CBS's Go To (Rightwing) Catholic Guy
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Jun 27, 2009 at 08:51:07 PM EST
PhotobucketThe go to guy at CBS News for all-things Catholic is one Father Thomas D. Williams.  Never heard of him?  Well, if you watch The Morning Show's Maggie Rodriguez or the CBS Evening News's Katie Couric you may very well see Fr. Williams appear live via satellite from Vatican City. But "the Tiffany Network" will also probably fail to disclose that Fr. Williams is also a member of the Legion of Christ, a reactionary order that is squarely aligned with American movement conservatism and that espouses the most conservative of Catholic views on bioethical issues such as LGBT equality, abortion and stem cell research.
The telegenic clergyman has been a religious analyst for NBC/MSNBC and now with CBS. His web site's biography tells us "Fr. Williams holds degrees in theology, philosophy and business administration, as well as a diploma in languages and classical humanities" as well as describing him as "He is senior fellow of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology, and a member of the Pontifical Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas." For the record, the Pontifical Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas is now headed up by Monsignor Lluís Clavell of the secretive and traditional-minded Opus Dei.

Then comes the kicker: "...Fr. Williams teaches at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Atheneum, a university run by the Legionaries of Christ, the religious congregation of which he is a member since 1985."

PhotobucketThis is significant because the Legionaries of Christ is a secretive, ultra-conservative order with a troubling past and an uncertain future.  Its activities have been restricted or it has been banned outright in at least eight American dioceses for practicing cult-like control over its members. Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore was going to expel the organization until the Vatican stepped in and asked that that he instead engage in a dialogue with the group's superior general. Still suspicious of the group's activities (Archbishop O'Brien has accused the Legionnaires of  "blind allegiance, lack of "respect for human dignity for each of its members,"" as well as "heavily persuasive methods on young people"), the Baltimore archbishop keeps the Legionnaires on a very tight leash.

And then there are the sex scandals of the Legionnaires' founder, Father Marcial Maciel. Maciel had been accused of pedophilia since the 1950s and again in the 1970s. Originally to have been found innocent of the earlier charges, the Vatican reopened the investigation to the later incidents. In 2006 the Vatican forced Maciel into retirement addition and subsequently died in 2008.  A year after his death the news surfaced that he had also fathered a child.

The group's influence is significant in part because it targets wealthy and influential individuals for recruitment.

Rev. Williams is unrepentantly pre-Vatican II when it comes to dissent in the Church. A tagline for one of his attack pieces on pro-choice Catholic Democrats in 2008 was "Pro-choice Catholics just don't get it." It can be found at the reliably socially conservative The National Review Online. And if you're looking for Rev. Williams to take on opponents of universal health care and distributive justice or chastising supporters of capital punishment  -- issues near and dear to Catholic social teachings -- don't bother looking, you won't find it. Besides writing a regular column for NRO, he has also contributed to Deal Hudson's Crisis magazine.

PhotobucketIn an op-ed he penned in November 2008 for the National Catholic Register entitled "The Year We All became Protestants" he attempts to skewer Catholics who - in good faith - disagree with the Vatican's prohibition against artificial birth control, as well as other issues:

The essential difference between Protestants and Catholics is the question of authority, understood not as power but as a reliable source of truth. It is the question of where one can confidently turn to find Christ's teaching conveyed in all its integrity. It is the question of the papacy.

As well as:

Let's be realistic. Why do I believe in purgatory in the first place? Is it because I have pored over the Bible and after years of study have reached the conviction that sacred Scripture attests to its existence? No. It is simply because the Church teaches it, and I believe in the Church.

And finally:

This questioning of authority was incarnated in the organized, systematic resistance to the teaching of Humanae Vitae among the laity, theologians, and even bishops. It seemed like such a simple thing: a single question among so many more important issues. A lack of assent to one moral teaching surely could not compromise the identity or good standing of so many well-intentioned Catholics. Yet, it did, and the reason is simple.

Once one element of official Catholic teaching (it matters not what it is) is rejected, something transcendent occurs. The point of reference for moral truth shifts. No longer is the magisterium the reliable source of divine truth. It is the individual. It is now the individual (perhaps backed up by the majority, or by the opinions and studies of eminent thinkers and "experts," but perhaps not) who determines moral truth. The final filter and arbiter for truth is the judgment of the individual.

Contrary to Rev. Williams's disclaimer that "This is in no way meant to denigrate Protestants..." -- a term that simultaneously denigrates dissenting Catholics and Protestants as well -- is hogwash. That phrase is a dog-whistle any Catholic would recognize in a flash.

In yet another piece from 2005 entitled Ten Myths of Religious Freedom Rev. Williams blends a serious misrepresentation of value pluralism with a sense of dismissal towards non-traditional Catholicism - all while disparaging the Enlightenment. Consider this passage:

7. The myth of religious tolerance: "We put up with religion." Another invention of the Enlightenment, "tolerance" was recruited to replace support or worst still, enthusiasm for religion.  We tolerate evils, bothersome things, not good things.  No one tolerates chocolate cake or pleasant conversation.  By speaking of religious tolerance we understand religion to be an unfortunate fact to be borne with, not a blessing to be embraced.

For Enlightenment leaders "progress" meant leaving behind the "ignorance" of religion to usher in an age of science and reason.  This in turn led them to downplay or even ridicule religion in the hopes that it would soon disappear altogether. Thus, separation of Church and State becomes separation of public life and religious belief.

Religion should be banned from public conversation and relegated to the intimacy ofhome and chapel.

Um, no reverend. Perhaps the priest-pundit should read John Locke's works, specifically A Letter Concerning Toleration as well as Two Treatises of Government. Both are full of religious-inspired ideas - many of those derived from Anglican theologian Richard Hooker.

Here is another of his "myths" that fudges the facts:

9. The myth of religious pluralism: "Religious diversity is a good to be pursued."   In many things diversity is a good to be pursued; in others, it is not.  In art, literature, and music, the loss of specific cultural traditions would constitute a loss for humanity.  But no one calls the loss of belief in a flat world an assault on scientific "diversity."  Education surely reduces the diversity of beliefs as people come to know the truth, but who would consider this a setback?

The fact of a plurality of religions doesn't imply the ideology of religious pluralism.

Saint Paul preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to King Agrippa, who declared: "A little more and you would make a Christian of me," to which Paul replied, "I wish that not only you, but all those that hear me might become as I am" (Acts 26: 28-29).  Though other religions may contain elements of truth, it is to be hoped that all come to the fullness of truth.(italics are Williams')

Listening to Father Williams tell it, there is only one route to religious freedom, one that is unquestioning and blindly obedient to the most orthodox and unyielding form of Catholicism. It is that tradition Father Williams would like to impose upon secular society.

But this raises a more important issue. CBS, as NBC/MSNBC did before, do a disservice to their viewers by not letting them know about Rev. Williams's background. As prominent member of the Legion of Christ, a group that is viewed with increasing alarm by bishops, cardinals and laity alike for their heavy-handed ways; an instructor at college headed by an influential Opus Dei priest; and an outspoken cultural warrior, we have to wonder if this is really the best and most appropriate analyst CBS can find.

We have to wonder too, what has become of the network of Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer.  

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by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Jun 27, 2009 at 09:03:26 PM EST

The Legion has spent more time in defending itself and justifying its behavior than is reasonable. Unfortunately, if the mainstream press (which is admittedly lazy and self-referential) were doing its job, it would be less likely to rely on "experts" like Rev. Williams.

by khughes1963 on Sun Jun 28, 2009 at 12:20:55 AM EST

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