The Catholic League is not the “All Catholic” League. It is not official Catholicism: still less does it speak for each and every one of the nation’s 60 million Catholics. As someone who once endeavored to work with the League, I was disappointed to learn that it is run out of a single office by a single ego. So, while I find newsworthy the recent exchanges between the League’s president, Bill Donahue and Evangelical pastor, John Hagee, they don’t amount to dogma.
Moreover, there are unanswered questions about the protest-apology sequence recently featured in the press. For one thing, Rev. Hagee has been repeating for two decades the stale rant that the Catholic Church is the “whore of Bablyon.” Similarly, Hagee has embraced the uncritical characterization of Pius XII as “Hitler’s pope.” [Hagee’s bigotry will receive a separate comment from Catholic America.]
Why then did the Catholic League wait until February of 2008 to become angered by Hagee’s career of bigotry over two decades? February was when the millionaire Reverend was invited to support Republican candidate, John McCain: but if the Arizona Senator’s action caused the ruckus, why didn’t the Catholic League just denounce McCain or continue to demand the candidate reject a bigot’s support? Why surrender and give absolution so meekly — especially when Hagee’s two-page apology used the mealy-mouthed expression of regret for “any comments that Catholics have found hurtful,” rather than the complete recantation called for?
Because Catholics who are committed to their religion would not sell out as easily as did the League, I think the whole episode smells of what my grammar-school Irish nuns called, “shenanigans” – and for political effects, not for defense of Catholicism.
Now, forgiveness is a virtue and I would not begrudge Mr. Donahue’s low threshold for bigotry. What irks me, however, is his venomous and unyielding denunciation of Catholics who support Senator Obama for president. The Catholic League demanded the dissolving of Obama’s Catholic support committee, accusing all of the members of disloyalty to the faith and labeling the actions of the Democratic Senator as “Hitlerian.” In light of Donahue’s meek passivity before the hateful career statements of a right-wing bigot, this is all too choleric bluster against fellow Catholics.
This contradictory behavior is explained by a glance at the League’s criteria for Catholic politics: abortion, embryonic stem cell research and tax dollars to Catholic schools. Left out are major Catholic teachings like forgiveness of Third World debt and opposition by two popes to the Iraq invasion. (Please note that an unjust war is just as intrinsically evil as an abortion.) The League also ignores the American Catholic Bishops’ support of universal health insurance, immigration reform that unifies families or repeal of the death penalty. Apparently, these major social justice teachings of the Church are not Catholic enough for the Catholic League.
Before anyone tries to make me choose between the Catholic League and the many others who don’t agree with its politics, let me say that ALL varieties of Catholic politics deserve tolerance. Papal documents and the teachings of the U.S. Bishops recognize that no one party represents the Catholic Church. In political matters, therefore, Catholic voters are allowed to sort out the set of issues that they consider most in accord with the Gospel. It is a lot like an individual going to a cafeteria and choosing among the various dishes while watching dietary restrictions. Rather than condemn progressives or conservatives like the Catholic League for being “cafeteria Catholics,” I praise both of them for demonstrating the freedom as citizens given to us by our Church. Now, if we could only keep the commandment to love one another….
(Note: mea culpa: After I posted, I realized that Donahue should be spelled Donohue. My apologies.)