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    • Elendil October 6, 2022
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It Must Be Exhausting to Be Bill Donohue

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

William Donohue

The 2013 film “Philomena” tells the moving story of an Irish woman who had an out of wedlock son in the early 1950s.  The nuns with whom she was sent to live sent her son to America for adoption. The film is at once the story of Philomena Lee’s search for her child – and a lesson in Christ-like forgiveness as well as of enduring Catholic faith.

So, who would find such a story to be anti-Catholic? Why Bill Donohue, of course!

(Spoiler alert below.)

Before we get to Bill Donohue, let’s say a bit more about the film.

Recently my wife and I saw Philomena a film inspired by the heartfelt story of the real life Philomena Lee, who was a single Irish teenage girl who got pregnant in the early 1950s, and as was too often the case at that time, banished by her family to live a very stern existence in a convent. She worked seven days a week in the now notorious Magdalena laundry (which was viewed as “penance”).

Philomena gave birth to a son, Anthony, while living at the convent. Working grueling hours, she was only allowed to see Anthony one hour a day. Young Anthony was soon adopted and taken to live in the United States. She wasn’t even given an opportunity to say goodbye to her child, leaving her devastated.

Most of the story is seen through flashback. Fifty years later Philomena – who remained a deeply religious Catholic — wants to know became of her son. After a couple glasses of wine one night she finally tells her daughter about her older half-brother. Through her, Philomena convinces a former BBC reporter, Martin Sixsmith — a very lapsed Catholic turned atheist — to write a book about her experience and help her find her son. Their journey takes them back to the convent where it all began. There, the nuns tell her that they cannot help her – which is, as the film later shows, a complete mendacity.

The film’s next segment is a trip to America (not based on actual events) where the two learn that her son grew up in Chicago, became a successful attorney and went on to work in the White House of George H. W. Bush.  She also learns that her son was gay and died of AIDS in 1995.

But his death is not only unsettling news. Contrary to what Lee and Sixsmith were told when they first visited the convent, Philomena’s son not only also came there looking for his birth mother but was actually buried on its premises.

Throughout the film there is a tension about faith and forgiveness. Sixsmith has become increasingly bitter towards the church (when Philomena is looking for a church where she could go to confession, he tells her, “The Catholic Church should go to confession, not you!”). The title character, however, takes a different path. She is able to separate the hierarchy from the body of the Church – the rank and file engaging in belief.

Which brings us to Bill Donohue who cannot help but attack the film in ways that range from petty to vicious.

In a press release, for example, the Catholic League president labeled the film “bunk” and “propaganda.” In an op-ed he attempted to paint the entire project as a giant falsehood by noting, “The film and the book also maintain that Philomena went to the United States to find her son, but this is patently untrue: she never set foot in America looking for him.” But even as Donohue is well aware, the film never claims to be a non-fiction account. Indeed, the film prominently acknowledges that the story was “inspired by actual events.”

During the Oscar season he issued a further attack on the film. In it, he commented on how Philomena revealed her secret over a few drinks on Christmas 2004. He then falsely suggests that she had sworn herself to secrecy and that excessive amounts of alcohol was the real culprit.

This is not to say there was no secrecy. However, it was Philomena, not the nuns, who were tight lipped: she swore herself to secrecy, never telling her children what happened when she was a teenager. Alcohol changed that.

He then tries to blame it all on atheism:

[Martin] Sixsmith does not say whether Philomena was also bombed when they met,  though he said it was at a New Year’s party that same year. Lucky for her, she found an atheist willing to buy her tale.

Donohue goes on to raise other issues – many of them (such as disputing how the young women were treated in the laundries) – are easily refuted including by the Irish government. But he avoids the film’s main criticism: the convent’s false pleas of ignorance in response to a dying son and a searching mother looking for each other. Bill’s angry bluster over how both the hierarchy and the Church as an institution are portrayed almost seem to be an intended distraction from the film’s central question: what justifies separating a mother and child from each other? That is a question Donohue will not even attempt to answer.

Philomena and Sixsmith confront Sister Hildegarde near the end of the film (A juncture where the film takes license order to inject Philomena’s final judgment of her actions; the actual nun in question passed away in 1995). She is unrepentant for having given away Philomena’s son fifty years before — arguing that Philomena and the other mothers’ penance for their sins was the loss of their children. When Philomena nevertheless forgives the bitter old nun — an incredulous Sixsmith protests.  “But I don’t wanna hate people,” Philomena explains. “I don’t wanna be like you. Look at you.”  And when he responds by saying that he’s angry, she mutters. “Must be exhausting.”

Catholic means “universal” or “all encompassing.” But the priorities and interests of Donohue’s “Catholic League” are far from universal. As I’ve written time and time again, Donohue and friends seek to advance a specific cultural and political agenda. Culturally, he speaks for the highly conservative portion of the hierarchy that has no use for flexibility, transparency and accountability. The body of the Catholic Church is not just the hierarchy or a certain group of nuns; it is the entire church mostly made up of people such as Philomena Lee.

Politically, Donohue is a “top-down” person. He has deep ties to movement conservatism – including being an adjunct scholar with the Heritage Foundation. The Catholic League’s Board of Advisers reads as a neoconservative Who’s Who list). More often than not, Donohue’s Catholicism dovetails nicely with secular political considerations of the Right (this was recently on full display when Donohue recently described Pope Francis’s economics as a form of Marxism).

Bill Donohue will angrily scowl, brow-beat and even resort to hateful language in pursuit of his goals. His method is on vivid display in his war on Philomena.

It must be exhausting to be Bill Donohue.

Bishop Robert Finn and Friends Win the 2013 Coughlin Award

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

 photo franksgraphic_zpsbe286320.jpgIt’s that time of the year again, folks. It’s time for the presentation of the annual Coughlin Award. As it is every year, the competition was stiff, so much so that this year for the first time it is a group award. This year award goes to Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri Bishop Robert Finn and his legion of supporters.

The Coughlin Award — affectionately known as “The Coughie” — is our way of recognizing the person who has best exemplified an exclusionary, strident interpretation of the Catholic faith in the preceding year. 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.

Best known for his diatribes against FDR, Judaism and open sympathy with the racist policies of Adolph Hitler, Coughlin’s 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 complete three qualifying tasks: 1) Make the faith decisively less inclusive 2) Engage in incendiary behavior and 3) Ultimately embarrasses the Church. This year’s winners — as usual — have risen to the challenge.

This year our judges had little problem deciding whom to choose. Bishop Finn did not earn his “Coughie” because of his movement conservative politics but instead by his sense of self-exemption from accountability. Finn’s defenders, who fully share in his award, scratched and clawed their way to this dubious achievement by defending the indefensible.

For those unfamiliar with the saga of Bishop Finn and his refusal to step down as the head of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph Missouri, let me recap:

Let’s recall that the crimes of Bishop Finn resulted from his knowledge of the related crimes of Fr. Shawn Ratigan who pleaded guilty in Federal Court to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of attempted production of child pornography. As I reported here and here, Bishop Finn had constructive knowledge of Ratigan’s improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography. Finn not only knew of, or had good reason to suspect Ratigan’s crimes, but had he acted, he would have prevented other crimes against children under his pastoral care.

As anyone familiar with this matter would know, Bishop Finn not only chose not to step down, but actually went on the offensive via several well-connected surrogates.

Led by 2011’s Coughlin Award winner, Bill Donohue (apparently with the blessing of Cardinal Timothy Dolan), his allies went after anyone who demanded accountability for the abused children. This group comprised a veritable Who’s Who of the neoconservative Catholic Right — Domino’s Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan; Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS) (BishopAccountability.org describes OBS co-founders Joseph Maher and Paul Barron as “members of Legatus.” Based in Monaghan’s hometown of Detroit, Michigan, many of the key members of Legatus are also affiliated with other Monahan-founded or funded organizations); and of course, Donohue’s Catholic League whose board of advisors besides Monaghan, includes several leading theocons as Hadley Arkes, Mary Ann Glendon, Robert P. George, Michael Novak and George Weigel.

This cabal (which rarely expresses concern for the victims) lashed out at the Kansas City Star newspaper for its leading investigative work in the matter, as well as victims rights organization as well as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). As part and parcel of this strategy of obfuscation, an OBS psychiatrist astonishingly concluded that Ratigan’s diagnosis was “loneliness and depression” not pedophilia. The court rejected this argument and convicted the pedophile priest.

Bishop Finn and his aforementioned friends meet all the three requirements of a Coughlin Award winner.

First, they have succeeded in making Catholicism less inclusive by their lack of concern for victims of sexual child predator clergy. They demonstrate that only those who will turn a blind eye to such criminals and their crimes are welcome in their stilted version of the Catholic Church. For them, faith is not as much an expression of spirituality but more like the blunt object used to bludgeon political opponents.

Second, they have engaged in incendiary behavior, not only by willing to be accountable for such an abysmal failure of leadership but by downplaying the seriousness of pedophilia – and even blaming the victims.

Third, the degree of embarrassment to the Catholic Church is self-evident. Bishop Finn’s unwillingness to resign his position of authority sends the wrong message. It sounds like the greater Catholic Church does not police its own house. Instead, the leadership corruptly rewards those like Bishop Finn with the retention of power.

Normally when we issue the annual Coughlin Award there is always a measure of snark and sarcastic humor. That is not the case this year. There is nothing remotely humorous about the failure to protect children from sexual abuse: there is only shame. And for that reason we sadly present the 2013 Coughie to Bishop Robert Finn and his band of Catholic Right apologists.

No Weigel Room For NBC’s Non-Disclosure

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

George Weigel, who has frequently appeared on the NBC Nightly News as a “Vatican analyst” in the run up to the Conclave of Cardinals that will select the next pope, has served as a  consultant on Catholic issues to NBC since 1999.  But what NBC does not tell us — is that Weigel is no ordinary expert.  He is one of the leaders of today’s Catholic Right.

NBC‘s go to guy on all things Catholic in fact, has a long record of helping to create a more stridently conservative Catholic Church and has published a new book to help evangelize for it. (The book was was recently cheered on Twitter by no less than mega-church Pastor Rick Warren.)  This comes on the heels of years of working in the trenches building a conservative Catholic-Evangelical alliance that has culminated in The Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto attacking a series of progressive positions from contraception to marriage equality.

I’ve noted over and over again, Weigel is a Catholic neocon par excellence, having served as a leader of both the Institute on Religion and Democracy and Ethics Public Policy Center as well as being one of the original signatories of the Project for the New American Century.  

NBC‘s failure to disclose Weigel’s relevant affiliations and obvious biases violates the most basic standards of journalism.

As if any and all this were not enough, there is more that merits disclosure:  Notably, his service as an Adviser to the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights headed by the bombastic William Donohue.Nightly News viewers might be taken aback by Donohue’s recent role in trying to obfuscate Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn’s misdemeanor conviction for failing to report suspected child abuse by Father Shawn Ratigan.

NBC viewers are also kept in the dark about Weigel’s disapproval of over a century Catholic economic principles.  And not only is he one of the most prominent Catholic neo-conservatives, he condescendingly dismisses those co-religionists who disagree with his orthodox Catholic vision as “Catholic Lite” or as being “a culture of dissent.” In essence, he is belittling the majority of American Catholics in one-way or another.

There are many good reasons why disclosure of potential bias if not conflict of interest is considered the minimum ethical standard for news organizations.

Weigel is, for example, using his analyst perch to subtlety advance his agenda. Consider this recent appearance on MSNBC’s Hardball (countered here at least by National Catholic Reporter editor, Tom Roberts). At the 1:21 mark, Weigel substitutes his desire for that of the Cardinals that the next pope continues in the more aggressive evangelization begun by John Paul II. (That Weigel is, in fact, selling a new book on the subject, went unmentioned.)  Later, at the 3:41 mark, he dissembles on priestly celibacy, speaking as if it always existed. As Tom Roberts pointed out, that was not the case.

To fully comprehend how far off the mark NBC is in failing to disclose their Vatican analyst’s outlook, just consider that even Fox News generally alerts its viewers of an on-air guest’s philosophical leanings.

Bishop Finn Found Guilty of Failure to Report Suspected Child Sex Abuse

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

On Thursday, September 6th, Robert Finn, the bishop who heads the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri was convicted by a Jackson County court of one misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse.

There is no word yet on whether Bishop Finn will be deemed fit to continue to lead the Catholic Church in Kansas City.

Bishop Finn’s conviction stems from the  prosecution of Fr. Shawn Ratigan who has since pleaded guilty in Federal Court to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of attempted production of child pornography.

As I reported here and here, Bishop Finn had constructive knowledge of Ratigan’s improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography.

The National Catholic Reporter broke down the conviction as follows:

Jackson County, Mo., Circuit Court Judge John Torrence gave Finn a two-year suspended sentence of probation with nine conditions, including mandating direct reporting of future suspicions of child abuse to prosecutors.

Prosecutors had separated the charges against Finn and the diocese into two timeframes: Dec. 16, 2010, to Feb. 10, 2011; and Feb. 11, 2011, to May 18, 2011.

Handing down his verdict less than an hour after the trial started, Torrence said he did not have enough evidence to convict Finn during the first timeframe, but evidence “exceeds that which would be necessary” to prove that the bishop “knowingly failed to report” possible abuse during the second.

On that charge, Torrence continued, “the defendant is guilty.”

Following Finn’s verdict, prosecutors asked Torrence to dismiss the charges against the diocese. While the prosecutors’ motion effectively means the charges have been dropped, Torrence said he would not be able to enter a judgment on the matter until Friday morning.

Finn avoided similar charges in nearby Clay County, Missouri by agreeing to government oversight of all pedophilia investigations for the next five years.

The Questions Now Raised

Throughout the proceedings the controversial Opus Dei prelate and Father Ratigan have been receiving legal help from the ultra-conservative, Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS), an organization with strong ties to Opus Dei member Thomas Monaghan, William Donohue and several prominent Catholic neocons.

As I have previously noted this conviction could remove a high-profile social conservative voice in a Mid-Western bastion of liberal thought. Will Finn, the first U.S. Catholic bishop presiding over a diocese convicted of a crime, be removed from office?  If so, will he also be defrocked?

And what of Cardinal Dolan, Bill Donohue and their band of Catholic Right culture warriors who used this case to discourage transparency and accountability waging a scorched earth strategy against SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests as well as against the victimized children?  Will they be disciplined by the Vatican for their behavior?

Incredibly — but not surprisingly — Donohue and the Catholic League have taken a defiant tone, one that resorts to a despicable distortion of the facts. Here is a sample from Donohue’s September 7, 2012 press release:

Let’s get rid of some myths. Bishop Finn was not found guilty of a felony: he was found guilty of one misdemeanor, and innocent of another. The case did not involve child sexual abuse-no child was ever abused, or touched, in any way by Father Shawn Ratigan. Nor did this case involve child pornography.

The only one spinning “myths” here is Donohue. While Donohue is correct that Finn was found guilty of a misdemeanor instead of a felony is of little consequence. Either way Finn’s criminality is only a matter of degree.  To attempt to diminish the harm Ratigan had on the children and their families is outrageous. And then to claim, “no child was ever abused” is false, and suggests that Donohue’s sympathies are entirely with the perpetrator and enabler of these crimes against children and that he has also forgotten the profound betrayal of their responsibilities as priests.

Donohue then shifts from his sympathy for the pedophiles to a preposterous condemnation of the prosecution of these crimes.

The Catholic League supports harsh penalties for child sexual abusers, and for those who cover it up. But it also supports equal justice for all, and given what we know of what is going on in many other communities, religious as well as secular, we find the chorus of condemnations targeting Bishop Finn to be as unfair as they are contrived.

Children’s private parts were targeted in Ratigan’s photographs and Donohue claims that Bishop Finn is the victim? Such a declaration cries out for the Church to censure this contemptible man who claims to speak for American Catholics. To understand just how off-base Donohue’s defense is, consider this description of Ratigan’s behavior by The New York Times:

In May 2010, the principal of the Catholic elementary school where Father Ratigan was working sent a memo to the diocese raising alarm about the priest. The letter said that he had put a girl on his lap on a bus ride and encouraged children to reach into his pockets for candy, and that parents discovered girl’s underwear in a planter outside his house. Bishop Finn has said he did not read the letter until a year later.
The prosecutor said the photographs discovered on Father Ratigan’s laptop in December 2010 were “alarming photos,” among them a series taken on a playground in which the photographer moves in closer until the final shots show girls’ genitalia through their clothing. Confronted with the photographs, Father Ratigan tried to commit suicide, but survived and was briefly hospitalized.

If Finn remains at the helm of Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese the Vatican will essentially be telling the faithful that they care far more about high profile reactionary leaders, and little to nothing about the rest of us.

Let’s Listen as Bill Donohue’s Silence Speaks as Loudly as His Words

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Father Shawn Ratigan of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, led by Bishop Robert Finn, has pleaded guilty in Federal Court to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of attempted production of child pornography.

Both Ratigan’s and Bishop Finn’s defenses (Finn is charged with failing to report it) had become a rallying point for some in the Catholic Right, particularly those having intersecting activity in Opus Dei, the Bill Donohue-led Catholic League and neoconservatism.  They further used the incident to try to destroy the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests  (SNAP).

But now that Ratigan has confessed to his pedophilia-related crimes — what do these reactionaries who imagine themselves as defenders of the faith have to say for themselves?

The trial date for Bishop Finn has been set for September 24, 2012.  As I reported here and here, Bishop Finn, previously best known for his Opus Dei vision for the Church and society, had constructive knowledge of improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography by Ratigan.

Ratigan’s defense was eventually taken over by Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS), a Michigan-based organization funded by Domino’s Pizza chain founder Tom Monaghan. OBS sees its mission as defending priests from allegations of sexual abuse.

OBS had Ratigan examined by a staff psychiatrist who determined that Ratigan was not a pedophile but suffering from “loneliness and depression.”

That questionable diagnosis has been superceded by Ratigan’s August 2, 2012 confession and guilty pleas in Federal Court. As The Kansas City Star reported:

Thursday afternoon, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan stood in the very public forum of a federal courtroom and confessed to some of his own.

Ratigan, 46, pleaded guilty to using five girls to produce or attempt to produce child pornography over several years while serving as pastor to congregations in the Northland and St. Joseph.

As well as:

Each count carries a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison.

“When a defendant who wears a religious collar, who has the trust of the community, engages in conduct of this nature, his crimes are more devastating and more reprehensible,” said David M. Ketchmark, acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri. “With today’s guilty pleas … there’s an assurance that he will face stiff mandatory penalties and that he won’t have an opportunity to harm another child.”

Ketchmark said prosecutors will recommend what he termed “a virtual life sentence.”

This brings us back to Bill Donohue of the Catholic League who has distinguished himself by attacking Ratigan’s victims; the  The Kansas City Star for covering the crimes and the cover-up; and SNAP and their attorneys for advocating for the victims. Earlier in the year he staged a number of events in Kansas City at which he denounced anyone who dared to question Bishop Finn’s actions in the matter.

So far, the response of Donahue, and (as far as I know) the other reactionaries mentioned above, has been absolute silence.

A quick view of the Catholic League’s web page containing the organization’s most recent press releases has nary a cyber peep about Kansas City, including one statement on child abuse.

What then do we hear in the silence of the Church and its archest defenders? For at least this Catholic it confirms my initial belief that the actions of Donohue, his organization, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and all those who coalesced around Bishop Finn, that their actions on Kansas City had nothing to do with the well-being of everyday Catholics and everything to do with keeping the hierarchy free from accountability.

Bishop Finn has many powerful friends on the Catholic Right. As a hard charging leader of what he has called “the church militant” and one of four American Opus Dei bishops, Finn is clearly one of their own.  The fact that these activists 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.

Silence might be a legitimate legal consideration for some in light of Finn’s pending trial. But it soon will be time for Donohue and his cohorts to announce their penance.

They could begin by apologizing to Ratigan’s victims; explaining how they could have been so wrong; telling us how they intend to mend their ways; and making some kind of restitution not only to the victims of children in the care of the Church, but to all those whom they have subjected to calumny.

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.

What Is Truly At Stake In Kansas City-St. Joseph?

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

The saga of Bishop Robert Finn, (the outspoken Opus Dei prelate who is in hot water over his alleged failure to report to police, evidence of a pedophile priest under his diocesan authority) continues — as does consideration of the fallout of his criminal indictment.   A faction of the Catholic Right that intersects Opus Dei, the Catholic League and the neoconservative movement has risen to the bishop’s defense, suggesting that the Catholic Right believes they have more at stake than the legal or institutional fate of one negligent bishop.

Why would Catholic Right neoconservatives defend the indefensible? Of all the fights to pick, it seems odd that the likes of Bill Donohue’s Catholic League, members of Opus Dei and Opus Bono Sacerdotii would defend a bishop – even an Opus Dei bishop – where the indictment presents such an extremely difficult case to refute. As I  previously reported Finn has been indicted by a Jackson County Grand Jury on misdemeanor charges of failing to report child abuse and has cut a deal with prosecutors in nearby Clay County in order to avoid similar charges.

But his defenders’ concern may not be so much protecting Bishop Finn from what they say are false claims against him, but retaining this and other Opus Dei bishops’ hold on power.  To understand why they would pick this dubious battle, it is important to first understand the locale and then what has taken place in other pockets of progressivism.

Kansas City, Missouri is a bastion of Mid-West liberalism and until Finn’s arrival several years ago, the Catholic diocese was known as beacon of Catholic economic and social justice thought and action. But as I reported in 2006, Finn soon put the diocese on a culture war footing:

Finn’s personal political views have also come to predominate various diocesan decisions and pronouncements. Biological issues now take precedence over long-standing concerns such as distributive justice. As Dennis Coday reported in the National Catholic Reporter, A Respect Life Office was established to handle pro-life issues and battle stem-cell research. The effect of this decision was immediately felt in the recent battle over the Missouri’s Amendment 2 stem cell ballot initiative which narrowly prevailed on November 7, 2006.

In his march backwards he has elevated the role of The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. This society of priests celebrates Mass in Latin exclusively in its traditional as promulgated before the Vatican II aggiornomento reforms. The Institute has as its stated aim the defense and propagation of Magisterium in all areas of human life, both private and social. Such an attitude is a clear rebuke to Vatican II’s reform doctrine as defined in Dignitatis Humanae which declared that while the Church still viewed itself as the vessel of “the truth,” it wisely concluded that individuals must be free to seek the truth without coercion.

Kansas City is also a center for several ideals that are antithetical to neocon Catholics, particularly, Post- Keynesian economics, having a significant presence among the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC) faculty. The school also serves as home base for the Keynesian-based Center for Full Employment and Price Stability as well as Savings and Loan regulator and Roosevelt Institute fellow, Bill Black who serves as an associate professor of economics.

As I explained in an earlier post, Ettore Gotti-Tedeschi, the current head of the Vatican Bank is virulently anti-Keynesian in his economic philosophy.  Gotti-Tedeschi, a former professor of financial ethics at the Catholic University of Milan, attributes the world recession to declining birth rates and opposes labor unions.  He is also reportedly a member of Opus Dei.

Leading neocons Michael Novak, George Weigel and Robert P. George populate the Catholic League Board of Advisors. Novak is well-known for his tomes trumpeting laissez-fare economics; ditto for Weigel, while George has been as of late, campaigning for a return to the gold standard.  And then there is Fr. Michael Orsi, the outspoken Advisor of Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS), the Detroit-based organization (and Thomas Monaghan-funded) organization that “evaluated” the priest at the center of the whole affair, Fr. Shawn Ratigan.  (It was OBS’s in-house psychiatrist who claimed Ratigan was not a pedophile but “lonely and depressed”).

Orsi is a Catholic Right culture warrior par execellence.  He is a contributing writer to The American Spectator. In an article for Human Events he criticized the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for declaring that health care is a right.  And he again criticized the USCCB for implementing their zero-tolerance policy for pedophile clergy.  His take on the matter gives the impression that he is more concerned with preserving conservative authority than protecting children from predators. Indeed, he pontificating much about protecting priests. But protecting children? Not so much.

Bishop Finn’s appointment in Kansas City-St. Joseph appears to be part of a pattern in which the Vatican has placed vehement Catholic Right culture warriors in diocese serving liberal American cities.  The appointment of  Bishop Robert Morlino in Madison, Wisconsin is another excellent example. While municipal servants were recently fighting a conservative governor to keep their right to collectively bargain, Morlino did his best to pour cold water on Catholic support for the workers.  Madison is also the home to important embryonic stem cell research.

Likewise, Archbishop Joseph Chaput‘s appointment in Philadelphia and Archbishop Timothy Dolan in New York. To the east of Dolan sits bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in Brooklyn and to his west, Bishop John J. Myers in Newark – both Opus Dei members.  Other recent Opus Dei appointments include Archbishop Jose H. Gomez in Los Angeles, and Bishop John O. Barres in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Losing Finn as a bishop would be a setback for the movement of ultra-orthodox, ultra-conservative voices in positions of authority in the Church. Indeed it would be a blow to one of the Catholic Right’s most powerful tools, pure servile fear; the fear that does not derive from respect but from retribution. But if public pressure forces the Church as well as the state to act against Finn, it would be a victory for mainstream Catholics and to all citizens, who expect the law to be equally applied in protecting people from criminal predators. And that would be a blow to their vision of a Church that seeks to define not only what the law will be for others, but to stand above and apart from it themselves.

For Catholic conservatives who value authority over the protection of children, and rightist political and economic orthodoxy over the historic social justice teachings of the Church, this is a battle of historic consequence.

The Catholic Right Lines Up Against the Least

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Bishop Robert Finn has many powerful friends on the Catholic Right.  As a hard charging leader of what he has called “the church militant” and one of four American Opus Dei bishops, Finn is clearly one of their own.  Nevertheless, it extraordinary that his allies have chosen to side with an element in the institutional church obsessed with unquestioned authority and against Catholic children and their families.

While Bill Donohue of the Catholic League is ubiquitous, he is not the only one rallying to defend Finn’s handling of alleged child abuser Fr. Shawn Ratigan. It is time to throw open the shutters and allow some daylight into the shadows and dark corners of Catholic neoconservatism.  

The Catholic League

While Bill Donohue and the Catholic League need no introduction, it is worth a quick review of their key members and advisers who share responsibility for the League’s  support for Finn.

Among the League’s Board of Directors is Raymond Arroyo of Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) who is reputed to be either an Opus Dei member or cooperator (but who in any case has certainly vigorously defended the controversial group). Also on the board is Candace de Russy, an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute, a neocon think tank that features Lewis “Scooter” Libby (of Valerie Plame fame) as a Senior Vice President.  The League’s Board of Advisers is populated by such leading neocons as Hadley Arkes, Mary Ann Glendon, Robert P. George, Michael Novak and George Weigel, who has sanitized past Vatican failures regarding pedophile clergy and recently declared his scorn for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Thomas Monaghan

Another Catholic League adviser is Domino’s Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan, who in many ways is the key to Donohue’s activities in Kansas City-St. Joseph.

Monaghan has, over the years, advanced the twin agendas of laissez-faire economics and ultra-orthodox Catholicism with money and political muscle.  He has helped to fund Operation Rescue and Fr. Frank Pavone’s Priests for Life as well as Legatus, the ultra-conservative millionaires-only club he founded. And according to Forbes, he has reportedly done the same for Opus Dei.

Monaghan is also involved with another Finn defender, Opus Bono Sacerdotii.

Opus Bono Sacerdotii

The Kansas City Star recently reported that the Fr. Ratigan, the alleged pedophile priest, had received a psychiatric evaluation at Bishop Finn’s behest. But there are questions about the psychiatrist’s impartiality as well as his diagnosis.  The Star pointed out:

Richard Fitzgibbons, who examined Ratigan in January after disturbing photographs of children were found on the priest’s computer, is an adviser to Opus Bono Sacerdotii, according to the group’s website. The nonprofit organization provides services to accused and imprisoned priests, including financial, legal and emotional support.

After his evaluation, Fitzgibbons told Finn that Ratigan was not a pedophile and that his pornography problem was a result of loneliness and depression, according to a report commissioned by the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese.

(Note that Fitzgibbons’s diagnosis was “loneliness and depression” not pedophilia.)

Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS) describes, its mission:

Opus Bono Sacerdotii (Work for the Good of the Priesthood) was founded in response to many sensitive situations with priests requesting confidential assistance for unique problems.  These situations may encompass a whole spectrum of circumstances, however, the success in caring for Catholic priests is understanding the uniqueness of each individual and their particular needs, abilities and desires especially as it effects the extraordinary relationship between the natural and supernatural aspect of the person of the priest.

BishopAccountability.org describes OBS co-founders Joseph Maher and Paul Barron as “members of Legatus.”  This is not unusual. Based in Monaghan’s hometown of Detroit, Michigan, many of the key members of Legatus are also affiliated with the Monahan-founded or funded organizations, notably the ultra orthodox Ave Maria University (“AMU”), in Naples, Florida. These include such Catholic Right luminaries as the late neocon activist Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Fr. Thomas G. Guarino, and Fr. Michael Orsi.

A stern-looking Donohue is pictured on the OBS homepage next to a link to his piece, “Straight Talk about the Catholic Church and SNAP Exposed.”

Fr. Orsi’s past pronouncements about victims of priestly pedophilia have been controversial.  For example, as a December 22, 2008 post at BishopAccountability.org noted:

Orsi’s defense of sexually dysfunctional priests is rich with clericalism. This conclusion was highlighted in the book “Sacrilege:  Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church”.  Leon Podles, a former federal investigator, is the book’s author and, interestingly, a former supporter of AMU.  In the chapter “Clerical Accomplices”, Dr. Podles describes the pass that Orsi gives to guilty homosexual/pederast/pedophile priests as reflective of a time “in which members of society had unequal status before the law.  Such inequality is always irritating, and is often used to protect privileged malefactors – and Orsi resents the loss of privilege.”

Orsi uses his Ave Maria Chaplaincy to promote and defend OBS thanks to his two bosses, Ave Maria School of Law Chairman Tom Monaghan and President-Dean Bernard Dobranski. For all of the rants about liberal immorality, attacks on the family, and the “culture wars” penned by Monaghan and Dobranski in their fundraising letters, you’ll never hear about the wink-and-nod given to Orsi or OBS in keeping pederasts at the altar.

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.