CNA and USCCB’s Sec. for Communications square off. Who speaks for the Catholic Church in the USA?

Before proceeding, you might want to review my post "Magisterium of Nuns".

Remember: In direct opposition to the US Catholic bishops, the Catholic Health Association (CHA), run especially by liberal Catholic women religious, backed the "health care" reform legislation of the Pres. Obama, Sen. Reid, and Speaker Pelosi, et al.  The backing of the CHA gave "cover" to Catholics to vote in favor of legislation which does not have adequate assurances that taxpayer money will not be used to pay for abortions. 

The bishops warned against this.  The CHA and a coalition of liberal Catholic women religious defied the bishops. 

What we are seeing, as I have written here numerous times, is a battle over who gets to speak for the Catholic Church in the USA.

Will it be the liberal Catholic women religious who compromised on the abortion issue in order to get the rest of their agenda and solidify their power or the Catholic bishops? Though in many ways they are not above criticism, the bishops are nevertheless the duly appointed shepherds of the Church in the US and teachers concerning faith and morals. 

Overlaping groups of women religious are also trying to crack the Church’s discipline (celibacy) and teaching (ordination).  If they can achieve a victory on one of these, then they will have effectively won.

People of good will can have differing approaches to the problems of health care reform, and the bishops have one voice among many.  But abortion is a different matter for Catholics, and the bishops are the teachers, not the sisters.

Now read this from CNA with my emphases and comments:

Helen Osman accuses CNA of fabricating report on Cardinal George and CHA

Denver, Colo., Jun 21, 2010 / 06:04 pm (CNA).- After CNA published a report on remarks Cardinal Francis George made about the disagreement between the Catholic Health Association and the U.S. bishops, [Cardinal George: Sr. Keehan chose Obama over Catholic bishopsMs. Helen Osman, the Secretary of Communications for the bishops’ conference denied the accuracy of the article. Nevertheless, the news agency stands by its report and maintains that it was corroborated by several bishops.

On June 16, CNA reported that Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), spoke about the fallout from the debate over the passage of the health care overhaul at an executive session of the bishops’ spring assembly in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Cardinal George recounted the events that took place prior to President Obama’s signing of the health care reform bill and then wrapped up his remarks by criticizing the Catholic Health Association (CHA) and its president and CEO Sr. Carol Keehan for creating a dangerous precedent [wait for it…] of a parallel magisterium to the bishops. [!]

Reiterating the bishops’ opposition to the health care overhaul for [and this is the main point…] failing to protect the unborn, offer access to immigrants [though we can differ on this point] and protect consciences sufficiently, [really important] the Chicago cardinal said that “Sr. Carol is mistaken in thinking that this is pro-life legislation.”

TwitterHe also expressed his disappointment that CHA and other “so-called Catholic groups” had “weakened the moral voice of the bishops in the U.S.”  [They tried to weaken the authority of the bishops.  Will the bishops let them?  That is up to the bishops.]

Cardinal George’s comments were corroborated by several bishops who told CNA that they believed the remarks should be made known, given the [get this!] concurrent CHA meeting being held in Denver, Colo.  [I suspect Archbp. Chaput was not their keynote speaker.]

However, on June 21, the Secretary for Communications of the bishops’ conference, Ms. Helen Osman, wrote on the USCCB Media Relations blog accusing CNA of inaccurately reporting on the event, fabricating quotations and breaking confidentiality[The plot thickens.]

[But wait!  The nearly-ubiquitous fair-minded] John Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the [sadly] National Catholic Reporter, published a story on the same day as CNA’s report, in which he spoke with Cardinal George about the meeting he had just held with the bishops and the disagreement with CHA.

Cardinal George told Allen, “the dispute with the CHA involves a core ecclesiological principle ‘about the nature of the church itself, one that has to concern the bishops’ – namely, who speaks for the church on faith and morals?”  [That sounds consistent with what CNA said.]

“The bishops have to protect their role in governing the church,”’ the cardinal said.

Alejandro Bermudez, the director of Catholic News Agency, stated that “Allen’s report validates CNA’s reporting of the remarks made by Cardinal George at the executive meeting.”

[This next part is interesting…] “Most of the religious outlets who covered the disagreement between the bishops and CHA, such as Commonweal, America Magazine and the National Catholic Reporter, did not support the bishops decision to oppose the health care bill.  [And there it is, friends.]

Where is the outcry from Ms. Osman over their decision? Her post denying our reporting is disturbing, dishonest and unfairly selective, ” Bermudez stated, adding, “We stand by our report.”

I challenge the Ms. Osman to release the audio recording of Cardinal George’s remarks to the bishops.


I suspect there will be some additional clarifications.

See this too:

Catholic bishops: CHA wounded Church unity with health care endorsement


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Brick by Brick, Emanations from Penumbras, Our Catholic Identity, SESSIUNCULA, The Drill, The future and our choices and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. teaguytom says:

    Maybe this could be a moment in the American church where the Holy Father appoints a “primate” Of the United States that all of the Bishops look to as the American voice. The USCCB is always too vague on what their stance is and now we have the CHA muddying their statements further. It sure isn’t helping B16’s attempt at a Catholic Identity.

  2. Geoffrey says:

    I think the USCCB has been doing wonderfully. This “parallel magisterium to the bishops” needs to be addressed, and they are doing so. The next step? Fire Ms. Osman.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    “Americanism”, the heresy which cropped up in the mid-19th century holding that the American Catholic Church did not need to bow to Rome,
    is alive and well. I am afraid there will be a schism over such disobedience. Sadly, Father Z., you are correct in noting that the CHA and nuns involved “wanted” to weaken the Bishops as a whole and individually, and discredit the courageous stand against the Health Bill. This discussion still comes up in Catholic circles, where the stand of CNA is seen as “freedom of conscience” or “freedom of speech”. I hear many Catholics saying that Cardinal George should be quiet, as there is a separation between Church and State-a gross misunderstanding of the real relationship needed between the one, true Church and any state. Again, Americanism over Catholicism.

  4. I’m sorry.
    I am totally confused.
    Let me try to unravel this: Cardinal George says one thing reported by CNA; the Secretary of Communications for the bishops’ conference denies it…other bishops corroborate the CNA report…huh?
    Who’s in charge, here? (to quote Bill Cosby:<)!).

  5. Dave N. says:

    Seems to me that Cdl. George has some of his own explaining to do in regards to “weakening the moral voice of the bishops in the U.S.,”–though that certainly doesn’t excuse the absolutely appalling actions of the CHA (c.f. the “Cardinal George Award” granted to Fr. Pfleger this past spring and the failure of the USCCB to reform the CCHD as a couple of examples documented in this blog below.) So, a bit of a case of “pot, meet kettle.”

    Now, I hope someone can explain the point of having a quasi-secret confidential condemnation of the CHA in “executive session” …oooooo…and then having it leaked, then having the leak denied, then having the denier denied. This is supposedly some sort of resounding voice of moral clarity? No wonder the bishops’ message is being subverted if not absolutely drowned out or ignored.

    Six more months of Cdl. George at the helm by my count. Most of the time I think these guys couldn’t operate a Baskin Robbins in February.

  6. YoungCatholic says:

    Haven’t the bishops heard of something called excommunication? It was used alot in the past…

  7. Dave N. says:

    Or maybe just “communication” would be useful.

  8. TonyLayne says:

    It’s hard to feature Helen Osman as having let off that volley of her own motivation; it’s much more likely that someone at the USCCB instructed her to make that accusation. Either way, the situation cries out for a colorful simile invoking a monkey and a football which would be too profane and scatological for pious eyes. (Okay, that’s two decades for me for even thinking of it!)

    But I submit, Father Z, that “Who speaks for the Church” is no longer the issue. Rather, CNA, Commonweal and America are trying to intrude a split between two a priori blocs labeled “Catholics” and “the Church” — or, as Austin Ruse put it, “Good Church” and “Bad Church”. Patently, these organs are more than delighted to let “the Church” speak for itself, while they speak for “the rest of us”. And they do speak for quite a few people, not all of whom are over fifty. And it doesn’t help that the episcopate is only slowly growing vertebrae after having suffered a collective loss of nerve forty years ago. There are signs of hope … but we’ll still have to suffer competing magisteria for a couple of decades more.

  9. The Cobbler says:

    My first thought: why do churchmen, even in leadership positions, not get that you’re supposed to fire underlings like secretaries if they hinder your work rather than doing their job in helping it?

    Second thought: why a “Secretary of Communications”?? The Bishops aren’t gonna speak directly? How will anyone know it’s actually their authority going into USCCB bulletins? There’s an underling position that probably shouldn’t exist, unless its function is much lesser than it sounds like in which case you could find a more benign name.

    My third thought, however, tempers the other two: Dave N. is right, the whole situation of condemnation at a clandestine meeting, leaks, denials, denials of denials… is weird and itself undermines their voice of authority.

  10. Warren says:

    1. Everybody (Sister pantsuit and the usual suspects) wants to be a bishop. 2. Present blog excluded, Catholic media are starting to resemble the secular press in the worst of ways.

  11. isabella says:

    On a semi-related issue, I think it is worse that these aberrant (sp?) nuns are doing collateral damage to people who need spiritual guidance. I have been struggling with something I don’t care to discuss and it took me a long time to find a convent with traditional sisters to offer spiritual direction, a retreat, the opportunity to pray some of the hours, and some advice. My confessor approves of them, so I’m going to go.

    But what about people who spend money on airplane tickets to go somewhere for spiritual guidance and run into ladies like some of the ones in the news lately (they don’t get any more publicity from me)? It’s way too easy to tell yourself that you paid good money for their advice, hence it must be good.

    They aren’t just in a political battle, they are damaging souls who come to them for help and consolation. I think that is worse.

  12. Tradcarlos says:

    The reason the CHA and Sr. Carol Keehan did what they did is because they know full well they can get away with it. Sadly the USCCB is the U.S. Catholic version of the united nations. I would love to say that they are all bark and no bite but sadly they don’t even bark! It is time the Bishops began to act like Shepards and use their crosier for more than conferring sacraments and presiding at liturgies they should also use it to demonstrate their pastoral authority and their obligation to protect the flock from heresy, scandal and schism! Or Maybe it is time for a new pentecost!

  13. ckdexterhaven says:

    The USCCB got themselves into this predicament. As a whole, the USCCB is a predominantly liberal organization. (see the faithful citizenship statement). This is a group that knew that the then Democrat Presidential nominee voted 4 times to allow infanticide, and said nothing. During the run up to the health care vote, they sat silent b/c they agreed with most of the tenets of Obamacare. Were they really that naive to think to hang their hat on the hope that the democrats were going to take abortion out of the equation? The CHA filled in the vaccuum.

  14. Son of Trypho says:

    Easy way to resolve the conflict with the sisters. The Vatican should just order them to wear formal habits, dictated by them, all the time. Those orders who refuse should be disbanded and/or individuals removed from their orders. In one quick action you would clean out the Augean Stables that are the modern nunneries. Don’t worry about the tempest of protest – it will be temporary and besides the Vatican will outlive the refuseniks and their supporters and be better off for it.

  15. Wayne NYC says:

    Last time we heard from Cardinal George was right after the powerful statement
    he made by publicly excommunicating Father Pfleger for attacking the Church on
    priestly celibacy, not ordaining women ,and his being holier than the Blessed Mother
    ….OH WAIT…Cardinal George didn’t excommunicate him now did he?! In fact has he
    even made a statement concerning Fr.Pfleger’s latest heresies? Crickets chirping..
    The Holy Father is not in favor of Bishops Conferences .He is right on target.

  16. PS says:

    No one in communications would go out on a limb like that unless told to do so. Someone told her to say that. What Bishop calls the shots, other than Cd. George, at the USCCB communications office?

    CNA is also making a logical leap that just because what John Allen reported sounds, in content, similar to what they reported does not in fact mean that they are being accurate.

  17. albizzi says:

    “Or Maybe it is time for a new pentecost!”

    The “new pentecost” was scheduled by Pope John in the agenda of VATII.
    Everybody knows it never happened. Instead we got only confusion, diabolical disorientation, the mess we are currently struggling with.
    There will probably be a schism in America (and elsewhere too) between those who follow the Truth (ubi Peter, ubi Ecclesiam)and those who follow the weather vanes. That’s probably what our Holy Father means when he says that he wants a “smaller and more fervent Church”.
    Beforehand that to happen, he (and all our bishops together with him) must say clearly where is the Truth in all the sensitive issues and, yet more important, that they who deny to comply with the Truth are already outside the Church, and no longer have the right to call themselves catholics.
    A long way to run.

  18. Elly says:

    albizzi, can you tell me where/when the Holy Father said he wants a “smaller and more fervent Church?”


  19. Father S. says:

    News from the Front

    I serve in the Midwest, in a town with wonderful Benedictine sisters. They ran our local hospital for years and are a large, faithful group of women. The damage that this kind of dissension causes is real. Folks around here were taught by the nuns and have a great respect for nuns. So, when they here that Sr. So-and-so says something, they listen out of deference and respect built up over years. They have no experience of sisters (or priests, for that matter) who have set aside the teachings of the Church for something that appears to be easier, though is more costly in the eternal long run. As such, these sisters make the job of the sisters here and the job of the priests here that much harder. I pray that the CHA will come to realize the full weight of their error and how destructive their words and actions have been. What need we have a reform!

  20. TJerome says:

    Well, I would not accuse Cardinal George of being a St. John Chrysostom type. He’s weak and he’s been rolled and will do NOTHING about it. End of story.

  21. rakesvines says:

    This is getting out of control. The bishops need to heed the Pope’s recommendation to use the rod against these rebels masquerading as nuns. They are a threat to the Christian community by causing others to sin. This construct of a parallel Magisterium of dissident nuns is suspect to be something that Planned Parenthood would sponsor in collaboration with the other enemies of the Church e.g. the Democrats who want to confuse Catholics into supporting Obama and the Lesbians who want to be ordained. If the USCCB won’t discipline them because the infiltrators still pull some strings, then individual bishops in their dioceses should teach ex cathedra against the disorder. And lay people are not precluded from exercising fraternal correction. The community must not let itself be destroyed by these faithless women.

  22. Aaron says:

    If Ms. Osman isn’t fired this week, then Cardinal George should be from his position as head of the USCCB. But then, the USCCB should be shut down completely, so ideally they’d both lose their jobs there. Making a rare, bold statement that upholds Church teaching and then letting your own people contradict it may be worse than saying nothing in the first place.

    In our adult religion class, we recently learned that the first responsibility of a bishop is to teach. This came as quite a surprise to everyone under 50 years old.

  23. Henry Edwards says:

    Elly: can you tell me where/when the Holy Father said he wants a “smaller and more fervent Church?”

    I believe that (as Cardinal Ratzinger) he actually said “a leaner, smaller, purer Church”.

    You can google search “ratzinger smaller church” and find the references for yourself.

    We might expect that, whether or not anyone really wants it, this may be the result of a return to orthodoxy and fidelity of belief in a hostile world.

  24. rakesvines says:

    This is a little tangential to the topic of the bishops’ PR office and addresses more the opposition to them, so excuse my incursion. But I felt so disgusted with the continued push and propaganda to promote the cause of these faithless women that I created a Facebook group to allow people to express their support to the bishops and disgust against these women. It is “Stand with bishops against Obamacare”. It is a way to show these liberal and rebellious Catholics how other support the bishops in this endeavor.

  25. DisturbedMary says:

    This is a holy war among progressives. Our progressive bishops and progressive “nuns” have dreamed the progressive dream about universal healthcare for forty years. The UCCB progressives had to bite hard on the bullet when abortion got in the way. I’m sure the Holy Spirit was working overtime to keep the Church steady. The progressive nuns however sold out for a pen.

  26. lacrossecath says:

    Thanks be to God for the Catholic News Agency!

  27. albizzi says:

    Thanks for your finding of Card. Ratzinger’s quote. In my opinion our Holy Father adressed the issue several times in this way. I found an article of the NY Times where he is quoted speaking of a “more fervent, orthodox, evangelical church”. Of course, this immediately triggered the fear that it would drive a great number of faithfuls outside the Church.
    But who, among the orthodox catholics, would dare to disagree with the Pope?
    The Salt has become tasteless: The return to a true orthodoxy will ineluctably lead to a schism between those who cling desperately to the so called “spirit of the council”, a hollow word which the “cafeteria’s catholics” may put their craziest fantasies in and those who read the council, like said Benedict, “in the light of Tradition”.

  28. RichardR says:

    Wait a minute…
    I have read, repeatedly on this site, that to even question a pronouncement by the bishops or Pope is the same a rejecting the Church and its teaching. [Really? I have? That doesn’t sound like something I would write, much less assert repeatedly. Perhaps you need to read more carefully!]

    Now Fr. Z says, “Reiterating the bishops’ opposition to the health care overhaul for [and this is the main point…] failing to protect the unborn, offer access to immigrants [though we can differ on this point] and protect consciences sufficiently, [really important] the Chicago cardinal said that “Sr. Carol is mistaken in thinking that this is pro-life legislation.” How can we differ on access to immigrants? The bishops say it is important. It may not be the same as abortion but it is the Church’s position. How come “we can differ on this point”? How can it even be open to discussion? Unless, of course, it is acceptable for the conservatives among us to pick and chose, like in a cafeteria, the things they think are more palatable, rejecting the positions they don’t like?

    [Catholics of good will can differ about how to approach the issue of immigration reform. The issue of abortion is something else completely.]

  29. incorpore says:

    Amen lacrossecath! I really like CNA. (not so big on CHA :) )

    To some here, do not despair. The Church on earth has been tarnished and filled with imperfections, including a good deal of them which have accumulated in the offices of the USCCB. It will take time and (sometimes painful) purifying fire, but all will be well in the end. Even among those bishops and Cardinals who disappoint us by not acting in the manner we think best, many are not “bad” nor attempting to act against the Divine plan. In some cases, perhaps they make mistakes, in other cases (hopefully most) it may be that wisdom greater than ours may be in action. Do not fear. God’s Will shall be done.

  30. johnewright says:

    Could all the confusion about what is moral and what Catholics should insist on have been initiated when Cardinal Bernadin chose to extend the moral gravity concerning the sanctity of life beyond abortion and the death penalty to the various social and political issues when he pushed the notion of “the seamless garment”? The bishops and the faithful seem to line up in support of or opposed to that nonsense. It is time someone challenge the notion that killing an unborn baby and disturbing a worm’s habitat are moral equalvalents.

Comments are closed.