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Ronan Farrow Condescends: 'Irresponsible' Catholic Church Dogma Is 'Costing Lives'

MSNBC's Ronan Farrow marked the one-year anniversary of the election of Pope Francis on Thursday by browbeating the Catholic Church for supposedly thwarting the fight against AIDS in the developing world, and for the Church's apparent lack of action in stopping genocide. Farrow played up how "Church social policies often fly in the face of skyrocketing HIV rates," and bemoaned how "the Church does still ban contraception in those places. Is that costing lives?"

The neophyte TV host asked one of his priest guests, "You don't think that it's irresponsible, given the emphasis on mercy and the preservation of life, that there's not more leeway on that doctrine?" He also played up how "brutal conflicts in countries with significant Catholic populations demand attention that some say the Church is failing to provide," and faulted the Church for its apparent inaction during the genocide in Rwanda almost 20 years ago: [MP3 audio available here; video below]

RONAN FARROW: ...Another divisive issue in the developing world: mass atrocities – obviously, we see what's happening unfolding in Syria. There's a lot of criticism that the Church hasn't gotten more into the nitty-gritty of what policy actions should or shouldn't be taken in that crisis. For me, a touchstone as a Catholic – of my relationship with the Church – is 1994 and the Rwandan genocide – where, in a half Catholic country...the Church stood by pretty much in complete silence as 800,000 people were slaughtered. A lot of comparisons right now in the news out of the Democratic Republic of Congo to that last genocide – do you think that the Church needs to be doing more to speak about that conflict? All it's gotten from this pope is a passing mention in a general speech on conflict.

Farrow teased his segment on Pope Francis with some of the left's talking points about the pontiff: "He has been credited with modernizing the Catholic Church. But one year after Pope Francis took office, has enough progress been made on social issues, such as same-sex marriage and birth control?" He continued five minutes later with a swipe at Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and with some of the liberal media's usual gushing about the native of Argentina:

FARROW: There's a reason for all the adulation. Pope Francis has stressed humility and austerity – a far cry, according to many, from the predecessor's bling and Ferragamo shoes – those were pretty entertaining. And he's translating all of that into a policy agenda. He has criticized society's – quote, 'idolatry of money.' He's meeting with President Obama at the Vatican later this month on the subject of poverty. And he has gone to slums, where he's used terms like – quote, 'social justice' and 'economic inequality.'

The MSNBC personality made his "Church social policies often fly in the face of skyrocketing HIV rates" remark as he introduced Father Bill Dailey of Notre Dame's Law School (Farrow stumbled in the introduction, as he pronounced the school's name like the cathedral in Paris) and Father John Bambrick of the Diocese of Trenton, a "national advocate for victims of sexual abuse." Farrow turned to Father Dailey first and asked his "costing lives" question, where he ascribed power to the Catholic Church to "ban" contraception that it doesn't actually have. The law school lecturer priest, who is also fellow at the university's Center for Ethics and Culture, replied by citing the Church's support for traditional marriage and abstinence education in Uganda as a means to fight HIV:

FATHER BILL DAILEY: ...[I]t's not the case that the Church has been indifferent to it, or that it hasn't been a part of successful efforts. Uganda is one of the better cases in Africa of dealing both with AIDS and with [the] population issue, and that was with the cooperation of the Church. So, being engaged in the dialogue doesn't always mean agreeing with everyone, but being part of the dialogue is how we are not indifferent to and show our love for – you know, the poor and for the people in these places that face so many social challenges, as you point out.

Farrow wasn't satisfied with this answer, however, as he doubled-down on his left-of-center talking point:

FARROW: I've had conversations with people in some of these African – Catholic majority countries – where it is very important to them that there's still a principle of abstinence and still a principle of not using protection, and they're in the midst of epidemics here. You don't think that it's irresponsible, given the emphasis on mercy and the preservation of life, that there's not more leeway on that doctrine?

Father Dailey retorted, in part, "I don't think it's irresponsible to say to a person that what we ask you to do is abstain. If a person chooses not to abstain, and then says, but I also didn't use a condom because I was following Church teaching – then we have a different problem with what's happened there."

The MSNBC host then turned to Father Bambrick about the Church's supposed inaction in the face of genocide. His assertion about Rwanda – that "the Church stood by pretty much in complete silence as 800,000 people were slaughtered" – is actually historically inaccurate. As early as April 1994, then-Pope John Paul II called for the Catholics of Rwanda to "not to give way to feelings of hatred and revenge, but to courageously practice dialogue and forgiveness." Over a year later, during a trip to nearby Kenya, the Polish-born Bishop of Rome "appealed...for an end to the bloodshed in Rwanda and Burundi and said that forgiveness and reconciliation were the only solution to their ethnic conflicts," as the New York Times noted during a September 20, 1995 report.

Father Bambrick also pointed out that the Church "had a lot of bishops who had traveled there, and a lot of our relief agencies were doing a lot of work on the ground...so I wouldn't say the Church was doing nothing...sometimes, things are done behind the scene that are sometimes more effective than things done for publicity's sake."

The full transcript of the segment from Thursday's Ronan Farrow Daily on MSNBC:

RONAN FARROW: Well now, another facet of the fight against poverty, we look at the man who may be the biggest voice on poverty in the world. Today marks the one-year anniversary of Pope Francis' election as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, and 'il Papa' appears to be crushing it. According to our latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, he has a 55 percent favorable rating, versus a seven percent unfavorable one. He's even got his own fan magazine. The 56-page 'Il Mio Papa' hit Italian newsstands this past Ash Wednesday, offering a glossy, 'pope-tastic' centerfold and peeks into his personal life. I don't leave home without my copy.

There's a reason for all the adulation. Pope Francis has stressed humility and austerity – a far cry, according to many, from the predecessor's bling and Ferragamo shoes – those – those were pretty entertaining. And he's translating all of that into a policy agenda. He has criticized society's – quote, 'idolatry of money.' He's meeting with President Obama at the Vatican later this month on the subject of poverty. And he has gone to slums, where he's used terms like – quote, 'social justice' and 'economic inequality.' But the Church is still in a divisive position – dealing with a flock that is mainly growing in the developing world, where Church social policies often fly in the face of skyrocketing HIV rates; and where brutal conflicts in countries with significant Catholic populations demand attention that some say the Church is failing to provide.

Joining us today to unpack it all: Father Bill Dailey – he's a lecturer at Notre Dame [pronounced like the cathedral in Paris, France] Law School, and Thomas More Fellow at the Center for Ethics and Culture; and also, Father John Bambrick – he's a Catholic priest who served as a national advocate for victims of sexual abuse. Thank you so much, Fathers, for joining us.

FATHER BILL DAILEY, LECTURER, NOTRE DAME LAW SCHOOL: Thank you-

FATHER JOHN BAMBRICK, ADVOCATE FOR ABUSE VICTIMS: Sure-

FARROW: I'll start with you, Father Dailey. You, as I said – you know, have been an advocate on a lot of the issues that we just touched on. I want to touch, first of all, on some of the health issues – particularly with this growing population in the developing world – 158 million Catholics in Africa. We see a lot of those populations afflicted by pretty pressing public health challenges – 23.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone, for instance, living with AIDS. Yet, the Church does still ban contraception in those places. Is that costing lives?

DAILEY: The Catholic Church cooperated – let's take the example of Uganda – with a government effort that was called 'ABC.' It was in line with Church teaching, for the most part, because the 'A' part was to abstain. It was trying to build what is a Catholic sexual ethic – that sexuality is proper to marriage and to family; 'B,' be faithful within marriage; and 'C' was use a condom. That was the government's approach. The Catholic Church felt it could cooperate with the 'ABC,' because it was so important to change a culture of ethics.

So, it's true that we wouldn't agree with every secular viewpoint on how to deal with the population issue. But it's not the case that the Church has been indifferent to it, or that it hasn't been a part of successful efforts. Uganda is one of the better cases in Africa of dealing both with AIDS and with [the] population issue, and that was with the cooperation of the Church. So, being engaged in the dialogue doesn't always mean agreeing with everyone, but being part of the dialogue is how we are not indifferent to and show our love for – you know, the poor and for the people in these places that face so many social challenges, as you point out.

FARROW: But I will push back slightly and say – you know, I've had conversations with people in some of these African – Catholic majority countries – where it is very important to them that there's still a principle of abstinence and still a principle of not using protection, and they're in the midst of epidemics here. You don't think that it's irresponsible, given the emphasis on mercy and the preservation of life, that there's not more leeway on that doctrine?

DAILEY: I don't think it's irresponsible to say to a person that what we ask you to do is abstain. If a person chooses not to abstain, and then says, but I also didn't use a condom because I was following Church teaching – then we have a different problem with what's happened there – right? So, the Church's approach, if followed and embraced, would be an effective solution for these problems, and certainly not one that's indifferent to them. But a person who says, well, I won't buy the Church on abstain, but I will choose to follow its opposition to birth control has made a, sort of, odd choice of priorities, as far as I can tell.

FARROW: All right. Well, we'll leave that issue there. Another divisive issue in the developing world: mass atrocities – obviously, we see what's happening unfolding in Syria. There's a lot of criticism that the Church hasn't gotten more into the nitty-gritty of what policy actions should or shouldn't be taken in that crisis. For me, a touchstone as a Catholic – of my relationship with the Church – is 1994 and the Rwandan genocide – where, in a half Catholic country – Rwanda was 50 percent Catholic – the Church stood by pretty much in complete silence as 800,000 people were slaughtered. A lot of comparisons right now in the news out of the Democratic Republic of Congo to that last genocide – do you think that the Church needs to be doing more to speak about that conflict? All it's gotten from this pope is a passing mention in a general speech on conflict.

BAMBRICK: The Holy Father is a Jesuit, so the Jesuit principle of doing – faith is always doing justice and carrying out justice. So, I would say that, yes, he would be doing more, and I think he probably is prodding people through the proper channels – Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities and some other international aid organizations the Church is very heavily involved with. The Church really didn't do nothing in Rwanda. We had a lot of bishops who had traveled there, and a lot of our relief agencies were doing a lot of work on the ground. So, there are a lot of people in the grassroots within our Church who were doing a lot of work helping people there – so I wouldn't say the Church was doing nothing. There was a lot of stuff – sometimes things are done behind the scene that are sometimes more effective than things done for publicity's sake.

FARROW: And how does this pope cater to that split flock, with very different public opinions in the developing world and in the developed world?

BAMBRICK: I think he does it the way – again, in a Jesuit way, because he's a Jesuit, and that's through – they believe – the Jesuits believe that God encounters us in a personal way. You see that in Pope Francis. He is the pope of the personal encounter. He want to encounter each person; he wants to meet them where they're at.

We were just talking about AIDS in Africa: when you think about that, the Pope has said, we want to meet people where they're at. He's not interested in talking about these hot-button issues that we're so obsessed with in the West, because he's saying that we need to deal with people – each individual person – where they're at. Where are they on the journey? And we need to go out and meet them at that place – not worry about all these other things; these policies and doctrines and dogmas and moral principles – but rather, meet the person where they're at with our own values, with our beliefs – but also, respecting them, listening to them, dialoguing with them, and walking with them. In this way, he feels, that people would be drawn to Christ in that way, rather than hitting them over the head with something.

FARROW: All right. Thank you so much, Father – and to both of the Fathers here. Thank you for your advocacy on your sets of issues – appreciate it.

DAILEY: You're welcome.

— Matthew Balan is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Matthew Balan on Twitter.