The Rottweiler’s Rottweiler
I CAN’T believe I’m saying this, but Bill Donohue is right. Donohue, the chronically peeved president of the Catholic League, and I rarely see eye to eye, but he is right about one very big thing: how to resolve the crisis in Catholicism. My endorsement may horrify him as much as it surprises me.
Donohue, for those of you without cable TV, is the Vatican’s most vociferous American apologist. Any time a critic — especially a Catholic critic — casts doubt on the wisdom of the Catholic hierarchy, Donohue fires off a press release attacking the attacker or otherwise changing the subject. Bring up pedophile priests and he’ll talk about pedophile public-school teachers or pedophile Orthodox Jews. That nun who is under a Vatican cloud lately for having written a book with decidedly liberal views on sexuality? Donohue’s response bypassed her arguments and focused on the fact that she sometimes cites Michel Foucault, the creepy French philosopher known as an acolyte of the Marquis de Sade and a darling of the radical left. (Guilt by footnote.)
Another ferocious defender of the faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, used to be known as “God’s Rottweiler.” Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict XVI, and Bill Donohue is the Rottweiler’s Rottweiler.
In person, Donohue — a big, 64-year-old Long Island Irishman, divorced father of two grown daughters — has the genial manner of the parish priest he almost became. Instead he digressed to military school, the Air Force, and the sociology faculty of a Catholic college in Pennsylvania. He is more likable one-on-one than his notorious sound bites, which have an Ann Coulterish reductiveness: Hollywood is “controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity.” President Obama “supports selective infanticide.” Progressive Catholics are “termites.” The title of his 2009 book catches the snarly Donohue: “Secular Sabotage: How Liberals Are Destroying Religion and Culture in America.”
I picked up his new book — “Why Catholicism Matters” — expecting another fountain of invective. But this is a mellower work, a believer’s portrait of the church he loves, built around the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. It dwells on Catholicism’s estimable contributions to scholarship, Western culture and humanitarianism, while airbrushing those episodes where the church came up short in the cardinal-virtue department. Thus the case of Galileo — who was branded a heretic for endorsing Copernicus’s theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun — does not merit our indignation, since Galileo spent his last years under house arrest rather than in a dungeon. “Why Catholicism Matters” gives us the defense counsel’s version of the Crusades (a natural response to Islamic jihad) and the Inquisition (never mind the torture, secular authorities did the heretic-burning). He sums up the shameful cover-up of predatory priests with that weasel classic, “mistakes were made.”
By now some readers are wondering Why Donohue Matters. Indeed, when he took charge of the Catholic League in 1993, Donohue could be dismissed as a conservative blowhard, one of those laymen who was, ahem, more Catholic than the pope. But the official church has moved far enough to the right that Donohue now speaks for its mainstream. [More]