After 23 years at the Catholic League for Religious & Civil Rights, Bill Donohue is still full of hot air, enough to raise and unmask the face of anti-Catholic bias.
“It is particularly gratifying to note that even those who might prefer a softer approach know where to go when they need someone to do the heavy lifting… It must be said, however, that if they were to wait for friendly diplomats to secure justice, they would still be waiting.” (Catholic League President Bill Donohue in Catalyst, June 2016).
The truth of that quote by Catholic League President Bill Donohue has been demonstrated repeatedly in recent years. There was a time when the mere mention of his name to otherwise well-informed Catholics would cause them to roll their eyes and think, “Is such a vocal defense of Catholics really necessary?” I admit that I was one of those who preferred “a softer approach.” Whenever Donohue appeared on CNN or FOX News, or even EWTN, “blasting someone” (as he, himself put it) about media injustice to Catholics and our traditions and beliefs, I would roll my eyes and pity some of those on the receiving end of his tirades.
I was also sometimes alarmed when I listened closely to his reasoning only to find myself nodding in agreement. I liked his arguments. I just didn’t always like his delivery. But I have come around on that score as well. There is a sort of inconvenient truth in something Donohue recently wrote:
“It is possible to engage critics who are well-intentioned, but when dealing with dishonest foes, no amount of reason or data will persuade. This is why they must be challenged. Indeed, they must be defeated.” (Bill Donohue in Catalyst, June 2016)
It’s an inconvenient truth only for those who have never been on the receiving end of grave injustice inflicted by dishonest foes. I have been. Most of us have heard the story about the National Guard showing up to evacuate a town before a looming flood. After everyone left, one stubborn Catholic remained.
So the soldiers pulled up to his house in a Jeep and pleaded with him to get in, but he refused. “I have faith,” the man declared. “The Lord will save me.” When the waters came, the soldiers returned with a boat at a second floor window, but they got the same refusal. When the water rose higher the soldiers came in a helicopter to pluck the man from his roof, but he insisted his faith would save him. Then he drowned.
In the presence of the Lord, the man asked, “I had faith; why didn’t You save me?” The Lord responded, “What would it take? I sent a Jeep, a boat, and a helicopter and you refused to be saved!” The simple fact is that when enemies are at the gate with but one agenda, to slander and destroy, I have many times found Bill Donohue pulling up in a rhetorical Jeep to confront them. It took finding myself in the sights of those enemies to stop rolling my eyes long enough to see the necessity of a Bill Donohue in the face of anti-Catholic prejudice.
It has taken on a different mask than it wore in the past. It uses modern media to weave a web of lies and half-truths to undermine Catholic voices by presenting the Church and your faith as irrelevant, or ridiculous, or both. It twists history to cast the Church as an oppressor, and to park it far outside the public square.
LUST AND GREED ARE BOTH DEADLY SINS
In 2003, six years before These Stone Walls began, I wrote my first letter to Bill Donohue. It was a horrible time for me. The Boston Globe’s moral panic was spreading like a wildfire across the U.S. and, like all things American, spreading over the whole world. In 2003, one wave of accusations was being settled by bishops and dioceses overwhelmed by the attacks and claims. Another wave, a much larger and more destructive one, was just then building in the offices of contingency lawyers and the news media coast to coast.
The first civil liberty to go out the window was the presumption of innocence for any accused Catholic priest. Both in and outside of the Church, no distinction whatsoever was made between proven claims and mere accusations. Every accused priest has to be guilty for the settlement process to continue unabated. It was the dawn of “The Judas Crisis.” Even now, there is still more untold scandal in it than you know.
From my wrongful imprisonment, I wrote many dozens of letters to U.S. Catholic leaders exposing the dark side of the force at work. It was a truth that Ryan MacDonald expressed well back then: “Greed is right up there with lust among the Seven Deadly Sins.” In 2002 and 2003, the crux of the crisis shifted from the sins of priests to the sins of false accusers using a moral panic to destroy reputations and fleece the Church. One former FBI agent investigating the post-2002 claims – which composed seventy percent of total claims to date – declared that more than half were false and motivated by financial gain.
Great pressure was brought to bear on U.S. bishops by S.N.A.P. and the secular media to block their ears against this side of the story. Fear prevailed throughout the American Catholic church. Of the nearly one hundred letters I wrote with documentation of false accusations from 2003 to 2005, only three Catholic leaders responded: Cardinal Avery Dulles, Father Richard John Neuhaus, and Catholic League President Bill Donohue. It took great courage for them to respond so forcefully against the tide of rhetoric aimed at the Church. Bill Donohue wrote of the opposition to his being fair to me, but he was persuaded by the evidence researched and exposed in “A Priest’s Story” by Dorothy Rabinowitz in 2005.
Later that same year, Bill Donohue – who would not be bullied by S.N A.P and the news media – invited me to contribute a feature article for the Catholic League Journal, Catalyst. I wrote “Sex Abuse and Signs of Fraud” for the November 2005 issue, and the response to it was vast.
Later, at just about the time These Stone Walls began, Donohue published another feature article by me in Catalyst entitled, “Due Process for Accused Priests” for the July/August 2009 edition. I attribute the inspiration for These Stone Walls to Cardinal Dulles and Father Neuhaus, but the fact that I write at all is due to the courage and sense of justice of Bill Donohue. When I was afraid that writing might broaden the target on my own back – a fear I described in “Seven Years Behind These Stone Walls”- Bill Donohue challenged me:
“The truth is what will always be in the best interests of the Church. Exposing the truth is what will be most in service to the Church.”
Fidelity does not obscure truth. It requires it, shouted from the rooftops if necessary. I wrote of that challenge to live up to the mandate to write the truth as a Catholic voice in the public square in a 2010 post, “In the Year of the Priest, Are Civil Liberties for Priests Intact?” Donohue himself answered that question in an appearance on NBC’s “TODAY” show, and it’s a quote immortalized on the “About” Page on These Stone Walls:
“There is no segment of the American population with less civil liberties protection than the average American Catholic priest.” (October 13, 2005).
Donohue made that statement on national television while refuting some contingency lawyers looking to keep the momentum of accusations and demands for mediated settlements going. To make his point, Donohue cited the case against me, and he took some heat for it. It took being on the receiving end of grave injustice and the suppression of basic rights to see more clearly the necessity of a consistent and unrelenting voice like Bill Donohue’s in the Catholic public square. Consider this little gem from Donohue’s op-ed, “From the President’s desk: Looking Back” in the June 2016 issue of Catalyst:
“I was in this job for about a year when I held a press conference at City Hall, downtown New York. I forget what I was speaking about – no doubt blasting someone – but I remember what happened when the event was over. After the cameramen turned off their equipment, they confronted me and said, ‘We’re all Jewish, and we were wondering why it took so long for Catholics to fight back.’”
I have to add that when I heeded a call to help save another prisoner whose life was left in ruins by the injustice and abuse of others, I was powerless to intervene without help. I wrote to dozens of Catholic Charities affiliates and offices of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. Nothing but silence. I wrote to numerous Catholic agencies with global ties asking for assistance and guidance. All met nothing but silence.
Bill Donohue was the only prominent Catholic voice to respond. He asked permission to publish “Pornchai’s Story” as the “Conversion story of 2008” at CatholicLeague.org. It blasted open the first in a long series of doors to a new life and future for Pornchai Maximilian Moontri.
THE SUBLETY OF CATHOLIC SMEARS
My membership in the Catholic League has sensitized me to recognize and respond to subtle anti-Catholic smears in the media. The prejudice has an agenda, and sometimes the most obscure venues are used to attach it to whatever is in the current news stream. I could just sit back and let someone else expose this. It’s easy to just cross the road and leave the truth laying there beaten and bruised for someone else to deal with. Here’s a recent, glaring example.
On the day before our friends in the U.K. voted for “Brexit,” the controversial mandate to leave the European Union, Matt Ridley published a Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled “The Business Case for Brexit” (June 22, 2016). Matt Ridley is a columnist for the U.K. Times and a member of the British House of Lords. In his influential op-ed, he laid out a compelling case for a Brexit “Leave” vote, relying on the economic and political history of 20th Century Europe to convince readers of the wisdom of his concluding sentence, “I shall be voting Leave.” I was dismayed, however, that he used the opportunity to put forth a classic example of history re-told though an anti-Catholic lens:
“In voting… on whether to leave the European Union, the British people face the most momentous decision since Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century so he could marry as he pleased. Though lust is not the motivation this time, there are other similarities. The Catholic Church five centuries ago was run by an unelected supranational elite, answerable to its own courts, living in luxury at the expense of ordinary people, and with powers to impose its one-size-fits-all rules despite the wishes of national governments. We were right to leave.”
Seriously folks? King Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church so he could marry as he pleased? Henry wanted to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, on specious grounds because she did not produce a male heir. Catherine was exiled into retirement, but neither she nor the pope accepted to annul the marriage. Henry went on to have six wives. He executed two and divorced two others. Matt Ridley’s statement that England was “right to leave” the Church is ludicrous. England didn’t “leave.” Henry expelled Catholicism from England. He tortured, beheaded, and dismembered many priests and other Catholics who would not go along including his own Chancellor, Thomas More (who suddenly appears in my posts a lot lately!).
Henry VIII then dissolved the monasteries and banished all vestiges of Catholic identity and presence, giving rise to Protestantism. To infer, as Mr. Ridley does, that the Catholic Church five centuries ago “was run by an unelected elite” is ridiculous. Does he suggest that Henry VIII was elected in a democracy? Democracy did not exist five centuries ago.
Saint Thomas More was martyred for refusing on conscience grounds to sign an Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry VIII to be the “incontestable” leader of the Church in England. In a recent brief but excellent article at Aleteia, Tod Warner wrote of this, and of the beautiful prayer offered by Thomas More “from the all-consuming blackness” of prison. The article is “A Prayer from a Dead Man Walking: The Hope of St. Thomas More.”
I was fuming when I read Matt Ridley’s revisionist history. A few years ago, I would have shrugged it off, seeing as inconsequential the never-ending media distortions when it comes to the Catholic Church. I have learned, however, from the Master of Hot Air himself, that it takes a little courage, and no small amount of hot air, for the truth to rise to the rooftops to be shouted with strength and clarity. This July, Bill Donohue marks 23 years at the helm of the Catholic League where hot air continues to rise in just that way.
“Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the Blood of his own Son. I know that after my departure, fierce wolves will come…” (Saint Paul, Acts 20:29)
Note from Father Gordon MacRae:
If you haven’t done so already, please consider membership in the Catholic League (www.CatholicLeague.org). The $30 annual membership fee ($20 for seniors and students) includes a subscription to Catalyst: The Journal of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. It’s what opened my eyes and uncapped my pen!
Bill Donohue’s latest book, The Catholic Advantage, is a surprising read about how the “Three B’s” – beliefs, bonds, and boundaries – are the surest way to achieve the “Three H’s” – health, happiness, and heaven. The book is an inspired and inspiring account of the great contributions of Catholics and our faith to life in the modern world.
Father Leonard Klein has a fine review of The Catholic Advantage entitled “Why Catholics Live Life to the Full” (Aleteia, June 4, 2015).