Donohue’s in a league of his own

For 16 of the 36 years the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has been in business, it’s been headed by Bill Donohue. 

In that time Donohue has put his distinctive mark on this feisty anti-defamation organization, on the Catholic Church in the United States, and on American culture as a whole. No small achievement. 

What does Donohue do? Here is a sentence from a League news release quoting its leader: “The real story here is not the corruption of Harvard — that’s old hat — the real story is the president of the United States choosing a morally challenged anti-Catholic homosexual to join his team.” 

In case you wonder, that was Donohue’s trademark way of protesting President Barack Obama’s choice of Kevin Jennings as the administration’s “safe schools czar.” Among other things, Jennings was a member of a homosexual activist group called ACT UP and donor to an ACT UP display featured at the Harvard art museum. In case it’s slipped your mind, it was ACT UP that, in a notorious 1989 incident, disrupted a Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and desecrated the Eucharist. 

Straight shooter 

It’s hardly a surprise that Donohue is not universally liked. There are two obvious reasons. One is his take-no-prisoners way of expressing himself. The other is that he gets his facts straight. Take my advice: If you are thinking about signing up in the culture war, be sure to join Donohue’s side. 

But make no mistake — this is not a mean man. Friends (full disclosure: I count myself among them) know him as a kind and gentlemanly fellow. Trash the Catholic Church, however, and beware. Donohue in action plays rough. 

A few zingers drawn from his book “Secular Sabotage: How Liberals Are Destroying Religion and Culture in America” (Faith Words, $21.99) may serve to suggest the flavor of the man. 

  •  On “radical secular activists”: “That they have absolutely nothing to offer in the way of an alternative social order not only reveals their intellectual bankruptcy, it explains their rage. This is the revenge of the nihilists.” 
  •  On college administrators who take steps to suppress religious expression on their campuses: “Some college officials are totalitarians.” 
  •  On old-line Catholic dissidents who keep up their complaints about the Church year after year: “What would make them happy? It’s not clear even the dissidents know at this point. ... They could join another religion, but that wouldn’t be as much fun.” 

Championing the Church 

“Secular Sabotage” is chock-full of anecdotes drawn from skirmishes in the culture war. Donohue and the Catholic League have often played a high-profile role. If your dudgeon is low and your blood needs to boil, read this book. 

Many Catholics deeply admire Donohue, seeing him as a gutsy and effective champion of the Church in the face of rampant anti-Catholicism. Others find him an embarrassment or worse — too loud, too outspoken, a spike in the wheels of Catholic surrender to the culture of secularism. 

Count me in the first group. In a devastating chapter on Catholic “self-sabotage,” Donohue writes of those Catholic Church-wreckers of the 1960s and 1970s who “gave it their best shot and they lost. ... It’s up to the rest of us to clean up the mess they left behind.”

Donohue is working hard at that. We all should. 

Russell Shaw is an OSV contributing editor.