Another unbalanced Sun report on Lori? Check

Up front, I sort of feel the need to apologize for posting on what is essentially the same topic that the Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway covered earlier today.

Then again, I could not believe my eyes when I opened up this morning’s copy of The Newspaper That Lands In My Yard and read the top of its update about Baltimore’s archbishop and the whole Fortnight for Freedom initiative.

Now, I recognize that the two sides in this story are far apart on what this project is all about.

The leadership of the U.S. bishops see the campaign as the result of years of troubling legal events and trends, some of which began before the election of President Barack Obama. The bottom line: This is about religious liberty.

Then, on the other side, their opponents on the Catholic left and in culturally liberal circles say that this whole affair is about the church’s opposition to President Barack Obama and his health-care policies. The bottom line: This is about politics.

Also, note that the fight is about health-care “policies” — plural.

In other words, the bishops (no sign of evangelicals, Jews and others troubled by the church-state trends currently being debated) oppose the entire health-care reform effort (even though they have been campaigning for national health-care reform for decades), not one or two key points in the Health and Human Services rules that, among other things, attempt (hello U.S. Supreme Court) to divide the world of religious faith into two spheres — freedom of worship (when safely in pews, inside sanctuary walls) and freedom of religious practice (when believers and their voluntary associations attempt to follow their doctrines in daily life).

Worship is protected. And the defense of doctrines incarnated in ministries that touch the public? That’s the problem area.

A solid news story would need to provide a balance of these two points of view, the view of the coalition who see this as a battle over religious liberty and then those who see it as a partisan political battle over an Obama White House initiative.

First, let’s look at the headline served up by the Baltimore Sun team.

Catholic leaders launch campaign against Obama policies

Archbishop Lori begins ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ amid protests

The top line is especially choice and leads directly into the lede.

Catholic leaders launched a nationwide campaign challenging the Obama administration’s health policies with a Mass at Baltimore’s Basilica of the Assumption on Thursday evening, filling the 200-year-old stone structure with supporters.

The standing-room-only crowd stood and applauded when Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, leader of the Roman Catholic bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” initiative, entered.

A separate crowd of people outside, most of them Catholic, held signs protesting the event, one of which read, “Bishops! YOU DON’T SPEAK FOR ME! Freedom For All!”

Catholic leaders are out to attack Obama? Check.

They are attacking all of his health policies? Check.

Should this be framed as a one-issue campaign? Check.

Now, later on, Lori is quoted as saying:

“On Aug. 1, less than six weeks from now, the Health and Human Services mandate will go into effect. This will force conscientious private employers to violate their consciences by funding and facilitating through their employee health insurance plans reproductive ‘services’ that are morally objectionable,” Lori said, according to the text of his remarks released earlier in the day.

“Religious freedom includes the freedom of individuals to act in accord with their faith but also the freedom of church institutions to act in according with their teachings and to serve as a buffer between the power of the state and the freedom of the individual conscience.”

Now, I am hunting for the full Lori text. It is possible that he only addressed the HHS mandate, as opposed to discussing the wider range if religious-liberty issues — a typical list has six — that have repeatedly been connected to the Fortnight for Freedom campaign. However, I would suspect that this was not the case (I will gladly correct this point, if I am wrong).

Is the Sun obligated to focus exclusively on Lori and his point of view? Of course not. Should his point of view have been covered in a way that accurately represented his arguments, as opposed to editing his point of view to fit the template of his critics? Think like a journalist, when pondering that.

What we needed here was an accurate summary of the point of view represented by Lori and of the wider coalition that believes this conflict is about religious liberty — especially in news coverage of this particular event. Then the same story needs to provide the views of those who are critical of the Fortnight for Freedom. In other words, both sides need to be heard in a way that accurately represents their beliefs and arguments.

One thing the story does make clear is that we are dealing with a full-blown war between liberal and conservative Catholics over what it means to be a Catholic in this day and age.

After all, the pivotal issue in the HHS mandate fight is whether the government has the power to force the church to violate its own doctrines by providing what it believes are immoral benefits to its employees. It should also be noted that these employees voluntarily work for Catholic ministries, yet wish to receive church-provided benefits that allow them to reject the teachings of the church that operates the very ministry for which they work.

Does the government have the power to force the church to do that? Is this an unconstitutional entanglement in the doctrines and practices of religious ministries? The same issue is being debated in the six or so other conflicts linked to the Fortnight and similar protests and campaigns.

That’s the issue that is being debated here. This debate has two sides.

Read the whole Sun report and try to find material that accurately represents the arguments on both sides, in the Catholic establishment and on the Catholic left.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Martha

    tmatt, I don’t know if this is the full Lori text you mention, but I headed straight over to the USCCB website and they have Bishop Lori’s sermon up, and that seems to be where the paragraph quoted came from. Full section as follows:

    “E. Until now, it has been entirely possible under federal law for conscientious owners to conduct private businesses in accord with one’s conscience and the teachings of one’s faith. Until now, federal law has also accommodated businesses which are not church organizations but which are related to the mission of the Church, Examples include catholic publishing houses such as Our Sunday Visitor, Catholic insurers, Legatus, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic fraternal organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, just to name a few. The freedom of conscientious and like-minded individuals to conduct such businesses in accord with the teaching of the Church now hangs in the balance. On August 1st, less than six weeks from now, the Health and Human Services mandate will go into effect. This will force conscientious private employers to violate their consciences by funding and facilitating through their employee health insurance plans reproductive “services” that are morally objectionable. As the United States Bishops recently indicated, the HHS mandate violates the personal civil rights of those, who “in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and values” (United for Freedom, March 14, 2012).”

  • Martha

    Yep, I think it’s definitely the sermon text from the opening Mass on 21st June, because here’s that second paragraph quoted in the paper, in the whole section it was extracted from:

    “Our churches and their institutions have freedom not only because they are made up of individual persons endowed with freedom, but because our institutions are like persons. In fact, we call them “moral persons” because they truly do possess some of the characteristics of persons. Like all of us, these institutions claim their identity and fulfill their mission based on the principles and convictions by which they are guided. Like individual persons, institutions also have rights and responsibilities which flow from their guiding principles and convictions,and in the case of our institutions, these guiding principles and convictions are to be found in the teaching of Christ as conveyed through the Church.

    Religious freedom includes the freedom of individuals to act in accord with their faith but also the freedom of church institutions to act in according with their teachings and to serve as a buffer between the power of the state and the freedom of the individual conscience. If we fail to defend the rights of individuals, the freedom of institutions will be at risk and if we fail to defend the rights of our institutions, individual liberty will be at risk. More needs Fisher and Fisher needs More!”

  • Harris

    The conflict would seem to be less that of Catholic v. liberal, as TMatt suggests, than on the consideration of the nature of the institution. To what extent are institutions like persons? Certainly this is a current legal understanding from the Supreme Court. It is less clear that this understanding is widely or commonly shared. Institutional voice is more limited than that for individuals.

    Second, for those outside the Church, the assertion of conscience gives pause for its reasoning. Bp Lori appeals to “the teaching of Christ as conveyed through the Church,” a similar point to what Abp Chaput asserts as normative teaching based on revelation and natural law, contra the view that the teaching is only a matter of subjective prejudice. The qualm for outsiders is that there may be a third way, the notion that beliefs regarding policy can and should have a rational basis. It’s not objective v. bias.

    This point is hinted in Bp Lori’s own remarks. Is the problem something that can be negotiated? Or is it really non-negotiable as popular voice would have it. He puts it thus:

    For embedded in the HHS mandate is a very narrow governmental definition of what constitutes a church;and if it is not removed, it is likely to spread throughout federal law.

    I would observe if the end is to remove a definition, we are really in the realm of principled negotiation, not one of principles per se. The argument seems to be one for some broader definition, not the removal of definition in its entireity.

  • tmatt


    I don’t get your point.

    You are arguing, as usual, at the level of your beliefs and logic.

    I am arguing about the journalistic coverage of the sides that already exist.

    This is a battle within Catholicism and one side backs the state’s position and the state, thus, is formally approving this Catholic side’s stance on the doctrines.

    The press must cover the arguments of both side accurately.

  • MaryAnne

    I love how they will find one picture to make the bishops look like fools, then pair it with their “report” on what is taking place, only to try and diminish the bishop’s credibility.

    This is one of the worst I have seen…