I can't recall which television program I watched recently that had an interview with Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, but I remember thinking that I'd like to see more local coverage of this man who is so prominent among the Catholic bishops and their religious freedom focus. The Washington Post covered him, in an interview piece that includes some interesting background on the man. We're told about his "anger" in the first paragraph of the piece. In the second, changes in law that would force the Catholic Church to violate its teachings or stop some of its social work is portrayed as the church not "serving" same-sex couples. And then:
As the leader of the church’s largest — and perhaps most controversial — effort in a generation or more, the archbishop’s task is to convince Catholics that religious freedom is under attack in the United States and that religious traditionalists, in particular, are victims of something akin to racism and xenophobia. The campaign’s main rallying cry has been an Obama administration mandate requiring most faith-based employers to make contraception available to employees.
“Aren’t we 40 percent of the population?” Lori asked during an interview this week at a retreat center in rural Maryland. “Don’t we provide more health care, more social services, than any other non-governmental organization? Why are we always in the crosshairs? Let us alone. Let us do our job. Let us be Catholics. Let us make our contribution to the common good according to our own likes. That’s what America is about.”
I like to look at the contrast between what we're told Lori is saying and then his actual quote, which sounds like it could have been set up rather differently.
Also, the mandate isn't just about requiring everyone to make contraception "available" to employees, as this article states. It's about forcing employers to purchase insurance that provides contraception, abortion drugs and sterilization free of charge. (Side note: I still love that the same media that tried to convince us that 98% of all women are popping contraception all the time or whatever -- debunking of that stat here -- are also trying to say that this mandate would be about making contraception "available." Pick one!)
A lot is at stake for the bishops, who have seen their authority severely eroded in recent decades amid the clergy sexual abuse crises and Catholics publicly ignoring church teaching on contraception, among other things.
Polls show many Catholics are unconvinced of the idea that religious liberty is under assault. Even some supportive bishops have worried publicly about the appearance of partisanship in an election-season movement that has encouraged priests each Sunday to sermonize against President Obama’s policies.
A lot is at stake for the bishops? Not religious freedom. Not Catholic social work. Just the bishops because, it's really about those partisan bishops
who just praised Obama last week for his immigration decision. (At this point, I might suggest you read the actual words of the bishops -- such as this speech by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput -- for a countervailing view of what the bishops actually think is at stake. )
Perhaps the next paragraph is an attempt to substantiate it. But it doesn't work out so well. Who are these unnamed bishops (plural) who are so worried? And check out that language! Sermonizing! Mercy me! Does this language accurately convey why the response to the action from the federal government is happening now? Suggesting it's being done as part of the election -- rather than in response to when the Obama administration decided to force religious groups to fund insurance policies they oppose on doctrinal grounds -- is ... interesting.
And guess where that link under "Polls show many" goes to. It goes to a Public Religion Research Institute poll. Alana Goodman at Commentary critiqued the poll when it first got a ton of media attention (attention that typically failed to mention that the outfit that produced the poll isn't exactly neutral) a few months ago. She mentions that PRRI leadership has various ties to President Obama and adds:
Here are three problems that immediately jump out:
1.) No breakdown of the number of Catholic respondents.
The poll was taken from a random sample of 1,009 American adults aged 18 or older. But it doesn’t include the percentage of the sample that’s Catholic, making it impossible to figure out how meaningful the data from this group is.
2.) Strange sample weighting.
In a poll on religious opinions, you’d expect the pollster to weigh the sample to account for accurate representation of religious affiliation. But the sample in this poll was only weighted to the following five parameters: age, sex, geographic region, education and telephone usage. The last two – education and telephone usage – seem to be far less consequential to the poll than religion, and it’s hard to see why they’d be included when religious affiliation was not. Occasionally, weighting can be used to manipulate polling data.
3.) An odd disclaimer.
Polls typically include a margin of error. In this case, the margin is +/- 3.5 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. But they don’t usually include disclaimers like this: “In addition to sampling error, surveys may also be subject to error or bias due to question wording, context and order effects.”
Those are all controllable errors that professional pollsters are expected to avoid.
Is that really the poll we should be linking to? Or if we're going to link to polls from interested parties, why not mention that a group opposed to the mandate just released a poll and it included a section on religious liberty? They report, for what it's worth:
Religious Freedom: When asked as whether the federal government has the right to force morally objectionable coverage on religious institutions, 57 percent of voters said no. Those numbers remained high for women, with 54 percent of women under 45, and 58 percent of women 45 and older, disagreeing. This finding is nearly identical to that in a recent New York Times survey, which found a 57-36 margin favored allowing religious institutions to opt out of coverage.
Regarding the possibility that religious service providers may close down due to fines for refusing to comply with the mandate on conscience grounds, 65 percent of Catholics and 57 percent of women said they would question the wisdom of the mandate. Interestingly, those numbers were even higher for women under 45, with 63 percent responding that such closures would cause them to question the mandate.
When asked whether it is fair to suggest that Obama is creating divisions and conflicts in America, women were evenly split 48 to 48 percent, and Catholics agreed by 58 percent as compared with 41 percent who disagreed.
Also interesting was the strong and consistent support for the bishops' response, with large majorities of self-described Catholics, Active Catholics (those polled who regularly attend Mass), and non-Catholics agreeing it was appropriate for the bishops to address the issue. Half of all Active Catholics actually heard a letter from their bishop opposing the mandate read to them at Mass.
Since these results are in line with the New York Times/CBS poll (and others) from a few months ago, I'm not entirely sure the "Polls show many Catholics are unconvinced" line holds up. I mean it may be true, but "polls show even more Catholics are convinced" would also be true, right?
And then we get a quote from an historian at Notre Dame who says that the bishops' credibility has taken a hit. R. Scott Appleby is identified in the story simply as a historian. But he's the kind of historian who thought the Nobel Prize committee chose "brilliantly" when it picked President Barack Obama for an award (you have to read the last quote) and is a vigorous defender of President Obama, as you can hear in this interview where he defends Notre Dame University's decision to award President Obama an honorary doctorate.
The story does something few others do -- notes that Lori's focus on religious freedom began prior to the Obama administration instituting the mandate.
Then we get a quote from someone who says that Lori, among other less negative things, is "confrontational." Stephen Schneck, is identified simply as the director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at Catholic University. Readers are not told, however, that he's a vigorous opponent of the fight against the mandate and actively involved in defense of the mandate. And you might remember him from yesterday's story I highlighted, where he was going after the funding of the religious liberty campaign.
Anyway, there are informative and good parts of the story, too. And despite learning some stuff about this angry and confrontational guy who has no support from Catholic laypeople, the piece ends in this way:
Just before the interview, Lori launched a Mass service at the retreat center in Sparks with a prayer from the Book of Matthew.
“You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” he said, standing in front of a huge wall of windows.
That's a heck of a kicker. But maybe next time quote a few people who aren't quite so political.