Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Unbecoming: a consideration of the Catholic League's involvement in the Empire State Building controversy

Dr. William A. "Bill" Donohue, in his official capacity as President of the Catholic League, has engaged in a campaign against the ownership and the management of the Empire State Building (ESB).

In his campaign, he accuses the ESB operators of anti-Catholic bias in their decision not to accept the Catholic League's request that they illuminate the ESB with the colors of the Missionaries of Charity on August 26th, to mark the centenary of the birth of MC foundress, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

Donohue's campaign is inconsistent with the nature, purpose and traditions of the organization he leads; Donohue's conduct of the campaign is unbecoming a Christian gentleman.

The following considerations are offered as substantiation of the critical observations, which I have made of Donohue's behavior.

Controversy in Context

The Jesuit priest and professor of political science at Marquette University, Virgil Blum, SJ, founded the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in 1973.

The Catholic League tells us that its purpose is:
[To defend] the right of Catholics – lay and clergy alike – to participate in American public life without defamation or discrimination.
This is a cause around which all Catholics have a right and a duty to rally. Immediately following this mission statement, we discover the following specification:
Motivated by the letter and the spirit of the First Amendment, the Catholic League works to safeguard both the religious freedom rights and the free speech rights of Catholics whenever and wherever they are threatened.
In the broadest sense, then, the Catholic League exists in order to defend the place of the Church and of her members in the public square.

We find this understanding confirmed in the following words, taken from the "What do we do?" header of the "About Us" page at the League's website:
In essence, the Catholic League monitors the culture, acting as a watchdog agency and defender of the civil rights of all Catholics.
The Catholic League has often acted in keeping with its mission statement, bringing violations of and encroachments on the rights of Catholics and of the Church to the attention and the scrutiny of the broad public in a manner consistent with Christian charity and the common morality of all people who fear God.

The Present Case Considered

The Catholic League has, under Donohue's leadership, sought a secular honor for Mother Teresa, one of the Church's blessed. To seek such an honor is not to preserve the Church's place in the world; rather, to seek such an honor is to desire the approval and even celebration of the world - and this is not in keeping with the stated mission of the League.

Peculiarly distasteful is Donohue's use - as a trope - of a daughter of the Church, who so perfectly despised such dappled vanity while she was on Earth.

Donohue's ungrounded insistence that the ESB operators must have been motivated by anti-Catholic bias in their refusal, bears none of the marks of prudence, temperance, or justice.

Donohue, in leveling an accusation of mendacity against the ESB operators - an accusation based on the most uncharitable possible reading of comments torn from a statement published to the building's website in shocked response to Donohue's unexpected vitriol, and with the most exquisitely studied disregard for the full circumstances of the statement's publication - has behaved in a manner that is frankly indefensible.

I do not doubt the sincerity of Donohue's commitment, nor do I believe his intentions were dishonorable.

Nevertheless, his behavior has weakened the credibility of the Catholic League; he has done a real disservice to Catholics; he has wounded our national discourse.


1 comment:

Clayton said...

Good point.

Defending the Church's rights is one thing; championing a cause for secular recognition is something quite different.