Tied To "Cult-Like" Order, Former Vatican Analyst For CBS News Steps Down Amid Sex Scandal
A powerful, cultic religious order whose founder and clergy are accused of sexually abusing minors; admissions of children born out of wedlock... As often happens, Talk To Action articles written years ago are now suddenly relevant to the news cycle. Back in June 2009, TTA contributor Frank Cocozzelli wrote a story titled CBS's Go To (Rightwing) Catholic Guy--about Thomas D. Williams, the far-right Catholic spokesperson who has just announced (as covered in the NYT and the Catholic News Agency), that he is leaving public ministry after admitting to fathering a child out of wedlock. From early 2008 into late 2009, Father Williams, author of such works of religious moralism as Knowing Right From Wrong (2008, Thomas Nelson, Inc.), made multiple appearances on CBS with Katie Kouric, Jeff Glor, and Maggie Rodriguez, on the Early Show. As Cocozzelli described,
"The 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. [...] ...[T]he 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."The bigger scandal here isn't so much the issue of the sexual transgressions of powerful Catholic religious order members but, rather, the fact that far-right wing religious pundits, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or from other religious traditions, who show deep disrespect for pluralism, have been getting widespread exposure through mainstream media. This tracks a more general trend in media bias, as evidenced in a 2011 Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting study which showed that 70% of Sunday morning guests on ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox news shows were registered Republicans. In a subsequent story on Thomas D. Williams, CBS, Rev. Thomas D. Williams and the Theoconning of America, Cocozzelli examined that issue, writing,
"Last week I discussed the disturbing worldview of CBS's go-to rightwing Catholic guy, pundit Rev. Thomas D. Williams, a member of the far right Legion of Christ. This is part of a larger trend that merits further discussion. Neoconservatives and their theocon allies have had considerable success in getting us to see the world through their eyes; and each other as solely as all good or all bad; enemy or friend. These distortions often contribute to grotesque distortions of fact being presented as given truths. This Manichean framing has infected the news media, which in turn functioned as a carrier of the disease... [...] ...Rev. Williams believes that the only truth that should prevail is traditionalist Catholic orthodoxy, and that this worldview should be favored by and reflected in government. Williams is a perfect example of the way that pundits pass for reporters, telling us what to think and how to act, while democracy is packaged for us as entertainment. The spectacle of media gladiators and bloviators is glorified over the participation of an informed citizenry. While this critique is not new, less well developed is the increasing role of religious right framed presentation of the news, and the risk of discounting the centrality of religious pluralism as a key to constitutional democracy. One consequence of the creeping theoconism in the media is that we often fall prey to historical revisionism -- the weapon of choice of the Religious Right. Naturally, the narrative that emerges from this history of convenience attacks the very tenets of liberalism, such as religious pluralism as being sinister and evil. Faith and reason are not synonymous, but antithetical entities."Talk To Action contributor Frank Cocozzelli is author of what may be the longest running and most extensive series of articles available Internet or in print, 221 thus far, on the Catholic Right.