Catholic League Press Release Attacks MRFF
Chris Rodda printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Apr 09, 2008 at 01:02:39 AM EST
In a press release grossly distorting an event to be held today, April 9, 2008, at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Catholic League president Bill Donohue has accused Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, of an "outrageous assault on Catholicism." In addition to Donohue's misleading description of the event and unfounded accusations, the Catholic League's press release completely omits the reason this event is even taking place, and instead focuses entirely on a film, one short clip from which will be shown as a small part of the overall presentation.


April 8, 2008

Tomorrow, the U.S. Air Force Academy is mandating that hundreds of students and faculty members attend a closed-door lecture on religious intolerance. It will also show clips from "Constantine's Sword," an upcoming movie. Catholic League president Bill Donohue registered his objections to this event today:

"The person pushing this agenda is Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation; he also appears in the film. In the mission statement of his organization, he stakes out a position against any member of the armed forces being `compelled to conform to a particular religion or religious philosophy.' But evidently Weinstein has no problem orchestrating a propaganda film that trashes Catholicism -- in the name of fighting religious intolerance -- all the while insisting that the cadets and faculty be `compelled' to attend.

"The movie is based on the widely discredited book by James Carroll, an embittered ex-priest. The book says the Gospels are inherently anti-Semitic and that unless the New Testament is gutted to the point where the messiahship of Jesus is rejected, Christian anti-Semitism will not end.

"The New York Review of Books said of Carroll that `He is not a historian; everything he has to say on the subject of anti-Semitism is borrowed from other writers, and much of what he offers as fact is in reality highly contentious.' The authoritative interreligious journal, First Things, said, `He has no degrees in the subject and, to judge from this book, no expertise in either Jewish history or church history.' Penn State professor Philip Jenkins went further saying, `He is overrepresenting his case in order to justify a `reform agenda' that amounts to a blueprint for the annihilation of the Catholic Church.'

"We are sending copies of books by noted authors on this subject to the Academy's library, and we will also contact Superintendent Regni to see if he wants more. Moreover, we are contacting Colorado public officials, as well as D.C. officials who oversee the military academies, about this outrageous assault on Catholicism." Contact

What the Catholic League leaves out of the story is that today's presentation at the Air Force Academy is an effort to counter the message of intolerance recently delivered at the Academy by the "3 ex-terrorists." In February, self-proclaimed ex-Muslim terrorists turned evangelical Christians -- Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem and Zachariah Anani -- spoke at the Annual Academy Assembly on the topic "Dismantling Terrorism: Developing Actionable Solutions for Today's Plague of Violence." The appearance of these speakers, known for their anti-Muslim rhetoric, was criticized by both MRFF and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). At that event, Walid Shoebat, when asked if he thought Muslims should be killed, responded, "You want to know if I think we should kill Muslims. I would never say that, that would be a stupid thing to say. We have to kill Islam."

In addition to their offensive message, the "3 ex-terrorists" also appear to be frauds. Since beginning their speaking careers, the authenticity of their claims has been repeatedly challenged by academics and terrorism experts, who have found that many aspects of their stories don't add up.

The speakers at today's event will be MRFF president and Air Force Academy graduate Mikey Weinstein, a former White House counsel under President Reagan, and former general counsel for Texas billionaire and two-time presidential candidate H. Ross Perot; former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson; and Islamic expert Reza Aslan, a research associate at the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy. Although Academy spokesman Johnny Whitaker said the Academy's decision to allow today's event was not in response to the criticism, he acknowledged that it occurred only after the complaints were made.

The Catholic League's portrayal of MRFF as anti-Catholic is ridiculous. Of the over 7,500 service members and veterans who have contacted MRFF for assistance, 96% have been Christians, and 1,800 have been Catholic. MRFF has received virtually no complaints about Catholic chaplains or unconstitutional activities by Catholic organizations within the military. Among the prominent members of MRFF's diverse Advisory Board is Gen. Robert T. Herres, USAF (ret.), former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- and a Catholic.

Today's event is mandatory because it is part of the academic day, approved by Brig. Gen. Dana Born, Dean of the Faculty at the Academy -- also a Catholic. The "3 ex-terrorists" event was also mandatory for those cadets whose academic schedule included the Annual Academy Assembly. The clip from "Constantine's Sword" that will be shown is from a part of the film focusing specifically on the Academy and Colorado Springs, and includes a news clip featuring Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa, USAF (ret.), Superintendent of the Academy from 2003 to 2005 -- another Catholic.

Donohue's mischaracterizing "Constantine's Sword" as "Catholic-bashing" is absolutely absurd. In fact, the James Carroll book upon which the film is based explicitly illuminates examples of Catholic iconoclasts such as Peter Abelard, Nicolaus of Cusa and Pope John XXIII as ideal examples of how a more tolerant, Enlightened Catholic faith should be lived.

What Donohue is actually doing is quite simple. As is his tired old habit, he is casting any form of Catholic thought that loyally dissents from a traditionalist mindset as Catholic bashing. His modus operandi is no different from Medieval Neo-Platonist reactionaries who spurned the scholasticism and rational inquiry teachings of Thomas Aquinas.

As for Donohue's pronouncement that Carroll's book has been "widely discredited," more than a few prominent theologians, Catholics among them, would seem to disagree. While many of the book's reviewers have expressed their own ideological differences with certain aspects of Carroll's book, almost all agree that the overall subject is an important one that needs to be addressed, and almost none have made assertions of "Catholic-bashing."

This is the case even with one of the reviews quoted by Donohue, who, in the press release, presents only this one sentence from The New York Review of Books:

"He is not a historian; everything he has to say on the subject of anti-Semitism is borrowed from other writers, and much of what he offers as fact is in reality highly contentious."

The very next sentence of that review was:

"It is valuable all the same to have a Catholic writer trace, without hysteria or self-exculpation, the deep strain of anti-Jewish sentiment that has always infected Christianity, from the polemic against 'he Jews' in Saint John's Gospel down to some of the more unguarded recent utterances of the defenders of Papa Pacelli."

This seems to be the consensus among the most qualified reviewers.

"[Carroll] sees the anti-Jewish theme among Christians to be the basic flaw in Christianity. Christians, especially Catholics, have to own up to this, repent and reinterpret their relation to Jews." -- Martin Marty,Newsday

Martin Marty, an ordained Lutheran minister and columnist for the Christian Century since 1956, has been president of the American of Religion, the American Society of Church History, and the American Catholic Historical Association. He is an elected member of the American Antiquarian Society and of the Society of American Historians, an elected fellow of the American Philosophical Society. Marty is the author of 50 books and over 5,000 articles, and has received 75 honorary doctorates. The Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where Marty taught from 1963 to 1998, was named for him upon his retirement.

"While it is difficult for Catholics to hear this story from [Carroll], our moral integrity as a church demands that we listen. ...This history needs to be restored to Catholic consciousness as challenging to faith as this can prove to be." -- Fr. John T. Pawlikowski, National Catholic Reporter

Fr. Pawlikowski, the author of 10 books, including Catechetics and Christ, Sinai and the Calvary, The Challenge of the Holocaust for Christian Theology, Christ in the Light of the Christian-Jewish Dialogue, and Jesus and the Theology of Israel, is a Servite priest and Professor of Social Ethics at the Catholic Theological Union (CTU), a constituent school of the cluster of theological schools at the University of Chicago, and director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies program at CTU's Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Center. He is a founding member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, appointed by Jimmy Carter in 1980, and reappointed by both President George Bush and President Bill Clinton. He is also a member of the Advisory Committee on Catholic-Jewish Relations, National Conference of Catholic Bishops. His awards include the Nostra Aetate Award from the Archdiocese of Chicago, an award acknowledging distinguished and scholarly work done by an individual in the field of Catholic-Jewish relations. Fr. Pawlikowski appears in the film "Constantine's Sword."

"A deeply religious book written at levels of understanding and with clarity of insights rarely -- if ever -- reached in the telling of this painful story." -- Bishop Krister Stendahl, former dean, Harvard Divinity School

It does feature the Air Force Academy in the context of religious intolerance and relates it to religious intolerance in Europe since the rise of the Catholic Church to power during Constantine.

Unlike James Carroll, Bill Donohue is not much of an intellectual and he is a tool of the neo-con right.

by Shockwave on Wed Apr 09, 2008 at 02:29:11 AM EST

Screamin' Bill Donohue doesn't speak for very many Catholics like myself. You accurately describe his agenda to attack "any form of Catholic thought that loyally dissents from a traditionalist mindset as Catholic bashing." Donohue is quick to criticize those Catholics like myself who substantially disagree with him as insufficiently loyal to Catholicism, and calls non-Catholics who disagree with him anti-Catholic.

By the way, I do have James Carroll's book Constantine's Sword and think it is excellent. I would recommend the book for anyone wanting to know more about the institutional anti-Semitism present for centuries in the Christian churches. I would like to see the movie.

by khughes1963 on Wed Apr 09, 2008 at 10:10:48 AM EST

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