Diocese disses Donohue

I don’t much care for Bill Donohue. He has a history of reckless dishonesty and his often-counterproductive demagoguery suggests that he cares more about his own success as a fearmongering direct-mail money-maker than about any of the real or imagined threats to religious liberty he claims to defend through his non-church-related Catholic League.

I see from today’s paper that the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington doesn’t much care for Bill Donohue either.

The background here is a piece of state legislation to eliminate Delaware’s two-year statute of limitation in cases of child sexual abuse. The bill passed both houses of the state’s legislature unanimously.

Donohue — who has a long history of denying and downplaying the sexual abuse of children by clergymen — apparently views this legislation as a threat to his religious liberty. He found a flimsy toehold for his vitriol in the defeat of an amendment to this bill which would also have allowed the victims of alleged child sexual abuse to sue the state. In Donohue’s mind, this meant that public school teachers were being granted the license to “rape little kids.”

The sponsor of the failed amendment and the diocese, on whose behalf Donohue claims to be speaking, both just want him to STFU:

The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, meanwhile, distanced itself Wednesday from an e-mail disseminated broadly by the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which said: “Child Rape in Delaware: Public School Teachers Get A Pass.” The League also posted the message to its Web site.

The message referred to state Rep. Greg F. Lavelle’s failed effort to amend the bill so that the state would not be protected from lawsuits by its sovereign immunity. Lavelle, R-Sharpley, has said he will introduce a bill today to address state institutions. The Catholic League urged support of that effort.

“The degree of corruption in the Delaware Legislature is matched only by the selective indignation its lawmakers have for child rape,” League President Bill Donohue said. “The legislators are owned — lock, stock and barrel — by the teachers unions. Teachers can grope all they want. They can rape little kids. And now they will be protected by making it harder to prosecute them.”

Joe Fitzgerald, lobbyist for the Wilmington diocese, distributed a statement from diocese officials saying they had not authorized or requested the League’s statement. “We consider Mr. Donohue’s remarks about the Delaware Legislature and the state teachers union to be irresponsible and regrettable,” the diocese statement said. …

Lavelle, too, issued a statement denouncing the League’s message, saying it “offended and saddened” him.

“My colleagues are not corrupt, and I know that they will take all necessary steps to be sure that all children in Delaware are protected regardless of where they go to school, recreate or pray.”

It’s hard not to read that last “or pray” as a shot back at the “irresponsible” and “offensive” Bill Donohue.

  • Tonio

    I feel embarrassed that I hadn’t heard of Bill Donohue until I saw the “South Park” episode that satirized “The Da Vinci Code.” Maybe that’s because I prefer print news sources over TV news sources. In any case, I began reading about Donohue and concluded that he’s the 21st-century equivalent of Father Coughlin. If I didn’t know he was Catholic, I might have taken him for a fundamentalist.

  • Tonio

    I feel embarrassed that I hadn’t heard of Bill Donohue until I saw the “South Park” episode that satirized “The Da Vinci Code.” Maybe that’s because I prefer print news sources over TV news sources. In any case, I began reading about Donohue and concluded that he’s the 21st-century equivalent of Father Coughlin. If I didn’t know he was Catholic, I might have taken him for a fundamentalist.

  • Pseudowolf

    You don’t think there’s such a thing as fundamentalist Catholics?

  • Pseudowolf

    You don’t think there’s such a thing as fundamentalist Catholics?

  • Tonio

    Pseudowolf, I tend to use “fumdamentalism” as a synonym for Biblical literalism, although that may not be correct. My understanding of Catholicism is that it regards Sola Scriptura as heresy.

  • Tonio

    Pseudowolf, I tend to use “fumdamentalism” as a synonym for Biblical literalism, although that may not be correct. My understanding of Catholicism is that it regards Sola Scriptura as heresy.

  • Angelika

    Tonio, you were not that far off. According to Merriam Webster on-line dictionary ‘fundamentalism’ is defined as
    1 a often capitalized : a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching b : the beliefs of this movement c : adherence to such beliefs
    2 : a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles

  • Angelika

    Tonio, you were not that far off. According to Merriam Webster on-line dictionary ‘fundamentalism’ is defined as
    1 a often capitalized : a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching b : the beliefs of this movement c : adherence to such beliefs
    2 : a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles

  • Jeff

    a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles
    Using this definition, I would think there are fundamentalist Catholics. There are fundamentalists in every religion and philosophy, I’m sure.

  • nieciedo

    Indeed. Samll-F fundamentalism doesn’t mean you have to believe in sola Scriptura. It just depends on what you consider the “fundamentals” of your faith. Fundamentalist Catholics would have been called “ultramontanists” a while back — the supremacy of the Pope and the Magisterium of the Church is the fundamental of their faith — except when the Pope disagrees with them (see the Society of St. Pius X).
    Orthodox Jews are fundamentalists because they believe that halakhah (Jewish law as formulated and interpreted by Orthodox rabbis) is binding and essentially unchangeable and is inseparable from God’s own commandments.
    Islamic fundamentalism is also not sola Scriptura because it is dependent also on the haditha and on the interpretations of individual immams and mullahs and ayatollahs.
    Christian fundamentalism is not as structured, but the religious elite — Robertson, Dobson, the late and unlamented Falwell and their ilk — have very strong voice in the articulation of doctrine and its application.

  • burgundy

    I’m not really happy with that second definition of fundamentalism. I’m a fundamentalist vegetarian? I know people who are fundamentalist socialists and fundamentalist atheists? The definition is so vague and broadly applicable it stops being useful for describing a discrete phenomenon. Fundamentalism, as it’s commonly used, is sort of like obscenity – hard to define, but each person feels they know it when they see it. Given that dictionaries are generally about being as succinct as possible while offending as few as possible, I really don’t think that a dictionary definition of such a tricky subject is a good guide to be following. (Which isn’t to say that there can’t be Catholic fundamentalists, just that this is not the best support for the proposition.)
    Is anyone else amused by the idea of a legislature being in the pocket of a teachers union? I mean, when I ask myself, “What group has massive amounts of political power?” the first thing I think is “teachers, of course!”

  • Jeff

    I’m a fundamentalist vegetarian? I know people who are fundamentalist socialists and fundamentalist atheists?
    I’m not sure about vegetarians (is there a Sacred Source for vegetarianism?), but for the others, sure. Why not. Consider socialists or atheists who consider Marx or Dawkins to be the Word of God (intended). How are they NOT fundamentalists?

  • Angelika

    burgundy I’m a fundamentalist vegetarian?
    Well, as long you are not one of those vegetarians, who consider bacon qualifies as vegetable…
    Fundamentalism, as it’s commonly used, is sort of like obscenity – hard to define, but each person feels they know it when they see it.
    In common language use ‘fundamentalist’ has become the synonym of ‘complete and utter idiot/jerk who tries to impose the -often erratically interpreted – rules of his/her own religion/worldview on other people.’ – That makes it so difficult to use the word in its wider meaning.
    nieciedo the religious elite — Robertson, Dobson, the late and unlamented Falwell and their ilk
    These people strike me more as an embarressment, rather than an elite.

  • Tonio

    Thanks for your input. My concern is that the media often uses the label “evangelical” as a synonym for “religious right,” even though evangelical Christians have major differences over doctrine. Sometimes reporters use “conservative,” which doesn’t sound right, either. What separates Donahue from similar demagogues such as Dobson and Robertson, other than denomination? How would you classify Dobson and Robertson in terms of doctrine? I read about the recent split among prominent evangelicals over the issue of global warming. I noticed that the ones who denied the issue were also the ones who advocate what I would describe as theocracy, but I’m not sure what the key doctrinal difference would be that explains such a split.

  • Angelika

    ‘Evangelical’ is yet another word, that got so much of a negative connotation that I find it hard to use it anymore. When I was in Germany, people who called themselves ‘evangelical’ or ‘fundamentalists’ were usually working very hard to live after Biblical teaching, focussing on sanctification and the ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ command. And mostly, they were very well able to laugh about themselves. – I was rather surprised to find out how these words are understood in the US.

  • burgundy

    Jeff – I was responding specifically to the provided definition “a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles,” which says nothing about sacred sources or central texts.
    Going back to the original question – whether or not Donohue counts as a fundamentalist, whether or not there are fundamentalist Catholics – I’d say off the cuff that one of the key traits is the lack of interest in pluralism and the use of the political sphere to (attempt to) impose one’s religious (or other) ideology on other people. By the Merriam Webster definition, for example, most orthodox Jews are fundamentalists, but for the most part they are not the Jewish equivalents of Donohue or Falwell (which is why it can be so misleading to use ‘fundamentalism’ so broadly).

  • Jeff

    burgundy: I was responding specifically to the provided definition “a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles,” which says nothing about sacred sources or central texts. (Emphasis mine)
    It’s kind of hard to have “literal adherence” without something to take literally. Besides, Marx and Dawkins were examples — it’s possible to be a “fundamentalist socialist” based on the precepts of Brother Gimmee, without having a specific text.

  • hapax

    burgundy: “the use of the political sphere to (attempt to) impose one’s religious (or other) ideology on other people.”
    Cue the ScottBot!

  • ScottBot: The Unofficial Edition

    Whatever you said is fascist.

  • Bugmaster

    I like it ! Hoorray for ScottBot 2.0 !

  • burgundy

    I’m glad to see the ScottBot in evidence; I was afraid the CAPTCHAs I keep getting would be prohibitive. (btw – what steps are taken to ensure accessibility to people using screen readers?)

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    I’m all confused. So… BD is for the two-year statute of limitations, but histrionically embittered that alleged victims cannot sue the state over their abuse?
    So, if a teacher abuses a kindergartner, BD wants the child to be able to sue the state over it… but only before he reaches age eight?
    Eh what?
    *boggle*

  • Rosina

    I’m all confused. So… BD is for the two-year statute of limitations, but histrionically embittered that alleged victims cannot sue the state over their abuse?
    So, if a teacher abuses a kindergartner, BD wants the child to be able to sue the state over it… but only before he reaches age eight?
    I too am confused – does this new law relate solely to the right to sue the perpetrator and/or the perp’s employer? Because I am amazed that any state had a law that limited the time to bring criminal charges for sexual assault of children to two years. If a teacher assaults a child I assume he can be prosecuted, even after twenty years, so this law (or rather the amendment) is to protect the state (which means me and you, the taxpayer) against the financial cost of the civil suits now released by the change in the civil law. But not the teacher himself, who can be taken to court if the evidence is strong enough.
    Am I right?
    On the other hand, there is something not quite right about the idea of exempting state schools and children’s homes (if they exist in the US) but not private schools, churches, and children’s homes run by charities. I don’t agree with Donohue on a religious basis, but on the face of it the law is not being even-handed. On Nicole’s point, I think that Donohue might be in favour of the change if it were applied evenly across the board – or maybe not. But his beef is against its selective application.

  • Tonio

    “I’d say off the cuff that one of the key traits is the lack of interest in pluralism and the use of the political sphere to (attempt to) impose one’s religious (or other) ideology on other people.”
    Burgundy, thanks for your suggestion. Is that trait grounded in any kind of doctrine, or is it grounded in the demagogues’ personalities? Or both?

  • kay.c.

    *Burgundy* “…one of the key traits is the lack of interest in pluralism and the use of the political sphere to (attempt to) impose one’s religious (or other) ideology on other people.”
    While that is a helpful, if only partial definition nowadays, actually the high political involvement is a fairly recent phenomenon (this go-round anyway). The fundamentalist movement itself has been around for considerably longer, but for the most part hasn’t been politically energized. They got so smacked down in the famed Scopes “Monkey Trial” early last century–the 20′s, wasn’t it?–that they for the most part withdrew from political activism for a long time.
    The mainline protestant churches had the far greater political savvy, and influence, during the mid-century decades. (And kind of still can’t get over the fact that that’s no longer true. Lots of whining about the Good Old Days….)

  • Tonio

    “They got so smacked down in the famed Scopes “Monkey Trial” early last century–the 20′s, wasn’t it?–that they for the most part withdrew from political activism for a long time.”
    Kay, what convinced them to come back? It seems fundamentalism grew in popularity after the political and social turmoil of the 1960s, with many believers finding a false sense of order and stability in fundamentalism’s strictness. Was that turmoil enough to convince the movement to become politically active, or were there other factors? Was it the presidency of Jimmy Carter, a born-again Christian whose political liberalism alienated the conservative believers? I’ve read about how conservatives in the late 1970s pioneered the use of focus groups to fashion their message, culminating in Reagan’s successful campaign in 1980.

  • kay.c.

    What convinced them to come back? I’d lay that at the late Rev. Falwell’s feet, actually; he’s pretty much acknowledged to be the catalyst for this particular phase of political activism. I suppose it was just a matter of time, and of the times, and of a “spark” cause that could be rallied ’round, and then the final ingredient: the personality, charisma, and message that would light it off. Falwell succeeded in weaving all those threads together.
    I happen to think that the pendulum has swung about as far to the Right as it’s going to go, though. And it’s neither the loss of Falwell nor the failure of the fundamentalist movement to bring fresh leaders in to take up the banners. I believe its collapsing of its own ridiculous weight. The worm always turns. Always. If democracy has one shining characteristic, it is that it tends to be self-correcting, and for the most part peacefully so.
    A truly interesting book on the subject is E.J. Dionne, Jr.’s “Why Americans Hate Politics” (an unfortunately rather sensationalist title for an otherwise quite sober work of political analysis). It was published in 1991, so obviously it’s out of date now–how I’d love to see it updated to the present!–but I found it compelling reading. It takes a long term, as in decades-long term view and looks at how, and why, the political pendulum swings from far right to far left and back. Very, very good. I recommend.

  • burgundy

    Tonio – I’m working here based largely on observation. I really don’t feel I know enough about either ideology doctrine or personalities (in an objective, non-caricatured way) to say what the root factors are.
    kay c – this is why it’s important to preserve the distinction (one of the good things about the dictionary definition) between fundamentalism as a clearly demarcated religious movement and fundamentalism in a more fuzzy sense, as an approach to religion that isn’t faith-specific. I really can’t say anything about the former. But the latter comes up pretty often, in various guises, of which asking if Donohue counts as a fundamentalist when he’s Catholic is the most recent. It’s not a question of specific doctrine, I don’t think, and it’s not tied to sincerity of belief, or even strictness of application. No one really talks about fundamentalist Amish. Which is why I have the feeling that common usage reflects a political orientation as much as a religious one.

  • ako

    On the other hand, there is something not quite right about the idea of exempting state schools and children’s homes (if they exist in the US) but not private schools, churches, and children’s homes run by charities. I don’t agree with Donohue on a religious basis, but on the face of it the law is not being even-handed.
    I do agree with that. It seems far more sensible to simply have the institutions’s liability depend on negligence (which is generally the rule, and what the Delaware bill proposes for all non-state institutions), and let civil liability for the perpetrator run as long as is feasible. But Donohue’s statement, by combining distortions and blatant lies (sovereign immunity protects the state here, not the child molestor), manages to tar a perfectly reasonable point of view by publicly associating it with the sort of spiteful dishonesty that paints a law which may not go far enough in adding more protection to abused children as a license for child rape.


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