Just how far out politically is the Roman Catholic hierarchy these days?
Pretty far out, I’m sorry to say. In fact, it has come to this: Several prominent prelates have lauded William Donohue, the belligerent head of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and author of a new book.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York City, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien formerly of Baltimore, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia are all quoted praising Donohue and his tome Why Catholicism Matters in the latest Catholic League newsletter.
Now, I’ll admit I haven’t read Donohue’s book, but I’ve had run-ins with the man over the years on Fox News and am familiar with his modus operandi. He blusters a good bit and basically attempts to roll over his opponents though intimidation.
Donohue, whose vision of Catholicism comes from about the 14th century (although that’s probably unfair to the 14th century), has perfected the art of the smear. In his world, anyone who disagrees with any policy objective of the Catholic hierarchy is obviously an anti-Catholic bigot. (Of course, this would include the majority of American Catholics, who are famous for breaking with the bishops on issues like divorce, birth control and abortion.)
Like most religious zealots, Donohue believes that his myopic vision of the One True Faith should govern other people’s lives. He’s constantly complaining about art exhibits in public museums that he believes offend Catholicism and once even hectored the National Portrait Gallery in Washington until it removed a video clip Donohue didn’t like.
Donohue doesn’t hesitate to put his bigotry and extremism front and center. In 2004, he appeared on an MSNBC program to praise Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ,” and in the process warned Americans about those pesky West Coast Jews.
Blathered Donohue, “Who really cares what Hollywood thinks? All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It‘s not a secret, OK? And I‘m not afraid to say it.”
Gee, Bill, maybe you should have been afraid to say it because it makes you sound like a crank and an anti-Semite.
And the hits just kept coming! A moment later Donohue added this gem: “Hollywood likes anal sex. They like to see the public square without Nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions. I believe in traditional values and restraint. They believe in libertinism. We have nothing in common. But you know what? The culture war has been ongoing for a long time. Their side has lost. You have got secular Jews. You have got embittered ex-Catholics, including a lot of ex-Catholic priests who hate the Catholic Church, wacko Protestants in the same group, and these people are in the margins…. Mel Gibson represents the mainstream of America.”
In light of Gibson’s subsequent antics, it looks like Donohue backed the wrong horse. If the drunken, frequently anti-Semitics ravings of Gibson represent “the mainstream of America,” then heaven help us all.
Why are top bishops venerating this loon? There may be an old-fashioned quid pro quo here. The bishops may feel they owe Donohue one. After all, he has been a dogged hierarchical apologist during the pedophilia scandal.
According to Blustering Bill, gay priests – not a clerical culture of collusion and cover-up – are to blame. (When it comes to gays, Bill’s not exactly a fan. In one notorious column, he likened gay people to descendants of the Marquis de Sade who celebrate a “death-style” and seek to “pervert society by acting out their own perversions.”)
Donohue has also relentlessly attacked media outlets that have reported on the pedophilia scandal – a classic case of trying to kill the messenger.
In his blurb for the book, Cardinal Wuerl calls Donohue “a preeminent voice defending the Church.” That’s part of the problem. A festering and bitter man who often employs anti-Semitism and gay bashing and who has all the rhetorical skills of a foghorn should not be the preeminent voice of any institution that seeks to be taken seriously.
The bishops are free to anoint Donohue their hero, but I suspect most Americans – including the majority of Catholics – would rather they show him the door.