When being constantly outraged and on the attack is how you make your living, you’re bound to get a little sloppy with the details now and then. We’ve seen before what happens when the Catholic League’s William A. Donohue, PhD, starts out with a complaint and then has trouble backing it up with actual evidence, and it isn’t pretty.
When it comes to the church’s sex-abuse crisis, Donohue’s got his reactions all set, regardless of the facts. Is a bishop being criticized for mishandling accusations against an abusive priest? The bishop must be defended; he’s done nothing wrong; the media (and/or leftist Catholics) are plainly out to get him.
Sometimes, though, the facts just don’t line up with Donohue’s interpretation. The recent case of Newark’s Archbishop John J. Myers and Fr. Michael Fugee was a tough one; to maintain that Myers was a good guy getting an unfair rap, Donohue was forced to play lawyer — a lawyer who doesn’t know what the word “or” means. Thus, as Mark Silk explained yesterday, Donohue resorted to insisting that the New Jersey Star-Ledger had smeared Myers by calling for his resignation “because he allegedly did not hold Fugee to the terms of the agreement. As will soon be disclosed,” Donohue said, “this accusation is patently false.” And therefore “the entire editorial board of the newspaper should resign immediately.”
But Donohue’s argument that the accusation was false rests on an obviously erroneous reading of the archdiocese’s court agreement to keep Fugee away from minors. Donohue insists that “the court agreement expressly allowed Father Fugee to have contact with minors, provided he was supervised.” Here’s what the court order actually says:
It is agreed and understood that the Archdiocese shall not assign or otherwise place Michael Fugee in any position within the Archdiocese that allows him to have any unsupervised contact with or to supervise or minister to any minor/child under the age of 18 or work in any position in which children are involved. This includes, but is not limited to, presiding over a parish, involvement with a youth group, religious education/parochial school, CCD, confessions of children, youth choir, youth retreats and day care.
Now, we know Donohue sometimes has trouble understanding things he reads through his fog of resentful fury. But he wants to insist that the above plainly states that Fugee is permitted to do any of the itemized activities as long as he’s being “supervised,” when in fact there are a number of “or”s after that initial phrase about “unsupervised contact” that make it very clear the restriction is not thus limited. Is it even possible to read it that way in good faith?
Let’s say Donohue really did think he was making a good argument. He knows now how wrong he was, not just because people like Silk have carefully, patiently explained his errors to him, but also because the Archdiocese has now admitted that yes, Fugee was in violation of that agreement. (Previously they had said he wasn’t.) So here was what should have been a moment of truth for the Catholic League: in trying to protect a bishop from calumny, they have actually smeared an entire newspaper editorial board and muddied an important issue with a lot of false assertions and bad arguments. And that document in which Donohue’s argument was so totally wrong? He’d bragged about how widely he’d distributed it — he didn’t just send it to “every bishop in the nation”; he also bothered “over 200 employees at the [Star-Ledger], including those who cover ‘food news’ and ‘soccer.’” A big-time screwup like this could really hurt Bill Donohue’s credibility, right? And it could really embarrass the bishops he’s so eager to defend — especially the ones who’ve gone out of their way to cheer him on without reservation. It could make them all look like they’re much more invested in playing identity politics and stoking Catholic persecution complexes than they are in being honest and living up to their promises to protect children from abuse. So the only thing to do is issue a straightforward retraction and apology, right? Read the rest of this entry »