02/08/2007 12:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bill Donohue: A 'Cafeteria Catholic' Promotes Extremism

To rightwing Catholic activists, "cafeteria Catholic" is a term of contempt for those who pick and choose which Church doctrine to follow. Bill Donohue arrogantly dismissed the Pope's pleas against the Iraq War in order to serve his political bosses, yet some reporters is still characterize him as a Catholic spokesman. Donohue's selectivity in following Church teachings is as "cafeteria" as it gets.

It's time more journalists got it straight: He's a right-wing extremist who uses his religious affiliation to promote ideas that are out of the mainstream of American - and Catholic - thought. In short, he's a political hack.

Donohue runs an organization called the Catholic League, which asserts that it has 350,000 members. Its Board is dominated by prominent Republicans and rightwingers like Dinesh D'Souza, Brent Bozell, Linda Chavez, and Alan Keyes. Donohue's job is to wrap partisan rightwing political attack in the cloak of religiousity. And too often the press plays right along.

Take this AP piece by Nedra Pickler, which CBS News misleadingly heads "Catholics Slam Bloggers Hired by Edwards." The lede reads: "Two bloggers hired recently by Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards were criticized Tuesday by a Catholic group for posts they had written elsewhere on the Internet."

Nowhere in the piece will readers learn that Donohue is a right-winger with deep ties to the Republican Party and the radical conservative movement. Nor will they understand that Donohue's outrage against those he describes as "Catholic bigots" is highly selective.

Let's look at the remarks that caused such ire. Blogger Amanda Marcotte wrote that ""The Catholic church is not about to let something like compassion for girls get in the way of using the state as an instrument to force women to bear more tithing Catholics." Tough talk. But bigotry?

Let's compare Donohue's vehement response (whether real or staged) to this comment with his reaction to the man who said this: "Boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn't reported by the liberal press." The commenter also said: "So this is what the last days of the Catholic Church are going to look like. Buggering boys undermines the moral base and the laywers rip the gold off the Vatican altars."

The author of these vile comments was Jerome Corsi, author of "Unfit For Command" and one of the "leaders" of Swiftboat Veterans for Truth. Donohue's response? As Media Matters reports, he dismissed these comments as "quips" and "jokes" for which Corsi (described fondly in Donohue's press release as "Jerry") later "apologized."

Corsi's comment are geniune anti-Catholic bigotry. But to a political operative like Donohue, defending his co-religionists from ugly prejudice is less important than carrying the torch for the right-wing and Republican causes.

Contrast Corsi's comments with those of Melissa McEwan, another Donohue target, who asked why religious conservatives don't understand about "keeping your noses out of our britches, our beds and our families?" That's not an anti-Catholic statement. It's an assertion of personal liberty.

(Conflict note: Melissa was kind enough to offer me a spot on her blog, "Shakespeare' Sister," a couple of years ago after an odd incident at another group site.)

Donohue has never criticized a Republican politician for speaking at the virulently anti-Catholic Bob Jones University, nor has he ever faulted a Catholic for violating Church doctrine by supporting capital punishment. In fact, Donohue supports pro-death penalty politicians, as well as the Iraq War.

By contrast, here's what Pope John Paul II said about that war:

"And what are we to say of the threat of a war which could strike the people of Iraq, the land of the Prophets, a people already sorely tried by more than twelve years of embargo? War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations. As the Charter of the United Nations Organization and international law itself remind us, war cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations."

Donohue callously disregarded the Holy Father's pleas for peace, and for other social issues (more here). That's political hackery, plain and simple, and yet the AP continues to characterize him as a "Catholic spokesman."

The New York Times, by contrast, got it right. Their headline reads: "Edwards's Bloggers Cross the Line, Critic Says." (Note the singular "critic," unlike the AP's plural "Catholics," which was based solely on Donohue's comments.) The Times' second paragraph describes the Catholic League, accurately, as "a conservative religious group."

Associated Press, please note: That's how to report a story in an unbiased, accurate way.

A Night Light

The Sentinel Effect: Healthcare Blog