LifeSite accused of fuelling web war on Salt+Light

By 
  • September 17, 2009

TORONTO - Salt+Light Television CEO Fr. Tom Rosica has reacted to daily threats against his life, reputation and ministry, blaming LifeSiteNews for stirring up “division, destruction, hatred, vitriol, judgment and violence.”

Since controversy erupted over Senator Ted Kennedy’s funeral in Boston, e-mails and blog postings directed at Rosica have included: “Your grave is dug”; “We will bring down your network”; “We will force you to resign”; and  “We will get the Vatican to rescind your appointment.”

Rosica said his office phone messages have included threats and violent language. He called them “vile, vile phone calls.”

“My secretary is often with me when I download the (telephone) messages, and she says, ‘These are Catholics calling like this?’ ” Rosica told The Catholic Register.

The controversy started with posts on LifeSiteNews.com condemning Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley for allowing a large, televised funeral Mass for Sen. Kennedy, who supported abortion. LifeSiteNews readers began calling Salt+Light demanding it condemn the funeral. When Rosica refused to chime in on the condemnations, the threats began.

“It’s a mixture of the LifeSite crowd, LifeSite subscribers combined with EWTN viewers who have now set themselves above the church,” said Rosica.

Rosica went public with his frustration over the threats and bullying in his own blog on saltandlighttv.org and then in an interview on the Sirius Radio Catholic Channel newsmagazine show Across the Nation with Bob Dunning.

LifeSiteNews editor and co-founder John Henry Westen said it should not be blamed for overzealous, intemperate language of a few angry people.

“We’ve gone to great lengths at LifeSite to even develop a document on effective communications, because we know that when people — and sometimes good people, good pro-life people — see things that upset them they tend to go off,” Westen said.

The majority of the hundreds of postings to Rosica’s blog were respectful and charitable, said Weston.

Rosica’s condemnation of pro-life leaders and LifeSiteNews for the actions of a few rogue pro-life activists is uncalled for, he said.

“I’ve never heard this kind of language from a clergyman in public,” he said. “The language was so unbelievably cutting that it was something that I thought obviously wasn’t a reaction to what pro-life leaders of note put out.”

In an attempt to lower the temperature, LifeSiteNews has announced it will refrain from publishing further letters to the editor on the controversy.

Blogs and web sites such as LifeSiteNews have coarsened Catholic dialogue in recent years, said Catholic News Service director and editor-in-chief Tony Spence.

“The blogosphere is full of venom and vitriol. Certainly there has been a notable loss of civility in the public square and public discourse,” Spence said from Washington.

While traditional Catholic newspaper publishers in North America belong to the Catholic Press Association and subscribe to the association’s fair publishing and practices code, including the standard practices of professional journalism, there are no such guidelines for web sites claiming to be Catholic.

“Now everybody with a computer fancies himself a canon lawyer or a theologian,” said Spence. “Just because I have a blog, it does not make me a theologian, or a particularly good ecclesiologist — or even a good journalist.”

Rosica, who sits on the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, questions whether LifeSiteNews has any notion of journalistic ethics.

“When they run up against somebody they disagree with they condemn them and they do an ad hominem attack. It’s character assassination,” Rosica said.

“Our reports are accurate and to the point,” countered Westen.

Most LifeSiteNews reports end with e-mail addresses, phone numbers and other contact information, and a warning that communications should be respectful.

“Our mandate is to educate and to activate,” Westen said.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has scheduled a closed-door session on independent blogs and web sites claiming to be Catholic at its October plenary. Rosica said he also hopes the Pontifical Council on Social Communication takes up the issue.

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