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The Catholic League revises its policy regarding those who criticize the pope

Dr. William A. Donohue, PhD, took issue over the weekend with my dotCommonweal post about Pope Francis's inadequate response to the sex-abuse crisis. He didn't actually disagree with what I said, at least not in so many words; rather, he took the occasion of my post and some other, similarly disappointed reactions elsewhere to air a few of his favorite themes: first, that the sex-abuse scandal was really all the fault of the gays and is totally over anyway; and second, that -- just as he predicted -- liberals never really liked Pope Francis and are now showing their true colors by turning on him. (There's also a delightfully bizarre detour into some book from the 1970s that is supposedly motivating all us liberals to this day -- the secret key to all grievances. I guess I'll have to look it up.)

That Donohue's grasp on the abuse scandal's particulars -- most especially the cover-up part -- is at best grossly misinformed and at worst actively mendacious is old news, not that it stops people from quoting him when it's convenient. But that he should be so exercised about what was, let's be honest, quite mild criticism of Pope Francis is news, because attacking people for criticizing the pope is something the Catholic League never, never does. I know that because Donohue said so way back in December 2013: "[The] Catholic League," he explained on Newsmax TV, "has never, never been after anybody for criticizing the pope or a priest or a bishop."

In that instance Donohue was responding to a question about recent comments made by Rush Limbaugh, who -- you probably remember -- was highly critical of Francis's economic views as laid out in Evangelii gaudium. "So reading what the pope's written about this is really befuddling," said Limbaugh, "because he's totally wrong -- I mean, dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong." (He went on to explain that trickle-down economics does too work!)

Would the Catholic League push back? Not at all. "We get involved when you hit below the belt, when you start becoming insulting, like -- Bill Maher would be a classic example," Donohue explained. As for Rush: "He didn't like the pope's views on economics. Rush Limbaugh is entitled to that. ...Everyone's entitled to criticize the Catholic Church on any public policy issue just so long as it's not hitting below the belt." So, the interviewer asked, did Limbaugh's remarks cross that line? "No, of course not." Of course!

Neither Donohue nor his interlocutor mentioned that the Catholic League also issued one of its trademark hard-hitting press releases in response to the Limbaugh interview, in which Donohue went after...Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. They'd had the temerity to criticize Rush, forcing fair-minded Dr. Donohue (who knows from professionalism) to expose their true nature as a "bogus Catholic entity."

So, to sum up: Rush Limbaugh declaring, in response to a papal exhortation, "This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope" -- totally in bounds. This, however, merits strong pushback. I can only assume that some aspect of the Catholic League mission statement has been updated since December. Donohue even followed up Friday's press release with a clarifying tweet:

Another opportunity for all Catholics to be grateful we have such a discerning arbiter of justice looking out for our civil rights.

About the Author

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



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Since Pope Francis has become Pope, Donohue has been pretty much outed as simply a right wing political commentator; he speaks as a conservative, not as a conservative Catholic (or Catholic conservative).

For my part, I'm hoping Cardinal Dolan will be less hand-in-glove with Donohue now that what Donohue represents is so far removed from what Pope Francis preaches.

I caught Dr. Bill Donohue's rant against the film “Philomena”  on an EWTN program recently.

In the book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” the author states that the daughter of Philomena told him that her mother had too much to drink on Christmas and had broken down in tears because she had a secret that she had kept for 50 years.

Dr. Bill’s take:  

She never told her daughter that she had a brother and never looked for him until she got “loaded” at a Christmas party – no sensitivity to a person who was so ashamed that she had a child “out of wedlock” and had to (yes, was forced to) give him up.

We do not need defenders of the faith like Bill Donohue (aka the Rush Limbaugh of the Catholic Church).


With Bill Donahue against you, who wouldn't be for you??? 

Dr. Bill Donohue, Ph.D.???  Doctor of what?  

Just what institution of lower learning granted him a doctorate?  I'd really like to see that dissertation, a dazzling piece of scholarship, I sure.  

And just who were the bright lights who sat on his dissertation committee?  They're probably in hidding somewhere in the academic witness protection program.

Follow the money!  Who's putting up the money for Donohue's oversized megaphone?  Really?

Let's shine a really bright light on good ole Billo Donohue.

THIS DONOHUE, is he related to Rush Limbaugh? THEY BOTH seem to see the world through rose colored glasses. I mean, after all, Rush had to take thousands of ilegally gotten pain killers to keep sitting in his EIB chair while attacking democrats for telling the truth. AND, only Rushmo could avoid jail because no republican attorney general would go after him.

 POPE FRANCIS spoke as a Fransiscan who does not believe in the trappings of the rich and powerful like the Koch brothers who are trying to buy themselves a government in the UNITED STATES. POPE FRANCIS lives the life of poverty.HE upsets the ultra-conservative Cardinals who believe in rubbing our noses with the fancy robes and trappings that they love.

 PEOPLE like Donohue are what is wrong with our world. They attack the very leaders who truly believe in the teachings of CHRIST.

 IN DONOHUE'S world, the LIMBAUGHS of the world are his true leaders. HE worships at the altar of the KOCH BROTHERS and their trappings.

 WE, as liberal catholics can not allow this type of person to tell us how to live and vote.

From what I have discovered, he has earned a PhD in Sociology from NYU (not too shabby). I assume that his dissertation had nothing to do with community organizing.

What disturbs me most of all is the violence of his anger and apparent delight in expressing it.  It is almost like a psychological addiction.

As to his salary, I have no way of validating it but it may be as much as $400,000 – not bad for a president of a non-profit.


Jim J.: It's a doctorate in sociology from NYU in 1980. No indication where he did his undergrad studies. 

I remember an interview on TV with Donohue vs Richard Sipe. Countering Sipe, Bill said  to Sipe: "I have a PhD and you don't."

He knows his audience and must be very convenient for the bishops to have around. That 400K a year as of a few years ago is a nice cushion (based on a report non-profits make to Uncle Sam, if memory serves).

Bill's media style seems tailor-made for creating maximum noise and frustration for his opposition; the facts be damned. It works. Reasoned rebuttal such as Grant provided in the Finn case washes over him because the facts are immaterial to his rantings. Bulllies bully, period.

But Molly, it's heartwarming to see his inconsistencies exposed every so often. Thanks.

Even Donohue may not be as bad as these Rabbis in New York who crucified a whistle blower  who exposed pedophilia in the syanagogue.

Fr. Virgil Blum must be turning over and over in his grave. He would have had no truck with this sort of thing.

For $400,000 a year, the bishops expect Donohue to produce a lot of outrage.  He's happy to oblige.

What is notable in the link Molly provided for Dolan's blog, is that many of the comments were critical of Dolan and Donohue---they weren't deleted.  Or was that early in his tenure?

Regarding comments on Archbishop Dolan's blog - I've seen a large range of comments from constructive to angry, even inflamatory, some encouraging and some demanding that he enforce orthodoxy.  I can't say some aren't deleted, the web site policy says they could be deleted in some cases.  But he allows some very angry comments to stay, even recently.  I like that about our Archbishop, it's a sign of openness that started even before Pope Francis.

I conjecture that on Cdl Dolan's blog the contrarian comments are left when they are angry and unreasonable, and comment are deleted when they make a good, sound case against Dolan's stance. I base that on very flimsy evidence - I once tried to post a purely factual comment correcting some erroneous statement, along with a link to the reference justifying what I was saying. To my surprise, my comment got deleted. Then I thought that maybe he only left comments that went his way, but observed the blog for a few days and saw that that wasn't true. Then I conjectured that he left comments from "the other side" of whatever issue he was talking about, but only when the comment itself was unhelpful, unconvincing, or even reflecting badly on the people on that "other side". I stopped watching his blog, so I could not say if that idea is valid, but it would be a clever way to pretend to be open while campaigning for his ideas.


But maybe it's just a paranoid fantasy.

The guy is a wad.

I had the same experience as Claire- I have had comments that didn't make the cut on Cardinal Doaln's blog which were perfectly civil but disagreed with the subject of the post.  That knd of censorship alone doesn't put me off, but I found it disturbing when they don't seem to moderate incredibly nasty comments that suit their purpose to leave on there.  That blog doesn't reflect at all well on Dolan.

Hard to think of Cardinal Dolan as 'open' given his recent hiding away of the 57 million dollars.

"Hard to think of Cardinal Dolan as 'open' given his recent hiding away of the 57 million dollars."

Just for those who didn't' see our earlier discussion of this point, Archbishop Dolan set aside money parked in Archdiocesan accounts by parishes who needed a place to hold locally collected funds. 

Perhaps it's not legal to set aside non-Archdiocesan funds to keep them from being subject to being awarded as a result of a judgement in the lawsuit against the Archdiocese.  I don't know, but I wouldn't want my locally raised parish funds in an account where they could be attached to satisify a judgement against an action by the bishops of the Archdiocese.

My experience with Cardlinal Dolan's blog includes when my critical comment was allowed to stand:

I hope your experiences are not the rule there. 

We have to assume that Dolan received his red hat in part due to his prodigious skills in protecting the papal "crown jewels" when he was arch in Milwaukee.  

In my book, Dolan will never be a credible pastoral leader because he seems more worried about "building up treasures on earth" than caring after his brother and sisters when they were attacked and violated as children, then left in the gutter by his brother priests and bishops.

As Ricky Ricardo would have said, "Timothy, you have alot of 'splainning to do!"

Charity Navigator gives the Catholic League two out of a possible four stars in its rating. Dr. Donohue's salary is $407,000 (was that 2012? 2013? don't know.)

Details at

which shows, among other things, that just over half its revenue (over $3,000,000) is spent on program activities, and large amounts spent on such things as administrative expenses and fundraising.

Four star charities (Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, OXFAM, etc., etc., which get 4 star ratings from Charity Navigator, typically spend from 85% to over 90% on program. Dr. Donohue's organization also gets only two stars in its financial dealings and in its transparency.

As for holding a PhD. Well, some of my best friends (in fact a good many of them, given the circles I move in) hold PhDs. But I've never been quite sure what exactly having the degree testifies to. My own mother was a PhD. But it was not on those grounds that I loved her.

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