The National Catholic Review

Every year thousands of cases of anti-Catholicism come to the attention of the Catholic League. Our first job is to determine whether the alleged offense merits our attention. If it does, then we must verify the authenticity of the offense to the best of our ability. If everything checks out, a strategy is outlined.

What follows is a list of the more egregious issues we addressed in 2001. But as bad as they are, it could easily be argued that it is the more subtle and gratuitous expressions of anti-Catholicism (not listed here) that are the most invidious. Cumulatively this may be so, but the top 10 worst anti-Catholic atrocities of 2001 speak volumes by themselves.

1. The Jan. 4-11, 2001, issue of Time Out New York featured a discussion of the best and worst of the year 2000. In the Gay & Lesbian section, the top listing for The Best of 2000 read as follows: Cardinal O’Connor Kicks the Bucket. The press eulogized him as a saint, when in fact, the pious creep was a stuck-in-the 1950’s, antigay menace. Good riddance! There are not too many ad hominem attacks on a deceased person worse than that.

2. On June 30, on the televised version of the Howard Stern Show, the porn star Rebecca Lord stripped naked while condemning the Catholic Church for criticizing her profession. She was interrupted by Stern, who exclaimed, Catholic priests are having sex with young boys! He also said that those who work in the pornography industry are healthier than Catholic priests. In an angry voice, Stern added that Catholic priests show boys pornography so they can later molest them. He was supported in his diatribe by his co-host, Robin Quivers.

In response, we asked every bishop in the United States to support a boycott of Miller Brewing, Stern’s most prominent sponsor. Many bishops did, but no one pressed the issue more than Archbishop Rembert Weakland, O.S.B., of Milwaukee, who courageously confronted Miller officials in his own backyard.

3. The attacks on Christmas were worse in 2001 than in previous years, notwithstanding the alleged nationwide bonding and the increase of tolerance that occurred following the events of Sept. 11. Here are a few examples:

In the Seattle area, King County executive Ron Sims issued a memo mandating that county employees use religion-neutral language when referring to the holidays. He cited as an example, Happy Greetings.

In New York City, the principal of P.S. 22 ordered a Christian secular symbol, the Christmas tree, taken down and then asked teachers to bring Jewish and Muslim religious symbols to school.

Also in New York, the attorney for the city’s schools chancellor issued a memo saying it was permissible to display Jewish and Islamic religious symbols (the menorah and the crescent and star) in the schools but not a Nativity scene.

In Arizona, the attorney general defended a decision made by one of her lawyers that banned the display of Santa Claus in her office. (In response, some Catholics displayed a holiday greeting featuring Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.)

Minnesota was a hotbed of political correctness: red poinsettias were banned from display in the county courthouse in St. Paul, and children were prohibited from wearing red-and-green scarves in a middle-school play in Rochester.

4. Sharon High School in Sharon, Mass., held a Halloween costume party. Receiving first prize were two boys dressed as pregnant nuns and a third as the impregnating priest. The award was granted by the faculty.

Following complaints from the school’s Catholic students in the mostly Jewish school, school officials confessed they were taken aback by what happened. They said they were particularly on the alert this year to make sure that no Muslim students would be offended by any of the costumes. To correct the situation, we learned that the Anti-Defamation League was given permission to sensitize students to bigotry by discussing the Holocaust.

5. Abercrombie & Fitch’s catalogs not only feature naked men and women, but also occasionally indulge in Catholic-bashing. The A&F XXX Adventure: Get Wet Set & Go on Spring Break featured questions posed to Catholic students that mocked priests and nuns. Customers were advised to crash a Catholic Mass on Palm Sunday and steal palm fronds. Regarding a cult movie, Cemetery Man, readers were told to join in the fun by learning to make wry comments after bashing a dead nun’s head to a pulp.

6. An ad for Lipton in an alternative weekly New York newspaper showed a picture of a man waiting in line for Holy Communion holding a bowl of Lipton’s onion dip. The priest was shown holding up the host to the first person on line who was about to receive. The man, of course, was prepared to dunk the host in the dip. At the corner of the ad was a picture of the Lipton Recipe Secrets that featured the onion dip.

7. Showtime, the cable channel owned by Viacom, aired a movie adaptation of Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You on May 27. The play was previously condemned by various Christian and Jewish groups for its overt anti-Catholicism. The producer, Marshall Brickman, justified the film’s Catholic-bashing by referring to the Inquisition, the Crusades and the Holocaust.

8. The following three contributions from the artistic community offended many Catholics in 2001:

The Brooklyn Museum of Art, known for its dung-laden portraits of the Virgin Mary surrounded by pictures of female genitalia, struck again, this time with a statement by artist Renée Cox. She appeared in full-frontal nudity as Christ in the Last Supper. When asked why she did this, she said the Catholic Church was to blame for slavery. She has previously portrayed a castrated Christ on the cross, has appeared half-naked as the Virgin Mary and has dressed as a nun with a naked woman kneeling before her in prayer.

The Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, N.M., displayed a photo collage by Alma Lopez that replaced the traditional image of Our Lady of Guadalupe with a woman in a rose-petal bikini; a bare-breasted woman appeared below her as a cherub. Local Catholics, led by Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan, protested. As more people learned of the artwork, which was part of an exhibition that opened on Feb. 25, the controversy increased. Parishioners from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church were the most vocal. The artist argued that she was being victimized because she was Mexican, yet failed to explain the fact that most of her critics were also Mexican. Archbishop Sheehan was branded by Bill Tammeus of The Kansas City Star as an example of the American Taliban.

Florida Atlantic University and Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (I.P.F.W.) hosted the Terrence McNally play, Corpus Christi. The play depicts Christ having sex with the 12 Apostles and has the Christ-figure exclaim, F___ your mother, f___ your father, f___ God. There is also a scene where one of the Apostles asks the Christ-figure to perform fellatio on him.

9. Ted Turner has a record of offending Catholics. On Ash Wednesday, he did so again. After spotting some CNN workers in the Washington office with ashes on their foreheads, he commented: What are you, a bunch of Jesus freaks? You ought to be working for Fox.

10. The online auction Web site eBay offered for sale the following items:

A Virgin Mary Immaculate Conception Condom, which featured a picture of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. The tagline read, If you conceive, its [sic] a miracle. On the back was a picture of Pope John Paul II. It also includes inside the flap, said the description of the condom, instructios [sic] on how to put on the condom (drawings!) showing a certain someone on a cross with a woody and a glove....

A Weird Tattooed Jesus Statue! that depicted Jesus with three eyes, vampire teeth and a dagger tattoo on his chest. The base was covered with roses and green painted skulls.

An Open Wound CD by The Grey Wolves, entitled Catholic Priests F___ Children, had a sketch of naked boys and girls on the cover and a picture of a Catholic priest.

It is difficult to say how many of these incidentsand the others included in our 2001 Annual Report on Anti-Catholicismwere the result of ignorance, and how many were a function of malice. To be sure, as even these few examples indicate, many were perpetrated intentionally as payback. Catholic misdeeds, real and imagined, are routinely invoked as justification for bigotry. Indeed, when offenders run out of words to explain their behavior, they often reply, Remember Galileo. (I have found the best response is simply to say, Sorry, never met the guy.)

Fortunately, some decisions that we protested were reversed. Time Out New York apologized; Mr. Sims said it was okay to say Merry Christmas again; the principal of P.S. 22 brought back the Christmas tree; Lipton withdrew the ad and issued an apology; the I.P.F.W. chancellor allowed us to distribute a statement to theatergoers registering our concerns; Ted Turner apologized again; and eBay withdrew the offensive products.

In no instance did we call for censorship, although if the objectionable event was paid for with public funds, we did object to how our tax monies were spent. Unfortunately, our opposition to an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Indian University-Purdue University Fort Wayne decision to host Corpus Christi was seen by many area Christians as selling out. What they failed to understand is the importance of the correct remedy: moral suasion may work; gag rules and censorship do not.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect about countering anti-Catholicism is that so much of it emanates from well-educated elites (from across the country) who prize their commitment to tolerance and who would never think of offending other demographic groups. Worse, they repeatedly justify displays of anti-Catholicism as examples of practicing diversity.

Within the church, there is a disconnect between many lay Catholics and the Catholic-bashing that is targeted specifically at church teachings, beliefs and practices. Some lay Catholics feel that defending the church is the province of the clergy and religious. Chapter 5 of the NATO charter says that an attack on one nation is an attack on all member nations. If lay Catholics were to internalize this logic and apply it to their own religion, the scourge of anti-Catholicism would retreat with their efforts. The time is past when the priests, sisters and brothers in our church can fight this battle by themselves.

William A. Donohue is president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, New York, N.Y.

Comments

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Chris Wiseman | 1/26/2007 - 2:05pm
Thank you for attempting to document religious bigotry by publishing the “The Ten Worst Anti-Catholic Atrocities of 2001,” by William A. Donohue (2/18). I hope that recent events have recommitted us all to the principle of religious freedom.

However, as a Catholic and even as a longtime America reader, I will unfortunately have to obtain verification of the events cited by Mr. Donohue from sources I can trust.

As you may remember, Mr. Donohue and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights were vociferous and effective in their condemnation of the ABC television series “Nothing Sacred” in 1997-98. This weekly, hour-long series was the best thing about our church I have ever seen on television. Although it may never have gained an audience satisfactory to network executives, the show was undoubtedly harmed by Mr. Donohue’s boycott efforts against major advertisers.

I know from shared viewings and discussions with Catholics and other Christians that “Nothing Sacred” was a tremendous asset for Catholicism in America. When the program was canceled, our church lost a positive media presence. In my opinion, Mr. Donohue was partly responsible for one of the worst anti-Catholic atrocities of 1998.

I love your magazine and respect Mr. Donohue’s right to an opinion. But I will never trust his bluster, even in America.

Baya Clare, C.S.J. | 1/26/2007 - 2:03pm
I must have missed the day in the novitiate when we received our battle orders to go out and fight the “scourge of anti-Catholicism” detailed in William A. Donohue’s report from the Catholic League (2/18). Here I’d been thinking I was supposed to be loving my dear neighbor and trying to see the face of Christ in everyone I meet, when all this time I should have been scouring the press and compiling a lot of little picky insults to put in an annual report! Of course confronting the question of whether to have poinsettias in the county courthouse is a lot more likely to bring about the kingdom than confronting the county commissioner who wants to tear down affordable housing. Obviously I’ll have to do less of the latter so I can start devoting more attention to offensive ads for onion dip. I’d hate to think I wasn’t fulfilling my vocation.

(Rev.) John Jay Hughes | 1/26/2007 - 1:48pm
Warm thanks for William A. Donohue’s excellent account of “The Ten Worst Anti-Catholic Atrocities of 2001,” and for José Sánchez’s article, “The Search for the Historical Pius” (2/18). It badly needed saying that most of what is written on Pius XII and the Holocaust is driven by politics, not by any interest in scholarly history. Sánchez is over-generous, however, in contending that “the controversy died down as scholars went through the Vatican [wartime] documents” published in 11 volumes between 1965 and 1981. Unfortunately, many who wrote thereafter remained ignorant of the contents of those volumes, or even of their existence. It was ignorance of this historical record, more than any other factor, that motivated the appointment of the Jewish-Catholic study group charged with reviewing these volumes, which broke up in acrimony last year.

Moreover, many critics of Pius XII, most notably Daniel Goldhagen in his New Republic polemic (called “a hate crime” by the normally irenic veteran of Catholic-Jewish dialog, Dr. Eugene Fisher), are guilty of far worse than “ripping papal statements out of context,” as Sánchez justly charges. A detailed refutation of Goldhagen’s broadside, now in preparation, will show that like John Cornwell before him, he repeatedly falsifies the historical record at crucial points.

Goldhagen’s outpouring of bigotry merits prominent mention by William A. Donohue when, a year hence, he describes “The Ten Worst Anti-Catholic Atrocities of 2002.”

Jaime R. Vidal | 1/26/2007 - 2:31pm
While as a Catholic I found some of the “Ten Worst Anti-Catholic Atrocities” (2/18) offensive, I feel the title “Atrocities” is more than a little exaggerated for things that are, at worst, tasteless insults to persons and things we hold sacred. We normally reserve the term atrocity for things like mass murder or ethnic cleansing. To apply it to blasphemy or ethnic-religious insults is to inflate the English language in a totally unwarranted and potentially harmful way.

I would also suggest that real atrocities against the church, which should elicit outcries of fury on the part of Catholics, are mostly committed by members of the Catholic community, who are identified as representatives of the church, at least at the local level, and who smear mud across the face of Holy Mother Church by behavior such as sexual abuse of children (and its all too frequent hierarchical coverup) and the betrayal of refugees who flee to a church or monastery for protection in a massacre. These are true atrocities, and the fact that Catholics commit them harms the church (before God and man) in a way that elephant dung cannot harm Our Lady, and silly plays cannot harm Our Lord.

Let’s get our values straight and fight the things that really harm the church.

Joseph F. Wagner, SJ | 2/24/2002 - 2:29pm
As a Jesuit, I have been proud of the generally high standards of journalistic integrity maintained by _America_. However, the decision to publish William A. Donohue's "The Ten Worst Anti-Catholic Atrocities of 2001" (2/18) strikes me as an instance of dishearteningly poor editorial judgment. I had the sense that Mr. Donahue hoped to stir up some sort of righteous anger within me, but I was left merely saddened that America would lend itself as a vehicle for piling only more hatred upon hatred.

Mr. Donohue would have us rise in nationalistic battle against anti-Catholic sentiment. But with what arms? Stones casted at those who have wounded our pride? Bitter, militaristic rhetoric in the defense of the faith? If there is any battle to be fought, it is the battle waged in our own hearts struggling to believe that the love of enemies and the forgiveness of persecutors are not the capitulations of the spiritually docile, but the very power--indeed the arms--of God.

Charles Orloski, Jr. | 3/2/2002 - 6:05pm
America Magazine stands wrongly accused of poor editorial judgement. What,may I ask, is wrong with casting a little light on evil deeds?

Michael McCue, OSFS | 3/6/2002 - 8:40am
Anti-Catholicism and any putting down of religion is very unfortunate and is an expression of lack of understanding. So, I can say that I am glad that Mr. Donohue's organization exists. However, nothing he describes can accurately be called an "atrocity." It is an example of over heated language that is too common in public discourse and does the cause he articulates a disservice.

I think it is very curious and inappropriate for Mr. Donohue to have the kind of direct voice in AMERICA magazine that the article of 18 Feb. gave him. I count on AMERICA to be reasonable, accurate, smart in a media world that is full of voices that are extrem, full of exageration and victimhood. I would welcome a serious treatment of the topic of anti-Catholicism, anti-religion, but no more of the Donohue style treatment. I count on AMERICA (and commonweal) for that.

Michael Grimaldi | 2/19/2002 - 8:03am
In an April 14, 2001, column in The Kansas City Star, columnist Bill Tammeus wrote about the "reasons that some people have such intense anti-art feelings." He mentioned examples in history and Biblical references, and he discussed at length two then-recent examples: The Taliban's destruction of 3rd- and 5th-century Buddhas in Afghanistan; and comments made by Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe., N.M., regarding a work of art on exhibit in that community.

But in his column, Tammeus did not link those two examples. He did not, as incorrectly reported by William A. Donohue, brand the archbishop as "an example of the American Taliban."

Not everyone who writes about, questions or challenges the Catholic faith is "anti-Catholic." It is through open inquiry that the truth is found and faith is strengthened, most especially the Catholic faith. By making groundless and inaccurate accusations, Donohue and his organization prey on Catholics who derive what must be a vacuous faith from fear of such discussion.

CHARLES J. ORLOSKI, JR. | 2/14/2002 - 10:59am
I ADMIRE THE WORK OF WILLIAM DONOHUE. LONG LIVE THE RESISTANCE! HOWEVER, I BELIEVE THAT INCORRECT LOGIC AND/OR ANALOGIES WILL LEAD TO PROBLEMS. FOR EXAMPLE, IN ORDER TO INSPIRE A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE STRATEGY, MR. DONOHUE QUOTES NATO CHARTER (CT 5) WHICH APPARENTLY STATES THAT "AN ATTACK ON ONE NATION IS AN ATTACK ON ALL MEMBER NATIONS." ONE MIGHT INQUIRE AMONG ORTHODOX SERBIANS, BUT I DO NOT THINK NATO LOGIC IS THE BEST LOGIC TO RALLY AGAINST WHAT IN REALITY IS INTERNATIONAL ANTI-CHRISTIAN HOSTILITY.

Joseph F. Wagner, SJ | 2/24/2002 - 2:29pm
As a Jesuit, I have been proud of the generally high standards of journalistic integrity maintained by _America_. However, the decision to publish William A. Donohue's "The Ten Worst Anti-Catholic Atrocities of 2001" (2/18) strikes me as an instance of dishearteningly poor editorial judgment. I had the sense that Mr. Donahue hoped to stir up some sort of righteous anger within me, but I was left merely saddened that America would lend itself as a vehicle for piling only more hatred upon hatred.

Mr. Donohue would have us rise in nationalistic battle against anti-Catholic sentiment. But with what arms? Stones casted at those who have wounded our pride? Bitter, militaristic rhetoric in the defense of the faith? If there is any battle to be fought, it is the battle waged in our own hearts struggling to believe that the love of enemies and the forgiveness of persecutors are not the capitulations of the spiritually docile, but the very power--indeed the arms--of God.

Charles Orloski, Jr. | 3/2/2002 - 6:05pm
America Magazine stands wrongly accused of poor editorial judgement. What,may I ask, is wrong with casting a little light on evil deeds?

Michael McCue, OSFS | 3/6/2002 - 8:40am
Anti-Catholicism and any putting down of religion is very unfortunate and is an expression of lack of understanding. So, I can say that I am glad that Mr. Donohue's organization exists. However, nothing he describes can accurately be called an "atrocity." It is an example of over heated language that is too common in public discourse and does the cause he articulates a disservice.

I think it is very curious and inappropriate for Mr. Donohue to have the kind of direct voice in AMERICA magazine that the article of 18 Feb. gave him. I count on AMERICA to be reasonable, accurate, smart in a media world that is full of voices that are extrem, full of exageration and victimhood. I would welcome a serious treatment of the topic of anti-Catholicism, anti-religion, but no more of the Donohue style treatment. I count on AMERICA (and commonweal) for that.

Michael Grimaldi | 2/19/2002 - 8:03am
In an April 14, 2001, column in The Kansas City Star, columnist Bill Tammeus wrote about the "reasons that some people have such intense anti-art feelings." He mentioned examples in history and Biblical references, and he discussed at length two then-recent examples: The Taliban's destruction of 3rd- and 5th-century Buddhas in Afghanistan; and comments made by Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe., N.M., regarding a work of art on exhibit in that community.

But in his column, Tammeus did not link those two examples. He did not, as incorrectly reported by William A. Donohue, brand the archbishop as "an example of the American Taliban."

Not everyone who writes about, questions or challenges the Catholic faith is "anti-Catholic." It is through open inquiry that the truth is found and faith is strengthened, most especially the Catholic faith. By making groundless and inaccurate accusations, Donohue and his organization prey on Catholics who derive what must be a vacuous faith from fear of such discussion.

CHARLES J. ORLOSKI, JR. | 2/14/2002 - 10:59am
I ADMIRE THE WORK OF WILLIAM DONOHUE. LONG LIVE THE RESISTANCE! HOWEVER, I BELIEVE THAT INCORRECT LOGIC AND/OR ANALOGIES WILL LEAD TO PROBLEMS. FOR EXAMPLE, IN ORDER TO INSPIRE A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE STRATEGY, MR. DONOHUE QUOTES NATO CHARTER (CT 5) WHICH APPARENTLY STATES THAT "AN ATTACK ON ONE NATION IS AN ATTACK ON ALL MEMBER NATIONS." ONE MIGHT INQUIRE AMONG ORTHODOX SERBIANS, BUT I DO NOT THINK NATO LOGIC IS THE BEST LOGIC TO RALLY AGAINST WHAT IN REALITY IS INTERNATIONAL ANTI-CHRISTIAN HOSTILITY.