Catholicism and Secular Media: 10 Questions for Bill Donohue | Sean Salai, S.J. | CWR
“I am a civil rights leader who is expected to combat injustice,” says the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, “so being sensitive to bigots is not a priority.”
William A. Donohue is a New York-based author, sociologist and political activist who has been president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights since 1993. He holds a PhD in sociology from New York University and is an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation. His last book was the 2012 best-seller Why Catholicism Matters: How Catholic Virtues Can Reshape Society in the 21st Century.
Mr. Donohue took over the Catholic League after the death of founding president Father Virgil Blum, S.J., in 1990. As president of the organization, he seeks to counter anti-Catholic bias in the secular media. I recently interviewed Mr. Donahue about his work by email.
You’ve spent much of your career fighting “defamation and discrimination” against Catholics in the American secular media. How do you understand these words?
We spend most of our time defending the institutional Church against defamation, and much less time defending individual Catholics against discrimination. Since the time of President John F. Kennedy, Catholic men and women have made great progress, but the defamation against the Church has grown much worse.
By defamation, I do not mean criticism; I mean insult. I do not have a problem with those who criticize the Church's positions on public policy issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, school vouchers, and the like. But if the comments hit below the belt—this is obviously a judgment call—that is a different issue.
What does defamation mean to you in the context of today’s public discourse?
It is not defamatory to harshly criticize a particular bishop or priest, but when sweeping generalizations are made about all bishops or priests, that is unfair and the offenders need to be called out on it. There is a difference between disagreement and disdain, and between statements meant to inform and those that are meant to hurt. For example, late-night TV talk-show hosts like to take pot shots at the pope, and when it is done in a light-hearted manner (most of Colbert's jokes are of this vein), then that is fine. But when the host becomes vile (Bill Maher is the classic example), then we are dealing with bigotry.
What do you believe is the biggest example of anti-Catholic bias in the U.S. today?