Holy Hannity! . . .
“Devout Catholic” TV Host Pushes Contraception
By CHRISTOPHER MANION
WASHINGTON, D. C. — A lame joke on a conservative radio talk show has sparked a national controversy that is still reverberating on the airwaves and the Internet.
The episode also reflects the precipitous decline of principled conservatism in contemporary discourse as this century unfolds.
On March 2, Sean Hannity, a “conservative” talk-show host, made light of the fact that he had accidentally bitten into a chicken sandwich on a Friday during Lent. That prompted a response that had a “bite” all its own from Fr. Thomas Euteneuer, president of Human Life International in Front Royal, Va. In following days, the saga spread to Rome and the blogosphere.
Fr. Euteneuer responded to the sandwich episode in his online column of March 9: “Issuing a dramatic ‘apology’ for [the sandwich] is, well, entertainment, not witness,” wrote Fr. Euteneuer. “If apologies are the order of the day, then the repentance I would like to hear out of Sean Hannity’s mouth is for his shameless — even scandalous — promotion of birth control.”
( This was not Fr. Euteneuer’s first effort to bring Hannity to his senses. In 2004, he had written to Hannity personally, inviting him to discuss in private his on- the- air support of birth control. Hannity did not respond.) Later in the day on Friday, March 9, having received Fr. Euteneuer’s column from a listener, Fox TV producers invited Father to appear on that night’s episode of Hannity and Colmes.
When Fr. Euteneuer appeared, Hannity launched a tirade, incensed that Fr. Euteneuer had called him a “heretic.” Within days, even Rome got involved when a seminary official there curiously weighed in on Hannity’s behalf. The main event in the exchange was Hannity’s television “interview” (it was more like a frontal attack) with Fr. Euteneuer.
At the top of the interview, Hannity’s cohost Alan Colmes asked Fr. Euteneuer about “well-known people like Sean who are Catholic and in the public eye…. Should they be using their platform, necessarily, to preach the tenets of Catholicism when they are in the media? Is that something that one is obliged to do?”
Fr. Euteneuer replied, “No. One is not obliged to do that at all. One is simply obliged not to be a heretic in public. That’s the point. If he doesn’t agree with his Church on that matter he should not be pronouncing on the matter as if he was the authority on that matter.”
At that, Hannity launched — curiously addressing Fr. Euteneuer as “Reverend” throughout his tirade: “Reverend. Let me, let me just say. . . .You call me a hypocrite. You question the depth of my faith. Do you know anything about me and my religious beliefs? And my background religion? Do you know anything about me?. . . Judge not lest you be judged, Reverend. Maybe you ought to spend a little more time that our Church covered up one of the worst sex scandals and I wasn’t involved in it. . . .
“You want to ostracize me? You want to excommunicate me? Do you know that I went to a seminary? Do you know that I studied Latin? Do you know that I studied theology? Do you know anything about my background? Anything at all, sir? . . . So I’m not a good enough Catholic for you? I’m not a good enough Christian for you? Answer that question.”
Fr. Euteneuer did not have much opportunity to reply — Hannity was livid, his body language oozing with ire, shaking both fingers at the camera (as the “interviewer,” Hannity spoke over 70% of the time). When he had a chance, Fr. Euteneuer spelled it out concisely: “Sean, I’m just asking you for basic honesty. If you are a member of this Church you profess what the Church believes, if you don’t believe it don’t say anything about it in the public forum and scandalize people, that’s all.”
After another brief exchange, Hannity let loose: “You know what, I’m going to say this. I don’t really care that you’re judging me Father. I really don’t care.
“But I’m going to tell you this: You know what? With what you’re doing here. You are doing more to chase people away from the Church. And I would suggest to you Father. Why don’t you work on real important issues. Instead of superfluous issues? If I eat meat on Friday or you want to call a public figure who is a devout Catholic a hypocrite. Why don’t you work on the corruption in the Church? Why don’t you work on the sex scandal? Why don’t work a change in the attitude that contributed to the atmosphere that allowed a level of corruption that frankly is absolutely morally beyond anything I ever seen in my life for any Church?
“Why don’t you work on real important issues, sir? . . . I haven’t read an article [from you] about [the clerical sex abuse scandals]. Have you ever written an article about that instead of taking cheap shots at people that are publicly Catholic?”
Fr. Euteneuer: “Yeah, go to my Web site, hli.org, and you’ll see a lot of criticism of these issues. I’m criticizing you because you’re not consistent. You’re professing to be a Catholic and you are not.”
Hannity: “And I’m criticizing you. . . . Are you perfect Father? Are you perfect in every way? Have you not sinned? ‘Ye who is without sin cast the first stone,’ I think I read that somewhere.”
At this point, co-host Alan Colmes broke in, and this exchange followed: Colmes: “You guys need a Jew to break this up. But let me ask you this: Would Hannity be welcome at your Church? Would Hannity be welcome at your Church, Father?”
Fr. Euteneuer: “Well, if he renounced his belief in birth control and stopped professing it publicly.”
Hannity: “Wait, would you deny me Communion?”
Fr. Euteneuer: “I would.”
Hannity: “Wow. Wow.”
(Sean Hannity did not respond to repeated calls to Fox News headquarters in New York, and requests for an interview sent to his web site, Hannity.com, went unanswered.)
Hannity might insist that “I don’t really care that you’re judging me Father. I really don’t care,” but the exchange apparently struck a nerve at Fox News. A couple of days after the broadcast, there appeared on the web site of Fox News a letter from a Catholic priest — a seminary official in Rome, no less — defending Hannity and “apologizing” for Euteneuer’s “honest mistake.”
The letter began: “Dear Sean, as I watched a fellow Catholic priest spar with you on the March 9 edition of Hannity and Colmes, I hung my head in shame and sadness. My colleague in religion (whom I’ve never met) used the public airways and Internet to call you a heretic and hypocrite. Because he chose to do this in a public forum, I want you and your viewers to know, publicly, that as an analyst of this television network, I believe this good priest, who does great work, exercised, on this occasion, shockingly poor judgment. I consider his willingness to give his personal opinion about your status within the Church inappropriate and ill-considered, to say the least.”
The letter’s author is a member of the Legionaries of Christ, Fr. Jonathan Morris. An October 2005 article in the National Catholic Register, which is owned by the Legionaries of Christ, describes him as the vice-rector of the Legionaries’ seminary in Rome, adding that “when he’s not performing his duties at the seminary, he can often be seen on television.”
Fr. Jonathan’s letter indicates that he writes “as an analyst of the network,” but it is not clear as to whether Hannity, his producers, or other Fox network officials commissioned the letter from him as part of his duties as a member of the Fox staff.
(After several calls to his Rome office, Fr. Morris responded to The Wandererby e- mail. Fr. Morris would not respond to our questions regarding the circumstances surrounding his letter to Hannity or his work and financial arrangements with Fox News. He was also silent on the issues of contraception and abortion, and would not address what, if any, private counsel he might have given Hannity as a priest on the subjects.)
Fr. Morris’ letter expresses more than “shame” at Fr. Euteneuer’s performance. He goes so far as to endorse Hannity’s attacks on the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, a tack which Hannity used to change the subject from his own endorsement of birth control. Hannity had attacked the “Church,” not specific administrative or legal decisions by specific members of the hierarchy, and Fr. Morris deftly tried to soften that broadside:
“As you rightly stated in the same television segment,” writes Fr. Morris, “the systematic coverup of sexual abuse within some sectors of Catholic Church leadership was a monstrous scandal and its affects will be long- lasting.” He then takes on “television evangelists,” “self- proclaimed prophets,” “mainline Protestant pastors and their associations,” and “non- Christian religions,” all of which have contributed to the loss of trust in religious leaders that Fr. Morris blames Fr. Euteneuer’s approach for resonating.
In fact, Fr. Morris criticizes virtually everyone under the sun — everyone, that is, but Sean Hannity.
His letter ends with a paean of praise to the TV pair’s “humility” — as amply exhibited during Hannity’s tirade at Fr. Euteneuer, one assumes: “Sean, I don’t always agree with you and Alan, as I have told both of you in person, but I think you are both honest, and both have the humility and courage to accept truth when you stumble across it, even when it comes in bits and pieces. I think it’s precisely this three- pronged attitude of honesty, humility, and courage that best prepares us, with all of our imperfections, for Heaven.”
In sum, Fr. Morris’ message is clear: “I’m OK, Sean’s OK, Alan’s OK, but Fr. Euteneuer is definitely not OK. And a lot of other people aren’t either.” In spite of his dual role as Catholic priest and Fox News contributor, Fr. Morris attacks his “colleague in religion” without ever uttering a word about the sole topic addressed by Fr. Euteneuer on the program. On Sean Hannity’s ongoing and onair defense of contraception, on the issue of receiving the Eucharist while publicly advocating dissent from the moral teaching of the Magisterium, Fox News contributor Morris says nothing. Nor does Fr. Morris, LC.
The Obvious Question
Fr. Euteneuer, however, did respond to those issues, and he directed his comments to Fr. Morris on HLI’s Web site (www.hli.org). Like Sean Hannity, Fr. Morris had adroitly labored to avoid confronting the salient issue of contraception. But Fr. Euteneuer’s letter confronts the issue directly, waving off the rhetorical distraction with the same tenacity as he displayed on Hannity’s show:
“The question that comes to mind is an obvious one,” Fr. Euteneuer wrote: “If you are a Fox analyst on Catholic matters, wouldn’t you have been the one to have had those ‘private conversations’ on birth control with Mr. Hannity? How about discussions on his abortion exceptions? When you told Sean ‘in person’ that you ‘disagreed with him,’ was it on the issue of birth control? If you had done that, I applaud you, but your powers of persuasion may need a little honing — Sean has only gotten more vocal on this issue over time. If you did not speak to him about his public dissent, then I ask you, ‘Why?’
“While we are on the subject, have you also analyzed and disagreed with Bill O’Reilly’s perfectly horrible disdain for the Holy Father and the Church that you represent?. . . We used to recognize ‘admonishing the sinner’ as one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy, and I consider my admonishment of Mr. Hannity to have been done in that spirit. I might also add that in doing so I have fulfilled my duty as a priest which is a requirement for my salvation.”
Fr. Euteneuer then addresses Fr. Morris not only in his role as priest and Fox News contributor, but as vice rector of a major seminary in Rome: “As a seminary rector, I would sincerely hope that you are not teaching by word or example the young men in your charge to be politically correct sissies who are afraid to roll up their sleeves and defend the Church in private and in public. We have tons of those types in the clergy already. I would advise you to drink deeply of the wisdom of the Number Two man at our Headquarters who has in no uncertain terms told all of us that high-profile dissenters are a scourge and a danger to souls.”
(Fr. Euteneuer is referring to the Vatican’s secretary of state, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, whose remarks can be found at LifeSiteNews.) Curiously, Fr. Morris appeared to endorse Fr. Euteneuer’s approach in an Internet article he wrote last October: “Tolerance,” he wrote back then, “does not require us to water down our beliefs to the lowest common denominator so as not to hurt someone else’s feelings.
Be Real Catholics
Fr. Euteneuer tells The Wanderer that the response to his appearance and its sequel has been voluminous. Five days after the broadcast, HLI’s Web site had received over 1,100 e-mails, with favorable comments running three-to-one against the unfavorable. Clearly his appearance was a “teaching moment.”
But for Fr. Euteneuer, the episode also represents ” a clear case of the Church standing over and above any type of political concerns, and judging all things on the basis of objective truth. The things that we are taught to hold with divine and Catholic faith. My questioning of Sean Hannity was a throwing down of the gauntlet to people’s loyalties, and our first loyalty is to Christ.”
Fr. Euteneuer added: “In light of the Sean Hannity affair, I was delighted to read paragraph 83 in the Holy Father’s new post- synodal apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis that all Catholics — including politicians and news anchormen — must have a ‘ eucharistic consistency.’ That is, our public lives are held to account for our eucharistic practice. The Pope is saying that one cannot be a ‘cultural catholic’ any more. One must be a real Catholic both in and outside of the church!”
A Call To Truth In Action
In the spirit of Pope Benedict’s words, it’s high time for real Catholics to stand up for the Church and the faith in public. Wanderer readers are encouraged to contact Roger Ailes, president of Fox News, and tell him that he might want to reconsider paying $5 million a year or more, a piece, to “Catholics in Name Only” who use his network to spread error, confusion, and downright contempt of Holy Mother Church.
Roger Ailes can be reached by calling 212-301-3000, or by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. (The Wanderer would appreciate a copy of your e-mail. Send to email@example.com) Faithful Catholics must prayerfully and valiantly oppose the culture of death, wherever it raises its ugly head. This is just the opening skirmish in a long, hard battle.
[In August 2006, The Wanderer ran this story regarding Father Marcial Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ, the order to which Fox News analyst Father Jonathan Morris belongs.]
© Matt C. Abbott