On Sunday's 60 Minutes, CBS ran to the aid of dissident Catholic sisters in the U.S. and recycled many of its talking points from their sympathetic coverage of the sisters' "Nuns on the Bus" tour in 2012. Bob Simon trumpeted the supposed "rock star" status of the leader of the sisters' coalition and tossed mostly softball questions at her. He also repeatedly used the loaded term "Inquisition" to ballyhoo the apparent "crackdown" against the heterodox nuns.
Simon made his slant toward the dissenters clear when another prominent dissident sister compared the battle between the bishops and her allies to a schoolyard battle of the sexes: "The boys played the girls. And for once, the girls won, and the boys are upset." The journalist replied, "Isn't that what it's all about?"
During the promo for his report at the start of the program, the CBS correspondent hyped that "when Pope Francis first stood on that balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square, few were watching him more carefully than the nuns, especially nuns in the United States. Will the new Pope follow his predecessor, Benedict, whose enforcers of Church orthodoxy investigated American nuns for insubordination, at the very same time that the pedophilia scandal raged?"
Simon then played a clip from his interview of Sister Pat Farrell, the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, where he misleading asked, "This is the same group, is it not, that ran the Inquisition?" He was referring to the Vatican organization called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which carried the previous name of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition. This congregation did not oversee the much-debated Spanish Inquisition, which was established by the monarchy in Spain.
The journalist again used the "Inquisition" term seconds into the segment as he touted "the power struggle going on between the Vatican and some of its most popular disciples: American nuns. The Vatican launched what some Catholics call a new Inquisition...The crackdown last year on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has sparked outrage, creating yet another rift between those who want the Church to reform, and those who do not."
Simon gave Sister Farrell the kid glove treatment during his interview. He only pressed her slightly when he raised the sister's vow of obedience:
SIMON (on-camera): You became a nun, I – I would imagine, for a life of prayer and contemplation and good works-
SISTER PAT FARRELL: That's correct.
SIMON: (laughs) And, all of a sudden, you've become a rock star.
FARRELL: (laughs) It's very strange. It's a very strange position to be in.
SIMON: Are you enjoying it?
FARRELL: No. I'm not someone who prefers to be in the limelight, truthfully....
SIMON: When you heard that phrase – 'undermine the Church', were you surprised?
FARRELL: Absolutely, because the experience we have of ourselves is trying our best to stand in the middle of very complex situations and issues, and to respond in a way that offers hope to people.
SIMON (voice-over): Sister Pat spent two decades in El Salvador ministering to victims of the war – working in the shadows like sisters everywhere – caring for the sick, as we saw in this inner city clinic, counseling women struggling with addiction...and teaching generations of needy children in schools...
But the Vatican says good works aren't the issue. It's annual meetings like these that the group holds for its members, where sisters have given speeches promoting what the Vatican calls 'radical feminist themes' that are – quote, 'incompatible with the Catholic faith'....She [Farrell] met with the enforcers of church orthodoxy who ordered the investigation that found her group had undermined the Church: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
SIMON (on-camera): This is the same group, is it not, that ran the Inquisition?
FARRELL: It's the same office, under a different name – that's right. So-
SIMON: What was your reaction – your visceral reaction, when you heard that you were being accused of radical feminism?
FARRELL: It reflects, to me, fear.
SIMON: What are they afraid of?
FARRELL: I don't know, but it feels to me like fear. What would happen if women really were given a place of equality in the Church?
SIMON (voice-over): She says sisters want a place at the table – in their parishes and in the Church hierarchy. In the past, her group has gone on the record supporting the ordination of women as priests – a topic so taboo the Church says it's not even up for discussion.
SIMON (on-camera): You did take a vow of obedience, didn't you?
SIMON: If you'll permit me, Sister, it doesn't sound like you're being terribly obedient right now.
FARRELL: Well, I think there is one of the areas of misunderstanding and difference. Our first obedience is to God. What we obey is God, and God's call to us, as expressed in so many different sources. It's not just the teaching authority of the Church, although that's, certainly, a legitimate part of it.
SIMON: Would it be distorting your position to say that you just don't want the men to tell you what to do anymore?
FARRELL: We've never wanted the men to tell us what to do. (laughs)
By contrast, the CBS correspondent gave Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain, who was appointed by the Vatican to correct the doctrinal problems at the LCWR, a tougher interview. He also failed to bring on a representative from the the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, which represents the more orthodox groups of religious sisters in the U.S.:
ARCHBISHOP PETER SARTAIN: It doesn't make sense that a conference of women religious would want to give a platform to somebody who would espouse ideas antithetical to what the Church teaches.
SIMON (on-camera): I can understand that it's problematic for the Church....But you've called it a crisis – a bit hyperbolic?
SARTAIN: Ah, I don't think so, and the reason I don't think so is because there – there comes to be a point at which we have to get a handle on this, so that it doesn't continue to evolve into something much more problematic....
SIMON (on-camera): You don't think that the timing is a bit off, that when the Church is still really under condemnation for the pedophile scandal and the cover-up, that it brings up another issue which is very contentious?
SARTAIN: The Church is dealing, at the same time, always with a variety of issues. This issue, although it's of a different nature – in terms of its importance for the Church and for the future of religious life in the Church – is one that needed attention now, also.
SIMON (voice-over): Pope Benedict gave the archbishop the power to review the sisters' publications, programs, and speakers.
SIMON (on-camera): Will you have veto power?
SARTAIN: Ultimately, I would.
SIMON: But in the twenty-first century in the United States, censorship is a very, very dirty word.
SARTAIN: I understand that – and yet, in the context of the Church, we're always going to have the concern about being faithful to Christ. And all I can say to you, Bob, is I don't have any doubt about the reason why the Holy Father has asked me to do this, which is his genuine love and concern for religious women.
SIMON: Archbishop, the sisters in the organization say that they do not feel that love coming from the Vatican right now. They feel something quite different from love. They're – what they're hearing is 'obey'.
SARTAIN: I understand, and they've – they have said that to me as well.
Later in the report, Simon underlined the apparent popularity of the dissenting nuns: "Catholics and non-Catholics from all over the country have swarmed out in their support. The sisters' resistance has developed into a populist movement, complete with rallies; prayer meetings; and, yes, even their own national road show, featuring slogans and groupies."
Near the end of his report, the CBS correspondent played two more clips of his interview of Sister Farrell and wondered if "the Church's rigidity on these issues was one of the reasons why so many Catholics are leaving the Church." He did inch closer to posing a tough question when he asked his guest, "Why can't you do this without the Church?"
A week earlier, on the March 10, 2013 of Sunday Morning, correspondent Barry Petersen also slanted toward dissident Catholics as he hyped how "many American Catholics wonder how long celibacy will be a part of today's Church, or perhaps, how soon it may become a fading tradition." Petersen's report led a week of biased coverage of the papal election.