the authors, American Cardinal Raymond Burke – head of the Vatican supreme court –  accused the media of trying to hijack the synod by fueling expectations of changes in Catholic doctrine.

But Father Thomas Reese, senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, says bishops and priests deal with contemporary reality and the tragic causes behind many failed marriages every day – just like the Pope who, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, went to comfort the faithful in the slums.

FATHER THOMAS REESE: He saw that lots of people were living together, who weren't married. Lots of families broke up because of poverty or other issues. He saw the real world out there; and as a pastor, he wants to respond to that.

POGGIOLI: Father Reese is very pleased that disagreement over this issue is being aired finally in public.

REESE: In the last two papacies, disagreements were hushed up. There was only one line that people could take. Bishops came to Rome, and they looked to see what the Vatican wanted them to say, and they got up and said that. I mean, it was embarrassing at the synods.

Father Reese's implication is that Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were authoritarian pontiffs who foisted their views on the Church. The NPR correspondent reenforced this sentiment with her two soundbites from "veteran Vatican analyst" Marco Politi. The heterodox National Catholic Reporter once disclosed that "Politi's sympathies clearly run to the Catholic church's progressive wing:"

POGGIOLI: But a recently-published book documents growing resistance to Pope Francis's repeated urgings for open and frank debate. It's called 'Francis Among The Wolves' – a reference to the story of St. Francis taming a ravenous wolf.

MARCO POLITI: But the wolves around Pope Francis don't kiss his hands – or officially, they kiss his hands, but they are now very aggressive.

POGGIOLI: Author Marco Politi, a veteran Vatican analyst, says a cadre of hardliners has been campaigning for months behind the scenes against Francis.

POLITI: They say that he's a demagogue; that he speaks too much about the poors (sic) like a socialist; that he's diminishing the sacred aura of the papacy; that he's too democratic.

Later in the segment, Poggioli touted that "ahead of the synod, the Vatican sent out a questionnaire seeking input from clergy and laypeople on many hot-button issues. The results showed the vast majority of Catholics reject Church teaching on sex and contraception as intrusive and irrelevant." She also played one more clip from a dissenter: "Vatican analyst" Robert Mickens, who bashed Benedict XVI in a PBS documentary earlier in 2014:

POGGIOLI: Vatican analyst Robert Mickens says the synod needs to listen to a wider array of Catholics.

ROBERT MICKENS: Married people need to be heard. Gay people and their struggles need to be heard. Single mothers need to be heard. It won't do for a bunch of celibate men – so-called – to be parsimonious with God's mercy.

This isn't the first time that the NPR correspondent has filed a completely one-sided report on the Catholic Church. Back in September 2011, Poggioli boosted a left-wing group who lobbied the International Criminal Court to investigate Benedict XVI and other top leaders of the Church for "crimes against humanity."