Bill Donohue vs. the facts.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue has never shown much aptitude for speaking truthfully about the sexual-abuse scandal. Sit him in front of a TV camera or a Dictaphone and he'll deliver any number of pronouncements long on confidence and short on accuracy. His greatest hit--that the scandal is really a gay problem--has never been true. But his B-sides are worth remembering too. Like that time he defended Deal Hudson (for this) by referring to the woman in question as "a drunk...he met in a bar," when in fact she was a student of his at the time (a freshman, actually). Or that other time he commented on the Mark Foley case by observing that "most fifteen-year-old boys wouldn't allow themselves to be molested." Or pretty much every time he comments on the case of Shawn Ratigan.

You remember him. He's the now-laicized Kansas City priest who's doing time--an insanely long amount of time, if you ask me--for possessing and creating child pornography, crimes he admitted. The diocese learned that he had hundreds of troubling photos on his computer, including a series depicting a child whose diaper is slowly revealed to expose her genitals. Bishop Robert Finn didn't call the police, so he was convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse. And now the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is paying for his appallingly bad judgment.

For years, Donohue has been proclaiming Finn "an innocent man." He's able to say so because he draws his conclusion from a bunch of made up facts, most of which he was invited to repeat on the August 21 edition of EWTN's The World Over. Have a look (go to 46:40).

Nearly none of that is true. Right off the bat, Donohue minimizes the crime by claiming "a technician" found "some crotch shots of girls fully clothed" on Ratigan's computer. Not quite.

According to an independent report commissioned by the diocese, the computer contained hundreds of photos, most of which depicted the rear ends and crotches of very young girls wearing some sort of clothing, such as bathing suits. Some looked like they were taken under tables. But it also contained two series of photos that Donohue forgot to mention: one, referred to above, showing a girl as young as two wearing a diaper, which is slowly removed to expose her genitals. That series included six to eight photos, three of which displayed her nude from the waist down. Another set of about two dozen photos depicted a sleeping girl who appears to have been moved--that is, posed--from photo to photo.

Donohue falsely claims the diocese found just one nude photo, and that it was "non-sexual." Then he says the diocese reported it to the police, failing to note that Finn was convicted for failing to report suspected child abuse (possessing child pornography counts as child abuse, according to civil and canon law). And then he floats the falsehood that "the authorities looked at it" and said it was not pornographic. Also not true. Not even close to true.

What really happened is that a priest described one photo to a cop who had served on the diocesan sexual-abuse review board. He said it was non-sexual. The cop said he'd talk to someone at the department about it, and reported back that the photo might not be pornographic. But he never laid eyes on the photo, and never knew about any of the others. Later, the cop expressed his dismay that the priest who called him never told him about the hundreds of other photos found on Ratigan's laptop.

Donohue continues, telling the EWTN audience that Finn placed restrictions on Ratigan. These restrictions were so severe that Ratigan was not monitored in any way by anyone. When Finn learned Ratigan wasn't abiding by these light restrictions, he did nothing except scold him by phone.

"There was no complainant," Donohue says, apparently believing this means nothing bad really happened. In fact it's totally beside the point. We have mandatory reporting laws because abused children are children. Who knows whether the little girls in the photos Donohue pathologically ignores were even aware that they were being featured in pornography? Maybe they were drugged. Maybe they were just sleeping. Maybe none of this should have to be pointed out to a man who serves as president of the Catholic League.

Not that it would do any good. Donohue thinks he knows what's really going on here. The National Catholic Reporter, SNAP, and plaintiffs' attorney Jeff Anderson are in cahoots to "scalp" Midwestern bishops, many of whom were brought in to clean up the mess left by their liberal predecessors, says Donohue. The proof? These same people go easy on other, more liberal bishops with worse abuse records. Evidently Bill Donohue has never heard of Cardinal Roger Mahony.

Still, Donohue may have a point. It's never a good sign when a critic goes hard on his ideological opponents but easy on his allies. Which is what makes it so hard to understand why he would go after retired Archbishop Rembert Weakland for saying "sometimes not all adolescent victims are so innocent," but defend Fr. Benedict Groeschel when he said basically the same thing.

Is that the kind of consistent, penetrating analysis Catholic League donors have come to expect? I hope they feel like they're getting their money's worth, because it's quite a bit of money. In 2012, the Catholic League took in about $3.7 million, according to its tax filing. (More recent filings are not yet available.) The group's net assets totaled nearly $32 million. The Catholic League pays Donohue about half a million dollars. Nice work if you can get it. The vice president only makes about two hundred grand--fifty thousand shy of the check Donohue cut to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2012 for "general support."

Speaking of support, maybe it's time for some members of that conference to withdraw their own from the Catholic League. After all, if you were trying to recover from the worst scandal U.S. Catholics have ever known, would you cash a check from a man who publicly rebukes an alleged abuse victim for "allowing himself to be molested"? I wouldn't.

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

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