I got to wondering yeserday what Bill Donohue, the head of the Catholic League of America who's been a reliably reactionary defender of the Vatican for two decades as long as the Pope was denouncing gays and baby killers and trying to brush child-molestation stories under the rug, made of Pope Francis.
What a conundrum this must be! A Pope who shows some progressive inclinations. Here, on his group's web site, Donohue tries about two-thirds-heartedly to defend Francis's oft-quoted remarks about gay people ("who am I to judge?") by noting that il papa's remarks were "directly consistent" with the catechism, which says in essence hate the sin but love the sinner.
That's technically true, one supposes, but it doesn't grapple with the message that Francis's comment (and certain subsequent actions, like canning the outspoken social conservative Cardinal Burke from that council) was obviously meant to send out into the world, that he wants his Church to cool its heels a bit on this question.
But the tell came when Dononue was asked about Rush Limbaugh's denuncation of the pope as a "Marxist." Bear in mind here that if, oh, Rachel Maddow (not to say she's remotely comparable to that lying gasbag, but just for the sake of argument) had used similar language about Pope Benedict, Donohue would surely have reacted in the manner you'd expect. Picture Maddow having said at some point that Benedict was "a capitalist lickspittle." He'd have gone mad with apoplexy.
But Limbaugh calls Francis a Marxist, and Donohue says Limbaugh is within his rights. "Catholic League has never, ever, ever been after anybody for criticizing the pope or priest or a bishop. We get involved when you hit below the belt, when you start becoming insulting," said Donohue in a December 11 interview with Newsmax TV. "He didn't like the pope's views on economics. Rush Limbaugh is entitled to that."
Well. Who knows, maybe Donohue has reacted to these things with perfect consistency over the years. But it's still interesting that he didn't, you know, defend the only man on Planet Earth whom he, Donohue, regards as infallible against a propagandist radio host. Why would he not do that? The Catholic League should be in the business of defending Catholicism, no? Catholicism as I grasp it is defined in large part by what the sitting pope says. If Francis says it, good Catholics are supposed to agree.
That's what the Catholic League would do. But Donohue doesn't really run any "Catholic League." He runs the League of Right-Wing Catholicism in America. He represents a political ideology as much as he does a religion.
Francis is clearly breaking from that ideology. I could be wrong but I see him playing a very long game here, and I hope he lasts a long, long time. What the Church may look like after 20 years with this guy at the helm is kind of a marvelous thing to think about.