Way back in ’97, I profiled Bill Donohue, the new boss of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, who was getting a lot of press for going after a TV show called “Nothing Sacred” (which went off the air soon after).
At the time, Donohue told me:
Many Catholics tend to be more passive, more diplomatic. I have declared that this organization will be responsibly aggressive. If we’re Catholic, we have to be responsible. But if we’re a civil rights organization, we have to be aggressive. I’m tired of the namby-pamby Catholic approach – turn the other cheek; don’t rock the boat. Not us.
In recent days, Donohue’s aggressiveness has been aimed here at the Journal News/LoHud.
Some background: For months now, I’ve been doing advance coverage of the papal visit. We have a website with several videos about the pope, graphics and articles. In addition, of course, I’ve written several articles for the newspaper. And I blog about the pope just about daily.
We have plenty more coverage planned. I’ve already completed an article about Pope Benedict XVI’s concerns about religious and moral relativism, which will run any day now. And we have a bunch of other articles in the works.
One of those articles — one — is about lapsed Catholics. The fact is that there are a lot of lapsed or former or non-practicing Catholics in New York. Everybody knows a few or even many. So what does the papal visit mean to them? Do they miss having a sense of connection to the Catholic community? How do they relate to the pope?
The idea is not to give people an open forum to criticize the pope, but to recognize a sizable group of people. Again, it’s one article out of dozens.
The reporter working on this story, Ernie Garcia, decided to put a message out on LoHud asking “lapsed Catholics” who might have something to say about the pope to contact him. This is an example of what’s called “crowd-sourcing,” a popular journalistic convention these days that basically seeks to have people come to us instead of us always going to them.
The Catholic League somehow came across Ernie’s message. Bill Donohue put out a response that is difficult to summarize, so here it is:
This is a gift the pope will surely cherishâ€”knowing how ex-Catholics feel about their former religion. Weâ€™d like to return the favor and that is why we have secured the e-mails of 134 Journal News employees, ranging from the Publisher, Michael J. Fisch, to the Gardening & Horticultural Editor, Gayle Williams (sorry, Gayle, but someone has to be last). We are sending them the following survey:
Protestants: Given that no religious group switches denominations more than Protestants, can you tell us what it feels like to bounce around from one contiguous neighborhood to another in search of the ideal church.
Jews: Given that the vast majority of Jews do not attend synagogue and that 52 percent of them intermarry, can you tell us what it feels like to be a non-Jewish Jew.
Muslims: Given that Muslims who convert may be murdered, can you tell us if youâ€™ve at least fantasized about converting.
â€œPlease vet your remarks by first reporting to Ernie Garcia. We have appointed Ernie The Journal News liaison to the Catholic League.â€
We all got a chuckle out of it.
Bob Fredericks, who is the deputy managing editor for local news here, sent an email to a communications person for the Catholic League, suggesting that they take a look at our overall pope coverage. He didn’t get a response, so he called the office yesterday.
He was told that the Catholic League was not interested in anything but the “lapsed Catholic” message.
This morning, Donohue was on “Fox & Friends” on Fox TV, and I’m told that he singled out the Journal News for criticism.
So there you go.