The Time I got a Letter from Bill Donohue (sort of)

I maintain, therefore, that the common sociological method is quite useless: that of first dissecting abject poverty or cataloguing prostitution. We all dislike abject poverty; but it might be another business if we began to discuss independent and dignified poverty. We all disapprove of prostitution; but we do not all approve of purity. The only way to discuss the social evil is to get at once to the social ideal. We can all see the national madness; but what is national sanity? I have called this book “What Is Wrong with the World?” and the upshot of the title can be easily and clearly stated. What is wrong is that we do not ask what is right.

– GK Chesterton

Back in 1998, when the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights was still that, and not the sounding board for every personal opinion of Dr. Bill Donohue, I got a survey that they sent out to people on their mailing list, asking my opinions on various matters of anti-Catholicism.  Instead of filling out the survey, I wrote a letter.  I explained how I really supported their work, but I felt that sometimes they emphasized the negative.  While some things need to be called out, criticized, boycotted or whatever (Nothing Sacred), sometimes they seemed to give undue attention to bad stuff that nobody would notice, and that was done purely to raise anger to begin with (a crucifix in a jar of urine).  On the other hand, they never seemed to draw attention to what was right, and I gave some examples of positive portrayals of Christianity or Catholicism in popular culture that ought to get some attention.
A few weeks later, I got a letter in the mail.  “Dear Mr. Hathaway, I am Dr. Donohue’s personal secretary.  He was very impressed that you took the time to write a response to our survey, and he wanted me to write and thank you, and say how he’s going to try to do what you suggest,” or something to that effect.
A few days after that, Dr. Donohue wrote a glowing review of The Prince of Egypt.  

As Mother Angelica says in one of the opening sequences that have been merged into one in the reruns of the past 13 years, “The essence of evangelization is to tell everybody ‘Jesus loves you.'”  There is a reason why people who hate Christianity think we’re all the same as Westboro Baptist: because sometimes we act like that.  When all we say is what’s wrong with the world, and I know I have often come off that way, to my shame, we look like we’re hiding an inner thought that “God hates everybody”–and maybe we are.

Someone was recently listing the Cardinal Newman Society with “Church Militant TV” (aka “Real Catholic TV,” aka Michael Voris).  The difference is that a) the Newman Society is an actual organization and not just one podcaster with a professional studio, and b) the Newman Society doesn’t just go around attacking Catholic colleges that aren’t living up to the faith.  It also helps students, provides campus ministry support, and praises colleges that are doing it right.

That’s what Vatican II was trying to say, and really what we’ve been reminded over and over, from the Gospel itself to Pope Francis, including by St. Francis de Sales, who is credited with coining the proverb “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

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