Misquoted on bishops and health reform, DeGette draws ire of bloggers

Colorado U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette drew venom from conservative and Catholic bloggers yesterday for comments she made to ABC on the role Catholic bishops should be playing in shaping health care reform. But the venom was based on misquotes of the ABC interview published at The Hill, a political news website. Colorado right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin led the charge on DeGette with an acid-dipped post diluted almost not at all by a half-hearted update/correction later posted at the bottom.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette

ABC asked DeGette if she thought the Catholic Bishops would “be willing to look at compromised language from the Senate” on the Stupak amendment.

“I gotta tell you,” said DeGette, clearly taken aback by the notion that senators would be seeking approval from bishops.

“Last I heard there was separation of church and state in this country. I don’t think the Catholic bishops are in charge of writing our health care bill. I think they’re one of many groups we should be listening to,” she told ABC.

The Hill heard it differently, however, and reported that “DeGette said… religiously affiliated groups like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops… should be shut out of the process.” The quote from DeGette The Hill then reprinted was as wrong as it was provocative: “I’ve got to say that I think the Catholic bishops and all of the other groups shouldn’t have input.”

Catholic bloggers jumped on the quote, as did the conservative Family Research Council, which sent out a press release calling on the president and congressional leaders to “repudiate Diana DeGette’s religious bigotry.”

Malkin was predictably half-cocked and raging, even getting Diana DeGette’s name wrong in the roaring headline: “Calling Dianne DeGette’s bigotry and ignorance out”

[DeGette] is fuming over the exercise of political speech by leaders of faith who oppose government abortion subsidies. She wants to shut them up…

Not only is she a constitutional ignoramus, she’s a pure thug trying to chill the participation of religious organizations in one of the most important policy debates of the year.

After Hill reporter Mike O’Brien emailed Malkin the true quote, it seems clear Malkin didn’t bother to watch the ABC video. Malkin makes no concession in her brief update:

Sounds to me like Mike must have gotten a lot of blowback from DeGette. The new, revised quote doesn’t make much sense given her retort that “Last I heard, we had separation of church and state in this country.”

Christian bloggers were understandably shocked by the implied suppression of free speech.

“Who is this insane woman that is now invoking this new supposed no-input clause of the First Amendment?” wrote the Opinionated Catholic.

But the flap comes ironically against a backdrop of news that Catholic leaders have grown weary of dissent among the ranks and have taken dramatic steps to regain control of the Catholic message and restrict Catholics from speaking out as Catholics.

In response to a tumultuous year where diverse and divergent Catholic voices have been heard on flashpoint political topics such as Pres. Obama, abortion and health care, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told his colleagues gathered in Baltimore Monday that he had set up three committees that would determine who could claim to be speaking in public as officially Catholic.

In asserting his authority, George reportedly cited second-century bishop Ignatius of Antioch, who instructed his flock “that you do nothing without your bishop.”

“Your submission to your bishop, who is in the place of Jesus Christ, shows me that you are not living as men usually do but in the manner of Jesus himself,” George quoted Ignatius to the bishops.

Writing from Baltimore, David Gibson provides details:

Church officials said George’s decision to establish the certifying committees reflected his frustration with the many differing Catholic voices and organizations that sprouted up during last year’s presidential campaign and claimed to be representing Catholic positions, some of them in support of Barack Obama.


But several bishops and church officials I spoke with doubted whether George’s desire to implement the certifying committees would gain any traction among the bishops. For one thing, beneath the surface of civility, the bishops are as divided on many of these issues as the rest of the American church.

In addition, George played it so close to the vest in setting up the committees — he launched the initiative over the summer — that up until the first day of these meetings many bishops didn’t know who was on the committees or how many there were. There are, it turns out, three such committees: on Catholic universities, Catholic media, and other Catholic organizations, reportedly those involved in lobbying.


“Are you going to baptize a Catholic organization?” said one skeptical bishop. “The name ‘Catholic’ isn’t trademarked. So how is it going to work?”

Also difficult will be convincing lay Catholics to go along with any such “licensing” program — and not just liberal Catholics who are often cast as the chief thorn in the hierarchy’s side. In fact, several bishops and church insiders said that conservative publications and organizations that often cast themselves as “more Catholic than the bishop” are a major source of concern — and irritation.

Progressive religious organization Faith in Public Life has called on the conservative Family Research Council to issue a correction for calling out DeGette on the alleged bigotry. No correction has appeared yet on the FRC website.

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