THE BLOG
02/12/2007 02:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Donohue Once Named Onion Dip Ad Anti-Catholic "Atrocity"

MAN BEHIND SMEAR OF EDWARDS DISCREDITED REPEATEDLY BY CATHOLIC INTELLECTUALS

The newest Republican media darling to lead the smear machine against Democrats, William A. Donohue, has made a career by claiming that even the most trivial mention of Christianity should be treated as a violent hate crime or genocidal atrocity.

Not only are Donohue's so-called "atrocities" against Catholics the claims of a charlatan, but his entire approach has been discredited by leading Catholic voices.

After reading the following summary of Donohue's past writings, any political media booker who invites Donohue to their studio does so at the risk of discrediting the professionalism and credibility of their organization.

SUBJECT:  "Gays, Blacks and Jews"

SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal

In a 1995 letter to the Wall Street Journal in which he criticized the new Disney movie "Priest" as an "invidious stereotype" of Catholic clergy, Donohue explained in a few short sentences why he does what he does [emphasis mine]:

It is beyond dispute that Disney would not put its imprimatur on a flick that portrayed gays, African-Americans or Jews as depraved. And it surely wouldn't depict their depravity as a consequence of their heritage or lifestyle.

The Catholic League has learned from gays, blacks and Jews. It is going to play hardball, and that is why we are leading a nationwide attack against Disney -- ranging from a boycott to a stockholder revolt -- doing everything possible to blacken its Snow White image.

(Wall Street Journal. (Eastern edition). New York, N.Y.: May 11, 1995.  pg. A17)

Thus, Donohue defined the mission of his organization not simply as a defender of the Catholic civil rights, but as an aggressive competitor to "gays, blacks and Jews." 

Several years later, Donohue's vulgar claim to parity was directly refuted by a leading American Catholic writer, James Martin:

Anti-Catholicism is clearly not as virulent or violent as the prejudice directed against blacks, Jews and gays...Anti-Catholicism exists. As the Catholic League's annual report ably testifies, it manifests itself in a number of spheres in the culture, most notably in entertainment and advertising. Commentators who deny its presence ignore the historical record and perhaps succumb to a sort of creeping secularism that sees all aspects of the church as inherently risible.
On the other hand, anti-Catholicism in the United States is simply not the scourge it once was, nor is it today as virulent as anti-Semitism, homophobia or racism. Ignoring this fact only leads to misunderstandings.

("The Last Acceptable Prejudice," America,
Mar 25, 2000)

Despite repeated claims by leading Catholics invalidating Donohue's methods and conclusions, Donohue has clung to his tactics. 

SUBJECT:  "Anti-Catholic Atrocities"

SOURCE:  America:  The National Catholic Weekly (source article here)

Each year, Donohue sifts through thousands up on thousands of what he calls "cases of anti-Catholicism," which he claims are then verified and ranked according to the egregiousness of the offense.  The most horrific offense are then categorized as "anti-Catholic atrocities."

What are these "atrocities" according to Donohue?  Are they violent attacks, gang murders or lynchings?  Excerpts from the recent article penned by Donohue reveal that his claims of so called "atrocities" do not include a single example of violence, physical harm, hate speech, or organized bigotry [list items compiled from linked article]:

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 Stem 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.

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 PS. 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 Renee 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 (LP.EW) 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, "instruction [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.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, an "atrocity" is: "An appalling or atrocious act, situation, or object, especially an act of unusual or illegal cruelty inflicted by an armed force on civilians or prisoners."  According to this widely recognized definition, historic examples of "atrocities" would include the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the Nazi extermination camps of World War II, the prison camp abuses of the Soviet Gulag Archipelago.

In Donohue's article, however, he defined as "atrocities" such events as an online Ebay Auction, a clothing catalog, and an advertisement for Liption onion dip.

SUBJECT:  "Onion Dip"

SOURCE: America: The National Catholic Weekly

In a letter bearing the aptly laconic title "Onion Dip," Baya Clare of St. Paul, MN wrote the following in reaction to Donohue's list of atrocities:

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.

In a letter titled "Verification"--an even more complete take-down of the Catholic League anti-Catholicism campaign--Chris Wiseman of New Orleans, LA turned the tables on the whole idea of "atrocities" as used by Donohue [emphasis mine]:

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.

It says quite a bit when the readership of the leading Catholic weekly magazine in the country not only rejects Donohue's onion dip atrocity campaign, but actually responds to it by describing Donohue himself as an anti-Catholic atrocity.

SUMMARY:  Donohue's Past Writings Reveal Him As Agitator, Not Expert

Separate from his recent claims that "Jews control Hollywood" and that "Hollywood loves anal sex"--each of which should be cause for alarm--Donohue's past writings reveal him as a media agitator discredited repeatedly by Catholic intellectuals, and whose entire concept of prejudice and bigotry is questionable at best.

The mere fact that Donohue described a Lipton onion dip ad as an "atrocity" should be reason enough to keep him off the invite list for any respectable broadcast news program in America.

Unfortunately, Donohue's well-documented record of embarrassing American Catholics has not stopped well-known dips in the mainstream media--Tucker Carlson and Larry Kudlow in particular--from inviting him on television to spout off about anti-Catholic atrocities supposedly committed by Democratic presidential campaigns.

But Donohue's effort to define himself as a civil-rights activist and to include relatively harmless instances of  American civic discourse among the world's most violent and horrific war crimes--this should make him repugnant to non-profit organizations, political campaigns, and public forums alike.

"Anti-Catholicism" in America is an important topic worthy of discussion in politics, education and popular culture alike.  But William Donohue history of demeaning the very idea of civil rights and atrocities should not earn him the status of "expert" on TV talk shows, but the the more appropriate label of destructive "charlatan."

(cross posted from FRAMESHOP by Jeffrey Feldman)