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And the Winner of this Year’s Coughie Award is…

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

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 and 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.

While 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.


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