- Catholic leaders were quick to condemn students from Covington Catholic High School who were accused of mocking Native American and Marine Corps veteran Nathan Phillips in front of the Lincoln Memorial, based on a widely circulated video of their confrontation.
- Longer videos and testimony emerged that suggest Phillips’s claims were false and that the students were innocent, prompting several members of the media to apologize for rushing to judgement and smearing the students.
- Several Catholic leaders, including representatives of the students’ school and diocese, have not retracted their statements or issued apologies, despite overwhelming proof of the students’ innocence.
Catholic leaders across the country immediately condemned Covington Catholic High School students accused of confronting and mocking a Native American elder, despite videos proving their innocence.
Bishops, priests, nuns, dioceses and even the students’ school condemned their actions as “bigoted” after a short clip of a confrontation between the students and Nathan Phillips circulated Friday on Twitter. Phillips, a Marine Corps veteran, claimed the students mocked him and other Native Americans with racist insults and pro-Trump chants.
Longer videos and testimony from witnesses, however, showed the students did not mock or jeer at Phillips or chant “build the wall,” but were in fact accosted by a black supremacist group called the Black Hebrew Israelites before Phillips and his Native American colleagues approached and confronted the students.
Several Catholic leaders chose to publicly shame the students, without reaching out to them for their version of events, and have yet to retract their statements of condemnation, or apologize as some members of the media have, despite evidence that the original narrative depicting the students as racist aggressors was false.
“We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips,” the statement reads.
Catholic leaders’ willingness to condemn the students with little to no hesitation seems strange in light of Catholic officials’ reticence to publicly condemn or confront clerics accused and suspected of sexual abuse, like former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, or those accused of covering up allegations of abuse, like Cardinal Donald Wuerl, with as much immediacy.
Twelve years of Catholic school and this insults everything I was taught there. I see the school and diocese have condemned the behavior. I hope the students apologize directly and publicly to this man. https://t.co/BfxnfQ4IX9
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) January 20, 2019
Racism and intolerance in all forms go directly against Catholic social teaching.
The disturbing videos being shared of this incident showcase a bigoted disrespect of indigenous peoples and remind us how urgent our work for racial justice remains.https://t.co/FqorFPRFNq
— Sisters of Mercy (@SistersofMercy) January 19, 2019
The Archdiocese of Baltimore condemns the disrespect shown toward a Native American elder during the March for Life. Respect for life demands all are treated with dignity.
— ArchdioceseBaltimore (@archbalt) January 20, 2019
I join with Bishop Foys in condemning shameful actions of Covington Catholic students towards Mr. Nathan Phillips and the Native American community. See statement at https://t.co/mXKNiO4hUm
— Archbishop Kurtz (@ArchbishopKurtz) January 20, 2019
Phillips initially claimed the students blocked him as he approached the Lincoln Memorial, surrounded him, and began mocking him. He then changed his claims after the longer videos surfaced, saying that he noticed the altercation between the black supremacists and the students and chose to intervene by praying with his drum in front of a student’s face.
Nick Sandmann, a junior at Covington Catholic High School who identified himself as the student wearing the MAGA hat and smiling at Phillips, released a statement refuting the claims that he and his companions accosted Phillips and mocked them. Sandmann said the black supremacists were the first to hurl profanities and insults at the students and that Phillips and his companions approached the students. Sandmann clarified that he tried to remain motionless and calm in order to diffuse the situation.
Local government officials, some of whom are Catholic like Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. of New Jersey, also smeared the students based only on the initial video clip.
What?? Covington Catholic should be PUBLICLY using its accounts to strongly condemn their students’ despicable behavior pic.twitter.com/B2ryg2xpa8
— P.G. Sittenfeld (@PGSittenfeld) January 19, 2019
These videos of students taunting Native American protesters at the Lincoln Memorial make me ill. In the face of hate and harassment, this gentleman shows beautiful dignity. #EndHate https://t.co/WwrH6l0Dd5
— Bill Pascrell, Jr. (@BillPascrell) January 19, 2019
Catholic commentator John Gehring, Catholic theologian Natalia Imperatori, and Catholic journalist Colleen Dulle also numbered among the students’ public detractors.
Catholic leaders now have an opportunity to use this shameful episode to teach about history — including the Church’s complicity in white supremacy — and challenge students like this to recognize how racism continues to degrade and disfigure human dignity. https://t.co/dxBYdrBQKD
— John Gehring (@gehringdc) January 19, 2019
Imagine if Catholic schools made racism and not abortion the centerpiece of their moral education.
— Natalia Imperatori (@nimperatori) January 19, 2019
It’s been confirmed that some, if not all, of these students attend a Catholic high school and were in DC for the #MarchforLife.
What they are doing is shameful, and so antithetical both to what our faith is about and what the pro-life movement should value. https://t.co/nAscgc2jyu
— Colleen Dulle (@ColleenDulle) January 19, 2019
Rev. James Martin, a widely known Jesuit priest famous for his promotion of progressive social policies, especially concerning LGBT individuals, also remarked that he was “disgusted by the contemptuous laughter of the mass of students.”
I am as disgusted by the contemptuous laughter of the mass of students as I am moved by the quiet dignity of the solitary man who continues to chant. Those students could learn much from this elder, if they had chosen to. Or if they choose to. https://t.co/6i2buMmI8w
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) January 19, 2019
Martin later posted a series of tweets in response to the longer videos and reports that proved the students’ innocence with a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders, saying he would gladly apologize to the students if they were proven innocent but, given that there were three different narratives, “we may never know exactly what happened.”
Re #CovingtonHighSchool: I will be happy to apologize for condemning the actions of the students if it turns out that they were somehow acting as good and moral Christians. The last thing I want is to see Catholic schools and Catholic students held in any disrepute. 1/
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) January 20, 2019
Representatives of the Archdiocese of Louisville, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Diocese of Covington and the Sisters of Mercy did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s inquiry as to whether they would retract their condemnations in light of the evidence disproving Phillips’ claims, or stand by their statements.
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