Donohue Runs Interference For Conservative Attacks on the Pope
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Dec 10, 2013 at 07:37:31 AM EST
When a mob of conservative commentators led by Rush Limbaugh and Fox Business News morning host Stuart Varney recently red-baited Pope Francis, many of us wondered what the self-appointed defender of all-things-Catholic William Donohue would say.

As it turned out, given the choice between movement conservatives and those in line with Catholic economic teachings, the President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights attacked the pope's defenders.

Now we know.  But most of us are probably not surprised.

William Donohue
Pope Francis had dared to call out the inequities of laissez-faire capitalism, giving fits movement conservatives, long accustomed to a friendly Vatican focused almost exclusively on cultural war issues.  The conservative pundits who hyperbolically miscast the pontiff's recent encyclical as call to Marxist revolution didn't know or didn't care that Francis was articulating nothing more than good Catholic social teaching.

Indeed, Francis is clearly out of sync with Marx and Engels when he issued a renewed call for distributive justice; a cornerstone Catholic concept that calls for workers be able to earn enough to acquire private property.

But this did not stop many on the right from spinning this obvious laissez-fairytale.  But when we listened for a full throated defense of the Holy Father from William Donohue, we heard nothing but

When the liberal Catholic group Catholics in Alliance actually challenged Limbaugh, saying what Donohue would not -- Donohue changed the subject, raising a red herring argument about the group's tax-exempt status.  

For his part, Donohue offered a rather ho-hum defense of the pope in the online conservative journal Newsmax. In it, Donohue not only failed to criticize the red-baiting mob, but he failed to name the transgressors,

He did, however, manage to include this factually correct passage:

On economic issues, the Pope posits a clear animus toward unbridled capitalism, a view shared by his predecessors. But he is more pointed, rejecting "trickle-down" theories.

He is not rejecting a market-based economic model in favor of a socialist one -- indeed he restates Catholic teaching on subsidiarity -- but he is warning us against greed and the single-minded pursuit of profit.

Then he dropped the other shoe, seeking to deflect any criticism aimed at them.

"The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them," Pope Francis says, "so that they can better serve the common good; for this reason, solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them." This is welcome, but his focus on the structural causes of poverty, to the exclusion of the cultural causes, suggests an incomplete understanding of this issue. He is very much in the Latin American mode of thinking on this subject. [emphasis added]

The "Latin American mode of thinking?" By subtly suggesting that Francis is a proponent of Liberation Theology, he was issuing a dog whistle for rightists like David Horowitz who has described Liberation Theology as "Marxised Christianity").

These things said, we should not be surprised to find William Donohue siding with movement conservatism over Catholic social teaching (Donohue is an adjunct scholar with the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation). He has repeatedly engaged in ad hominem attacks on people he sees as critical of his version of Catholicism -- especially if that version of Catholicism is in line with laissez-faire, trickle-down economics.  As I have reported, examples abound.

When Opus Dei bishop and culture warrior Robert Finn became pleaded guilty to criminal charges for failing to report an instance of child sex-abuse buy one of his diocesan priests, Donohue waged a scorched earth policy against both The Kansas City Star (the local newspaper that there the bulk of investigative reporting on the matter) and SNAP  ( the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests ).

When there was criticism of Mel Gibson's controversial film Passion of the Christ for its not-so-subtle anti-Semitism (readily spotted by Catholics such as Sister Rose Thering and Fr. Andrew Greeley), Donohue lashed out by claiming, "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular."

And this is not the first time that Donohue chosen the wrong side.

Several years ago when self-proclaimed rodeo clown Glenn Beck equated from notions of real Catholic social justice with the bigoted Rev. Charles Coughlin -- a thinly veiled effort to equate the social justice teaching of the Church with fascism - Donohue sided with Beck over Catholic economic principles.

And when evangelical megachurch pastor (and fellow movement conservative) John Hagee was discovered at the time of his very public endorsement of Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential run to have made anti-Catholic remarks it was Donohue who took this upon himself to absolve Hagee on behalf of Catholics everywhere.

Indeed, this is his standard operating procedure. What I observed about him three years agostill stands with necessary addendum:

Donohue does not in any way rebuke Beck (now in addition to Rush Limbaugh and Stuart Varney), let alone defend Catholic notions of Social Justice or such leaders as Monsignor Ryan, Robert Wagner, Sr. and Dorothy Day.

But this is nothing new. I've written before that for Donohue, movement conservatism always takes precedence over addressing anti-Catholicism.

Glenn Beck (as well as other conservatives) not only launched a frontal assault on Catholic theology, but provided an opportunity for Donohue's Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights to carry out its stated mission. That the League deflected for Beck and the others rather than standing up for the social justice teaching of the Church ought to be a singularly illuminating moment for American Catholicism.

If you are the victim of a pedophile priest demanding justice, then Donohue denounces you as "vicious and vindictive." Yet if you are John Hagee, who, in Bill Donohue's own words,, "...made a lot of money off bashing the Catholic Church and blames Catholics for the Holocaust..." you get on the Catholic League's "A" list - even if you describe the Church as "the great whore of Revelation 17." An apology will suffice provided you're a player of the Religious Right. And if you falsely attack the Pope economics as "Marxist" you do not even have to apologize - as long as you are a political friend of Bill.

"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist."

Archbishop Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Dec 10, 2013 at 11:32:45 AM EST

The "powers that be" in El Salvador thought that the appointment of Oscar Romero was a safe one for them, that he was a studious conservative who would not trouble them about the gross inequalities and oppression in the country. Three years later they found him so dangerous an opponent of their project of exploitation of the poor that they arranged his assassination. The more I read about Pope Francis, and the powerful enemies he is making with his return to true Catholic social teaching concerning the poor, the more worried I become for his safety.

by MLouise on Tue Dec 10, 2013 at 11:44:34 AM EST

Mr. Donohue is a poseur, a charlatan, and an utterly political, power-hungry creature. His authority to speak on matters of faith, spirituality, and religious motivation is non-existent. The less attention paid to him the better.

by pl1224 on Wed Dec 11, 2013 at 01:38:27 AM EST

Bill Donohue is a blowhard much in the mold of Rush Limbaugh. The worst thing you could to either of them would be to deprive them of their respective audiences. Bill is an embarrassment to me as a Catholic.

by khughes1963 on Fri Dec 13, 2013 at 11:22:17 PM EST

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