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After Notre Dame Debacle, Donohue Decries Irish Clergy Hysteria

May 25, 2009

In the run-up to President Obama's commencement address at Notre Dame last week, few of his opponents were as outspoken as William A. Donohue. After all, the face of the Catholic League compared Obama to Klansman turned conservative politician David Duke and denounced the President as "someone who supports selective infanticide."
But now that Obama, who continues to enjoy the overwhelming support of American Catholics, has delivered his graduation speech to great acclaim, defender of the faith Donohue is on to his next crusade. His new quest, it turns out, is protecting the Catholic Church in Ireland from the depredations of the media.
Last week, a 2,600 page report released in Dublin documented thousands of cases of children abused by Irish Catholic clergy over six decades. As the New York Times summarized the children's horror and the Church's shame:

"Tens of thousands of Irish children were sexually, physically and emotionally abused by nuns, priests and others over 60 years in a network of church-run residential schools meant to care for the poor, the vulnerable and the unwanted."

The report concluded that sexual abuse, particularly at the boys' schools, was "endemic." In its headline Wednesday, Reuters simply reported, "Irish priests beat, raped children: report."
All of which was too much for Bill Donohue. In a Catholic League press release titled, "Hysteria Over Irish Clergy Abuse," Donohue blasted the media's pursuit of the "huge market for such distortions, especially when the accused is the Catholic Church." Noting the report's long timeline and turning to the equivalent of differential calculus and statistical analysis to parse Reuters' claim, Donohue essentially contended the controversy boils down to what the meaning of "abuse" is:

Reuters is reporting that "Irish Priests Beat, Raped Children," yet the report does not justify this wild and irresponsible claim. Four types of abuse are noted: physical, sexual, neglect and emotional. Physical abuse includes "being kicked"; neglect includes "inadequate heating"; and emotional abuse includes "lack of attachment and affection." Not nice, to be sure, but hardly draconian, especially given the time line...
Regarding sexual abuse, "kissing," and "non-contact including voyeurism" (e.g., what it labels as "inappropriate sexual talk") make the grade as constituting sexual abuse. Moreover, one-third of the cases involved "inappropriate fondling and contact." None of this is defensible, but none of it qualifies as rape. Rape, on the other hand, constituted 12 percent of the cases. As for the charge that "Irish Priests" were responsible, some of the abuse was carried out by lay persons, much of it was done by Brothers, and about 12 percent of the abusers were priests (most of whom were not rapists).

"By cheapening rape," Donohue protested, "the report demeans the big victims."
As the Times also noted, Donohue's strident, reflexive defense of his faith has at times alienated erstwhile allies. Dononhue "makes no secret of his cool feelings toward the conservative Bill O'Reilly, with whom he exchanged a series of public attacks after Mr. O'Reilly criticized the pope's response to the church sex abuse scandal."
But if O'Reilly is in Donohue's enemy camp, he can no doubt count former Pennsylvania Rick Santorum among his friends. After all, years before this week's devastating report from Dublin, Santorum in 2002 blamed the mushrooming clergy sex abuse scandal in Boston on "cultural liberalism."

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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