Response: CNS author sides with Sr. Keehan against CV and bishops, and I argue they owe Catholics a correction

[update – in response to this post, CNS is changing their story. Scroll to the end of this post for my response.]

It’s been quite some time since the Catholic News Service quoted my blogging efforts. The last time I can recall was back in late 2007.

I’ve had my criticisms of CNS reporting over the years, and I’m not the only one: Carl Olson at Ignatius Press, Christopher Blosser at the Ratzinger Fan Club, Diogenes at Catholic Culture, Louie Verrechio at Catholic Exchange have as well. Sometimes these critiques are significant, such as when CNS unfairly (in my opinion) reported on the Obama-Notre Dame Commencement scandal.

More recently, I’ve been very critical of CNS’s decision to rebroadcast articles published by the National Catholic Reporter via Twitter. The Reporter, after all, is an organization that doesn’t try to hide its attempts to undermine the US Bishops and radically reshape the Church to conform to their liberal ideology (they publish articles calling for women priests, acceptance of abortion, tolerance of same-sex marriage, you get the picture). So why is CNS drawing attention to this harmful organization? It beats me.

More to the point, why has CNS suddenly taken an interest in my blogging by referring to and quoting me in a front-page story by Nancy Frazier O’Brien discussing CatholicVote’s efforts to educate Catholics in Pennsylvania about the ongoing harmful effects of Obamacare?

Nancy Frazier O’Brien is the same author I criticized for publishing that “lazy” report on the Obama commencement scandal last year, the only time in my many years of blogging I felt it necessary to single out a CNS author as particularly missing the mark.

Sadly, O’Brien’s latest article is also, well, lazy. And I want to take this opportunity to set the record straight both about what she gets wrong and about why I think the debate about the fate of these Catholic hospitals in PA is an important one to have.

First of all, I don’t run CatholicVote. That’s pretty basic. Instead, I’m a “blogger in residence” at CatholicVote, and happily support its mission and collaborate with those who do run CatholicVote. While CNS evidently has Sr. Keehan on speed-dial (more on that soon), O’Brien made no effort to contact me to get the facts straight. (My email is very visible, and dozens of AmP readers manage to find and use it every day.) The hundreds of thousands of Catholics on the CatholicVote email list know that Brian Burch runs CatholicVote, and that it was co-founded by Joshua Mercer, the communications director.

Speaking of Josh and CatholicVote, how did O’Brien research this story and not come across Josh explaining CV’s efforts in, say, the American Spectator, the Scranton Times-Tribune or The Hill? Again, I hope this is just laziness on Obrien’s part. But I fear it may instead be something more.

Let’s dig a little deeper. Sister Keehan’s October 8th statement, that O’Brien quotes in her article, trumpets that “Alarmist News Reports About Catholic Hospitals are False.” She then goes on to claim that these reports must be “politically motivated.” Sr. Keehan is entitled to her opinion, but it is my opinion that her comments are politically motivated. Consider the amazing amount of effort CHA has put into selling Obamacare, including this glossy 24-page brochure which repeats (on page 9) since-debunked claims that Obamacare will reduce the deficit (no it won’t, not a chance, no one else is seriously claiming this anymore).

Sr. Keehan personally has a well-documented behind-the-scenes track record of making critical pushes to pass Obamacare. In reward for her efforts, she was the only religious given one of the pens the President used to sign his health care bill into law. The President even sent a special video to personally thank Sister Keehan by name for her “extraordinary leadership” on this issue.

Don’t these points suggest that Sr. Keehan isn’t the most objective person to interview when it comes to Obamacare? Shouldn’t all of Sr. Keehan’s close ties to the administration which lobbied for the bill’s passage have been included in the CNS story? O’Brien avoids all mention of this background. Instead, her passing mention that CHA “called for [the legislation’s] passage” does no justice to the instrumental personal involvement of and institutional commitments by Sr. Keehan in making that passage happen.

Let’s go deeper still. Numerous bishops have said that CHA’s actions during the health care debate were a wound to Catholic unity. Cardinal George, the President of the US Bishops has said the difference between the bishops and CHA “has exposed a very large principle. It affects the nature of the Church … Are we to offer moral teaching solely about actions, or also the laws which permit and foster them?”

In response, CHA and Sister Keehan have done nothing except double-down on their claims.

It’s not hard to to see why I’m surprised that when CatholicVote found itself on the opposite side of yet another debate with Sister Keehan on the specific question of PA Catholic hospitals closing, the Catholic News Service (the US bishops’ own news agency) decided to interview … who? the bishops? CatholicVote? … me? Nope … Nancy O’Brien went to Sister Keehan for the scoop.

Still interested? Let’s go even deeper. I think the Catholic News Service should respect that some Catholic organizations (such as ours) are concerned about the effects of Obamacare on our Catholic hospitals nationwide. It makes no sense for CNS authors like O’Brien to automatically treat with suspicion anyone who disagrees with Sr. Keehan and those who continue to claim, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, that Obamacare will be nothing but good for our nation, and for Catholics involved in medicine. I hope it does do good, but every prudential synapse in my brain says it will not. The situation, for instance, that Obamacare is not now paying for abortions like it would have is because of our efforts, efforts by the pro-life movement, and because of the activism and vigilance of papists like you.

I’ve already violated my self-imposed rule about writing long blog posts, so I’ll still try to conclude quickly.

In the future, I expect the Catholic News Service and Nancy O’Brien to follow this advice: if you’re not sure about your facts, ask me. My email is clearly displayed on the sidebar, and I’m extremely easy to reach. Second, amend your article to make the necessary mentions of the various reasons why Sr. Keehan’s comments must be evaluated critically. Third, as a Catholic publication is bound to do, write from the heart of the Church! In other words: don’t put Sr. Keehan’s opinions on the same pedestal as the prudential conclusion of the combined bishops in America, thereby adding to the confusion she caused (and continues to foment) through her continued activism on this issue.

I’m all for continuing the debate about the harmful effects of Obamacare on the way medicine (and specifically, Catholic medicine) is practiced in this country, and in the case of these PA hospitals in particular. But I also believe that conversation will be much better served if my side’s efforts aren’t distracted by being forced to set the record straight and to remind professional journalists about the public and very relevant record of figures such as Sister Carol Keehan.

Oh, and CNS, why you’re are at it, can you please have whoever runs your twitter account email me?

I’d like to have a chat with him/her/them, too.

UPDATE: CNS has begun to change their story in response to this post. You can visit THIS LINK to see their original version. In the updated version, the only thing O’Brien changed was to correct the record about my relationship with CatholicVote … by eliminating references to me entirely. I guess that’s one solution. She changed nothing about her description of Sr. Keehan and added nothing about Sr. Keehan’s partisan involvement in passing Obamacare and continuing to defend its implementation. I’m disappointed.

On the other hand, props to the CNS official Twitter account for rebroadcasting my critique of O’Briens article. That’s something.



  • dad29

    When one reads Sr Carol’s statement, the Clintonesque parsing is obvious: she ‘never’ spoke with the CEO of the hospitals.

    I believe that. Because she didn’t HAVE to speak with him; all she had to do was call HIS superior, which she undoubtedly did, accounting for his un-stating of what he had stated.

    Evidently Sr Carol thinks we’re stupid. Wrong bet, Sr. Carol.

  • Jay McNally

    Outstanding commentary Tom.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Kurt

    CNS is not an independent news agency. It is owned and controlled by the Catholic Bishops and finanaced by our tithes.



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