The year 2000 saw a presidential election. The Catholic League is not a political organization, nor does it align itself with any political party or agenda. However, the Catholic League speaks out when the political process or government agencies, whatever their affiliation, interfere with the rights of Catholics or the Catholic Church. It can be over a simple matter, such as in Shirley, MA where inmates in a state prison had their rosary beads confiscated. Or it could be on the national scene, where a Catholic priest was denied the position as House chaplain.
The House chaplain issue actually began in 1999 and was not resolved until March 2000 with the selection of Father Daniel Coughlin, vicar for priests of the Archdiocese of Chicago. An 18-member House committee (nine Republicans and nine Democrats) presented three finalists for the chaplain vacancy to the House leadership, with the top choice being Father Timothy O’Brien, a Marquette University professor.
During the selection process, Father O’Brien was subject to outrageous questions that showed signs of lingering anti-Catholic prejudices at work. He was asked whether his Roman collar might be a divisive obstacle in ministering to congressional representatives, though his Protestant predecessor had worn a collar for decades. He was also questioned whether a celibate priest could minister to families, though priests have been doing such counseling for centuries.
House leadership then named Reverend Charles Wright, a Presbyterian minister, to the position. When it was acknowledged by Republican House leadership that members would be more comfortable with a Protestant minister, the Catholic League protested, wondering when a “Catholic priests need not apply” sign was posted for the House chaplain position. The Catholic League asked for an examination of the selection process to determine if anti-Catholicism had been a determining factor. As New York Times columnist William Safire put it, “All hell — perhaps all Hell — has broken loose.”
When a report was issued in January on the selection process, the Catholic League was not satisfied. House leadership attempted to strong-arm the Catholic League into folding on the issue, but our public response was to tell them to “take a hike.” In late January, the House vote on the chaplain position was postponed. When it was reported that the Rev. Billy Graham had called House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s office asking him not to abandon Rev. Wright, Graham issued a statement—sent to the Catholic League—that Speaker Hastert had called him, and that he “did not and could not take sides on this issue.”
Writing in the Newark Star Ledger, Paul Mulshine said that Hastert and House Majority Leader Dick Armey “are engaging in a shouting match” with Catholic League president William Donohue over the issue. “Sometimes league officials get carried away,” Mulshine wrote, “but that’s all the more reason that no politician in his right mind would get them started.” On March 23rd, in an extraordinary move, Hastert announced on the House floor that Rev. Wright had withdrawn at Hastert’s request, and introduced Father Coughlin as the new House chaplain.
In the midst of this controversy, then-Texas Governor George W. Bush launched his South Carolina primary bid with a speech at Bob Jones University. The Catholic League objected, noting that Bob Jones University was notoriously anti-Catholic and that its website identified the Catholic Church as “The Mother of Harlots.” The university also was noted for its racially discriminatory policies, including a ban on interracial dating. Governor Bush eventually wrote a letter of regret to Cardinal John O’Connor for not rejecting the university’s anti-Catholic policies outright, and sent a copy of the letter to the Catholic League. On February 28, 2000, Donohue was asked by Matt Lauer on the “Today” show whether Bush’s apology was sufficient. The Catholic League president said it was, and this put the issue to rest.
The Catholic League also took strong exception when U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, scheduled a fund-raising event at the Playboy Mansion during the Democratic national convention in August. Bill Donohue wrote to Vice President Al Gore asking him to cancel the event. Scheduled for August 15th, the league noted the offensiveness of holding an event at such a venue on the Feast of the Assumption. The league also condemned the association with an organization that exploits women and has funded anti-Catholic organizations such as Catholics for a Free Choice. In addition, the leaders of Playboy Enterprises—Hugh and Christie Hefner—had made numerous derogatory comments about the Church and Catholic teaching.
When Gore’s response was unsatisfactory, the Catholic League issued a press release condemning the planned “Gorgy,” then held a press conference in front of Playboy Enterprises in New York. This was followed by an ad in the Washington, D.C. newspaper Roll Call outlining the Catholic League’s position and demanding that Vice President Gore cancel the event. After announcing a “web war” and enlisting assistance from supporters in the Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist communities, the league wrote to Senator Joseph Lieberman asking his assistance. On August 11th, William Donohue appeared on “Hardball” on national television calling for Sanchez to be fired by Vice President Gore, or for the event to be moved. A few hours later, Sanchez announced that the fundraiser would be relocated.
As it does before each presidential election, a motley group of dissenting Catholics called Catholics Speak Out, with the financial support of non-Catholics, sought to define Church teachings in their own way in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times. The political advertisement claimed that Catholic views on abortion were not “monolithic.” The Catholic League responded in the same issue with an advertisement stating that just “as there are not diverse Catholic teachings on genocide or racial discrimination, there is no legitimate diversity in Catholic teaching on abortion.”
On July 11, the Washington D.C. Council passed a bill mandating health insurance coverage for contraceptives that did not allow for an exemption for Catholic institutions. It was not an oversight. During the debate on the bill, council member Jim Graham called the Catholic Church homophobic and warned his colleagues against “deferring to Rome.” The Catholic League called for the censure and resignation of Graham, as well as a reversal of the council’s measure as the state attempting to impose its will on religion. As Congress has oversight of council action, measures were immediately taken by Rep. Ernest Istook, who chaired the D.C. appropriations committee. He promised that the legislation would not be accepted without a “conscience clause” to exempt Catholic institutions.
Congressman James P. Moran of Virginia then decided to lash-out at Catholicism in support of Graham. Moran complained of the “hypocrisy of the Catholic Church as an institution towards homosexuality.” To compound the offense, an aide to Congressman Moran then deleted the attack from the Congressional Record. The congressman was told that he had violated ethics rules that prohibit such alterations.
Most of the Catholic League’s interventions in 2000 did not involve politics. In April, officials of New Jersey Transit cancelled the appearance of a Catholic entertainment group at the grand opening of a new light rail system “because of separation of Church and State.” A gospel group from a local Baptist church was allowed to perform. The Catholic League blasted the unequal treatment to the press, then called the governor’s office for an explanation. New Jersey Transit admitted they were mistaken and issued a full apology.
At Denver International Airport authorities banned the announcement of upcoming Catholic masses on Sundays and holy days at an interfaith chapel used by Christians, Jews and Muslims. One person had complained that the announcements on the public address system were a violation of separation of Church and State. The local American Civil Liberties Union chapter supported the ban, arguing that only Catholic services were announced. It was not mentioned that the other members of the interfaith chapel supported the Catholic announcements and chose not to use the public address system. The Catholic League protested and in December, the airport authorities announced a revised rule that allowed a public announcement of the existence of the chapel and a number to call for scheduled services. The Catholic League responded that was just a gag rule aimed specifically at Catholics under threats from the ACLU.
Press coverage of the Catholic Church is often slanted from the perspective of a cultural agenda. No better example of that appeared in 2000 than the Kansas City Star series on an alleged AIDS epidemic in the priesthood. Beginning in its January 30th edition, the Kansas City Star ran a series of articles claiming an AIDS epidemic in the priesthood caused by the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, the practice of celibacy and the failure of the Church to teach “safe sex” in seminaries. The series also claimed that the Church was attempting to hide the epidemic and, as a result, priests with the disease died alone and without support.
The series was based, in part, on a survey conducted of Catholic priests by the Star and investigation of death certificates of priests which claimed to show that the death rate among priests was four times the general population rate. The Catholic League responded with an examination of the Star’s survey of priests by Center for Media and Public Affairs. The Center found that the survey was based on only a 27 percent response rate, with no geographic or demographic balance sought in the responses. Additionally, the Star’s claim of a higher rate was in error as it compared the death rate to the general population, rather than to adult males. Adjusted accordingly, there was no discernable difference. Finally, the investigation into death rates was flawed as it made national claims based on regional investigation. The Catholic League charged that the survey and series smacked of an agenda, rather than a serious investigation. Few newspapers gave much credence to the series, and a follow-up that intended to “prove” the allegations collapsed from the same faulty research and evident journalistic prejudice.
An ongoing difficulty in the press throughout 2000 was the appearance of advertisements in various newspapers from the Eternal Gospel Church, a breakaway Seventh-Day Adventist sect, or from a similar breakaway group, the Sweetwater Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The anti-Catholic advertisement—under the headline “Earth’s Final Warning”—calls the Catholic faith false, says its leadership is corrupting Catholics, and equates the Church with the biblical Whore of Babylon. Whenever the ad appeared in a newspaper, the Catholic League immediately asked the publisher to refrain from accepting adds filled with such hate speech in the future, just as ads would be rejected from neo-Nazis or the KKK. In 2000, publications such as the Columbian in Washington State, the Baltimore Sun, the Huntsville Times, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Arizona Republic, the Athens Messenger and The Sun in San Bernardino, CA agreed that running the advertisement was a mistake and many chose to run an apology to readers.
The Oregonian of Portland, Oregon, refused to promise not to run the advertisement, singing a song about freedom of speech. The Fresno Bee made a similar cliched response, but did publish an op-ed piece from the Catholic League which stated that “this is not an issue of ‘free speech’ in any sense of its meaning in journalism. This was a commercial transaction between the Fresno Bee and the Eternal Gospel Church. It was a paid advertisement, not a news story, opinion piece or editorial. The Fresno Bee decided to accept money for an advertisement that dealt squarely and entirely in religious bigotry and published it within its pages.”
A different battle with a newspaper took place after the Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington, ran a short news item in its November 8th edition headlined, “Nazi priest promotes his book.” The story was simply a brief news item announcing a talk and a book signing by Father Robert Spitzer, president of Gonzaga University in Spokane. When contacted by Bill Donohue, the paper explained that the headline was an “error” and that an apology would appear the next day. Donohue responded that it was not an error. He charged someone at the paper had deliberately defamed Father Spitzer because he had banned Planned Parenthood from speaking at the university campus the previous spring.
The Catholic League then contacted all the major newspapers across the country and the TV and radio stations in the Spokane area. Within 24 hours, intern Robin Moody was asked to resign by the newspaper’s editors for writing the headline. Though Donohue didn’t know it when he predicted the connection between the story and Father Spitzer’s previous action, Moody had been the president of the women’s studies club at Gonzaga who had sought to bring a Planned Parenthood spokesman to the campus.
Attacks on Pope Pius XII, claiming that he was a virtual collaborator in the Holocaust, continued throughout 2000 and the Catholic League vociferously defended his legacy. These attacks are most often based on an anti-Catholic agenda and have nothing to do with historical truth. One of the most vicious and biased attacks took place on a March 19th edition of CBS’ “60 Minutes.” Relying almost solely on John Cornwell’s notorious book, Hitler’s Pope, correspondent Ed Bradley allowed Cornwell to be unchallenged in his attacks on Pius. This, despite reviews such as that by Newsweek’s Kenneth Woodward which described Hitler’s Pope as “a classic example of what happens when an ill-equipped journalist assumes the air of sober scholarship…Errors of fact and ignorance of context appear on almost every page.” That critique, along with others, was published by the Catholic League in an advertisement less than two weeks later in the New York Times condemning “the revisionist history of ’60 Minutes.’”
The Catholic League would go after “60 Minutes” again later in the year when it interviewed Catholics For a Free Choice head Frances Kissling for a story on Catholic hospitals merging with secular institutions. The story’s agenda was the “threat” this posed to access to contraceptives and abortion. Kissling stated that, “Doctors are no longer gods. Now we have bishops who are gods.”
Donohue blasted “60 Minutes” for seeking out Kissling as an “expert,” considering her years of anti-Catholic activity and the fact that the U.S. bishops had twice denounced CFFC for fraudulently posing as a Catholic group. A few months earlier, the Catholic League also exposed CFFC’s anti-Catholic background and activities to media around the country. And when Kissling released the results of a survey in October that purportedly showed 60 percent of Catholic voters supported legal abortion, Donohue dug into the survey and proved that the actual results showed that only 6 percent supported abortion law as it exists today.
Catholics for a Free Choice took a leadership role in attempting to downgrade the status of the Vatican at the United Nations in its “See Change” campaign. This was a blatant attempt to silence a voice that CFFC opposes and, on July 11, the Catholic League was delighted when the U.S. House of Representatives approved by 416-1 a resolution denouncing those efforts. The Catholic League had written to all House members in March asking for their support of the resolution.
The voucher campaign continued to bring out the anti-Catholics who would rather use bigotry than reasoned arguments to advance their position. In the student newspaper at Michigan State University on October 10th, a cartoon ran with a Christ-like figure nailed to a cross. Across the figure’s chest was written “Public Schools” and atop the cross was the inscription, “Proposal 1,” a ballot initiative for vouchers. President William McPherson of Michigan State told the Catholic League that he was outraged by the cartoon and issued a public statement condemning it.
The Detroit Free Press ran an anti-voucher editorial cartoon that referred to a “Vouch-O-Matic” that destroys the constitution and sucks millions out of public education. The last panel of the cartoon said, “To order, Rush Your Tax Dollars To: The Roman Catholic Church” care of the pro-voucher organization in Michigan. A patently dishonest anti-voucher television campaign aired in Michigan showed a disabled child in a wheelchair with the statement, “private schools are allowed to reject disabled students like Angelica.” In fact, Michigan law barred any such discrimination whether the school was public or private, while those in the forefront of the anti-voucher campaign lost in a 1993 bid to stop public funds from being spent on handicapped children in private schools. The Catholic League contacted virtually every TV outlet in the state and the ads were pulled from many stations.
Popular culture continued to dip into anti-Catholic polemics to get a headline. Singer, actress, and infomercial huckster Cher released a new CD called “Not Commercial” in November. One song on the CD was called “Sisters of Mercy.” Allegedly written based on tales told to Cher by her mother, the song called the Sisters of Mercy “daughters of hell,” “masters of pain” and “mothers of shame.” The Catholic League accused her of taking a cheap shot that costs nothing in Hollywood, and Pat Scully went on the NBC show “Extra” to denounce the song. Cher had almost nothing to say in response.
Marilyn Manson’s new CD “Holy Wood” was replete with anti-Catholic imagery and violence. Among his songs were “Godeatgod” and “Cruci-fixion in Space.” The Catholic League denounced the alleged musician as a bigot who appeared in a video dressed as a bishop and performs wearing a bishop’s miter. On his website, Manson responded by saying, “I can’t possibly be at war with Christ, because your religion killed him and what he stood for.” Ann Powers of the New York Times reviewed a Manson concert and noted, without disapproval, his anti-Catholic taunts.
There were certain books that raised concerns in 2000. They are not included in the Annual Report because they were not specifically meant to be anti-Catholic. But they were often used by bigots to weigh-in against the Church. A book such as Garry Wills’ Papal Sin, released in June, may not have been intended as a screed. Yet, Wills charged that the Catholic Church exists in a system of lies, falsifications, and misrepresentations meant to prop up papal authority and are part of a fabricated “structure of deceit.” While Wills may have intended his book to be meant for Church reform from his particular perspective, his vindictive language aimed at the papacy was used as a source by those out to attack the Church, particularly in the press. Another such work, though the author’s intent seemed far more insidious, was The Silence of Sodom, Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism. Released in July by University of Chicago Press, it was written by Mark D. Jordan, a former Catholic seminary instructor who teaches religion at Emory University. A self-described “openly gay man,” Jordan drafted his book while on a paid fellowship from the John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. In the book he claims to find in Catholicism in general, and the priesthood in particular, a dominant “homoerotic” culture. It is central to liturgy, the sacraments, and the priesthood itself. Church teachings that condemn homosexual practices are “efforts to keep the dreaded ‘secret’ from being spoken.”
The business world still panders to anti-Catholicism. Insight Media offered a catalogue of videos and CD-ROMS for high school and college students. Everything from Animism to voodoo was treated with fairness in its religion section. Under Roman Catholicism, there were two listings: one on the Inquisition, the other on the Church’s “origins and growth into a political force in world events.” Both are negative portrayals of Catholicism. Catholic League members protested and the head of the company announced that his staff would more carefully screen new videos on Catholicism.
Bear Basics, a store in Berkeley, California offered T-shirts for sale that said “F— Christmas,” though the shirt spelled out the actual obscenity. When the Catholic League inquired, it was informed that there were no similar T-shirts in regard to Hanukkah. Of course, the forced secularization of Christmas was evident in numerous commercial businesses and Internet shopping guides. While Hanukkah remained properly represented in its religious context, Christmas was consistently reduced to its secular symbols, if not eliminated completely. At 1-800-FLOWERS.com there were no religious items for Christmas, but a Star of David charm necklace for Hanukkah was featured. The Christmas selection for FTD.com had all secular items but sold Star Shaped Hanukkah cookies while Hallmark’s “Holiday Gifts” selection had no religious items for Christmas. Altavista.com explained the secular meaning of Christmas but offered a religious interpretation of Hanukkah. Yahoo.com listed six religions under “Religious Holidays,” but only one of them is presented with an “Opposing Views” category—Christmas.
The Internet has also become a vast supplier of anti-Catholicism in digital form to make certain that bigotry moves into the 21st Century. The Internet search engine Excite offers web users the service of typing in words when doing an Internet search. When the words “Mother Teresa” were typed and searched, among the matches listed was a profane title for a pornographic website. Excite corrected the offense after being contacted by the Catholic League.
Slate magazine’s Jack Shafer wrote a piece in response to a column in the New York Times Magazine about anti-Catholicism. Shafer argued that, “If anti-Catholic bigotry exists in America, it might have something to do with the Catholic Church’s past conduct. Just this weekend, His Holiness John Paul II conceded as much when he finally got around to apologizing to the world for 2000 years of Catholic wickedness.” Shafer also compared the pope to Louis Farrakhan: “But tap-dancing away from accountability more beautifully than Farrakhan, the pope absolved the Catholic Church of blame because it is ‘holy and immaculate.’” In December, Salon. posted an article allegedly written by a 15-year-old girl charging that her school is anti-gay. The piece, “Teens, Sex and God” accused the Catholic Church of hating gays and contributing to “intolerant attitudes” that “contribute greatly to teen depression and suicide.”
A sad development is the continued vandalism against Catholic churches. The Catholic League reported acts of vandalism and desecrations in Maryland, Alabama, Alaska and New Jersey. Media in the United States were virtually mute when a church desecration took place in Montreal in March. A group of radical feminists invaded Mary Queen of the World Cathedral. They painted “No God, no masters” on one of the altars, overturned flowerpots, and stuck sanitary napkins—some soiled—to pictures and walls. The New York Times report from Montreal the day after focused on a Quebec controversy over whether Pokemon cards should be issued in French.
A series of attacks on Catholic statues took place in Brooklyn, NY. Primus St. Croix, an illegal immigrant, confessed to the vandalism and was sentenced to five years probation. At the same time, a man who had smeared paint on a dung-laden portrait of the Virgin Mary surrounded by pornographic pictures was sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. The Catholic League requested that New York Senator Charles Schumer ask the U.S. Justice Department to investigate if St. Croix could be prosecuted under federal law that makes it unlawful for anyone “who intentionally damages or destroys the property of a place of religious worship.”
There are other means to attack the place of religion in American society and activist organizations were busy this year going after the expression of religious belief. As usual, the American Civil Liberties Union led the way with a host of silly lawsuits. Postings of the 10 Commandments seemed to attract most of the organization’s ire this year with suits filed in Nebraska, Kentucky, Indiana, and one deferred to Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Pittsburgh. Local ACLU chapters protested the erection of prison chapels at private expense in Louisiana, and the National Park Service folded to the ACLU over a memorial to World War I soldiers in California’s Mojave Desert that was in the shape of a cross. The ACLU is appealing a district court’s decision in Virginia that allowed a moment of silence in public schools. The ACLU protested because the “moment of silence” allowed the option of silent prayer.
The year ended with the usual burst of activity surrounding Christmas, with various activist organizations going berserk over any mention of the religious nature of the season. At the beginning of December, the Anti-Defamation League issued a pamphlet called, “The December Dilemma: Guidelines for Public Schools During the December Holidays.” The guidelines would virtually ban the use of the term “Christmas,” let alone religious symbols and explanations of the season. The Catholic League posted on its website a parody of the ADL guidelines called “The December Celebration” which outlined the many ways to legitimately and permissibly acknowledge the religious significance of Christmas within public schools.
The usual illegal attempts to ban from public property Nativity scenes that were paid for privately took place, with activist organizations relying on threats and intimidation. In Eugene, OR, the city manager banned the display of Christmas trees on public property in the name of “practicing diversity.” The level of absurdity reached the sublime in Vancouver, WA when bus drivers were ordered not to wear seasonal hats, neckties or vests that displayed “religious symbols” of the season. The transit authorities attempted to explain their position by citing the state Constitution. But the Catholic League noted that transit officials throughout the state had no such ban, though they obviously followed the same Constitution.
As the following Annual Report clearly shows, the unfortunate truth in America is that anti-Catholicism and Catholic bashing are alive and well. Only those who are hopelessly bigoted against Catholicism could maintain that this problem has disappeared. The goal of the Catholic League, the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization, remains the same. It will continue to defend individual Catholics and the institutional Church from defamation and discrimination.
Robert P. Lockwood
Director of Research