Catholic Action League Rebukes Emily Rooney for Defaming Saint Padre Pio

The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts today criticized public television host Emily Rooney for claiming that Padre Pio—Catholicism’s most popular modern saint—was “a charlatan.”

Rooney, a former network television producer, moderates a weekly, half-hour discussion program, Beat the Press, where she and four panelists, usually a mix of columnists and professors of journalism, analyze news coverage of local and national events. The program is broadcast on Boston’s WGBH-TV, the so-called flagship station of the Public Broadcasting System.

In the days prior to last Friday’s program, the news media in Massachusetts printed and aired numerous stories about the thousands of Catholics who were standing in line to venerate a relic of Saint Padre Pio at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and at two other churches in the Archdiocese of Boston.

In the final segment of Friday night’s Beat the Press, entitled Rants & Raves, Rooney cited, approvingly, a Boston Globe article which quoted a detractor of Padre Pio, who asserted that the beloved saint was a charlatan.

She then launched into a sputtering diatribe against “the alleged saint” declaiming “Yes! Yes! He was a charlatan.” Rooney attempted to cheapen Catholic belief in the efficacy of relics by comparing it to séances—notorious hoaxes where spiritualist mediums are paid sums of money by gullible victims trying to communicate with the dead.

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, "Padre Pio"

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, “Padre Pio”

Rooney twice mispronounced the saint’s name, calling him “Pio Padre,” and referred, derisively, to the reliquary containing the saint’s heart as “a little jar.” Compounding insult with absurdity, Rooney actually claimed that she spoke with “a well informed Catholic” who said she “never heard of Padre Pio,” but was “humiliated” by public devotion to the saint.

Rooney kept intoning that “healthy skepticism” was needed, and that it is “up to us,” meaning the media, to provide that. Unitarian Dan Kennedy of Northeastern University added: “What a bizarre story,” while Jon Keller of WBZ-TV then made a joke about séances.

Apparently, the exotic rituals of the aboriginal Catholics were a source of smirking amusement for the entire panel.

Saint Padre Pio, (1887-1968), was a Capuchin friar and Catholic priest from Italy who dedicated himself to a ministry of reconciling sinners in the confessional. Penitents marveled at his spiritual direction, including his ability to read souls. Like the founder of his religious family, Saint Francis of Assisi, Padre Pio was gifted with the Stigmata—the five wounds of Christ. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

The Catholic Action League called Rooney’s boorish remarks “the arrogant bigotry of an elitist snob who enjoys a taxpayer subsidized platform to ventilate her crude prejudices against Catholics.”

Catholic Action League Executive Director C. J. Doyle made the following comment: “It’s great to be a host on public television. Emily Rooney, who, prior to this, never heard of Padre Pio, couldn’t pronounce his name, and probably, could not tell you what century he lived in, can decide, based on one newspaper story, that a canonized saint, revered by millions, was a fraud. The only thing fraudulent here, of course, are Rooney’s pretensions to be a fair minded journalist.”

“Rooney preaches skepticism, but doesn’t practise it. Her peremptory and denunciatory dismissal of Padre Pio, without even a cursory examination of his life and works, and without a single word in his favor, suggests not skepticism, but a mind firmly closed on the subject.”

“Rooney’s gratuitous insults to Padre Pio, and the her callous contempt for the sensibilities of Catholics, comes as no surprise. She seems to be taking a page out of the book of her old boss, the late Peter Jennings of ABC News, who used his network’s coverage of the funeral of Mother Teresa of Calcutta to introduce as a guest Christopher Hitchens, who reviled that saint as corrupt. Rooney’s call for the media to debunk Catholic religious beliefs tells us all we need to know.”

“Rooney—who no one would mistake for a member of Mensa—has a history of antipathy to Catholicism. She has repeated, on numerous occasions, the old 1960’s era fatuousness about Catholic teaching on contraception contributing to the overpopulation crisis. Evidently, no one has told her about the demographic winter.”

“In this case, Rooney’s dogmatic disbelief recoiled at the very idea of belief in a supernatural order, and the rejection of her materialist worldview, which that belief would entail. It would seem that secularism, too, has its intolerant fundamentalists.”