Rev. Arne A. Panula, an Opus Dei priest who is director of the Catholic Information Cen -ter in downtown Washington, deserves credit for canceling the Cokie Roberts book signing scheduled for today. In a political city filled with big egos and boastful bigwigs, it takes courage to admit a mistake and correct it. That’s what Father Panula did, and in so doing, he showed true leadership and grit.
That said, The Washington Times has received violent and malicious protests from some members of Opus Dei. For this reason, it is instructive to remind that the error that created this scandal was the Catholic Information Center’s invitation to and promotion of a notorious dissenter against Catholic moral teachings on abortion, birth control and homosexuality. The mistake was the invitation, not the protest or criticism of it. In fact, Father Panula’s eventual cancellation of the event shows that protests can and do work when in defense of a greater good.
As the priest admitted in the statement announcing the cancellation of the book signing, “We were unaware that some of the positions held by Ms. Cokie Roberts are inimical to the Catholic Faith and the support of our Holy Father that we hold very dear at the Catholic Information Center.” He also acknowledged the importance of concerned individuals expressing their outrage over the center’s mistake, saying “We are grateful for those of you who have taken the time to express your concern and inform us. Our apologies go out especially to all who may have been troubled by the scheduling of this event and the confusion it may have occasioned.” Again, Father Panula deserves credit for being forthright. He could have quietly cancelled the event and tried to sweep the scandal under the rug, but instead he added clarity to the situation and implied that the controversial guest should never have been invited in the first place.
Three more details are relevant to yesterday’s editorial, “Opus Dei sells out.” First, while the editorial was published in the Wednesday print edition, it was posted online the previous evening before the event had been cancelled, or at least before the announcement was widely distributed. That timeline is important. Second, numerous distressed members of Opus Dei contacted us for help because they were worried the event wouldn’t be cancelled, causing serious damage to the institution’s conservative reputation. Third, The Washington Times called the Catholic Information Center on deadline Tuesday seeking comment and asking if the Cokie Roberts event had been cancelled, but we were repeatedly sent to voicemail. Putting someone on the line could have clarified the situation.
There also have been slurs on this editorial page for supposedly attacking the Catholic Church. Our editorial criticized a Catholic-run institution for promoting an individual who is publicly opposed to Catholic teaching. In so doing, the intent was to defend moral issues such as the pro-life cause. It takes an extraordinary leap in logic to suggest that criticizing a group for giving a platform to a heterodox Catholic is attacking the Catholic Church.
Opus Dei and the Catholic Information Center had a serious public-relations crisis on their hands. Both do important work and it’s understandable that good people are frustrated by this scandal, but attacking the messenger isn’t productive. A better idea might be to work to make sure such an embarrassing mistake doesn’t happen again.