It isn’t every day you get mentioned in a book (at least not for me) but the pages of Bill Donahue’s “Secular Sabotage: How Liberals Are Destroying Religion and Culture in America” is the last place I wanted my name published.
Donahue is the president of the Catholic League, a far right political group that has designated itself as the watchdog and protector of Catholicism in America.
You might remember him from his comments in 2004 speculating as to whether or not Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” would win an Academy Award. Frank Rich reported at the time:
Will it be the Jews' fault if "The Passion of the Christ," ignored by the Golden Globes this week, comes up empty in the Oscar nominations next month? Why, of course.
"Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular," William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, explained in a colloquy on the subject recently convened by Pat Buchanan on MSNBC. "It's not a secret, O.K.?" Mr. Donohue continued. "And I'm not afraid to say it. That's why they hate this movie. It's about Jesus Christ, and it's about truth."
Donahue also took part in a series of events – Justice Sundays - put on by the Religious Right during the Bush Administration to promote then-President Bush’s judicial nominations. As I noted in 2005, at one appearance:
Donahue…called for a Constitutional amendment that would require a unanimous vote of the Supreme Court to overturn any decision of Congress. He spoke wildly against civil rights for gays and lesbians.
You can see where we might disagree theologically and politically.
Donahue mentions my name in a chapter of his book that assails Democrats in general and attacks the Clergy Leadership Network, a short-lived group of national religious leaders that formed in 2004 to oppose much of the Bush Administration’s policies.
The group‘s executive director, The Rev. Brenda Peterson, was tapped by the Democratic National Committee to serve as the religious outreach coordinator in the run up to the fall election between Bush and John Kerry. At the time, Donahue unleashed a viscous attack on Rev. Peterson, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, which questioned her moral values and patriotism.
Donahue sent out a press release at the time that noted Peterson’s ties to CLN and CLN’s ties to me. As he writes in the book now:
Incredibly, the CLN website also had link to an anti-Catholic site, Chuck Currie’s blog, which featured a piece titled “When Catholic Girls Go Wild” and to MoveOn.org, a left-wing group that has nothing to do with religion.
The actual title of my post was:
It was a satirical title from a post that reviewed a document released by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now the Pope) attacking feminism.
Cleary, I have a different theological perspective than official Roman Catholic Church teaching on many issues - such as the rights of women – but on many other issues – such as poverty, war and peace, and climate change – I deeply admire the Roman Catholic Church for their advocacy. My entire career has been spent in partnership with Roman Catholics working on issues where we have been able to find common ground.
But I’m not the only person Donohue finds anti-Catholic. As I’ve mentioned, he has issues with gays, lesbians, Jews and all Democrats. He also has issues with many other Roman Catholics. In fact, he devotes an entire chapter of his book to attacking other Roman Catholics.That prompted John Gehring of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to ask on The Washington Post's blog On Faith: Why is Bill Donohue angry ... again?
Donohue makes righteous indignation and throwing rhetorical bombs into an art form. He is about as subtle as a fist in your face. If you are looking for reasoned and sensible analysis turn on PBS, Donohue seems to snarl. His latest depiction of cultural doom probably elicits a yawn from most religious Americans who are not obsessed with the bogeymen of multiculturalism, secularism, homosexuality and Hollywood hedonism that Donohue rails against with a bullying style.
Everyday in our churches, mosques and synagogues people of faith gather humbly to pray for wisdom, compassion and justice. We give public expression to this faith by comforting the sick, welcoming the strangers among us and seeking peace in a world torn by violence. We lobby Congress to pass health-care reform, fix a broken immigration system and address global climate change as profound moral issues. Even on difficult issues, we reject culture-war showdowns by encouraging pro-choice and pro-life elected officials to find common ground and reduce abortions by increasing support for pregnant women, expanding adoption opportunities and preventing unintended pregnancies.
It's a shame, if unsurprising, that the media regularly turns to Donohue for a "Catholic view" on issues. While Donohue's bluster makes for sensational television, he rarely raises his voice to speak about issues at the heart of Catholic social teaching. While the U.S. Catholic bishops' 2008 election-year statement on political responsibility emphasized a consistent ethic of life tradition that recognizes torture, unjust war, the death penalty, genocide, racism and poverty as "direct assaults on innocent human life," Donohue is uncharacteristically mute on these points. Abortion is not the only "life issue" for Catholics. As Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles told Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. last year: "We are not a one-issue Church...but that's not what always comes out."
We live in an age where the shrillest voices often drown out sober debate and thoughtful insights. Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh watch their ratings soar with every outrageous remark. Bill Donohue gets invited on TV because he bellows and bloviates with the best of them. While some enjoy the antics, most of us are tired of the noise machine. Faith and reason are not enemies, but together can help illuminate our path through the dark forests of fear, ignorance and injustice. Sometimes we just need to turn down the volume and tune out the shouters to find our way.
Watching Bill Donohue go wild is never a pretty sight.