Bishop Apologizes to Covington Students He Threatened to Expel, Says He Was ‘Bullied’

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
January 26, 2019 Updated: January 26, 2019

The Kentucky bishop who threatened to expel high school students who were confronted by a religious fringe group and a group of Native Americans in Washington apologized for the threat, claiming he was “bullied” and “pressured” to make the statement.

Covington Catholic High School students in the nation’s capital on Jan. 18 were accosted by Black Hebrew Israelites, who hurled a slew of obscenities at them. Then, Native American activist Nathan Phillips approached them and started banging a drum in the face of one student, Nick Sandmann, while a member of his group shouted at the students to “go back to Europe.”

An edited video of the encounter spread widely later that day and into the next, utilized by a slew of media outlets to publish articles denouncing the students for alleged racism. But when the full video footage of the situation emerged, many reporters and media outlets were forced to backtrack, acknowledging that the reports were based on limited information.

In his initial statement, Rev. Roger Foys, who oversees the high school, said that the students’ behavior “is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person.”

Nick Sandmann in crowd
Nick Sandmann, wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, looks at Nathan Phillips, a Native American anti-President Donald Trump activist, after Philipps approached the Covington Catholic High School student in Washington on Jan. 18, 2019. (Survival Media Agency via AP)

He said that school officials had launched an investigation and that Sandmann and other students could be expelled.

Reversing the statement in a letter to parents, Foys said: “We apologize to anyone who has been offended in any way by either of our statements which were made with goodwill based on the information we had.”

“We should not have allowed ourselves to be bullied and pressured into making a statement prematurely, and we take full responsibility for it,” he added in the Jan. 25 letter, which was obtained and published in full by the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I especially apologize to Nicholas Sandmann and his family as well as to all CovCath families who have felt abandoned during this ordeal.”

Foys acknowledged bowing to pressure applied on the basis of the misleading video clip that circulated and was promoted by a number of media outlets before noting that many people who contacted him urging him to condemn the students changed their minds after seeing the full video.

Covington Bishop Roger Foys… by on Scribd

“Some of the very same people who had put tremendous pressure on us to condemn the actions of the students now wanted a retraction,” he said.

Foys said that an investigation by a third party is still ongoing and vowed to make the results public.

“In the meantime, we call on all those who continue to spew venom and hate to desist and instead pray for a peaceful resolution to this tragic spectacle,” he wrote, denouncing the death threats made against the school, students, and their parents.

He also said he would not fire Robert Rowe, the Covington Catholic principal.

Police at Covington
Students arrive at Covington Catholic High School as classes resume following a closing due to security concerns the previous day on Jan. 23, 2019, in Park Hills, Ky. Local police authorities controlled access to the property at entrances and exits. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The letter came a day after Foys delivered a speech to a silent gym filled with faculty, staff, and students on Jan. 23.

“These last four days have been a living hell for many of you, for your parents, for your relatives, for your friends and it certainly has been for me,” Bishop Foys told the crowd, reported the school newspaper (pdf). “We are under all kinds of pressure from a lot of different people, for a lot of different reasons.”

He said that the number of vested interests meant that the situation was “a no-win situation.”

“We are not going to win. No matter what we say, one way or another, there are going to be people who are going to argue about it, people who will try to get into people’s heads and say, ‘This is what he meant. This is what they meant when they were doing this and doing that.’ The best we can do is, first of all, to find out the truth, to find out what really went on, what really happened,” he said.

“So we do have investigators who are here today, a third-party who are not associated with our diocese, not associated with me or with the school, who are working on this investigation to find out what happened.”

“We have to ask ourselves, what are we going to learn from this? One of the things I hope we’ve learned, I hope you’ve learned, is that perception can become reality,” he added.

“A person can be doing something that is absolutely innocent but if he gives the slightest hint, the slightest perception, that this is something wrong that is what people are going to remember, and then for them that becomes their reality.”

From NTD News

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.