A certain newspaper editor went to cover the speech of a certain Roman Catholic bishop.
Religion in the Media saw both sides:
The two engaged in a civil back-and-forth, where the bishop argued that no unauthorized photos should be taken and told him to delete the ones he already had, and Prestegard argued that they were in a public venue and the bishop was a public figure. This ultimately led Bishop Morlino to stop the talk and walk the crowd to St. Augustine, the parish serving the university community, which is diocesan property.
Diocesan spokesman Brent King said this was not normal for the bishop, but that he did this because of the protestors who were there to disrupt the talk. King is certainly right – there are a number of angry parishioners in the diocese who are mad at the bishop for being true to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Just nine days earlier, letter that had been sent to the pope via certified mail detailing complaints about the diocese was leaked to the newspaper. King went on to summarily address and debunk all of the claims.
Last year, the State Journal ran a story addressing all of the controversies Bishop Morlino has found himself in. Most of these involved the bishop upholding Church teaching by stripping unfaithful individuals and organizations from positions of leadership. A few were about administrative issues not related to Catholicism in particular, and none had to do with any kind of illegal activity.
A thorough content analysis of coverage of Bishop Morlino may reveal an unjustified bias against him in the newspaper, but his reaction to the controversies is what’s hurt his image. In Wednesday night’s incident, Prestegard was quoted as saying: “I told him it was a public place, built by taxpayer money, and that I was there because he’s a public figure and I was interested in what he had to say. I was pretty sure he had no authority to make me leave.”
It must be tough dealing with protestors, especially since nothing you do will ever be acceptable. And it’s also tough when the press shows up because they were contacted by protestors. But responding in a way that appears to limit First Amendment rights is going to reflect poorly. And if the public thinks you have a problem, you have a problem.
As a devout Catholic, I’m inclined to say the pastoral decisions he made that upset so many people were the appropriate ones. But the way he made them, seemingly without input from parishioners, and taking the “ignore it so I don’t have to address it” approach when something comes up, will only hurt his image. King responded to inquiries from the press, but there’s only so much a communications official can do when the bishop hasn’t been coached in how to deal with crisis communications situations.