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Bill Donohue, though completely wrong, is never wrong

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?

Oh, but you know better. Here's how Donohue actually responded: First, when his errors were pointed out, he doubled down with a press release titled "Archbishop Myers Deserves Support," which claimed that his previous missive had been a necessary response to "to a contrived story emanating from a foe of the Catholic Church." (By which he means the Star-Ledger.) You could tell his confidence was shaken, though, because he'd only gotten to his second paragraph before he was comparing the standards to which abusive priests are held to those we apply to "Muslim terrorists."

Donohue also quoted a statement from the archbishop himself, in which he had said, "the recommendations of the County Prosecutor regarding Father Fugees ability to return to ministry and future assignments in ministry carried great weight. We have followed those recommendations fully." Unfortunately for the Catholic League, that claim is exhibit A in the public's case against Myers, especially now that the archdiocese has admitted that the court order says what it obviously says, and that its recommendations had not, in fact, been followed "fully." (Well, the archdiocese actually says it didn't know what Fugee was up to. But still, a reversal, and this new line of defense is a direct contradiction of Donohue's bogus argument.)

That was Donohue's cue to issue a new press release, soberly titled "Newark Priest Resigns," and let me tell you, it's a real work of art. Donohue comes out flailing as only he can do: stubbornly denying error ("Fugees resignation does nothing to change my position") and blaming (a) the abusive priest, (b) the media (still) and (c) liberal Catholics (when your back's against the wall, say "Rembert Weakland!" and run away). The whole thing closes with a boilerplate non sequitur: "But when we see that the clergy of other religions, as well as public school officials, are being held to a lesser standard than our bishops, that is cause for action. Not until we get a level playing field will we back off." Yes, the game is rigged. How can Bill Donohue be expected to get the details right before he starts slinging mud, when there's a rabbi somewhere (or a Muslim terrorist!) whose trial isn't on the front page?

So, once again and for the record: William A. Donohue does not care whether the things he says are correct. Maintaining credibility is not a concern for him. And no bishop that I know of has recalled or moderated his support of the Catholic League in light of this fact.

Still, the Catholic League's pressers do make for lively reading. Donohue's latest salvo in particular tests the elasticity of irony itself when he blusters, regarding Fr. Fugee: "His dishonesty is appalling. Moreover, he has clearly impugned his character."


About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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The conservative wing of the Ideological Catholic Church is a spent husk.

NCROnline reports today that Fugee has submitted his resignation from active ministry to AB Myers. Perhaps the good Dr. Donohue can explain?(oh, never mind, Doc would probably put a "good spin" on the resignation :-)

In Battleship Bill's case, "PhD" means piled higher and deeper, and it's not good stuff, either.

Heres a shocking list of 228 accused clerics, nuns and staff ---

The Bishop of Trenton and the Bishop of Paterson clearly did not follow the party line (aka the Donohue/Myers line) as this story emerged. Their anger at having Fugee in their respective dioceses performing youth ministries functions in a parish and attending youth retreats at a retreat house was pretty clear. Maybe they will demand accountability from the Donohue/Myers deception machine? As I said in a comment in another thread about the Fugee case -- I find it more than ironic that Donohue touted the reversal of Fugee's conviction by an appeals court. The reason the appeals court vacated the conviction is it was based, in part, on the judges decision to let the jury hear a portion of Fugees confession in which he described himself as bisexual or homosexual.The appellate court said this could have led the jurors to Fugee guilty because of the "unfounded association between homosexuality and pedophilia.Bill Donahue is big on making that precise association and is famous for saying the child abuse crisis was a homosexual crisis all along. The evidence is all on my side.

Jack - yes, that's another wonderful irony. Mark Silk commented on it, too: "Donohue has long insisted that the abuse crisis is really just about the disproportionate attraction of homosexual priests to teenage boys, so there is a certain irony in his now embracing a judicial decision based on a rejection of this Donohue Doctrine."

Just once I would like to hear a pope or bishop say that Donohue does not speak for the institutional Church. The fact that to date, no pope or bishop has done so makes me fear that speaking for the institutional Church is exactly what Donohue does--and that this is why being a professional crank pays so well.

Question: why does this site give constant attention to any and all BS that Donahue comes up with?Wouldn't it be better to ignore him and his nonsense?What about him is (1) news, or (2) worthy of discussion?

Jimmy, every time I read one of these posts it's a Joseph Welch "have you no sense of decency, sir" moment. The Catholic League's work in looking out for the civil rights of Catholics--and in so doing upholding the rights of all citizens regardless of creed--has been utterly derailed Donohue. I think it's especially important for the Catholic media, of which Commonweal is a part, to call out Donohue and his crazy talk.Angela notes she'd like to hear the bishops say just once that Donohue does not speak for the Church. Clearly, silence can be taken as tacit approval of Donohue's tactics and message.

Kudos to Mollie on this one, and again to Grant Gallicho for a similar dissection of Donohue's drivel in the Finn case.I believe Commonweal provides an important public service in exposing the Catholic League's tactics. According to Form 950 or 990 for non-profits a few years back, Bill and his fax machine draw about $400K a year for giving cover to bishops. I sense he knows his audiences and exploits their loyalties for partisan advantage. The fact that supportive bishops choose to embrace his style is truly instructive.

Jean Raber: "The Catholic Leagues work in looking out for the civil rights of Catholicsand in so doing upholding the rights of all citizens regardless of creedhas been utterly derailed Donohue."Has the Catholic League ever actually done ANYTHING in furtherance of the civil rights of Catholics? To hear Donohue tell it, Catholics have the right to never, ever have our feelings hurt, and the right to silence anyone who dares to criticize the Catholic Church. Of course, the First Amendment doesn't mean anything of the kind.Were I to encounter actual religious discrimination, I'd seek help not from the Catholic League, but from the ACLU. They've been doing it longer, they have a bigger budget, and their lawyers have a genuine devotion to the Constitution that can never be mistaken for Donohue's blowhard shtick.

There is good news.... cable news is not booking him any more.

I joined the Catholic League the first year of its existence (1973) because I thought the Church could use an anti-defamation league, but within months I was sorry I had joined. Even in that first year it was obvious that Donohue would do more harm than good. Wild from the very beginning.

Virgil C. Blum, S.J. founded the Catholic League in 1973. Bill Donohue became it's director twenty years later.

Jim McCrea to the contrary notwithstanding, I would commend dotCommonweal's contributors for monitoring Bill Donohue's pronouncements regularly, and I would encourage the dotCommonweal's contributors to keep up their good work of monitoring his pronouncements.No doubt he is playing to his supporters. That's how he goes about winning their ongoing financial and moral support. Just as he is sad as a commentator, so too his supporters are sad for supporting him.However, I have no doubt that there are real examples of anti-Catholic attitudes and the expression of anti-Catholic views in the media and elsewhere. For this reason, dotCommonweal's contributors should keep up their good work of monitoring and criticizing Bill Donohue's pronouncements, so that when the time comes for certain writers to speak out about more substantial examples of alleged anti-Catholic bias in the media or elsewhere, dotCommonweal's contributors will have established a track record for not putting up with all the false alarms sounded by Bill Donohue.

Bill Donohue is Cardinal Dolan's attractive, articulate communications person.

Frank. --Thanks for the correction. But whoever was ruunning the League at the beginning was quite paranoid in my view.

Angela, yes, the ACLU has done a lot of all-purpose civil rights work, but I think the aims of the Catholic League were/are laudable. Ironically, Donohue has done a lot to feed the kind of stereotypes of lay Catholics--stooges enthralled to a corrupt hierarchy (a la Jack Chick's End Times cartoon tracts)--that the league should be fighting, no?Some mainstream media look to Donohue for color commentary on Catholic news, and until he is repudiated like Fr. Coughlin was, he will, in the minds of many outsiders, speak for American lay Catholics.

According to Wiki Donohue is divorced and has two children from that marriage. Is this well known? .........

Outside of the few ecclesiastics who apparently dote on Donahue and his fellow travelers, who else pays the slightest bit of attention to him?I have heard a few folk note that he periodically buts a large ad in the NY Times, but, outside of that, I haven't heard of any great hue and cry for the poor oppressed Catholics based on his efforts.Out here on the Left Coast, the Catholic esense of martrydom seems to be small to non-existent contra what MAY exist east of the Mississippi, so that may have something to do with it.

Jean: Fr. Coughlin was heard and taken seriously by millions on a weekly basis. He posed a threat to Roosevelt * and the church at that time, particularly because of his anti-semitism ** and of his support of Hitler and Mussolini because of their anti-communism. * Coughlin's opinions became more extreme. In September 1940 he described President Franklin D. Roosevelt as "the world's chief war-monger". The following year he wrote in Social Justice: "Stalin's idea to create world revolution and Hitler's so- called threat to seek world domination are not half as dangerous combined as is the proposal of the current British and American administrations to seize all raw materials in the world. Many people are beginning to wonder who they should fear most - the Roosevelt-Churchill combination or the Hitler-Mussolini combination." (** Like Joseph Goebbels, Coughlin claimed that Marxist atheism in Europe was a Jewish plot. Coughlin also attacked the influence of Jews in America and this resulted in him being described as a fascist. In April 1941, Coughlin endorsed the America First Committee. However, his now open Anti-Semitism made this endorsement a mixed blessing for the organization. Donahue is a narrow and pretentious version of Coughlin and hardly heard at all.

"Donahue is a narrow and pretentious version of Coughlin and hardly heard at all."If that's so, then the Catholic press is doing its job marginalizing him.

Video of Donohue doing his thing on this case.!Donohue -- "Fugee is as innocent as I am."

Scapegoating is the first refuge of scoundrels. So much for that example of dining among publicans and sinners or {*gasp*} treating women like human beings. The ancient tactic of harshly excluding the Other is just too useful for coercing group conformity. Those who hold power and the hangers-on of the seemingly powerful love the certainty of force. Truth, by comparison, seems ambiguous and feeble. No wonder then the shrill and desperate nastiness of the propaganda about a "homosexual crisis." If the problem were entirely about men abusing boys, then logically there would be no objection had they molested girls. If female victims are also abhorrent, then the problem is about child abuse, not homosexuality. And of course about a troubling relationship with the structures of power.

Oh, that charge of the liberal media is against us is really getting old. In 1990 or 1991, the Fall River diocese was handling accusations against a former priest of theirs who had molested more than 100 children, and that was a conservative estimate. Cardinal Law in Boston was lambasting the Boston Globe for their "anti-Catholic, anti-Church stand. And the Donahues of this fantasy land are still using this charge. Imagine a newspaper reporting on the abuse of more than 100 children - who do they think they are? Well, a decade after the Falls River revelations, we now know how all that turned out with the bombshell in Boston. Donahue is being paid by someone, some group of someones. And no, no bishop has called him out for his bombastic denunciations of journalists or others who have criticized the hierarchy. He has blamed the victims. And still we hear not a peep from any bishops. We can only speak of "the bishops" in a collective sense b/c thus far, they have kept their heads held low when one of their number slithers by a new accusation. We are all in need of redemption. The bishops are in need of an exorcism.

"Donahue is being paid by someone, some group of someones." Wanna bet that these good Catholics write him checks regularly?, the newly appointed bishop of the diocese of Oakland is/has been a chaplain to Legatus. I hope that was just a spiritual work of mercy and not a ministry to birds of a feather.

"the seemingly powerful love the certainty of force"Ravi --Great observation.

Bill Donohue still obfuscating (lying?) about the Fugee affair: pretending supervision of Fugee is the issue.He ignores that the Archdiocese is a signatory to the MOU and violated the agreement as well through its assignments and lax supervision.At least he apologizes for misrepresenting the coverage of the rabbi's crimes. Make the accusation first -- apologize later.

Thanks, Jack. (And thanks for pointing out too how the NYT's coverage of Fugee & Myers had reinforced Donohue's misreading. Sloppy.) Correction appended or not, you have to marvel at the larger shamelessness: having loudly called for resignations at the Star-Ledger based on an utterly discredited argument does not even give Donohue pause in scolding others for calling for someone's resignation -- and then declaring that "their credibility is shot"! "We Regret the Error" should be the headline on any and all future Catholic League press releases touching on this matter. For starters.

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