Ostensibly Objective Religion Reporter to Co-Author Memoir with Liberal Nun Simone Campbell

August 9th, 2013 12:29 PM

Imagine the hand-wringing that would ensue among secular journalists were Franklin Graham or Bishop Harry Jackson to write a memoir with a mainstream media religion reporter on board as a credited co-author. Surely much ado would be made about an ostensibly objective journalist assisting a politically engaged, conservative clergyman to write a book the proceeds of which would go into his ministry's coffers. After all, how can you objectively cover such individuals after having helped them raise their public profile and financially benefited their pet cause(s)?

Now contrast that with the silence that's sure to greet Religion News Service reporter David Gibson's services as scribe to Sister Simone Campbell, the left-wing nun who was a convenient unofficial ally and surrogate for liberal Democrats last year as she savaged Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. As a national reporter, Gibson has covered Campbell as part of his beat as a national reporter for RNS.

Here's how Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger noted the development in their August 9 The Reliable Source column:

Another way for nun Simone Campbell to get in trouble! The outspoken leader of last year’s “Nuns on the Bus” tour opposing Paul Ryan budget plans is writing a memoir, reports our colleague Michelle Boorstein. HarperOne announced Thursday that they will publish “A Nun on the Bus” in April; Campbell will be assisted by David Gibson, a journalist for the Religion News Service.

The colorful District-based nun, lawyer and social activist has become a folk hero among liberal Catholics — and just plain liberals — scoring appearances at last year’s Democratic National Convention and on “The Colbert Report.” The book will go into more detail about Campbell’s life and the people she met on the road. But it’s unclear how much she’ll dive into the standoff between the Vatican and an organization to which Campbell belongs, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which church leaders have criticized for “serious doctrinal problems” and unorthodox views on female priests and social issues.

That may be unclear, but it's perfectly clear that Gibson, a convert to Catholicism, aligns himself with a decidedly liberal/progressive wing of the Catholic Church. In 2007, Gibson published "The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle with the Modern World," which was critical of the then-pontiff, now pope emeritus.

Here's the abstract from Booklist, the review of the American Library Association (emphasis mine):

No fan of the current pontiff, journalist and religion writer Gibson provides a scathing profile of Pope Benedict XVI and issues a dire warning about the future of Catholicism. Asserting that Benedict is a regressive theologian, he cautions that the church is headed in a very conservative direction, in direct opposition to the silent majority of American Catholics, who favor a more liberal spiritual and social agenda. Although a church at the crossroads would seem to need a leader willing to forge ahead, Benedict has neither the inclination nor the temperament to propel the Roman Catholic Church into the -twenty-first century. Mired in a traditional brand of doctrinal orthodoxy, he represents a giant step backward to loyal Catholics who have patiently waited, hoping for a breath of fresh air to revive their moribund church. This provocative assessment of Pope Benedict's background and the first year of his papacy supplies plenty of food for thought and discussion.

Co-authoring Sister Simone Campbell's book will serve as a way of furthering Gibson's push to cajole the Church into moving in a decidedly liberal direction both theologically and politically. What's more, as the Washington Post's Michelle Boorstein notes, the proceeds from sales of the book will go to NETWORK, Campbell's "left-leaning lobbying and advocacy shop," so it will financially benefit an organization which he has covered as a reporter.

On its "about us" page, RNS insists that it "strives to meet the highest standards of public service journalism," and that as "a secular organization committed to an ongoing conversation about the role of religion in public life" it "does not endorse or promote any particular religion, creed or set of beliefs or non-beliefs."

That being the case, RNS would do well to explain to readers how it believes Mr. Gibson can serve two masters.