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ABC Touts 'Staunch Traditionalist' Pope Francis; CBS Highlights Persecution of Chinese Catholics

Terry Moran, ABC News Correspondent; Screen Cap from 14 March 2013 Edition of World News | MRC.orgOn Thursday's World News, ABC News correspondent Terry Moran acted like it was a big surprise that newly-elected Pope Francis stands by the Catholic Church's teachings on sexuality: "Now, as the world comes to know him, it turns out, on many issues, Pope Francis is a staunch traditionalist. He compared abortion to a death sentence; called gay marriage 'destructive of God's plan.'"

By contrast, CBS surprisingly reported on the continuing persecution of the Catholic Church in China on Friday's CBS This Morning. Though he didn't explicitly label the Chinese government as communist, correspondent Wyatt Andrews noted how "millions of the faithful worship in groups at home, praying in underground churches where religion, if practiced too openly, can lead to arrest." Andrews' report stands out from his network's biased coverage of the papal election.

Substitute anchor David Muir introduced Moran's report by trumpeting "where the Pope stands on many of the most divisive issues facing the Catholic Church." The ABC correspondent then recapped some of the events of the pontiff's first full day as the Bishop of Rome, and gave a brief summary of his prior life and career, including how "before the priesthood, he loved chemistry, dancing the tango, and a young woman, who remembered the proposal he made her in a love letter." His "staunch traditionalist" label of the Pope came later in the segment.

The following morning, anchor Charlie Rose noted in his lead-in for Andrews' report that "the Chinese government wants warmer relations with the Vatican, but they're warning the Catholic Church to stop meddling in the country's internal affairs."  The CBS journalist spent of his report on the "conflicting signals" the authoritarian communist government is apparently sending concerning the Church.

Wyatt Andrews, CBS News Correspondent; Screen Cap From 15 March 2013 Edition of CBS This Morning | NewsBusters.orgAndrews missed key details when he outlined that "officially, Chinese Catholics aren't allowed to be loyal to the Pope in Rome because he's overseas. They're supposed to be loyal to this one, the government-appointed head of the Church in China, Bishop Fang Xingyao." Actually, it's not just a matter of the pontiff being "overseas," but that the government sees the authority of the Pope as an external threat. The communist-run "Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association" doesn't accept the pontiff's authority, which is a key Catholic doctrine.

Also, any priest or bishop who challenges the Chinese government's authority is severely punished. The UK's Daily Telegraph reported in December 2012 that "Thaddeus Ma Daqin has effectively been under house arrest since July, when he used his ordination during a Mass at Shanghai's St Ignatius Cathedral to announce he was quitting China's Catholic Patriotic Association." Ma Daqin had been the auxiliary bishop of Shanghai. Another bishop of Shanghai, the famous Cardinal Ignatius Kung, spent 30 years in Chinese prisons for his defense of the Pope's primacy.

Later, Andrews did point out that "the freedom to be Catholic or Christian in China depends on where you live and whether local officials sense a threat to their authority." He also hinted at the communist government's double standard in its policy toward the Catholic Church: "Beijing wants formal recognition from this new Pope – Pope Francis – but doesn't want China's 12 million Catholics to recognize him."

The full transcript of Wyatt Andrews' report from Friday's CBS This Morning:

CHARLIE ROSE: China is sending mixed signals to the new Pope. The Chinese government wants warmer relations with the Vatican, but they're warning the Catholic Church to stop meddling in the country's internal affairs.

Wyatt Andrews is in Beijing. Wyatt, good morning.        

WYATT ANDREWS: Charlie, good morning; Gayle, good morning. You know, all these conflicting signals show you how conflicted the Chinese government itself is about its relationship with the Vatican, and about the practice of Catholicism here in China.

[CBS News Graphic: "Congratulations And Criticism: China Sends Mixed Message To Pope Francis"]

ANDREWS (voice-over): For example, this was 6 am Mass at the Beijing East Catholic Church, a crowded early Mass where the TV screens showed a photo of the newly-elected Pope Francis. It's remarkable, because state media in China barely reported the Pope's election. But the Catholics here knew, and they were celebrating.

Officially, Chinese Catholics aren't allowed to be loyal to the Pope in Rome because he's overseas. They're supposed to be loyal to this one, the government-appointed head of the Church in China, Bishop Fang Xingyao. To many parishioners, the alternative Pope idea is a waste of time.

CHEN JINGSHUANG, PARISHONER (through translation): 'It doesn't matter what other people think or what the government supports', she says. 'We worship God directly, and I recognize the new Pope.'

ANDREWS: The freedom to be Catholic or Christian in China depends on where you live and whether local officials sense a threat to their authority. This Mass last Palm Sunday in Beijing was ornate, well-attended, and freely celebrated. But millions of the faithful worship in groups at home, praying in underground churches where religion, if practiced too openly, can lead to arrest.

Then, there's the diplomatic tension between China and the Vatican. Rome's embassy is in Taiwan, not Beijing. A foreign ministry spokeswoman, after congratulating Pope Francis, demanded that he change the policy.

HUA CHUNYING, CHINESE FOREING MINISTRY SPOKESWOMAN (through translation): 'The Vatican must cut its so-called diplomatic ties with Taiwan', she says, 'and recognize the government of the People's Republic of China as the only legitimate government of China.'

ANDREWS (on-screen): In other words, Beijing wants formal recognition from this new Pope – Pope Francis – but doesn't want China's 12 million Catholics to recognize him. Charlie, Gayle?

GAYLE KING: All right. Wyatt Andrews, thank you.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.