Catholic Leaders Refuse to Retract Slander of School Boys at March for Life

Nick Sandmann and Nathan Phillips in Covington Catholic High School confrontation (ka_ya11 / Instagram / Screenshot)
ka_ya11 / Instagram / Screenshot

A number of Catholic leaders and institutions who slandered a group of Catholic school boys after the annual March for Life remain silent after the boys were shown to be innocent.

A short video released on social media made it appear that a group of students from Covington Catholic High School could have accosted Native American activist Nathan Phillips, whereas more extensive footage from different angles made it clear that it was Mr. Phillips who approached the boys and began playing his drum directly in the face of one of them.

Videos show that the students were not propagating racist abuse, they were being victimized by it. One of the activists who confronted the group told them: “You white people go back to Europe where you came from! This is not your land!”

Without bothering to ascertain what actually happened, numerous media outlets rushed to condemn the boys, who were white and some of whom were wearing MAGA hats, as “racists” who were mocking or taunting the Native American man.

The boys’ school and the Diocese of Covington joined in the feeding frenzy, hastily issuing a statement of condemnation of the boys as well as a public apology without hearing the boys’ version of the story.

“This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person,” Covington Catholic High School and the Diocese of Covington said in a joint statement. “The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.”

“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.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore issued a separate condemnation of the students, tweeting that they had shown “disrespect” toward a Native American elder.

Without apologizing to the boys for its rash accusation, the Baltimore Archdiocese released a statement to “clarify” its earlier declaration, acknowledging that “the circumstances of this confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial are now being reported as more complex and it will be the responsibility of school authorities, parents and others involved to determine the actual circumstances, responsibility and consequences.”

For his part, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Saint Louis said he joined “in condemning the actions of the Covington Catholic students towards Mr. Nathan Phillips and the Native American Community yesterday in Washington.”

Despite the abundant new evidence exonerating the students from wrongdoing, as of this writing Archbishop Kurtz has not apologized for slandering the boys and his original statement is still on his website.

Nick Sandmann, a junior at Covington Catholic High School who identified himself as “the student in the video” wearing the MAGA hat and smiling at Phillips, has released a statement explaining his side of the story and forcefully denying charges that he and his companions had accosted Phillips or taunted him.

“The protestor everyone has seen in the video began playing his drum as he waded into the crowd, which parted for him. I did not see anyone try to block his path. He locked eyes with me and approached me, coming within inches of my face. He played his drum the entire time he was in my face,” Sandmann said.

I never interacted with this protestor. I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves. To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me. We had already been yelled at by another group of protestors, and when the second group approached I was worried that a situation was getting out of control where adults were attempting to provoke teenagers.

I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation. I realized everyone had cameras and that perhaps a group of adults was trying to provoke a group of teenagers into a larger conflict. I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, whoever “even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor” is guilty of rash judgment, and whoever, “by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them” is guilty of calumny, or slander.

Despite the evident slander on the part of Church officials, which gravely damaged the good name of Nick Sandmann and his companions, no efforts have been made at reparation for this evil, something also called for by the Catholic Catechism.

Every offense committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation, even if its author has been forgiven. When it is impossible publicly to make reparation for a wrong, it must be made secretly. If someone who has suffered harm cannot be directly compensated, he must be given moral satisfaction in the name of charity. This duty of reparation also concerns offenses against another’s reputation. This reparation, moral and sometimes material, must be evaluated in terms of the extent of the damage inflicted. It obliges in conscience.

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