Friday February 19, 2010

Pontifical Academy Member Upset at ‘Misrepresentation’ by U.S. Bishops’ News Service

By Hilary White

ROME, February 18, 2010 ( – A senior member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV) has told that she will be asking Catholic News Service (CNS), the official news agency of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference, for a correction of their coverage of last week’s meeting of the Academy in Rome.

After the crucial meeting, several senior members of the Academy issued a statement calling for the resignation of its president, Archbishop Rino Fisichella. But readers of CNS coverage, of Friday February 12 could have been forgiven for thinking that all was “harmony” at the meeting.

Carol Glatz’s report on the PAV meeting quotes Archbishop Fisichella claiming that “the Academy is moving forward and working to speak as a unified body” and that the mood of the Assembly itself was “serene and calm.”

The article, headlined, “Academy for Life to stand united despite dissent, says archbishop,” quoted senior Academy member Christine Vollmer, a founding member of the PAV and head of Venezuela’s Alliance for the Family, saying that the crisis over Fisichella’s article in L’Osservatore Romano, had been resolved to the satisfaction of his critics.

But Vollmer was among the signatories to the statement denouncing Fisichella’s apparent support for Brazilian abortionists and she told LSN this week that her comments have been distorted by CNS’s coverage.

After the archbishop’s declaration that all was well in the PAV, CNS moved on to Vollmer, whose quote was placed so as to appear to support this claim. Vollmer is reported to have said on February 9 that “the situation had been resolved and any possible confusion over his remarks were clarified.”

CNS wrote, “Vollmer said she believed the doctrinal congregation’s note had clarified the situation ‘to the public’s satisfaction’.”

But on Monday, Vollmer told LSN by email that the CNS report had created a false impression: “What they seem to have done is to confuse what I said before the meeting (that the CDF had clarified the teaching and that the Recife abortion was not justified) making it look as if I had said it after Archbishop Fisichella’s totally misleading speech at the opening of the Academy.”

“Though Ms. Glatz records that she interviewed me on the 9th of February, that is, two days before the Assembly began, what she quotes from me will be taken by many readers as evidence that I agree with the picture of sweetness and light which Archbishop Fisichella seeks to convey.

“Regrettably, that picture is false.”

CNS quoted and paraphrased Vollmer explaining the difficulties for the Academy presented by Fisichella’s March 15, 2009 article, in which he appeared to condone the abortion of twin children of a nine year-old rape victim in Brazil and in which he castigated the local bishop for publicly declaring the excommunication of the doctors who committed the abortion.

Glatz went on to note the declaration of July 11, 2009 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that had included wording referring to “the manipulation and exploitation of Archbishop Rino Fisichella’s article.” At the PAV meeting, Fisichella claimed that this wording had completely “vindicated” his article.

The statement signed by Vollmer, however, claims that this wording had been inserted at the direct insistence of Fisichella himself, and that his claim to have been vindicated was central to their objection.

Vollmer clarified to LSN that when she told Glatz that she felt the matter had been resolved, she had been referring to the CDF clarification, which “had settled the doubts about the Church’s teaching created by Archbishop Fisichella’s article.”

Vollmer said that it was Fisichella’s insistence that the CDF document had justified his original article that, “put our problem back to the beginning again.”

“For if he claims that he was correct in castigating the Archbishop of Recife and in justifying the double abortion, then of course there can be no agreement. It is quite obvious, what is more, that the vast majority of the Academicians think as we do.”

She added, “It was a shame, as of course, it sounds as if he is returning to a justification of the double abortion.” She added, “If that is the case, it is certain that the great majority of the Academicians are in disagreement with him and in agreement with the Holy Father and the CDF, who assert with authority that this is never permissible.”

Later, when Fisichella used CNS as a platform to make the same claim publicly, he went further, not only claiming to be exonerated, but accusing his critics of having manufactured the scandal out of base “political” motives and a desire to “create conflict.”

Vollmer, however, wrote that Academicians had hoped he would recant. It would have given them “great joy,” she said, had Fisichella stated “that he did not mean to say that [abortion] is a matter of conscience, but that it is an intrinsically evil solution that was resorted to by the Recife doctor.” This, she said, would “completely clear his name”.

She added, “The hopeful view that I gave Ms. Glatz on the 9th of February was decisively undermined on the 11th of February.”

LNS held this article for 24 hours in an attempt to contact Carol Glatz or CNS for comment, but calls were not returned. Christine Vollmer indicated that she will be contacting CNS Washington headquarters to ask for a correction.

CNS, the official news service of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, that maintains a significant contingent in Rome, has come under fire recently for failing consistently to apply “Catholic editorial standards” in its reporting on moral issues. In January 2009, Archbishop Raymond Burke, head of the Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura, or supreme tribunal, called on his brother US bishops to reform the organization.

“The bishops need to look at our Catholic News Service; they need to review their coverage of [the Church’s moral and social teachings] and give some new direction,” he said.

Read related LSN coverage here and here

Author Calls on US Bishops to Reform Catholic News Service (CNS) – Part 1

Head of Pontifical Academy for Life Should be Removed: Academy Members