CNN asks a clown question, bro

The headline above is a reference to Bryce Harper’s response to another silly question from a reporter, but you simply have to check out this collection of utterings from CNN anchor Christine Romans. I’m pretty sure it’s the style that sets me off just as much as the content. She really thought that question about feminism was har-har-har funny, didn’t she!

As the writing world desperately tries to figure out a way to get the Vatican to frown on our writing — nothing could be better for getting mainstream media attention, it seems — Amy Welborn offers a reporting tip for journalists seeking out other rebellious Catholic sisters kept down by evil, bad bishops. She warns that it might — might — not fit the narrative some in the media seem to be pushing, however.

The context in the clip here, though, is yet another interview with one nun who dissents from Catholic Church teaching on little things like abortion, female ordination and condom use. The anchor makes no pretense of being impartial as she tosses softball questions to her guest Sister Maureen Fiedler, mocking the Vatican’s criticism of the LCWR in the process.

Here’s a rundown of the questions Romans asked:

CHRISTINE ROMANS: Welcome back to Starting Point. Catholic nuns are going straight to the top today to address these claims that they have strayed from church doctrine. Members from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious will meet with Vatican officials. A report from a church watchdog accuses the group, which represents about 80 percent of Catholic nuns in the United States, of, quote, “radical feminism,” and also says they are too silent on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

But the nuns say officials are focusing too much on what they don’t do instead of the good they do perform. Sister Maureen Fiedler is host of the public radio program “Interfaith Voices.” Welcome to the program this morning.

ROMANS: So, I’m just curious, are you a feminist or radical feminist? And why exactly is this such a big bone of contention with Rome?

ROMANS: Tell me a little bit about what you’re hoping to achieve and what your group is hoping to achieve when you talk to the Vatican and you move forward here. Because clearly there is a very big difference of opinion between the nuns in the U.S., your group, and Rome.

ROMANS: Let me ask you, women can’t be priests. Women – if you follow church teaching, can’t use contraception. Women — I mean I guess in the Catholic church, you walk in and Mary is in full view and is – pray to Mary, but women in the church when you look at some of the teachings, is there a war on woman within your church? You add on top of that what’s happening with nuns in the U.S., it’s a good question.

ROMANS: Sister, is Rome evolving, or are sisters evolving faster than Rome is, is that what the issue here is?

ROMANS: And what about the American Catholic Church compared with Rome? Is this another sign of an American Catholic Church that is – much, is evolving faster than Rome too?

ROMANS: Sister Maureen Fiedler, it’s so nice to have you on the program this morning, we’ll talk to you again very soon, host of the public radio program “Interfaith Voices.” Thank you, have a nice day.

In the immortal words of Dan Rather, Courage!

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  • Martha

    “Women – if you follow church teaching, can’t use contraception.”

    Neither can men – or don’t they count as Catholics?

    I’m surprised she didn’t raise the question of GLBT rights – what a missed opportunity to show yet another point on which “the Vatican” is so much less evolved than the “American Catholic Church” and what Fr. Z likes to call “the Magesterium of the Nuns”.

    Has anyone tried explaining to Ms. Romans that the way America does religion is not the way much of the rest of Christendom does it?

  • Julia

    You got to look at the Amy Welborn link.
    I didn’t think of the nun she mentions – she has had loads of trouble.

  • Martha

    What has to be taken into consideration, also, is that the LCWR are not an isolated case; as with so much else, “the Vatican” has several elements to be taken in conjunction.

    So yesterday the LCWR’s president, Sister of St Francis Pat Farrell, and the executive director, Sister of St Joseph Janet Mock, met as requested with the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada, and the Archbishop of Seattle, Archbishop Peter Sartain, the Holy See’s Delegate for the doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR.

    Great, fine, wonderful; we’ll hear all about it in due time.

    Today, right now as I type, Cardinal Levada is in a meeting with Bishop Bernard Fellay, the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X (this is the breakaway group founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in the wake of Vatican II). They are discussing the Pope’s decision on the restoration to full communion of the SSPX.

    CNN may like to think that the LCWR is a big deal as far as the Vatican is concerned, but the SSPX is much, much bigger. If (as is being bruited around), they do reconcile and they are given the status of a personal prelature (like Opus Dei or the Anglican Ordinariate), this is going to have a huge effect on the direction that the Church is moving in.

    The LCWR and its ilk thought that time was on their side, the old guard would all die off and be replaced by new, liberal, post-Vatican II clergy and laity and those in the positions of power would bring about all the hoped-for changes regarding married clergy, women clergy – ah, you know the whole laundry list by now. The ordinary folks in the pew, never mind the hold-outs like the SSPX and others, would just have to adapt or die. They were on the right side of history.

    Well, it’s not looking that way anymore, is it? And by that, I don’t mean a simple “Pope Benedict is trying to turn the clock back to the 1950s”; the traditionalists have to accept changes as well (notably, that the Novus Ordo Mass is indeed the Mass and not invalid or worse). As ever, it’s a case of “both/and” not “either/or”.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    I haven’t seen much in the mainstream media about the meeting that went beyond a brief description of the fact of the meeting. Interestingly, John Allen at National Catholic Reporter (usually in the LCWR’s corner as well as their mouthpiece) has some quotes from Cardinal Levada indicating that he’s ready to jettison the whole lot if need be and “substitute a functioning group.”

    I await CNN getting Sr. Fiedler’s perspective on that statement.

    I also await the MSM mentioning how betrayed the LCWR must feel by Levada, an American and former archbishop of San Francisco, who quite possibly (not saying he did or didn’t) gave LCWR and its sympathizers a free hand during his tenure in SF. I find it amazing that he hasn’t been labeled a turncoat. It would make a classic “source who requested anonymity” attribution.

  • Mollie

    While NCR might fit that definition at times, I just think it should be clear that John Allen himself is a fantastic reporter who is appreciated by Catholics of various stripes. I think your parenthetical refers to NCR, but I just want to clarify that point.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    Mollie, yes, the parenthetical remarks apply to NCR. They have a particular and very clear editorial stance, so I think they’d more or less agree that they’re in LCWR’s corner at least. I agree with you completely about Mr. Allen. The interview is a real scoop for NCR in my opinion (and something the secular outlets should be jumping on) but I don’t think anyone there except Mr. Allen would have taken the byline.

  • Passing By

    So the media are trying to discredit the Vatican for fronting out heretic nuns by dragging out the undeniably heretical nuns, the more “radical feminist” the better. Is that what we are seeing?

  • Bill

    is there a war on woman within your church? You add on top of that what’s happening with nuns in the U.S., it’s a good question.

    No, Christine, it’s a stupid question. A leading question. A pandering to the LCWR question. A White House talking points question.

  • Chris M

    She didn’t so much softball the questions as teeball them. Par for the course, I guess. Still disappointing to see.

  • John Penta

    Serious question for Mollie or any of the other GetReligion writers:

    How do you folks not get utterly discouraged, when we see things like this with what appears to be some regularity? I’ll admit, I do get discouraged, horribly so, reading this blog over a long period of time; I can’t imagine any reason things will ever get better in the media’s coverage of religion, particularly coverage by the major media outlets. I see no reasons for optimism, unfortunately.

    It’s not, really, that CNN (or the media more broadly) gets it *wrong*. It’s that, to this viewer/reader/consumer, they don’t even appear to *try* to get it *right*. I’ve no journalism experience past high school, granted…But while I want to believe that professionals really do try, I’m not really seeing the evidence. And this story just adds more evidence in contradiction.

    TL;DR version: How do the GetReligionistas not succumb to massive despair and frustration? How do they not throw up their hands and say “forget it, the media doesn’t care that they’re screwing it up?”

  • AuthenticBioethics

    John Penta I can’t answer for anyone else, but I’m very thankful for this website and the fine writers who contribute to it. It really keeps me sane. It lets me vent and reminds me that I’m not alone. Also, it helps others realize what’s going on and I hope that the journalists whose work is profiled are among them.

    By the way, I see some cases as part of a concerted and intentional agenda by the mainstream media, and not merely as an absence of a diligence. Surely some of it is honest mistakes and lack of digging, but it seems to me that much is not. GetReligion challenges me to be discerning, though.

    So to me, the situation is even darker than it is for you. This website is exactly the way I don’t succumb to massive despair and frustration. For me, it is a candle that keeps me from cursing.

  • Mollie


    It’s a great question. First and foremost, we do see a lot of good to great work by many journalists. (And yes, when we write about it, it doesn’t get the same clicks or comments, it is true. But, then again, we’re a media criticism site. It’s to be expected.)

    It’s true that there have been some major flaws this year (Komen/PP; religious liberty hearing; religious liberty concerns, etc.). One thing I do to get by is remember that election years are always worse than other years.

    There are particular areas they struggle with, usually dealing with the institutional church, traditional values, those who believe in objective truth, etc. There are complex reasons for those struggles, and that’s part of a much larger battle.

  • Bill


    This website is like an oasis for some of us. I read the posts of the regulars here and am heartened. I always learn something new from them and am refreshed and encouraged. Cynicism is an unpleasant side effect of observation, and despair is easy. But it’s not useful.

    There are plenty of good stories, well and fairly told, and we must separate the wheat from the chaff. Granted, it’s discouraging that there is so much chaff in the harvest.

    A reporter should report, but there are always underlying values. A rape is a rape; a massacre is a massacre. We don’t have to pretend they are just lifestyle choices. As Mollie said, those of us who believe in an objective truth, valid everywhere and always have our job cut out for us. But buck up, Bucky, you are not alone.

  • michael

    It is interviews like these that make one wonder sometimes whether the very point of cable news journalism isn’t to make us stupid.

  • Bill P.

    It will be interesting if CNN or any other mainstream news outlet reports on this story found in the Catholic World Report: Michigan religious order criticizes the LCWR.