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Reading dotCommonweal with the Catholic League

A kind correspondent, concerned for our souls here at Commonweal, passed along a photocopy of a column in the latest issue of the Catalyst, which -- as you are no doubt aware -- is the newsletter of William Donohue's Catholic League. Donohue mentions Commonweal, you see:

A radical atheist organization took out a vicious full-page ad in the New York Times ripping Catholicism, and professed Catholics agreed with it. The ad, Quit the Catholic Church, was paid for by the Freedom From Religion Foundation; it ran on March 9....Many of the comments about the ad that were posted on the websites of liberal Catholic media outlets agreed with the ad. America, Commonweal and the National Catholic Reporter ran several statements of support.

Wait, that's not true. On what grounds does Donohue claim that we ran a "statement of support"?

Some wondered why anyone would object. For example, Gerelyn at Commonweal questioned, "Is there something in the ad that is untrue?"

Aha. As I am sure Gerelyn would be the first to tell you, when Gerelyn, or any other commenter, leaves a comment on a post here at dotCommonweal, that comment is not from Commonweal. Is it possible that Donohue does not understand how blog comments work? (It wouldn't be the first time that this distinction has caused trouble for someone in search of infidelity on the Catholic Left. It's funny that the confusion never seems to work the other way.)

Donohue goes on, "Some who could not bring themselves to condemn the ad teach at Catholic colleges." He first criticizes something Tom Beaudoin, a Fordham professor, wrote at America's blog ("Blaming the victim was never put more crudely," he says, which when you think about it is a pretty bold statement coming from Bill Donohue). That wasn't exactly a "statement of support," either, but at least he's moved on to reading things actually posted by magazine contributors. Then he turns back in this direction:

Not to be outdone we have the Commonweal contribution of Father Robert P. Imbelli. He also teaches theology at a Jesuit institution, this one being Boston College. He was delighted that the Times ran the cartoon that accompanied the ad. The cartoon, which featured what appears to be Cardinal Dolan, shows the New York archbishop screaming at a woman "Over Something This Small" (it shows a picture of the pill with the inscription, "Birth Control"). Father Imbelli opined, "Happily the punchy cartoon was spared the censor's ax." He had nothing to say about the propriety of the hate speech directed at his religion.These are not isolate examples, for if they were they would hardly be worth mentioning; Commonweal and the Reporter regularly feature self-hating Catholics...

Here's the post from Fr. Imbelli that led Dr. Donohue to call him a "self-hating Catholic." (It happens to be the same post that provoked the above-quoted comment from Gerelyn -- a comment I am fairly confident she viewed as dissenting.) All I can say is, the distinction between "comments people leave on our posts" and "statements endorsed by Commonweal" appears to be just the beginning of Dr. Donohue's comprehension issues. What I think I like best about this is the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger conclusion:

Over the years, America and Commonweal have published some brilliant articles that challenge the accepted wisdom in Catholic circles. That is why it is distressing to note some of the commentary they are featuring these days.

It's true -- why, I can hardly count the times Donohue has recommended our brilliant articles challenging accepted wisdom to his fellow Catholic Leaguers. How sad to see him forced to reconsider the high opinion in which he has always held us, and the deep respect and careful attention he has always brought to reading Commonweal. As Cardinal Dolan has said, "Keep at it, Bill! We need you!"


Commenting Guidelines

I've known for quite some time that Donohue's prose style is more redolent of the bludgeon than the scalpel, but it had never occurred to me before that a person can also *read* as with a blunt instrument. The light touch apparently doesn't register. Reading Fr. Imbelli's posts on Commonweal is like partaking of fine wine, but I suppose to some palates, everything registers as Bud Light.

Do you have any recourse at all, any way at all, of holding the Catholic League accountable for the untruthful things it says?

Mollie: Bill Donohue is employing the old tactic of guilt by association. When he thinks in terms of guilt by association, he finds COMMONWEAL guilty for the its "corporate" association as sponsor of dotCommonweal with the people who post messages at dotCommonweal.As to Fr. Imbelli being a "self-hating Catholic," as Donohue says he is, I thought that Fr. Imbelli was merely calling attention to the ad. I guess that for Donohue, a non-self-hating Catholic would have taken the opportunity to denounce the ad in no uncertain terms, which is the kind of thing that Donohue likes to do.

James,you are more than kind in my regard.I do not regularly read "Catalyst," but a kind correspondent, concerned for my soul (not to mention my reputation), forwarded a copy to me.I was in touch with Mr. Donohue and told him he had gravely misinterpreted my view. My post was completely ironic and by no means an endorsement of the ad or the cartoon in question. Indeed, had he consulted any of the editors at dotCom they would have gladly testified that I am not an uncritical fan of the New York Times.After some discussion he sent me a "retractatio" which will appear in the next "Catalyst" (which Mollie will undoubtedly post here). I assured him that henceforth when I am being ironic, I will signal such intent by :-)That said, and while not endorsing everything that appears under the name of the Catholic League (as they would not endorse everything that appears under my name), I am grateful for a number of their interventions, including the one I commend on a post below.

Someone should really bring this statement of Donahue's this to the attention of Cardinal Dolan. Donahue's attack on one of his priests is outrageous and Dolan should demand on apology both to him and to Father Imbelli. The amount of harm Donahue has done to the Catholic Church in this country is incalculable.

Fr. Imbelli is a cultured and thoughtful Catholic whose posts seem always to present Catholicism in a refined and positive way, often highlighting the Church's roots in love and service to others. To call such an individual "a self-hating Catholiic" strikes me as sufficient evidence alone to discredit the editorial. Moreover, Commonweal is a very different publication from America or The National Catholic Reporter. It has long had a readership made up of devout, marginal, lapsed, and non-Catholics who wish to engage with a Catholic perspective. In doing so, it reaches out to the wider world and is probably doing more evangelism than, say, Donohue, who got on CNN as soon as Pope Benedict was elected and hailed the advent of a "smaller, purer Church." All that said, perhaps Donohue's editorial is a caution for those of us Bad Catholics to be more circumspect in our speech, and not to provide the tar with which the publication can be brushed. I need to pray more before my fingers hit the keyboard.

What Jean Raber said in spades!

Bob, I'm really sorry this happened to you.

It is good that Bill D is going to correct his charges about Commonweal and Fr. Imbelli in particular, but somehow the prospect of forcing Bob Imbelli to dot his posts with smiley faces and emoticons makes me feel, well... :-(On the other hand, having Bill D use emoticons in his releases could be interesting. Can we have suggestions for emoticons that would reflect the Catholic League's rage? Is any keyboard sufficiently equipped???!!

"That said, and while not endorsing everything that appears under the name of the Catholic League (as they would not endorse everything that appears under my name), I am grateful for a number of their interventions, including the one I commend on a post below."I agree. There is a genuine need for a media / public discourse watchdog. The Daily Show certainly was far over the line, and they should be called on it, and in general there seems to be no lack of grist for the Catholic League mill. I wish the League had a more considered and less divisive tone, though. Not everything fits the template of the culture wars, and the credibility of such an organization needs to extend beyond the narrow subset of Catholicism that its core fan base represents.At one time, a well-meaning friend bought me a subscription to the Catalyst, and although it seems to have lapsed for a number of years now, I still receive some of their fund-raising solicitations. As with many not-for-profits, fund-raising seems to be a never-ending activity. I don't doubt that the shrill and combative tone of its public statements is part of the fund-raising formula.Since the Vatican II era at least, the church hierarchy has taught Catholics about the importance and utility of the mass media - even though the Vatican and bishops seem to struggle to stay atop the horse. Media relations are part of the bishops' responsibility, and istm that the USCCB could legitimately take on Catholic League duties of media/public discourse watchdog. Why don't they work out a trade: put the USCCB on guard duty, and let the Catholic League take over the film reviews. That seems like a better fit all around.

I have had my disagreements with Fr. Imbelli on this blog, but the last thing in the world I would think of him is that he is a "self-hating" Catholic. Is Donahue perhaps projecting?

( (A person flipping a table in rage)

I'll have to think for awhile about why, but this article and the larger context called to mind Dostoyevsky's chapters on The Grand Inquisitor. I need to go back and read it again.

Eeuuww. (I think Bill was mad at me, not for asking if there was anything untrue in the ad, but for a later comment in the same thread about his cluelessness about American/Catholic history.)(He didn't answer my question, so I guess he was unable to find anything untrue in the ad.)Maureen Dowd was good this morning. Sad to see the lies the shepherds feel free to feed the sheep.

Irene, that's pretty brilliant. But I actually think it is an ancient Peruvian glyph indicating that aliens visited earth eons ago.

Jim Pauwels writes, "Ive known for quite some time that Donohues prose style is more redolent of the bludgeon than the scalpel, but it had never occurred to me before that a person can also *read* as with a blunt instrument. "You really are extraordinarily courteous, Mr. Pauwels. I was about to dismiss Donohue as a prize pr*** until I realized how bludgeon-esque that would sound alongside your elegant prose.

I too am grateful to Father Imbelli for his posts and comments on dotC. As well as for his personal kindness to me. I wish him a blessed feast of St. Philip Neri this Saturday.

Add my voice to the chorus. The charge against Fr Imbelli is so ridiculous that I hope he found it laughable :)) rather than insulting :@ . No one who reads his posts with any regularity could have missed the irony!I also am happy for his posts and comments on dotCommonweal. Even the ones I don't like, I am happy that they're there.

Irene, that's very funny! And a reference to the cleansing of the temple?

William Donahue is voice of division in the Catholic community: his views are most frequently ignorant and biased.His comen tabout Bob Imbelli was so arrantly stupid that it was laughable.What is truly sad is that the Cardinal Abp. of NY doesn't think so!

"William Donahue is voice of division in the Catholic community"Exactly and intentionally. The CL is a fund raising and advocacy organization, and those causes are best served by getting people riled up about the evil at their doorstep. The gap needs to be seen as unbridgeable, the situation dire, so that people will reach for their checkbooks. Bearing false witness is a small price to pay!

Just what is a self-hating Catholic? A mirror, perhaps, of AIPAC's "self-hating Jews" who occasionally criticize aspects of Israel policy (settlement expansion, for instance)? I don't see Commonweal as a venue for self-hating Catholics, though there are more than a few who regard, not the Church, but rather its leadership, as a stumbling block, leading to sorrow and concern. As did indeed some of the great Catholic reformers of the past, and not all of them men, by a long shot.

Thanks, Fr. Imbelli, for the richness you contribute. Cdl. Dolan has spoken on Donohue. In an archdiocesan blog post on Why we need the Catholic League, Dolan memorably worked up to a glowing "Keep at it, Bill! We need you!" First, in a strange inclusion considering his theme, he quoted denunciations by others of Donahue such as blowhard, a self-appointed censor, right wing publicity mill, a bully,and American Taliban.

What, according to Bill Donohue's way of thinking, is a self-hating Catholic?I think he means that Catholics who "hate" (i.e., are critical of and perhaps reject) certain teachings of the Roman Catholic Church regarding, say, sexual morality are thereby self-hating Catholics. In other words, they still claims to be Catholics but they "hate" certain aspects of what it supposedly means to be a Catholic, according to Bill Donohue's way of thinking; so in this way, they can be described as self-hating Catholics.However, Fr. Imbelli strikes me as an orthodox Catholic. Or at least I do not recall reading any criticisms by him of Catholic doctrines. So Donohue's characterization of Fr. Imbelli strikes me as baseless name calling by Donohue.

"It is good that Bill D is going to correct his charges about Commonweal and Fr. Imbelli in particular, but somehow the prospect of forcing Bob Imbelli to dot his posts with smiley faces and emoticons makes me feel, well :-("You took the emoticon right out of my mouth. If Fr. Imbelli begins peppering his comments with smiley faces I'm cancelling my subscription to both Commonweal and Catalyst (which I'll first have to subscribe to).

Would not expect anything different from Bill "Last Angry Catholic" Donohue!

Propagandists are typically irony-impaired, which, whether through incapacity or perverse will, comes in handy for painting with a broad and careless brush. To grasp irony is in good measure to understand the nature of language, i.e., that the tethering of res and verba is a matter of convention, not necessity. Those of an authoritarian stripe tend to dislike that fact, or, as with small children, they simply fail to grasp it.

Fr. Imbelli --It's a total mystery to me why Donohue chose you of all people to pick on. He's even dumber than I had thought.

I think it says something that Fr. Imbelli would not hesitate to voice his displeasure to the Catholic League, a organization whose work he sometimes views favourably. It also says something that the Catholic League would admit it did wrong, and print a retraction.Now, if only someone who contributes here had, say, a similar relationship with Comedy Central, and if only that someone made his/her displeasure known, and if only Comedy Central were man enough to apologize. If only.

Several years back Cardinal George worried publicly that so many people (the bishops excepted) were confused about who speaks for the Catholic church. I've always thought that the answer was obvious: Bill Donohue. Even Cardinal Dolan's increasingly frequent media appearances don't come close to Donohue's. (I know because I receive a MEDIA ALERT once a day or so from the Catholic League.) And behind Donohue, there is always EWTN. No wonder the New Evangelization is going so well. One other thought: What is the opposite of a self-hating Catholic? A self-loving Catholic?

I also want to throw in my support of Fr. Imbelli. As one of his former students I find Donahue's remarks absurd. Imbelli is as far from "self-hating" as you can get as he clearly revels in the Catholic cultural and intellectual traditions. It would be one thing if this were just a case of misunderstanding an ironic comment, but it isn't. Knowing Imbelli's gentle soul I can imagine it stings him to be so grossly misrepresented in the public square, and to have his work as a theologian questioned simply because it has been carried out at a "Jesuit institution." Perhaps if Donahue spent some time with Imbelli he might learn something about the virtue of charity. A virtue in too short supply these days.Fr. Imbelli, beyond your learned instruction you are an example of charity for your students, and while we may not always live up to your standard we are profoundly grateful for your witness.

In Bill Donohue's thought-world, the opposite of a self-hating Catholic is evidently a Cathoic who loves all the church's doctrines uncritically, or at least loves all the church's doctrines uncritically that Bill Donohue loves uncritically.In short, Bill Donohue is the exemplar of the opposite of a self-hating Catholic.

Like so many others who would like to see the Catholic Church become exclusive rather than inclusive (perhaps it should be the Sectarian Church), Bill Donohoe is a "cafeteria Catholic". He only refers to those parts of Catholic teaching, and especially social doctrine, that suit his political purpose.Thus, Glenn Beck pronounced ex cathedra on Fox News, March 2, 2010:---<>Bill Donohue's response to the ensuing furore was this:--<>

I'm sorry. Bad coding led to the deletion of the two quotations.Glenn Beck --- "I'm begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!" Bill Donohue --- "Beck didn't say Christians should abandon their religion. He recommended shopping around to find a more conservative parish if one is dissatisfied with hearing left-wing sermons. Nothing new about that. In the Catholic Church, there are priests who are stridently left-wing and stridently right-wing; many parishioners shop accordingly. Protestants shop by leaving one denomination for another. And so on."If you don't like one cafeteria, move to the next one.

The Catholic League identifies its Boards of Directors and of Advisors, composed of a few dozen members of unspecified authority with respect to the League President. If they attend to organizational strategy and overall effectiveness as boards often do, their perspectives on operations under Donohue would be of interest.

One cautionary note to rain on this otherwise enjoyable parade: while I am happy that Fr. Imbelli defended himself and Commonweal to Bill, and believe that is a salutary thing, I think we could all agree that the greater virtue is not so much about defending our self-interest but in speaking truth to power on behalf of the powerless and those who are not in positions of authority or influence.

Re truth, power, and strategy, Bill Donohue's letter to Maureen Dowd today (5/23) is puzzling.

Send a donation to Bill: deductible.)(What kind of initiation did the other boys in the fraternity subject him to?)

Gerelyn, Before you take that tax deduction, you might check out the Catholic Leagues favorite charity: Mr D himself.

Bill Donohue: Have you no sense of decency, sir?

Oh boy, Bill Donohue has tried his hand at parodying Maureen Dowd's most recent column in the NYTimes. What a treat it is to read his parody. What will he write next to show us how talented he is at thinking and writing?

I greatly respect and admire Bill Donahue and the work of the Catholic League under his leadership. On occasion his criticisms have been overstated or missed the mark as for example his failure to appreciate Fr. Imbellis subtle irony - but far more often his work on behalf of the Church has been effective and admirable. See for example the Catholic Leagues ongoing campaign for an apology from Jon Stewart for his cowardly, despicable and pornographic denigration of the Holy Family referenced by Fr. Imbelli in his 5/21/12, 10:05 am post. I realize, of course, that it is unlikely Donahues dedication and effectiveness in his work on behalf of the Church will be appreciated by few, if any, progressive Catholics (in this life, I mean), but for those willing to look for some redeeming value in his work and the work of the Catholic League here is the link to the Catholic League magazine archives:

Being late to this discussion, I first want to express my appreciation for the posts of Fr. Imbelli who often posts the most prayerful of reflections among us, so to have D attack him of all people shows no sensitivity at all.That being said this has been one of the most humourous series of posts to have graced any thread at dotCommonweal. Thanks for the laughter. I wonder if D is smiling too?

There is very much a need for advocacy groups that promote and defend the image and values of the Catholic Church. My problem with the Catholic League is not that its overly aggressive, ready to see attacks where there are none. I think there is even a need for a group like that. (Think of Donohue as our own Rev Sharpton). Many people will be put off by him, and more moderate voices will probably carry the day, but we need people to push the envelope, to get the issues out there for discussion.But it is a huge problem that the Catholic League attacks other Catholics, and attacks a lot of them. That does NOT reinforce the positive image of our Church or promote its values. For that reason, I think he and his organization do more harm than good. And I am mystified that some of our Church leaders- like Cardinal Dolan- are so eager to embrace Donohue.

For all who have expressed supportive words in my regard, a grateful remembrance at this morning's Eucharist.

Irene --Your point about attacking other Catholics is important. Donohue seems to relish doing so.As a matter of fact, I joined the League when D. first started it because I felt even then that there was a need for it. Catholic bashing has always been a favorite sport of some seculars. However, within just months of joining it was clear that Donohue exaggerated, was rude and was much too loud. Needless to say, I didn't rejoin, but still think that such an organization could do some good.

"Needless to say, I didnt rejoin, but still think that such an organization could do some good."I agree. But only if you and Irene were running it.

Jean --You're the communications expert, and that's what is needed:-). All you need to start up your organization is a few million dollars from some middle-of-the-road Catholocs.Oops-- there aren't any middle-of-the-road Catholics anymore. Sigh.

(o^_^o) blush.

Here's some communication advice for free: Catholics, stop helping the Catholic bashers.Donohue frequently turns on other Catholics and ends up looking like a buffoon, as in his misread of Fr. Imbelli's post. I anxiously await the forthcoming apology or retraction of whatever it will be. Charity requires that I not indulge in cynical predictions about how this about-face will go. It was also difficult to listen to the Msgr. Lynn testimony as covered on the national networks. Given that public sentiment is running against the defense, it's a foregone conclusion that news editors will be tempted to cherry pick quotes to fit the existing story of secrecy and misdeed. So why Msgr. Lynn would hand them a line like "I was just doing the best I could" is beyond me. A P.R. consultant with only middling talent would have sense enough to advise him to answer fully, truthfully, and not make excuses for himself.