By Frank L. Cocozzelli
“Give me their names!” Demanded Bill Donohue, honcho of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, when the artist Cosimo Cavallaro stated during a TV interview that two priests wanted to display his statue, Chocolate Jesus.
The confrontation took place during a recent edition of Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN. While Cavallaro remained dignified, Donohue was bombastic: “You’re lucky I’m not as mean [as the Taliban], because you might lose more than your head” he declared, displaying his usual Un-Christian scowl..
Donohue, if nothing else, is consistent, having once said, that bringing back the Inquisition “… is awfully tempting.”
But Cavallaro was wise to Donohue. He stood his ground — and refused to name names. He defended his right to express his beliefs according to his own conscience, free of coercion and called the Catholic League president the bully that he truly is.
It seems that Donohue and his Catholic League cannot handle the supposition that a Catholic artist would express his ideal of Jesus in a manner very different from his own. Why? Because Cavallaro had the nerve to cast Jesus in chocolate, crucified in the nude (as the Romans actually carried out such executions). Another Bill Donohue dust-up that is designed more to create anger and hatred for the freedom of expression rather than to further an ethic of self-discipline, charity and tolerance that signifies Catholicism at its finest, just as its Founder meant it to be. The self-styled Grand Inquisitor, once again, failing to see the forest for the trees.
“Give me their names. ”
These are chilling words that have echoed throughout history. It is the demand of agents of authoritarianism. Embedded within its use is the pernicious offer of “perhaps I’ll go easier on you if you give me someone more important for me to destroy.”
In our own recent American experience Senator Joe McCarthy demanded the same of witnesses who appeared before his Senate Committee on Government Operations that he chaired; as did members of the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). We know what happened to some of those whose names were given; blacklisting, bankruptcy, family break-up and even suicide. Names were demanded for the purpose of instilling fear and stifling dissent.
We can easily imagine what Bill Donohue would do with the names of those two priests. Being the bully that is, he would most likely give their names over to Church hierarchy-perhaps Cardinal Egan or even to my own faith’s version of HUAC, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome. In case you didn’t know, the CDF’s former name was The Office of the Inquisition and was headed by the former Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
If Cavallaro had given the names of two priests, Donohue would have made their lives hell. After all, that is what bullies drunk on power do to others less powerful. Sadly, Donohue has more and more friends in the Vatican who think like him; men who will stifle anything that threatens their narrow interpretation of faith.
The truth is that their Catholicism lacks confidence. They fear new ideas and different forms of expression. And because of its own self-constricting nature, their Catholicism demands the need to control the freedom of thought that exists within the surrounding secular society. What the Catholic League and its ultra-orthodox Pharisees offer is not spiritual hope, but a faith of anxiety. It is an aspiration of the church and state as one acting as the gatekeeper to salvation but attained at the cost of both government and Catholicism defiled.
In order to carry out his increasingly theocratic agenda, Donohue cynically uses his faith as a prop to undermine liberalism. He abandons coolly reasoned discussion in favor a hysterically exaggerated accusations of anti-Catholicism; a technique designed to push the emotional buttons of faction-all while often ignoring real expressions of anti-Catholic bigotry of his fellow Religious Right provocateurs.
But as history has shown, the inflexible often become the victims of their own set ways. Such religion crumbles from its own inability to foster agreement and cooperation. Corruption is often hidden in the name of the image of sanctity. As we have witnessed, reasoned dissent naturally arises. Perhaps we will even soon see the Catholic will be the Joseph N. Welch to Donohue’s Joe McCarthy. Welsh, a hero of American democracy stood up to McCarthy–who was also demanding names– saying in the infamous Senate Army-McCarthy hearings:
“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”
We now have the example of an artist standing-up to the bully on national television. I hope it will give others the nerve to do the same.
Oh, and if Donohue fails to get Cosimo Cavallaro to give up the names of the priests who wanted to display his Chocolate Jesus, don’t feel sorry for him–he can always wage his culture war on those candy companies that sell chocolate crosses around this time of the year.
Frank L. Cocozzelli is a director with the Institute for Progressive Christianity and writes a weekly column at Talk to Action concerning both Liberalism and the Catholic Right. This article originally appeared Talk to Action.
Thanks to Liz for this graphic.
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