A League of the Pope's Own

By Swomley, John M. | The Humanist, January-February 1998 | Go to article overview

A League of the Pope's Own


Swomley, John M., The Humanist


One of the least known and most dangerous of the far-right organizations is the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. It is little known because it masquerades as a civil rights organization; it is dangerous because it redefines religious and civil rights as opposites to those normally understood as constitutional rights. Chiefly, its mission is to censor or suppress any activity, language, speech, publication, or media presentation that it considers offensive to the papacy, the Vatican, or the Catholic church in America.

The Catholic League was organized in 1973 by a Jesuit priest, Virgil Blum, who in 1959 had organized Citizens for Educational Freedom to launch the campaign for government funding of parochial schools through tax vouchers. In 1993, William Donohue took over the leadership of the Catholic League, with the assistance of Robert Destra as general counsel. Donohue has worked hard to redefine civil liberties away from individual rights so as to oppose affirmative action, gay rights, women's rights, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.

According to the league's bylaws, the organization defends

the right to life of the unborn, the

aged, and the handicapped; the

rights of the family to protection

against threats to morality such

as . . . pornography, amoral

approaches to sex and the like;

and the rights of parents to

direct the education of their

children.

The league, however, is not simply a collection of right-wing individuals. It claims "the support of all the U.S. cardinals and many of the bishops" and exists in response to Canon 1369 of the Code of Canon Law:

A person is to be punished with

a just penalty, who, at a public

event or assembly, or in

published writing, or by

otherwise using the means of

social communication, utters

blasphemy, or gravely harms

public morals, or rails at or

excites hatred of or contempt for

religion or the Church.

Donohue has on various occasions stated the Catholic League's strategy. In the December 1995 Catalyst, the league's journal, Donohue boasted:

We specialize in public

embarrassment of public figures

who have earned our wrath and

that is why we are able to win so

many battles: no person or

organization wants to be publicly

embarrassed, and that is why we

specialize in doing exactly that.

In The Life and Death of NSSM 200, author Stephen Mumford quotes Donohue as saying:

The threat of lawsuit is the only

language that some people

understand. The specter of

public humiliation is another

weapon that must be used.

Petitions and boycotts are

helpful. The use of the bully

pulpit--via the airwaves--is a most

effective strategy. Press

conferences can be used to

enlighten or alternatively to

embarrass.

Before Pope John Paul II visited the United States in October 1995, the Catholic League launched a campaign to intimidate the press so as to avoid any critical reporting of the pope. According to Mumford, it collected thousands of signatures of its members to the following petition:

We, the undersigned, call on the

media to act responsibly when

Pope John Paul II comes to New

York in October. It is not acting

responsibly to give a high profile

to the voices of dissident and

alienated Catholics. It is not

acting responsibly to focus

almost exclusively on those

issues of Catholic teaching that

are in tension with the values of

culture; worse, it is wrong to

lecture the Church on getting

into line. …

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