I previously wrote about Bishop Bransfield and the local "newspapers'" coverage of the papal encyclical on climate change here. I noted that the locals ignored or severely edited a great deal of the Associated Press coverage and the only front page story was by local reporter Heather Ziegler who dutifully gave us Bishop Bransfield's reaction to the encyclical. Ziegler's report stayed away from anything that might be considered controversial as Bransfield glossed over or ignored the important points of the pope's message.
Today, Michael Iafrate in the National Catholic Reporter was not nearly as kind to Bransfield as he took the bishop to task for misrepresenting the encyclical.
West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield's public response to Pope Francis' ecological encyclical seems less informed by these pastoral statements than by coal industry talking points.
Iafrate gets specific:
In his comments in various interviews, Bransfield seems engaged in a kind of damage control, reassuring West Virginians that there is no way the pope could actually be calling for a swift end to coal mining. His official statement reads, "Specifically regarding coal, the Holy Father does suggest we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, but in the next sentence of his encyclical, he says we should do so 'only after greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy.' "
"Only after" are not the words used in the encyclical, and Bransfield's deliberate rewording of this phrase suggests a subtle but important change in meaning. He is essentially insisting that Francis simply can't mean what he seems to mean.
In his interview with West Virginia Public Radio, Bransfield's distortion of Francis' words is more extreme. He again cites Francis' call for an end to fossil fuels, but continues: "Right after that in his pastoral he says, 'where it is economically feasible.' It's not economically feasible in West Virginia."
This is simply not what Pope Francis says. Bransfield made this up. (emphasis mine)
But more than simply an error in quotation, Bransfield here seems to be deliberately translating Francis using the language, talking points and falsehoods of the coal industry.
Throughout the article, Iafrate does not pull any of his punches:
More than shortsighted, Bransfield's comments are nothing short of propagandistic. His message to the industry and West Virginia Coal Association, which is understandably upset with the pope's message, seems to be, "Rest easy. The coal industry in West Virginia will not receive any criticism from the church."
It is an excellent article which point-by-point demonstrates that Bransfield is more interested in West Virginia politics than what Pope Francis has written about climate change. It's no wonder that the local "newspapers" gave him front-page coverage.