Catholic leaders publicly condemned school boys, but remain silent after videos proved their innocence

Joshua Gill, DCNF

  • 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.

The students’ own diocese publicly condemned them, reportedly without reaching out to them for clarification about the situation.

“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.

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.

Catholic commentator John Gehring, Catholic theologian Natalia Imperatori, and Catholic journalist Colleen Dulle also numbered among the students’ public detractors.

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.”

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.”

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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