Shut Up, He Said

Anti-Catholicism is said to have become the last respectable form of bigotry. And indeed, who among us has not heard or read some demeaning comment about one or another aspect of Catholicism? People who would never make a disparaging remark about a minority group or religion don’t hesitate when it comes to Catholics. This is troubling, not the least because it is corrosive of a sense of pride and of belonging, especially among the young. Many think something ought to be done.

Well, someone is doing something. William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has become unrelenting in chasing down the running dogs of anti-Catholicism. "I believe in moral suasion," he told a New York Times columnist. "I believe in whipping up public sentiment to isolate the offender. I believe in putting on a lot of pressure."

Donohue’s tactics, more swagger than suasion, have put him on the talk-show circuit where the decibel level is always set on shrill. He fits right in. Last fall his attacks on Nothing Sacred, the TV series about the comings and goings at an urban Catholic parish, helped to attract admirers while discouraging advertisers. The show managed to convey a sense of the sacramental and incarnational, and its characters resembled real people in a real parish, but it wasn’t Donohue’s idea of Catholicism. He sank his teeth in and didn’t let go until the show was two-months dead.

Donohue is on the attack once more against a yet-to-be-produced play, Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi. According to newspaper reports, "Joshua," the play’s main character, is a contemporary Jesus-like figure said to have sex with his disciples (off-stage). If true, it is a Jesus that Christians of all sorts will find offensive; clearly not the Jesus of faith, tradition, or history. Donohue called for changes in the plot and urged donors to withhold funds from the Manhattan Theater Club. Then he created a media blitz so that the play is now never mentioned without the League’s objections appended; the two are inextricably linked, at least in Nexus. But next fall, it will attract critics and an audience, thanks to Donohue’s hyperventilating, eager to see what McNally’s "Joshua" is really all about.

Donohue has his fans, those who think that rhetorically hitting people over the head is the way to fight anti-Catholic bigotry. We are not among them. We think his bullying tactics; his crude analogies, especially to anti-Semitic and anti-black stereotypes; and his boisterous self-promotion do more to reinforce anti-Catholic stereotypes than to remedy them. Catholics are the largest religious group in America; we are not a persecuted minority. Indeed, so secure do we seem to be that we conduct our own disagreements in public. That too earns Donohue’s wrath; he is as much in the business of shutting up his fellow Catholics as of shouting down non-Catholics.

We think Catholics can be more discriminating in the fight against discrimination: more suasion, less swagger.


Related: Donohue's Crusade, by David R. Carlin
Blasphemy on Stage? by Paul Baumann
Top Ten Reasons for Watching Nothing Sacred
, by Peter Feuerherd

Published in the 1998-06-19 issue: 
Also by this author
Ruth E. Taylor

Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads