It's holier-than-thou season on the East Coast and, like the heat and humidity, it's getting rather tiresome. This latest offensive by self-declared defenders of the faith began with the nomination of Judge John Roberts to the Supreme Court, and shows no sign of letting up until the conclusion of the judge's Senate confirmation hearing, set for the fall.

Leading the charge against any and all challenges to the Roberts nomination is William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. As the leader of an organization with the name of a major religion in its title, Donohue has enjoyed the spotlight shone by mainstream media too craven to question his legitimacy. As a Roman Catholic myself, I find it offensive to have Donohue deemed any sort of spokesman for the faith, as I imagine do many others.

Where Pope John Paul II reached out to Jewish leaders, Donohue has made outrageous statements on the role of Jews in American culture, claiming Hollywood to be a place "run by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular." And here on Beliefnet last week, he used the occasion of the Roberts nomination to lay out, in more coded fashion, his agenda of resentment. If anything, his actions lead one to wonder who does religion the greater disservice: its vociferous crusaders, or those who question its use in the political arena as a bludgeon?

My personal encounter with Donohue began with a piece I wrote for The American Prospect Online that was critical of Roberts' record. It ran the morning after President George W. Bush, with the nominee at his side, announced Roberts as his Supreme Court pick. In the piece, I noted what a shrewd move it was for the president to have nominated a Catholic, since any challenge of his views on abortion would likely be met with cries of anti-Catholicism by the right, a tactic that has proven effective in the recent past when deployed against the ethnicly, racially and religiously diverse minority party in today's Congress.

In keeping with his practice of issuing a daily press release, Donohue circulated one within hours of my article's appearance, condemning both me and The American Prospect for alleged "Catholic-baiting." The very mention of his strategy apparently provoked a preview of his strategy--one that does the church no favors. Soon a flurry of hateful missives from Donohue's followers was emailed to my blog,, one of the more notable stating, "Perhaps the world would have been a better place if your mother had believed in murdering innocent children."

In his Beliefnet piece, Donohue once again invoked my name, once again failing to note that I, too, am Catholic. Here he cited the title of an item on my blog, "Rome must be smiling," as further evidence of my anti-Catholic bias and, in an inflammatory, diversionary non-sequitur, asked readers to imagine the response to an imaginary item written at the announcement of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Supreme Court nomination titled "Israel must be smiling."

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  • Donohue is surely aware that, within the context of religion writing, the word "Rome" refers to the curia--the pinnacle of Catholicism's eccesiastical hierarchy. And why would Rome not smile on the nomination of an apparently obedient Catholic to the High Court of a land populated by notoriously disobedient Catholics? And what has the curia to do with Israel, the reclaimed homeland of a people who were nearly obliterated by the force of Europe's anti-Semitism?

    He then goes on to equate questions about Catholicism's impact on Roberts' views on abortion with hypothetical questions, never asked at her confirmation hearing, about Judaism's impact on Ginsburg's thinking on the subject. This makes no sense. In Judaism, there is no ecclesiastical hierarchy for all the faith; no throne from which absolute judgments on all moral matters are handed down. Within the body of Jewish teaching on abortion, guidance is quite nuanced. And, if memory serves, Republicans on the Senate Judicary Committee felt quite free to ask nominee Ginsburg of her views on abortion--without facing cries of anti-Semitism from the Democrats.
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