William Donohue is the president of the Catholic League, a 350,000-member organization well-known for going toe-to-toe with the media for anti-Catholic bias. Voluble and opinionated, Donohue delights in sparring with his many critics. These days, he says he's surprised even himself with his vehement anger at the church he normally loves to defend. He explains why, and pronounces his cure for American Catholicism's ailments, in this interview.

How important is this crisis to the church?

This is the Catholic Church's Watergate, and these wounds are entirely self-inflicted. This has nothing to do with anti-Catholicism in the media or anyplace else. The Catholic Church is wholly to blame for this dereliction of duty, the collapse of standards. And I don't think it's any mistake as a believing, practicing Catholic that this series of events unfolded during Lent. I believe Christ gave the Catholic Church a huge cross, one that it has justly earned. And I believe that while the cross is a symbol of death, it is also a symbol of resurrection and redemption. I believe the Catholic Church will in the long run come out of this for the better, after it faces up to the crisis. It has yet to face up to the crisis. But it's going to be forced to face up to it.

How will it be forced?

Lay people will force them to. Let me be specific. In the Bronx recently, a Father Gentile was sent off to a parish in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx. Word got out he had been previously involved in a sex abuse scandal. The parish had contacted the Archdiocese and got nowhere. So they started pressing it themselves with petitions and flyers and they got it out.

If you pick up Newsday (April 2), a priest whom I know personally, Father Brian McKeon, was let go in November, because he was a serial pedophile. Now why was he let go? Because after some parents had complained and the dioc of Rockville center did nothing, one of the parents got so angry--and this is after he'd been sent off to Canada to get treatment and come back to Long Island, and was working in Nassau Hospital and doing work in parishes, a parent put over 100 fliers on people's windshields in the parking lot of Nassau University Hospital, saying the man is a pedophile and the diocese is doing nothing. And after that he was let go.

You're going to see lay participation like this all over the United States. At the end of the day, it won't matter if the bishop wants to move with alacrity, because he'll be forced to.

And the media did a very good job of outing a Father Vollmer on Long Island. The day after he is outed, we see steps taken to release him. Between the media and lay Catholics, once they get word there's a problem here, the day is gone when people are going to sit back and feel sorry for the priest. One of the fundamental problems with the clerics in the United States is an astounding lack of courage. They've gone soft. They've bought into the therapeutic movement. They flip-flopped 180 degrees from the rigidity of the Catholic Church of the 1950s and 60s to being kinder and gentler to such an extent that anything that was judgmental was wrong, they downplayed discussions of sin and hell. Everyone was to be loved. Anybody with a malady can be cured. We can save people. While there are obvious kernels of truth and goodness to what I'm saying here, it's also true that if you make that the mainstay of your philosophy, where feelings triumph over reason, and where you don't have the courage of your convictions to say this guy has to go...Even (a monsignor) who knew Father McKeown had problems, said, "Probably in hindsight I should have been more participatory." Probably? So he's still not sure. There's no courage there to make the tough decisions.

That kind of unmanliness is deeply ingrained in the Catholic Church. But you can find someone who is friendly and affable and at the same time accountable. I know many priests like that.

And here's another problem. Too many of the bishops treated this problem of sexual abuse as being morally analogous to a priest who might have had a drinking problem. If a priest has a drinking problem, you can put the poor devil in the tank for a month and let him clean up his act and you can bring him back, because most of the damage has been done to himself. But this is a very serious crime. This is evil. And treated as something other than evil is moral delinquency.

What will happen as a result of all of this?

Now, not only will the bishops be forced to turn over the names to the district attorneys--that's going to happen in the United States--but something else has to happen. There have to be disciplinary measures against priests who know about the transgressions of other priests, and associate pastors who work with a pastor with a problem. If they don't notify the diocese, that priest should be suspended. There's got to be a tough line taken because otherwise this problem will spin out of control. Look at the age of most of these men. Most of these guys are in their late 60s. A lot of this happened in the 1970s and early 80s, when the sexual revolution hit the church like a hurricane. And they have to deal with that.