Kentucky Catholic diocese apologizes for condemning students in viral video with Native American elder

A Catholic diocese in Kentucky said Friday it was “bullied and pressured” into a making a premature statement about a viral video showing a confrontation between a Native American elder and a Catholic school student, according to a letter the diocese’s bishop wrote to parents.

The Rev. Roger J. Foys said in the letter that the leadership of the Diocese of Covington was “being pressured from all sides to make a statement” about the video clip.

“We are sorry that this situation has caused such disruption in the lives of so many,” Foys wrote. “We apologize to anyone who has been offended in any way of our statements which were made with good will 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.”

Foys wrote he especially wanted to apologize to Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann — the teen featured prominently in the video — his family and all the Covington families affected by the video.

“Nicholas unfortunately has become the face of these allegations based on video clips. This is not fair. It is not just,” Foys wrote.

The original January 19 statement said the diocese condemned the actions of the Covington students for the January 18 incident with Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips in Washington. The church also issued an apology to Phillips.

After more videos surfaced showing other vantage points, “the very same people who had put tremendous pressure on us to condemn the actions of the students now wanted a retraction from anyone who had previously issued a statement critical of them,” Foys’ Friday letter says. “All of this based again on a video.”

Foys also wrote that Covington students and their families received death threats. The school was closed Tuesday, but reopened Wednesday morning, according to a letter from the high school to parents obtained by CNN affiliate WCPO.

The diocese is now awaiting the results of the investigation into the incident.

“It is my hope and expectation that the results will exonerate our students so that they can move forward with their lives,” Foys wrote.

One video, two stories

The video of the confrontation surfaced January 18. It showed students from the all-boys Covington Catholic High School wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and mocking Phillips as he played a drum and chanted.

The students were in Washington for the school’s annual trip to the March for Life rally.

A second video surfaced Sunday showing another group, who identify themselves as members of the Hebrew Israelites, taunting students with disparaging and vulgar language, before the encounter with the Native American.

Covington Catholic parents told CNN affiliate WKRC the students did not incite violence and were calm as taunts were hurled at them. One parent said he tried to intervene to defuse the situation.

Speaking out for the first time, on the “Today” show Wednesday, Nick said he doesn’t owe anyone an apology, but he respects Phillips and would be willing to engage in dialogue with him. Nick also said neither he nor any of his classmates are racist and they’ve been mischaracterized based on videos of the scene that unfolded in front of the Lincoln Memorial last week.

Phillips, on the other hand, told CNN this week he felt was hatred coming from the young people in the crowd. When asked about Nick standing in front of him, Phillips told CNN he was trying to retreat and the only way he could do so was to go forward.

“When I started going forward and that mass of groups of people started separating and moving aside to allow me to move out of the way or to proceed, this young fellow put himself in front of me and wouldn’t move,” Phillips said.

Phillips is offering to travel to Covington Catholic High School to talk about the importance of respecting diverse cultures, according to a statement from the Lakota People’s Law Project.

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