A New Nadir for William Donohue
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat May 23, 2009 at 04:48:27 PM EST
Just when I thought Bill Donohue head of the Catholic League could not go any lower  he callously downplayed a horrific story of decades of pedophilia and child abuse committed by Irish Catholic priests and nuns.  This, according to a 2,600 page report prepared by an investigatory commission set up by the Irish Government and chaired by a judge of the country's High Court.  
The New York Times reported: "Tens of thousands of Irish children were sexually, physically and emotionally abused by nuns, priests and others over 60 years in a network of church-run residential schools meant to care for the poor, the vulnerable and the unwanted, according to a report released in Dublin on Wednesday."

In that very disturbing report, a systemic pattern of child abuse was revealed. From a documented period beginning in 1936 children placed in the care of the Congregation of Christian Brothers and other religious orders were subject to some of the worst possible abuses. Priests, nuns and brothers participated in thousands of rapes of boys and girls; allowed stronger boys and custodial to staff sexually abuse weaker or younger boys; sadistically punish children for the slightest offense, as well as engaging in the ritualized beating of girls.

Some of the actions could be easily considered torture. For example, one victim described how he and other boys were gotten out of bed and "made to walk around naked with other boys whilst brothers used their canes and flicked at their penis." Beyond that, the children were consistently subject prison-like living conditions, and other psychologically damaging humiliations.

Donohue responded to the Times story in a letter to the editor, printed in the May 22, 2009 edition, by splitting hairs and diverting attention from the seriousness of the crimes committed and the utter betrayal of the children in the care of Church-run schools and orphanages.

The news article about the Irish clergy abuse says "girls were routinely sexually abused," yet the report explicitly says on Page 11 that "in general, girls' schools were not as physically harsh as boys' schools and there was no persistent problem of sexual abuse."

More important, the report labels four types of abuse: physical, sexual, neglect and emotional. This includes things like "kissing," "inappropriate sexual talk," "being kicked," "inadequate heating," "lack of attachment and affection" and so on; regarding sexual abuse, the most common form was fondling, not rape.

To conflate serious abuse with punitive measures that were not uncommon at the time (82 percent of the incidents took place before 1970) is manifestly unfair.

The audacity of his letter was only matched by a Catholic League press release issued two days earlier, in which Donohue claimed:  

The Irish report suffers from conflating minor instances of abuse with serious ones, thus demeaning the latter. When most people hear of the term abuse, they do not think about being slapped, being chilly, being ignored or, for that matter, having someone stare at you in the shower. They think about rape.

Donohue concluded by trying to negate the severity of the report by trivializing it, callously declaring, "By cheapening rape, the report demeans the big victims. But, of course, there is a huge market for such distortions, especially when the accused is the Catholic Church."

Such statements are outrageous. Does Bill Donohue truly believe that there is anything normal about an older man watching children shower ready to beat them with a strap if they rinsed off too slowly?

And obviously Donohue failed to read a key paragraph in the report's Executive Summary that unequivocally stated, "This Report should give rise to debate and reflection. Although institutional care belongs to a  different era, many of the lessons to be learned from what happened have contemporary applications for the protection of vulnerable people in our society."

The commission's report found that rape and sexual abuse of young male students inflicted by the Christian Brothers order, "was a chronic problem." But Donohue just ignored that part.

But Donohue's letter contradicts his earlier statements on the general issue of child sex abuse in the Church.  Donohue has been one of several on the Catholic Right who have maintained that the pedophilia scandal was the result of the liberalizing effects of Vatican II.   Instead of looking at the pre-Pope John XXIII authoritarian mindset, Donohue all-too-conveniently places the blame on modernity.

As a Catholic I am angry at my church for first letting such abuses take place, and then trying to cover them up. I am even more incensed when Donohue and others try to defend the indefensible. A National Catholic Reporter article on the issue by Father Thomas Doyle was recently reposted at the web site Enlightened Catholicism.  Unlike Donohue, Doyle speaks truth to power:

The Church cannot and will not fix itself. The very reality of the systemic abuse in the Irish institutions (and elsewhere as well) reveals a deep disdain for people by those charged with leading the Church. There has been an abandonment of the fundamental values that are supposed to vivify the Church if indeed these values were ever really internalized by many in positions of power. There is something radically wrong with the institutional Catholic Church. This is painfully obvious because it allows systemic abuse and radical dishonesty to coexist with its self-proclaimed identity as the Kingdom of God on earth....

The institutional Church is defensively changing its approach to the systematic abuse all too slowly and only because it is forced to do so by external forces it cannot control. The Irish government commission is one and the U.S. legal system is another.

Father Doyle's clear-eyed assessment of the condition of the Church, illustrates for us the necessity keeping church and state separate. Only a government that is not intertwined with a given religious hierarchy can properly effect such necessary change. He speaks with the honesty and decency millions of Catholics like me expect from our Church.  Bill Donohue, de factor hatchet man for the hierarchy, does not.   We wish he would just shut up and go away.

And Donohue's clueless reaction once and for all demonstrates that he far more concerned with the power of hierarchies rather than flesh and blood human beings.

When this vulgar man makes his next television appearance, I hope that the public expresses revulsion to the point of driving him into a long deserved obscurity.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat May 23, 2009 at 04:57:19 PM EST

This is not meant to bash the Catholic leity, but wherever you have an autocratic hierarchy that is accorded great respect and reverence by the communities they oversee, it's not really that surprising this type of abuse happens.

There is no reason why religious organizations should be exempt from corruption that stems from wielding so much institutional power, and no doubt the fear of losing that power was instrumental in the decades-long cover up.

It's ironic that the new Archbishop of Winchester, just last week, chose to bash atheism as a worse evil than sin.  Last time I looked, it wasn't atheists who were involved in the systematic raping of children and covering up their crimes.

Conservative Catholics, whether they're in the heirarchy or outside it (like Donohue and Relevant Radio) have a vested interest in downplaying the horrors.  They need the authority of the church to remain intact in order to stay in power and maintain a hold on their supporters.  So it doesn't surprise me in the least when I see such pathetic comments from them.

by tacitus on Sat May 23, 2009 at 06:31:47 PM EST

And when a faith or its adherents loses humility, it loses everything.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat May 23, 2009 at 07:41:21 PM EST

of a show we watched a few days ago.   It was about Michelangelo and the Spirituali, and the conflicts within the church of the time.  In that, the conservatives very much reminded me of Donohue and like ilk- they wanted to preserve their power and "position" against ANYTHING that would diminish it even in the slightest- and didn't want any changes in their Church.

We both agreed that this world probably would have become a much better place if the Spirituali had succeeded.  Maybe all of the sectarian violence over the succeeding years might not have happened!!!

by ArchaeoBob on Sat May 23, 2009 at 07:45:19 PM EST

Irving Stone's "The Agony and the Ecstasy" about the life Michelangelo.  It gets into the artists battle with the pope, but early on about a priest named Savonarola.  He accuses the church hierarchy of greed and wickedness, and whips up the sentiment amongst the people of Florence claiming it is Sodom and evil to the point where artworks are smashed, the Medici castle is sacked and the Medici family driven into hiding, and Michelangelo flees north to find refuge to work as an artist.

It's interesting how the same tactics keep cropping up...because they work.

by Yankee in exile on Sun May 24, 2009 at 12:10:09 PM EST

If you are trying to frame me as a Savonarola, that isn't what I'm after. I have no problem with the Church patronizing the arts. Nor am I after violently overthrowing the Catholic Church.

What I am after is reform from within. And an integral part of such reform is renouncing demagogues such as William Donohue.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun May 24, 2009 at 01:38:02 PM EST

According to the show, the Spirituali were seeking to reform the Roman Catholic church from within and disagreed with the abuses of the day.  They advocated personal faith and belief as leading to salvation, as opposed to just obeying church rules and giving money.

Their goal was not overthrow or destruction, but reformation.  I would bet that they've been characterized as seeking destruction by the heirarchy.

They were opposed by a conservative Bishop who didn't want the Church changed in any way.  He won and destroyed the Spirituali- in fact if I remember right it was when the Inquisition really took off.

Donohue reminds me of that bishop- and makes me wonder what he gets out of the deal.

by ArchaeoBob on Sun May 24, 2009 at 05:20:56 PM EST

Donohue reminds me of that bishop- and makes me wonder what he gets out of the deal.

That's simple Bob: About $325,000 a year plus a pretty good retirement plan.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun May 24, 2009 at 08:15:26 PM EST

The book, expansively, is about power and freedom.  But if you are so sensitive to find personal criticism where there is none, sir, then that is YOUR problem only.

I have in the past enjoyed your posts regarding your views on the Catholic Church and its direction.  I have suddenly decided that since you find any input to be soooo offensive, then stick it and your posts!!

by Yankee in exile on Wed May 27, 2009 at 09:58:44 AM EST

All I said was that your point was unclear; my response had nothing to do with "being sensitive to criticism."

by Frank Cocozzelli on Thu May 28, 2009 at 07:27:08 AM EST

Screamin' Bill is an apologist for the worst in the institutional Church. Just when you think he can't go any lower, he manages to outdo even your worst expectations.

by khughes1963 on Sat May 23, 2009 at 11:41:01 PM EST
Click right here for an excellent analysis of Donohue's revolting reaction, posted over at Enlightened Catholicism.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun May 24, 2009 at 01:30:20 PM EST

We wish he would just shut up and go away.

Bonohue serves a very useful function for the Catholic Church in the US, even if he is "outside the hierarchy". Allowing the bishops to play the dignified "good cop" role while still unleashing demagogic hate campaigns on their critics gives the upper ranks of the church the best of both worlds.

It's hard to imagine that if his local Archbishop were to tell Donohue, privately or publicly, "Thanks, Bill, you can go home now, and please donate the Catholic League's remaining treasury to our legal defense fund," that he would feel he had any choice in the matter. It's harder yet to believe he will ever hear such a message, or even a quiet "take it easy".

by Pierce R Butler on Sun May 24, 2009 at 06:49:57 PM EST

I am quite willing to believe that Bill Donahue is as big an ass as you say - though I know nothing about him. That being said, he dies make a valid point.

My very first thought when I saw the quote "Tens of thousands of Irish children were sexually, physically and emotionally abused....." was how can they lump those different kinds of abuse together. They are very different - and "emotional abuse" in particular, though certainly real, suffers greatly from being defined in the eye of the beholder. It is real, but it is very hard to agree on.

I will not read the report, because I have little stomach for such things, but I am sure that the unvarnished facts of what actually took place are hideous enough.

By conflating different forms of abuse to generate a spectacular statistic, the quoted article weakens its own case and gives people like Donahue ammunition.


by scrocker1946 on Sun May 24, 2009 at 10:13:38 PM EST

Don't underestimate the power of emotional abuse.  It can be just as severe as physical and sexual abuse- although both generally also include equal measures of mental and/or emotional abuse.  The damage from emotional abuse can warp and bring pain for a lifetime.

The worst injuries can be those on the inside.  I've met people in their later years (70 and far older) whose entire life on earth had been a living hell, because of the damage done to them in their childhood.  Even those who find ways to deal with emotional or mental abuse usually require many years to recover- if they ever do.

Mental and emotional abuse rightfully belongs in the list equal to physical and sexual abuse!

I already despised Donahue, and IMO this reflects his true nature- and it's not one I think most people would associate with Christianity.

by ArchaeoBob on Mon May 25, 2009 at 02:00:45 AM EST

I did not intend to minimize the reality or damaging quality of emotional abuse. I have personally witnessed (for example) a drunken parent violently cursing their 3 year old child for crawling out the front door.

You and I might likely agree on what is emotionally abusive. My point is that for the puiblic generally, and perhaps even within the professional community, the definition of emotional abuse lacks clarity and lacks consensus. Is it emotional abuse when a parent refuses to allow a child to dress in the fashion of their peers, for instance? If a parent raises their voice to a child? (to some extent this is even a problem defining physical abuse. Do spankings count? )

My point is that including underdefined phenomenon in the same statistic as better defined phenomena is sloppy reporting. Nobody reading the quoted sentence can gain a clear idea of what exactly there were 10,000 cases of, unless they read the actual report.

Skeptics are thus free to see sensation mongering, even if the statistic might have been entirely justified. In other words "cannot determine based on the information given".


by scrocker1946 on Sat May 30, 2009 at 12:51:52 AM EST

I think you are dwelling in nit pick land.

Arm chair PR is a great diversion from the things that really matter -- such as the magnitude of systemic abuses by the Church and the cover-up by the Church and the wider society, whether Ireland or the U.S. and how, even after the scandal is exposed, is aided and abetted by the Religious Right -- which is what this diary is about.

This site is about the Religious Right and what to do about it. Donohue -- whom you acknowledge you know nothing about -- is seeking to divert attention from the issue at hand. Please don't aid him in his task.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat May 30, 2009 at 11:58:44 AM EST

It is precisely because child abuse is one of the things that really matter that journalistic integrity when reporting on it is an important issue. Taking rhetorical cheap shots when the unvarnished facts are capable of standing on their own is just wrong. I think people should just acknowledge that and stop trying to defend the indefensible.

(Well - to be fair, nobody yet has explicitly defended the language of the Times article. But for some odd reason they seem mighty disturbed at me for criticizing it.)


by scrocker1946 on Sun May 31, 2009 at 06:35:20 PM EST

Children who live in a closed community and who have no nurturing relationships with adults (neglect without overt active abuse) will grow up to be emotionally damaged. Very young children under those circumstances just stop eating (one cause of "failure to thrive"). Older children introduced to these circumstances will become depressed, sometimes to the point of suicide, or distrustful of all adults. Add effective enslavement (laundry workers, etc) and/or public ridicule and/or non-sexual physical abuse and/or unhealthy uncomfortable surroundings (thin clothes, thin blanket, ambient temperature 50 degrees F). Add the effects of watching deterioration of or disappearance/death of other children. Compound with total isolation from the outside world - no visitors permitted.

I'd say the above situation without sexual abuse is worse than simple sexual abuse by a priest of a child living at home with loving parents.

by NancyP on Fri May 29, 2009 at 03:54:37 AM EST

This Youtube clip will just begin to give you a hint of what the women went through in this institutions.

The music is courtesy of Joni Mitchell.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon May 25, 2009 at 09:38:29 AM EST

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