April 2015 Church & State | People & Events

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious & Civil Rights, has come under scrutiny for earning an inflated salary even though he speaks for what is likely a very small constituency.

Donohue, who has been head of the Catholic League since 1993, is best known today for making inflammatory media statements about a range of topics. For example, he implied recently that the editors of Charlie Hebdo in Paris who were murdered for publishing cartoons that mocked Muhammad brought harm upon themselves by insulting religion.

“Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated. But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction,” Donohue said in a public statement.

Donohue also issued a press release in December 2014 that criticized Americans United for assisting the Satanic Temple, a humanistic group that does not literally worship Satan, in securing permission to put up a holiday display in the Florida State Capitol rotunda in Tallahassee.

Although he was not asked for advice, Donohue’s press release noted that he would “counsel against” the AU-Satanist “coalition,” as he described it.  He went on to say that he would not advise Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn that the display constituted “hate speech at Christmastime” because that allegedly wouldn’t “bother” Lynn.  Instead, he would tell Lynn that it is hypocritical to suggest that “free speech” is for everyone. 

What else is Donohue up to? It is difficult to tell. Despite having over $35 million in assets in 2013, the Catholic League lists only three employees on its website (one of whom is Donohue). It also says little about its activities beyond criticizing people it does not agree with it and publishing an annual report that lists supposed “persecution” against Catholics in the United States.

It is also unclear how many members the Catholic League has. The most recent available membership total is from 1999, when the League claimed it had 233,333 dues-paying members. But given how little the organization actually does, and the fact that more recent numbers are not available, critics say it is unlikely that the Catholic League carries anywhere near that kind of influence.

And yet, the media blog JimRomenesko.com reported in February, Donohue made $474,876 in 2013. That was down slightly from what he made in 2012, but significantly higher than his 2007 salary of $354,420.

“I don’t think he speaks for much of a constituency, and it would not occur to me to quote him as an expert on anything,” wrote Mark Oppenheimer, a New York Times columnist. “It’s striking to me how little impact on policy or the public dialogue the Catholic League has, given its $30 million endowment and Donahue’s $400,000+ annual salary.”