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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

Why, why, WHY does anyone give 2 hoots in hades what Bill says? Seriously, he's like a mewling little kid. If you ignore him sooner or later he'll learn that what he is braying is of no consequence to adults.

Fr. Imbelli & Gerelyn: to be attacked by the CL and Will Bill is a badge of honor. I am jealous.

Wild Bill, that is.

Jean --The prosecutor's response today to Msgr. Lynn's "I was doing my best", was the devastating counter-question: "And your best was nothing?"He did make a bit of a defense today. He said that because the Cardinal had two law degrees "i assumed he knew what he was doing" when he gave orders. That really isn't exactly the same defense as "I was just following orders". But given the amount of coverage the scandal has had, and given that C. Law was lucky to get out of the country without being prosecuted, surely the monsignor must have known that his own inaction was unlawful.

Jean --What would be the best way for the guilty bishops to handle the scandal from a P. R. perspective? How could they possibly regain their former reputations?

Ann and Jean:I was struck by the change of attitude of Bp. Finn in Kansas City. When the news about Fr. Ratigan first broke out, in the first few days he said he was sorry, met with upset parents, and seemed to listen to them. His words rang true and I thought he had a certain dignity. Then lawyers took over, he stopped interacting with parents and parishioners, almost disappeared, and his few statements became wooden, meaningless lawyerspeak that is enormously guarded, admits nothing, and systematically reveals as little information as possible. Lawyers are surely giving the right advice to win trials, but that is not what is needed to win back our respect, quite the contrary. By letting lawyers put words in their mouth, they might win the legal battles and preserve financial assets, but they are losing us.

Those in PR who handle crisis management tell people to immediately "run toward" the crisis. Don't say you were hiking the Appalachian Trail, "didn't have sex with that woman," or hide behind passive voice as in "mistakes were made." If there was wrongdoing, admit what you did, apologize, offer a plan of correction, and force attention on the plan of correction. This is cheaper, quicker, and allows you to restore some measure of trust quicker. This is common sense, but I've been privvy to many (relatively minor) cock-ups in private enterprise and the reaction is invariably the same: something happens, there's a big meeting where everybody goes into defense mode and says they didn't know what was going on or didn't know the extent of the problem, they were all blindsided, yadda yadda, and thats their defense. They're usually pleased with themselves, but to somebody outside the hothouse atmosphere of their fear, they look like a bunch of cats who've stuck their heads under the sofa and think they're hidden, but anybody passing by can see their fannies sticking out.Get lawyers involved, whose business it is to limit liability and make the prosecution PROVE the fannies really belong to their clients--it's their job, after all, and a guaranteed constitutional right--and you shut down transparency and apology and trust.When things go to court, it's a PR disaster because a) you have to fight the perception that SOMETHING must be wrong or a prosecutor wouldn't be wasting his time with it, and b) you no longer control the communication and shape the story; you've handed it to a hostile prosecutor whose going to try to shape the story in the worst possible way.In addition, people on trial are under tremendous stress and pressure, and they will say or do things that will make them look worse than they might really be.

Way too much gracing of Bil D. here -Jean is right, he's a buffoon.Mr. Kelly, when talking about Catholics and the afterlife, "judge not...."Since Bil D. has been so vigorous in fighting the KC case for Finn, comments on not only the Lynn case ,but(umentioned on this blog) the civil finding of fraud against the diocese of Green Bay are relevant and God knows what else is buried that needs a"league" to defend them.

But, Bob, I think Donohue's buffoonery is what draws media attention. The guy looks like Archie Bunker, makes wild claims, and attacks people, and, in these days when commercial TV tends to be skewed toward the news values of conflict, oddity, and celebrity, this makes him incredibly telegenic.

So the Cardinal can keep telling him to "keep up the good work."So it goes.......

"they look like a bunch of cats whove stuck their heads under the sofa and think theyre hidden,"Hilarious, Jean. Does PR have room for humor?So how can the the PR v. court problem be solved? Looks to me like there is no solution except to admit your sin and take your deserved lumps. And, yes, we the jury want admission of *sin*, not just admission of *mistakes*.

I know a lot of funny PR stories, though people don't usually come off very well in them. There are few other professions outside the priesthood which better underscore the human ability of self-deception and the need for redemption.I would not be surprised if individuals in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are stoking the narrative that Msgr. Lynn is the most senior wong-doer, and that it's a whole new day under Archbishop Chaput. There's a big link on the diocesan Web site, "Honesty, healing, and hope in Christ: Confront sexual violence in our archdiocese."If you drill down past the press releases detailing Archbishop Chaput's statements of concern and the like, you'll find a link on the bottom of a page on how to report suspected abuse to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. There's no date on this page, so I don't know when it was uploaded to the site. That would be interesting to know.

In the NPR report on Thursday night, Batbata Bradley Haggerty thinks the trial is not just Lynn et al but "the Archdiocese pf Philadelphia."I think the Church there has received a heavy blow and with "reorganization" happening, questioning and even cynicism seem to be rolling in from waht I've heard.I'd add that the peeling away of what transpired there echoes out farther in a general way that the attempts of Bill D. to mute (as in KC) are in fact counterproductive to his aims and a source of further cyncism to many.

Jean --I've read Archb. Chaput's statements on all this very carefully. What he says is generally consistent with a genuine concern for the abused. He seems to be a man who doesn't do anything by halves, so let's pray that he is the man for cleaning up the Philadelphia chancery. I also can't help but hope that the severity of the failings of the chancery there will shake up his assumptions about conservative hierarchs. As a super-conservative himself who previously couldn't see the failings of the institutional Church, it would seem that the wreckage left there by Cdl. Bevilaqua et al is almost bound to have some effect on his thinking. On the other hand, . . .

Thanks to Jean for her great comment from 5/25 9:34am.

Quick querstion: should Abp. Chaput's record with victims in Denver help shape one's anticipation of what's happning in Philly?

A view on Philly today from a vigorous victim advocate, Sr. Maureen Paul Turlish SND, {error in headline} : As for Chaput in Denver, he was associated with a strong, successful campaign to defeat efforts to extend state statutes of limitation to aid abuse victims. He has brought to Philly lawyers that helped him there.

Ann -- A useful supplement to Chaput's statements is a year's worth of voices of natives at It includes an objection (with 80 comments) to ever-alert Bill Donahue's misrepresentation of their effort:

My point about Chaput is that it looks like he might be starting to see the enormity of the situation in Philadelphia and have some sympathy for the victims. Not all cities have been as bad as Philadelphia, and maybe he is having his eyes opened. Hopefully this will lead him to see the evil that hierarchs are sometimes capable of. It's true that he supported Msgr. Lynn before the trial, but he had not been in Philadelphia very long. We'll see how he handles the cases that are still remain from his predecessors' times.

Robert Imbelli 05/23/2012 - 9:17 am I was in touch with Mr. Donohue and told him he had gravely misinterpreted my view. [...]After some discussion he sent me a retractatio which will appear in the next Catalyst (which Mollie will undoubtedly post here). I just went to the Catholic League web site but was unable to find anything. Searching for "Commonweal" or "Imbelli" only brings up the article discussed in this post. Has the "retractatio" been published?

Claire, thank you for following up. For the record: the original, inaccurate column by Donohue has remained online and unaltered for the past month. Now I see that the June 2012 issue of The Catalyst has been added to the Catholic League website. Still no retraction appended to the May column. How to explain this oversight, from a man so committed to demanding corrections from others?

I guess that it still might come. Surely more articles will be added to the two that are already up, to complete the June 2012 issue. There is until the end of June ...

Here it is:"He insists that his remark about the cartoon was meant in jest. I believe he is sincere."

[...] 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 [...]