There is a popular notion that Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, is a conservative. This comes from his outspokenness against abortion and for certain positions regarding public religious displays that come in line with views generally considered “conservative” or “Republican.” Yet Donohue, at least early in his career, tried to make clear that he was actually more of a “Reagan Democrat,” and, a Sociologist, he of course was working for a Civil Rights organization.
Now, I’ve criticized him in the past for how he has shifted away the focus of the Catholic League from being a civil rights organization to being just another right wing Catholic sounding board. I don’t disagree with a lot of what he says, but I disagree in his using his position to say it, when he is supposed to be helping Catholics fight discrimination. Back in the 1990s, the Catholic League would issue press releases about nurses fired from nursing homes for wearing ashes on Ash Wednesday. If you sent them a request for help, you’d get *some* kind of response, if only that your report did not really constitute anti-Catholicism, or they’d give some advice.
The last several times I’ve written to the Catholic League about anti-Catholicism I’ve encountered, I’ve garnered *no* response.
Also, about 10 years ago, I responded to a survey in writing, saying that they needed to praise *positive* treatments of Catholicism and religion in popular culture, as well as condemn. I got a nice personal reply to my message, and, shortly after that, Donohue wrote a stunning review of the recently released _Prince of Egypt_.
On the other hand, a recent trend in the Vatican Newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano has been to try and point out what’s right in popular culture, sometimes leading to gaffes almost as bad as what comes out of the USCCB on a regular basis. A recent article by a Jesuit priest in L’Osservatore claims that “The Simpsons” are Catholic. The claim is, prima facie, true, depending upon one’s view of the series’ narrative canon. Five years ago now, there was an episode called “The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star,” in which Bart and Homer convert to Catholicism because they want the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It’s one of the only times Ned Flanders is a bad guy, and Marge has a hilarious vision of how “Catholic Heaven” is more fun than “Protestant Heaven” (and that Jesus is in Catholic Heaven, partying with the Spanish, Italians and Irish, while the WASPS in Protestant Heaven are boring).
So, this article, which mainly discusses that one episode, comes out, and the blogosphere naturally erupts. A minority of us are agreeing with the article’s assessment. A lot of people who by their own admission have never watched the show or only parts of it, are pulling Dan Quayles by condemning all the things about it they think it contains (half of which are wrong). Secularists and, now, the Producers themselves are criticizing the article insisting that “the Simpsons” are liberal Protestants, not Catholics. This is true, except that Bart and Homer do convert in the aforementioned episode, and it is hypocritical of the producers to make Lisa’s conversion to Buddhism “stick” but not Bart and Homer’s conversion to Catholicism.
So, of course, Bill Donohue has shot off a press release, proclaiming, “So is Homer Catholic? If so, we missed his conversion.”
Well, Bill, see the aforementioned episode.
But it got me to thinking about *why* Bill Donohue finds _The Simpsons_ offensive. When Donohue charged that _Dogma_, a film made by “Old Catholic Church” member Kevin Smith, was “anti-Catholic,” some responded that, technically, it was not “anti-Catholic” but “liberal Catholic.” Same can be argued for _Nothing Sacred_. Both cases featured a “positive” portrayal of “liberal Catholic” ideas. If your view is that the Catholic Church is a collection of people, well, the unlamented TV series _Nothing Sacred_ could be seen as an accurate portrayal of Catholicism, since it accurately portrays how some Catholics think and behave. Indeed, if you *are* one of those Catholics, or one of the members of the wider Left who agree with them, _Nothing Sacred_ or _Dogma_ would be a “positive” portrayal of Catholicism. If, however, you see Catholicism as essentially a set of beliefs, then _Nothing Sacred_ and _Dogma_ mock those beliefs and are “anti-Catholic.”
Most references to Catholicism on _The Simpsons_ are no worse than a lot of television shows these days, and often the same kind of wisecracks Catholics ourselves make, and often can be seen as mocking non-Catholics as much as Catholics.
But here, in Bill Donohue’s own words, is the “controversial” scene he attacked in the January 31, 1999, Super Bowl episode (the scene in question is a fake Super Bowl ad depicted on the show):
there was a segment in which a nerdy-looking man drives up to a gas station and is greeted by three buxom, scantily-clad women. One of them is wearing black and she is the most scantily-clad of all. She’s also shaking her body more than the others to the rock music which is playing in the background. As she bends forward, the camera zooms in on her to reveal a large cross, and then says, “The Catholic Church, we’ve made a few changes.”
And this is offensive to Catholicism why? The scene suggests that Catholicism seems to be going out of its way to be cool, hip and more “user friendly”, and that the trend to do such things is ridiculous and needs to be mocked. How is *that* anti-Catholic? The scene depicts scantily clad women serving as Extraordinary Ministers of Communion. And, yes, there are lots of scantily-clad women distributing Communion in Catholic Churches, and yes, that should be roundly mocked. The scene depicts rock music played at Mass. Again, both happens and needs to be mocked. If mocking liturgical change for the sake of popularity, scantily clad women distributing communion or rock music at mass constitutes “anti-Catholicism,” then why have we not seen a press release from Bill Donohue condemning The Catholic Cartoon Blog?
Here’s a possibility: Bill Donohue is a liberal. He may not agree with Kevin Smith on theology and morality and politics, but he agrees with Kevin Smith on liturgy (or, perhaps not, Old Catholics are notorious for having “traditional” liturgical practices–since their schism is based upon Vatican I–but being liberal on theological and moral issues).
I’ve seen several occasions when Bill Donohue has pointed to _Sister Act_ (which I find horribly offensive) as an example of inoffensive humor directed at Catholicism. For documentation sake, here’s one.
So, on the one hand, we have a movie that says that Catholicism, even with the many liberalizations of Vatican II, is boring and outdated, and that it needs a Las Vegas lounge singer to come in and liven things up to get people filling the pews. Bill Donohue says this is great.
On the other hand, we have a TV show mocking “spirit of Vatican II” liturgical changes.
So, which is it, Bill Donohue? Are you the real anti-Catholic, opposing the liturgy of the ages? Is Bill Donohue telling us he supports scantily clad women (or women of any kind of attire) distributing Communion? Is Bill Donohue telling us he supports rock music at Mass? Is Bill Donohue telling us he supports changes to the liturgy?