Catholic League's Bill Donohue Declines Debate with Catholics United

The conservative Catholic activist says he won't legitimize the progressive Catholic group.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

The progressive Roman Catholic group Catholics United has challenged conservative Catholic League President Bill Donohue to a debate, but Donohue tells me he won't bite.

Catholic United's offer came after Donohue issued a statement decrying news reports that the White House had asked Georgetown University to cover up all signs and symbols in a room where President Obama delivered an economic speech this week. That included an "IHS" monogram symbolizing the name of Jesus Christ. "The cowardice of Georgetown to stand fast on principle tells us more than we need to know about what is going on there," Donohue said in a statement yesterday, "but the bigger story is the audacity of the Obama administration to ask a religious school to neuter itself before the president speaks there."

The attack provoked Catholics United, which was founded largely to counter Donohue's influence in the media, to issue this debate challenge today:

Far-right Catholic groups have become so irrelevant that they've reduced themselves to complaining about the stage setting at Obama's April 14th appearance at Georgetown University. As the new Administration and Congress seek to fight unemployment, rescue the banks and end the senseless conflict in Iraq, all Bill Donohue and his friends at Fox News and the Drudge Report can do is complain about the President's set decoration?

Americans are tired of this ideologically-driven nonsense. The American people—including Catholics—have made it clear that they want us to move past the political antics of fear and distraction to solve our nation's urgent problems. Catholics United challenges Bill Donohue to a debate on how Catholic values should influence the economic recovery plan.'

I E-mailed Donohue to ask if he'd accept Catholic United's debate invite. His response:

The last thing I will do is to extend legitimacy to an illegitimate shell of an organization. We are listed in the Official Catholic Directory and we are an organization that is fully supported by its members. They are not only not listed in the Kenedy Directory, they have alienated many bishops. And without cash from George Soros, an enemy of Catholicism, they collapse.

I know what is going on. They are getting heat from their buddies in the White House to do something about me. Good luck.

Please let them know about my comments on [newly installed New York Archbishop Timothy] Dolan in today's New York Times and my op-ed in today's Daily News on Dolan. Dolan and I met twice the other day and will be sitting down together soon. Those are the kinds of invitations I accept, and Catholics United never get.

Ouch. Donohue doesn't fight with kid gloves. Here's a rejoinder from James Salt, Catholics United's organizing director:

At a time like this with the economy in crisis, why isn't Donohue willing to use his position in the media to promote the Catholic Bishops long standing statements on the economy?

Donohue is unwilling to engage in this debate because the Church's teaching on the economy conflicts with his political agenda. This is unsurprising, given that it's difficult for a man who makes $340,000 a year issuing press releases from his Manhattan office to empathize with his fellow Catholics who are suffering during this economic crisis.

Catholics United is run mostly by volunteers and the average salary of our staff is less than $40,000 a year. That's because as faithful Catholics we are dedicated to serving the mission of the church. Despite his claims, Catholics United has never received funding from George Soros.

In the past few years, Catholics United has never once seen a press release from Bill Donohue addressing some of the Church's most important moral concerns, such as reducing poverty, ending the war, or humanely reforming our immigration laws. All Donohue seems to be capable of doing is stoking the culture war.

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