Sunday, September 22, 2013

Donohue's Homophobia Still Rages After Pope Francis' Recent Statements

Pope Francis' recent comments about social issues have given hope to Catholic progressives and stimulated conversation about the direction of the Catholic Church. In an August interview published in America, Pope Francis refused to denigrate LGBTQ people, telling Antonio Spadaro, "Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person." Later in the interview, Pope Francis disapproved of excessive focus on homosexuality and reproductive issues.

"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time ... The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently."

Bill Donohue, head of the right-wing Catholic League, hasn't been easing up on his heated rhetoric in spite of the Pope's statements. In a September 20th commentary at CNN, Donohue reminded readers that the Pope "is not about to turn the Catholic Church upside down and inside out," which is true. However, his opposition to LGBTQ rights remains.
 "The pope is right that single-issue Catholics need to rise above their immediate concerns. He did not say we should avoid addressing abortion or homosexuality; he simply said we cannot be absorbed by these issues. Or any others ... He wants us to oppose same-sex marriage. He also doesn't want us to reject lesbians and gays because they are homosexual. This is sound Catholic teaching."
However, Donohue couldn't resist taking jabs at the Obama administration for allegedly forcing Catholic bishops to devote time and energy to resisting reproductive freedoms.
"It is not the bishops who have made these issues front and center -- it is the Obama administration. It would be more accurate to say the pope would find fault with the bishops if they did not resist these state encroachments on the religious liberty rights of Catholics."
Donohue was much more forceful and controversial during a face-to-face interview with CNN. During the September 20th edition of New Day, Donohue spoke with CNN's Chris Cuomo about the Pope's statements. (Transcript here.) He noted that the Pope's message reflected a change in focus, not doctrine, and that its chief mission is salvation rather than social issues.
"The Catholic Church is not about homosexuality, abortion, the poor, or the environment. It's about salvation. And people are tied up in these little micro-issues on the left and the right, and we've lost the focus of what the Catholic Church should be about. It's a change in tone, it's a change in style, but is not a doctrinal change in substance. That also should be noted."
When Cuomo confronted Donohue about his "incendiary, flagrant, divisive" comments about gays in the church, Donohue insisted that priests who prey on boys are gay.
"If 81% of the victims are male and 100% of the victimizers are male, and if 78% of the victims are post- pubescent -- the word in the English language is not pedophilia. It's called homosexuality ... When men have sex with adolescent men, it's called homosexuality. It is not pedophilia. John Jay College of Criminal Justice is not a conservative right wing organization. Less than 5 percent of the priests involved in molestation are pedophiles." 

As noted in a prior post, Donohue is fond of misquoting a 2011 study on Catholic clergy abuse by John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In his haste to scapegoat gay priests for the Catholic Church's clergy abuse scandal, Donohue ignores page 119 of the report which clearly states that research findings "do not support the hypothesis that priests with a homosexual identity or those who committed same-sex sexual behavior with adults are significantly more likely to sexually abuse children than those with a heterosexual orientation or behavior." As usual, Donohue ignores research and fails to distinguish between gay men (who are sexually attracted to other adult men) and sexual predators who prey on minors.

Donohue quickly backpedaled when Cuomo challenged him, insisting that, "It is not true that most gay priests are molesters. That is a gay-bashing comment. People have to make critical distinctions." It seems that Donohue is eager to scapegoat gays, but refuses to acknowledge that his comments are homophobic.

As the interview continued, Cuomo continued to confront Donohue about his stance on clergy abuse, reminding him of Pope Francis' earlier admonishments.
CUOMO: Who says the molesters are gay?

DONOHUE: If a man has sex with a man, what do you call that?

CUOMO: He could be a deviant pedophile and a sick person. He could be a rapist.

DONOHUE: Not if the kid is 18, 17, 16 years of age. A rapist could be straight or gay, I'll give you that much.

CUOMO: Being homosexual doesn't make you predatory.

DONOHUE: You're running away. Look, you're trying to say that anybody who points out the obvious, that the Catholic Church had a homosexual scandal, therefore, you're anti-gay. This is absurd.

CUOMO: Mr. Donohue, we both know that what is obvious here is that the pope is asking you not to focus on these things.

DONOHUE: He didn't ask me to shut up about the truth.
As usual, Donohue clings to his erroneous belief that gay priests, rather than predatory priests, are the culprits in most clergy sexual abuse cases. In doing so, he promotes the dangerous stereotype that LGBTQ persons are more likely to harm children, an undercurrent in much of the Religious Right's homophobic rhetoric (see here for an example).

Homophobic figures such as Bill Donohue refuse to be swayed by research, logical arguments, or even statements by their religious leaders. Not even a call by Pope Francis to refocus has motivated Donohue to tone down his rhetoric. Nevertheless, as more people of faith draw away from homophobia, Donohue and his ilk will find themselves more and more alienated.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

The New Civil Rights Movement: Catholic League’s Bill Donohue Demonstrates Why The Pope Had To Tell Him To Shut Up

GLAAD: CNN's Cuomo Holds Bill Donohue Accountable

Lez Get Real: Bill Donohue Ignores Pope Francis


  1. Interesting reading. I like that Cuomo holds Donohue's feet to the fire a little bit.

    Also, I find your initial quote from the pope interesting. The popular press seems to say that the pope is accepting of gays. But that's not really what he said.

    1. Hausdorff -- I was pleased that Cuomo confronted Donohue and refused to let him get away with inflammatory statements.

      As for the Pope's comment, I interpreted it to mean that Catholics should not fixate on anti-gay activism, not necessarily that the Pope or Church have changed their stance on gays. It's not a change in church policy, but it's a start.


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