CNN Underhandedly Smears Ukrainian Catholics

Marco Levytsky, National Affairs Editor.

CNN’s six-part original documentary series “Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History” has not been without controversy. Before it even started, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights ripped the series based upon its online trailers. Following the April 8 episode “The Wartime Popes”, which focussed on the Vatican’s reaction to the Holocaust, University of Mississippi professor Ronald Rylchak, one of the world’s foremost scholars of the Catholic Church’s role during the Holocaust, and one of the four major commentators featured in that episode, wrote an Op-ed piece posted both on the Catholic League’s website and on Eurasia Review entitled “The Flaws In CNN’s Episode On Pius XII”, in which he takes issue with the way the episode presented Pope Pius XII’s response to the Holocaust. The implication is that he did not do enough, or, as Rylchak put it: “Unfortunately, it is impossible to properly lay out and evaluate all the facts and circumstances of this era in an hour-long program (minus time allotted for commercials) …Given the time constraints, it was necessary for the producers to make cuts and avoid many details. Of course, when that happens, the tendency is to raise the controversial point, ignore the details and the nuance, and leave the viewer to assume the worst. That happened quite a bit in this episode.”

The episode questioned whether the Pope’s response to the Holocaust was adequate enough and, while noting that many churches and even Vatican properties were used to harbour Jews, stated there is no evidence to suggest there was any direct, or even secret order from Pope Pius XII to do so.

However, there is one wartime Catholic leader who did give such a direct order, a secret one, albeit, in which he told his secular and monastic clergy to help the Jews by hiding them on church property, feeding them and smuggling them out of the country. His name was Andrey Sheptytsky and he was the Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. He spoke out eloquently against anti-Jewish violence in a famous homily entitled “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and is credited with saving 160 Jews at the risk of his own life. One of those Jews, Rabbi David Kahane, who later became the chief rabbi of the Israeli Air Force, described Sheptytsky as “one of the greatest humanitarians in the history of mankind [and] certainly the best friend the Jews ever had.” Sheptytsky’s courageous actions were recognized unanimously by the Canadian House of Commons on April 24, 2012.

Thus, it is quite important to note Sheptytsky’s heroic actions in any study of the Catholic Church’s response to the Holocaust, if one sets out to tackle this subject in a comprehensive manner. However, producers of the CNN program may argue that since it focussed on the Papacy itself this would be peripheral to the central theme.

That may be true, but in that case, CNN must be held responsible for – without justification – collectively smearing Ukrainian Catholics as an identifiable religious and ethnic group in a totally irrelevant and completely unsubstantiated vacuous remark that deceitfully closes off that particular episode.

In it, one of the other major commentators, Suzanne Brown-Fleming, Director of Visiting Scholar Programs at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., states the following: “It’s difficult to just look clinically at a document where a Ukrainian Catholic shooter is taking a Jewish child by the neck and shooting them while their mother watches, and then going to church the following Sunday.”

First, what document? Sounds more like a picture. Next, how does she know he is Ukrainian Catholic? Then, how does she know he goes to church the following Sunday? Finally, what relevance does this quote have to the rest of the episode and why single out Ukrainian Catholics as a clearly identifiable religious and ethnic group?

Then again, who is Suzanne Brown-Fleming? Aside from some very limited biographical data there is very little one can find out about her by searching the internet. She has written a number of articles for scholarly journals, authored one book and co-edited another – all related to the Holocaust and most concentrating on the Catholic Church. None of her pieces have ever been posted, her Facebook page has no details. So, her academic credentials appear to be too limited and narrow in scope to justify including her as an expert commentator on such a broad topic for a network with such global reach.

But that is not the point. It is the directors and producers of the program, which make the final editing decisions. No directors are listed but the executive producers of CNN’s “Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History” are: Jon Hirsch, Nancy Glass, Randy Counsman, Amy Entelis and Lizzie Fox, and they are the ones who must be held responsible for this reprehensible editorial decision.

As every experienced journalist knows, the decision of what information to include and what information to exclude – and in what position to place it, if included, – is critical to the lasting impression that will be left with the reader or viewer. That’s why the information must be presented in a balanced way and in the proper context. Otherwise a very distorted version of the truth is left in people’s minds.

And that’s precisely what the producers of the CNN episode did. They completely ignored the heroic role that Metropolitan Sheptytsky played in saving Jews, but closed off with a totally irrelevant and unsubstantiated comment about some unidentified shooter they claimed was a Ukrainian Catholic, to leave their viewers with the false, Russian-inspired, and lasting stereotype of Ukrainians as anti-Semites and war criminals. And they did it in a very underhanded way.

Vladimir Putin couldn’t have done a better job himself.