A scandal in St. Louis

toiletpaper2Singer Sheryl Crow has been in the news recently for her confrontation with Karl Rove and her thoughts that we all need to use less toilet paper. But it was a local story out of St. Louis that caught my attention. Religion reporter Tim Townsend writes in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about a trip the singer was making to St. Louis to raise money for a Catholic hospital that helps children with cancer.

Crow, a Show-Me-State native from Kennett, is also a political activist. She supports abortion rights and stem-cell research that destroys embryos. That position meant her appearance posed problems, according to St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke. After asking — unsuccessfully — that the invitation be rescinded, he resigned as chairman of the hospital foundation board and told area Catholics to think before attending.

I think of all the ways a story like this could have been written and I think that Townsend did a great job of fleshing out the underlying theological views:

For the archbishop, the matter was simple. He had a moral responsibility to avoid the appearance of entangling church teaching and the views of a public figure who supports abortion rights. Burke said he could not allow someone who “publicly espouses the mass destruction of innocent human beings” to raise money for a Catholic hospital.

“What if, for instance, there were someone appearing who we discovered was openly racist and who made statements and took actions to promote racism?” he said at his first news conference in years. “Do you think that I would let that go on?”

Townsend speaks with the chairman of the planning committee for the fundraiser. He slams Burke:

“This event is about helping sick kids,” [Allen Allred] said. “I’m disappointed and saddened there are people in our community who are attempting to use this event to further a political agenda. If we go down that road, do we start asking doctors for their positions on abortion? Do we quiz every single donor what they think of embryonic stem cell research before accepting their money?”

I could be wrong, but I think that many reporters would have approached the story with the same viewpoint as Allred’s, presenting the story as an either/or option of helping innocent, sick children versus upholding church dogma. But Townsend takes the time to get Burke’s response to such accusations:

Burke described the decision as painful. “I have to answer to God for the responsibilities which I have as archbishop,” he said. “For me to remain silent in this situation would be the gravest scandal, because people would get the impression that their spiritual leader also thinks this is just fine.”

The Catholic definition of “scandal” is conduct that incites others to act immorally or do evil. It is a major source of concern for Burke, who has said before that politicians who support abortion rights cause scandal by their positions.

St. Louis readers can agree or disagree with the positions taken by the Catholic hospital’s foundation board or Burke — but a story like this helps encourage understanding of opposing sides, rather than taking cheap shots at piety.

Image from Brandon Blinkenberg via Wikipedia.

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  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Mollie–Your point is well taken. It is rare for a news article on a topic like this to present the arguments or statements of both sides fairly–usually in the MSM a news story on similar topics gets written like a one-sided opinion piece. What I would like to know is, why the fundraisers felt compelled to pick Cheryl Crow who is so widely known to be off-base when it comes to traditional Catholic morality? Was someone looking to embarass the archbishop?? To put him on the spot?? Finding this out might make a good investigative piece.

  • http://raphael.doxos.com Huw Raphael

    A question I’d ask is why is it OK to appear with other folks who deny different Catholic teaching… or, indeed, *is it* ok? Last I checked another entertainer for the evening was a Jew, who, without a doubt would deny several important Christian doctrines… Some of these teachings must certainly hold equal importance with teachings on abortion. They don’t get the news, however.

  • http://irishlaw.blogspot.com Kimberly

    It’s a good question and some Catholics in good conscience might well disagree with the archbishop in this case. I think part of it comes down to the prominence with which someone advocates their anti-Catholic beliefs in a Catholic context, though. If a Catholic college or Catholic hospital invites and promotes someone who is so publicly pro-choice and pro-embryonic research (and in this case, didn’t Crow specifically campaign for the embryonic stem cell research amendment in Missouri?) though, it does seem to imply that those views aren’t so offensive as not to appear sponsored by the Catholic institution. As the archbishop suggested, it would be widely criticized if a church institution (or heck, a secular one) invited a very publicly, prominent racist to speak – the institution shouldn’t be seen to even appear to support such views by giving that person a platform. For the Church, which views abortion as an even more grave offense (and it results in millions of deaths every year around the world, but almost a million in this country alone) and is seriously concerned about ESCR for the same reasons, it does cause scandal when the Church seems to implicitly lend support to such views by hosting speaking who prominently advocate them. That’s different than belonging to a different religion or quietly holding differing beliefs.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Kimberly–yours seems a very good explanation of the “scandal” situation. It might be better to say the Church must act in the case of “PUBLIC Scandal.” For in that case, if the Church does nothing, it can almost seem the Church endorses actions it doesn’t, or at least cares little about the issues. When Catholics hold a differing view quietly or non-Catholics do–then it is the Church’s duty to educate them on how vital certain issues are. One way to do that is do what Archbishop Burke did when this situation involving a Catholic institution arose.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Mollie, excellent article. Townsend clearly gets religion. He also knows how to handle a politically charged topic without taking sides. Bravo!

  • Jerry

    I also agree that was a good story. I do wish Sheryl Crow had responded to the request for an interview, but the reporter did the right thing in trying for one.

  • http://www.catholicradiointernational.com/ Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Townsend did a fairly good job. However, I would fault him for what could be interpreted as trying to embarrass the archbishop. Apparently, Crow had to cancel last year because of breast cancer and Tim McGraw replaced her even though he had recorded the song, “Red Ragtop,” which Townsend said talks about abortion.

    From the context of Townsend’s story, it would appear that it speaks favorably about abortion. However, when one reads the lyrics it becomes clear that they talk about the aftermath of an abortion and how it destroyed the relationship between the young couple.

    That’s very different than Crow performing at a Rock for Choice concert and publicly advocating ESCR.

    The other issue is why the board of a Catholic hospital would choose someone who very publicly opposed the archbishop’s very public stance on Amendment 2. If that’s not chutzpah, I don’t know what is.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com MattK

    I’m pretty impressed with the the reporter for explaining scandal in the Roman Catholic context. I think most reporters would not have done that.

    And to answer one of Allred’s questions, yes, I always ask my doctors if they do abortions. I never thought it was an issue for me since I am a man, but after I found out that my family practitioner did abortions I added a question about abortion to the list for when I interview new doctors.

  • http://benedictkjs.blogspot.com Kevin J. Symonds
  • http://amywelborn.typepad.com Amy Welborn


    I think another part of this story – and one which has also been an element of the GetReligion quest – is the Archdiocesan response. GR, particularly Terry, has written frequently about the need for religious leaders to get their messages out there clearly and be accessible. How can religion writers get things right if the people in question won’t cooperate and explain things to them?

    The Archdiocese of St. Louis, in my mind, did a stellar job on communications here. They wasted no time in putting out a very clear, to the point Q & A, had a statement from Burke up on YouTube almost immediately, and Burke had a news conference.

    Might there be a connection between the Archdiocese’s response and the even-handedness of the story?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    I think you’re exactly right. Ultimately it’s the reporter’s responsibility to get the story right — with or without public relations help from the outside — but it sure does help if the religious entity has considered how to explain itself to the public.

    For those who are interested, here’s the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ Q&A.

  • http://www.geocities.com/matrixism2069 TheCrow

    I don’t think that Sheryl Crow is stupid enough to actually believe what she said. This along with other evidence leads me to believe that she is just evil. It’s too bad. She’s actually kind of pretty and sings fairly decent.