And the Winner of this Year's Coughie Award is...
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Dec 30, 2011 at 07:47:36 PM EST
It's that time of year once again, to announce the recipient of the Coughlin Award --  presented annually to the person who best exemplifies an exclusionary, strident interpretation of the Catholic faith. The award is named for Father Charles Coughlin, the notorious radio priest of the 1930s who is the role model for today's Religious Right radio and television evangelists and other conservative media personalities.

This year the bride's maid finally takes his walk down the aisle. This Coughie is for you Bill Donohue!

But before we discuss this year's winner, a few words about the award's namesake.

The Coughlin Award (aka "the Coughie") is named after the Catholic priest and anti-Semitic broadcaster  Fr. Charles Coughlin best known for his diatribes against FDR, Judaism and open sympathy with the racist policies of Adolph Hitler.  Such advocacy was clearly antithetical the very definition of the word "catholic," which, according to Webster's Unabridged Dictionary means:

Catholic Cath"o*lic\ (k[a^]th"[-o]*[i^]k), a. [L. catholicus, Gr. kaqoliko`s, universal, general; kata` down, wholly + "o`los whole, probably akin to E. solid: cf. F. catholique.]

1. Universal or general; as, the catholic faith.

Men of other countries [came] to bear their part in so great and catholic a war. --Southey.

Note: This epithet, which is applicable to the whole Christian church, or its faith, is claimed by Roman Catholics to belong especially to their church, and in popular usage is so limited.

*Not narrow-minded, partial, or bigoted; liberal; as, catholic tastes.

*Of or pertaining to, or affecting the Roman Catholics; as, the Catholic emancipation act.

In order to win a Coughie, a candidate must do something that complete three qualifying tasks:  1) Makes the faith decisively less inclusive 2) engages in incendiary behavior  and 3) thereby ultimately embarrasses the Church. This year's winner -- as usual -- has risen to the challenge by completing all three tasks with breathtaking simplicity, snatching the victory from a determined field of tough competitors. Deserving winners all.

That's why deciding upon this year's Coughie Award winner was an unusually tough call. The judges argued long into the night before the dawning of the Day of Decision.

On the local level, the judges were leaning heavily towards Fr. Michael Gelfant, the Brooklyn pastor who managed to bring the culture war to (coincidentally) my parish of St. Finbar's. Gelfant disparaged American Catholics and unilaterally took it upon himself to stand in for the Almighty regarding the eternal judgment of atheists (he was reported to have declared that they have no right to Heaven).

Another top contender was Vatican banker Ettore Gotti-Tedeschi for his dissembling of Keynesian economics.

Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City/St. Joseph took a shot at the Coughie by failing to take immediate action against a priest who displayed alarming behavior around children.

But it was Donohue's willingness to defend Finn's seemingly indefensible behavior that earned him his first Coughie.

Donohue has come strikingly close in the past to laying claim this richly deserved award, only to have been outdone only at the last minute.

Donohue's record as an exclusionary Catholic speaks for itself.  As head of the the Catholic League -- a vehicle that seems more intent on advancing movement conservatism than protecting the well being of individual Catholics -- he has transformed the art of feigned outrage over imaginary acts of anti-Catholicism into a high art form (and at the same time, ignore truer incidents of bigotry). Indeed, many of the acts he deems as offensive are nothing more than the acts of more mainstream Catholics who speak out against the hypocrisy of many of today's über-traditional hierarchs.

In one rant he attacked as anti-Catholic a PBS documentary on the Inquisition -- a program that was produced with the Vatican's cooperation. Donohue has exhibited a peculiar  obsession with homosexuality and anal sex.

Our Coughie honoree has also resorted to some un-subtle anti-Semitic commentary. For example, when defending Mel Gibson's controversial filmPassion of the Christ from Jewish (and Catholic) criticism, Donohue bellowed, "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular" -- an utterance worthy of  Coughlin himself.

And he did all this while scraping by on a compensation package worth about $400 Grand.

But it was Donohue's defense of Kansas City bishop Robert Finn that put him over the top. As I recently noted:  "That these Catholic Right leaders seem to want to save Finn's position as bishop at almost any cost, suggests that their goals for the Church as a bastion of religious and political authoritarianism, takes precedence over everything else -- including the safety and well being of children."

Donohue has been consistent over the years, and never added any nuance or balance to his repertoire of bombast and hyperbole while pursuing the agenda of  laissez-faire economics, social conservatism, and conservative Catholic orthodoxy -- and enabling the cover-up of the acts of serial pedophiles.

I give you Bill Donohue: Winner of the 2011 Coughlin Award.

Will Bill now say this about Talk to Action?

by Frank Cocozzelli on Fri Dec 30, 2011 at 07:57:54 PM EST
I can think of no more deserving candidate, although I wonder if it would be worth having runners-up for the annual Coughie. Bill certainly has earned his!

by khughes1963 on Fri Dec 30, 2011 at 08:39:42 PM EST

What Bishop Finn did in my home town of KCMO was no more than what dozens of bishops have done in hiding facts from authorities. Donohue has defended many of them.

It seems to me the anti-gay rhetoric of the Archbishop of NY comparing gays to the KKK and the outrageous comments of the Cardinal of Chicago far out rank Finn and Donohue.

by JerrySloan on Sat Dec 31, 2011 at 01:35:06 PM EST

Archbishop Dolan of New York was last year's winner. As for the Second City's archbishop, you put him in the running for this year's award.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 02:37:01 PM EST

INTERPRETATION of the Catholic faith."  

I want to make clear before I say what I'm going to say regarding this statement that I have always found Bill Donohue to be an offensive clown, just as I find equally obnoxious fundamentalist Protestants that seem to haunt our airwaves.  

However, I ponder quite often who or what is the ultimate authority on someone's interpretation of a religion as correct or incorrect.  It is ALL interpretation, and one can always trace individual interpretations of the meaning of a faith to something in the texts, whether a fundamentalist view or a liberal view.  So I kind of find the accusation against Donohue's interpretation of Catholicism as being somehow "wrong" to be kind of moot. His "wrongness" is not because he has the "wrong" view of the "true meaning" of Catholicism, it is due to his anti-human rights views. The bible backs up his anti-homosexuality. The bible backs up a lot of his offensive views, so we really need to take his faith out of the equation when analyzing his offensiveness.  He is also wrong on our history and the separation of church and state. So he deserves raspberries blown at him for that too.

However, if it were not for Bill Donohue, I would not have been "adopted" by my Catholic friend as part of his "Adopt an atheist" program. We have both had fun over that one!  

by monarchmom on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 12:28:36 PM EST

First, Jesus said nothing in the Gospels about homosexuality. Secondly, what Leviticus says about the subject has been rebuffed. Third, if LevitIcus os correct abOut homosexuality, are all those folks with tattoos also going to damnation?

Even St. Augustine said when science disproves something in the Bible, then the new proof controls.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 03:02:55 PM EST

(1) the word abomination means ritually unclean for Jewish ceremonial rites, not "disgusting to and hated by God".

(2) the meaning of the words translated as referring to homosexuality are not clearly known.  According to a couple of people involved in translation of the Bible that I've communicated with in the past, the most likely meaning refers to young male ritual (religious) prostitutes, and the prohibition was because it was dishonoring and demeaning to them to be used that way.

(3) I would add that there are entire sections where the meaning is not clear, and so the translators used a "best educated guess" as to the meaning.

(4) While there are only about 4 or 5 lines of scripture that people (using the "standard" translation) think refer to homosexuality, there are literally thousands of lines of scripture regarding either the abuse of the poor by the rich and powerful, or calls for treating the poor with kindness and justice.  One of the major themes running throughout the Bible is economic justice and justice itself.  The laws laid down in the old testament (besides the ritual purity laws) tended to eliminate the gap between the rich and poor.  The prophets were always calling for justice for the poor and disadvantaged and decrying the injustice being perpetrated by the rich and powerful.  Overall, you have to cherry pick to support anything "conservative", but if you look at the overall themes, by modern standards they are clearly liberal/progressive.

I thought I'd add these arguments to yours - hope you don't mind.

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 08:40:18 PM EST

of delving into a theological discussion which I believe this site frowns upon, but since you and ArcheoBob have opened this door, I will respond with a brief theological point on the issue of interpretation and "cherry picking". One of the biggest arguments made by people like Bill Donohue and the fundamentalist Protestants is that those who disagree with their views are condemned to "hell".  Most liberal Protestants do not believe that there is such a place and/or at the very least, do not use that concept as a rhetorical weapon. However, the character called Jesus in the gospels threatened various groups with a condemnation of hell and spoke of it enough that one can say he supported the idea of this place, and the use of it as a threat.  So between fundamentalists like Donohue and liberal Christians, who exactly has the right interpretation of the divine endorsement of this concept?  Is it not the liberals who are ignoring the texts when it comes to this?  The fact that Jesus said nothing on homosexuality is to me not indicative of intention either way. He also said nothing about slavery except to use it as a metaphor in his lessons.  This issue of hell is just one example of why I say that people get bogged down in their arguments when they delve into criticism of people like Donohue on the basis of that person's interpretation of a particular faith or of the texts.

I personally find the whole concept of hell (as devine retribution) morally offensive, so anyone who backs this idea and uses it as a threat in any arguments is automatically on my list as deserving a Razzie award anyway, no matter what their "justification" is for believing in it.

by monarchmom on Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 10:50:28 AM EST

The common sense truth is that every individual cherry picks what they believe and don't believe. The idea that whole groups of people believe precisely like one another on all things is preposterous, even among  conservative Catholics and protestant fundamentalists. These things are matters of interpretation and degree.  

What is problematic is the term "cherry picking" because it is a pejorative invented by the self proclaimed orthodox to criticize people they deem insufficiently adhering to the True Faith. I think it is wrongheaded when progressives use the term and thereby reenforce a rightwing frame, and that it has no place in thoughtful discourse, particularly on a site dedicated to discussion of the religious right.

I think what Frank is getting at is that if one is going to present oneself as a vigilante on behalf of the institutional Church, which does indeed have some well established beliefs and standards developed over centuries, some consistency is in order.  (Now of course, its true that even institutions have a hard time being consistent and living up to their professed standards, whether they are religious or non-religious agencies, since we are all human beings here as far as I can tell.)  But there is big tent kind of thinking and then there is Bill Donohue who has certainly earned his Coughie.  (He is so vile and such a perennial contender I have suggested to Frank that the award be renamed the Donohue. He is also not a big tent kind of guy in the first place.)

In any case, Frank knows a great deal about what the Catholic Church does and does not profess, which is a whole different subject than what individuals believe or do not believe about what is in the Bible, including whether (and if so which) Old Testament laws may currently apply.  And he knows enough to have a sense of humor about it as well.  


by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 04:33:22 PM EST

not representative of the policies or theology of the Catholic Church, then why has the Vatican not (to my knowledge) done or said anything to let American Catholics know that he misrepresents the Church?

As far as the use of the term "cherry pick" goes, I was responding to ArchaeoBob's use of it.

by monarchmom on Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 04:44:51 PM EST

that Frank is highlighting.

The Vatican is inconsistent in the way that it applies standards, at least in part, to be generous, because it is understandably difficult to properly oversee the affairs of such a diverse global institution.  But more to the point, the American bishops seem perfectly fine with a hate mongering attack dog speaking unofficially on their behalf in public.  Frank has pointed this out repeatedly. The answer to your question lies with church authorities, and we can only speculate about their motives in not reigning in one of the highest profile Catholics in the country. But it is certainly fair to call them to account for this.  Their silence certainly suggests complicity.

In terms of the matter at hand, it could be that Donohue defending a prelate against prosecution by civil authorities for covering up sex crimes by a priest, is something for which the entire hierarchy will be eternally grateful.

As for cherry picking and other unfortunate lapses that come up from time to time, it is up to all of us to do our best to keep the discussion as level headed and as on topic as possible.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 05:16:20 PM EST

that if Bill Donohue is being chastised for his anti-homosexuality rantings, then the Knights of Columbus should also be taken to task for their contributions to a group called NOM (National Organization for Marriage). And the US Bishops Conference should also be handed an award for their anti-gay policies as reflected in their actions to shut down adoption agencies under Catholic Social Services to prevent gays from adopting.

If "some consistency is in order" where is it in these cases?

All Bill Donohue has to do is point to these other Catholic groups for validation of his positions and activities.

Now again, I am not defending Bill Donohue in any way, shape or form. What I am questioning is the criticism being based upon his "interpretation of the Catholic faith", which was the phrase used by Mr. Cocozzeli in his opening paragraph.

by monarchmom on Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 05:01:52 PM EST

many deserving recipients of any award, whether its the Oscars, Emmys, or the Heisman Trophy.  

And along with the deserving others, there always seems to be a sour grapes squad that can't stop complaining about how someone else deserved the award.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 05:24:58 PM EST

Bill Donohue deserves to be criticized at every turn for his views, but I personally feel that using the "he's wrong on what the faith means" or "he doesn't accurately reflect the positions of the Catholic Church" arguments are not as effective as the fact that his views fly in the face of decency towards other human beings, deny civil rights in a democracy, ignore what scientific knowledge about human nature has demonstrated to us, and generally trash what we know to be true and right about separation of church and state.

Plus he's just downright nasty.

So there's certainly no "sour grapes" on giving him this award from my camp.  I was just questioning some of the basis used for arguing against him.

On a lighter note- Do you send him an actual award certificate or a trophy? If so, you should post his repsonse.

by monarchmom on Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 06:12:29 PM EST


by monarchmom on Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 03:09:32 PM EST
We all make typos and so on now and then.  Shoot, when I submitted my final draft of my thesis and it was accepted - not a day passed after acceptance before I found a big goof in it (not affecting the work, but something that should have been deleted) and was quite embarrassed.  That was after several individuals, all experienced writers, had gone through it.  It had been reviewed and proof-read dozens of times.  This turns out to be a common experience.  (I tend to try to avoid criticizing spelling/grammatical errors because of this and if I do notice something - try to handle things as gently and unobtrusively as possible.)

On the topic...  

Actually, the question is not interpretation as much as translation, which is a science.  It's also a matter of acceptance or rejection of science by dominionists - which I believe is a valid topic for this blog.

Modern linguists who work at translating the texts of the Bible have a very difficult time of it.  I've mentioned some of the problems here in the past, but the fact is that words are used and without some other text to compare them to that makes the meaning of the word clear, it sometimes becomes a "best educated guess".   Politics also get involved, in that there seems to be translators who are hide-bound to the traditional way of reading, as compared to people who use comparison with other texts to get or verify the meanings of words.  Then you add in the discovery of new texts (like the Dead Sea scrolls), and the complexity of the situation multiplies.  Oh, and did I mention that translating from one culture to another is also required?  That requires an understanding of anthropology and human behavior.  Properly translating the Bible then becomes a complex scientific endeavor, and thinking that one can just "read the Bible in it's original language" is not accurate.

That is why I said what I did about homosexuality.  The meaning of the word, according to the individuals I've talked with, is literally not known, but there are hints that suggest it refers to the young male prostitutes I mentioned.  The understanding of the words referring to homosexuality may seem old to us, but as I understand it, the meaning has changed over the years (along with many other words).  The individuals I've talked with said that they (translators and lingual researchers) literally are not sure what was actually meant.

The statement about five lines against homosexuality and the thousands of lines against the abuse of the poor... that could be argued to be a matter of interpretation, except that the five lines are a question of proper translation and it illustrates a point - that is, fundamentalists depend on a literal understanding of a poorly translated text, without understanding the cultural references.  They interpret the text according to their own cultural understanding.  A more scientific view would try to determine the meaning during the period in question, which requires much interdisciplinary research and study.   That is what my criticism is of them: they reject modern research and stick to a limited, often bigoted and ethnocentric reading of a book that came out of a different time and radically different culture.  They also ignore known themes running through the book they claim to follow (treatment of the poor), while focusing on ones that are not supported by modern scholarship.

The lines about the treatment of the poor - those are for the most part accurately translated.  Yet you don't hear about them from most dominionists (or at the most very rarely do).  (I must add that I HAVE heard of a couple of dominionists who do also pay attention to that theme along with the others.)

It's not a matter of cherry picking or selective reading, it's a matter of trying to understand what the authors were trying to say to the audience of their time, and then comparing that to what we understand today.  Also there is the matter of perspective... it's not logical to ignore thousands of lines and make a big fuss about a few lines.

Oh, and the meaning of "Abomination" is another example of rejecting science (more accurate translation of the word) for a ethnocentric reading.  They interpret the meaning based upon their beliefs, rather than try to get an accurate understanding.  (I might add that the word "Sin" is also largely misunderstood and misused.)

As far as the term "Cherry Picking", I've been accused of that when I tried to support my views in a couple of situations, by fundamentalists (and have heard it in several contexts).  So I use the word because it does seem to fit what I've heard fundamentalist preachers do.  

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 05:27:23 PM EST

is that 99.9% of the Catholic/Protestant population does not read nuanced and detailed analysis of the meaning of biblical passages written by either well known or obscure theologians.  They read the texts verbatim and see words that say homosexuality is an abomination, and that's all they need to formulate their opinions. It may not be "logical" to focus on a few lines, but believers on all sides of all stripes from liberal to fundamentalists do it all the time. There is no overarching authority that can say which view of the bible or any other text is the "correct" one.  That is where these arguments get bogged down, with both sides just talking past each other.

That is why I prefer to focus on the humanistic/civil rights and/or church/state separation tests for people like Bill Donohue.  He manages to flunk them all.

by monarchmom on Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 05:57:12 PM EST

The people I know happen to highly value the research and work done by scholars (not just theologians, which is a specific discipline and one that focuses on different areas than translation and understanding of the culture and time).  I do grant that a great many people do focus on the literal meaning, but when the proper translation matches the liberal focus and tends to disprove the conservative view, that should say a lot - not that the Bible is somehow "True", but that the themes I find were important to the many authors of the texts.  And I must also say that I do not in any way accept or support forcing religion on others... I'm as staunch a supporter of the separation of church and state as you will find.

Yes, Bill Donohue fails those tests.  They're very important.  How people (minorities, the poor, etc.) are treated is equally important to me - and what he stands could not be called decent treatment.  

I will also say that I always look at things from my understanding.  I am not atheist nor will I ever become an atheist (even with the attempts by the dominionists to covert me or force me away (they do practice convert or kill in more than a physical sense) - and the occasional argument from atheist acquaintances who don't understand or accept my being theistic).  I personally don't care what another person believes... it is how they treat the Other that concerns me.  The exception to that is when people believe something that motivates them to harm others... like Dominionism.  Thus, I will always have a bit of a theistic tone and consider things from that point of view.  It does not denigrate anyone who is atheistic, unless they refuse to accept my freedom to be theistic.  I believe that everyone here will assert that I don't try to force theism on others, but I do consider that to be equally valid as atheism.  It's part of my identity and person.

I hope you will accept my being a theist, as I would accept your being atheist (if that is what you are).

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JSanford (111 comments)

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