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Bill Donohue’s victim-blaming rhetoric

Bill Donohue’s viciousness, ridiculousness, and persistent unwillingness to admit that the Church, and only the Church, is to blame for the actions of pedophile priests is well-documented. And victim-blaming is nothing new for him. But I’ve only just realized that he is fond of employing a specific type of victim-blaming. After reading this nastiness in one of his recent press releases:

More important, how do we know the sex wasn’t consensual? After all, the alleged “victim” was 17-years-old. If someone tried to hit on me when I was 17, I would have flattened him. Why didn’t Doe?

I remembered that he’s made this argument before:

According to the Times, it all started with a kiss. Let me be very clear about this: if some guy tried to kiss me when I was 17, I would have flattened him. I most certainly would not go on a retreat with the so-called abuser, unless, of course, I liked it.

on more than one occasion:

[W]hy didn’t you just smack the clergyman in the face? After all, most 15-year-old teenage boys wouldn’t allow themselves to be molested. So why did you?

(Unfortunately, because the Catholic League website’s search functionality is very poorly implemented, I wasn’t able to find additional examples. I know that there are more, though.)

This argument is disturbing, creepy, and callous, to put it mildly. In order to illustrate just how flawed Donohue’s argument is, let’s break it down into its component parts:

  1. The “victims” in these cases were adolescent males.
  2. All adolescent males are physically capable of and have an obligation to fight off a trusted adult male who sexually propositions and/or assaults them.
  3. If the “victim” did not do this, it is fair to assume that the subsequent molestation/sexual assault/rape was “consensual” and that the “victim” “allow[ed]” it to happen and “liked it”.
That’s cruel on so many levels. And I can’t help but wonder how many other Catholics share his view. I really do hope that his opinion on this issue (and on many other issues) isn’t shared by the majority of American Catholics. I want to think that most Catholics are better than that. But when so few Catholics speak out against Donohue, it’s very difficult to maintain such optimism.
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(For more on Donohue’s rhetoric, see this article that I wrote in 2009.)
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20 Comments
  1. I assume anyone reading your blog already knows what a worm Donohue is. For me, the question is, how can we get the mainstream press to start calling him out on this shit? (Oh, yeah, the mainstream press doesn’t do that sort of thing any more…if they ever did.)

    August 30, 2011
    • Cable news channel talk shows love Bill, unfortunately, because he’s a shouty loudmouth with a huge ego and enormous sense of entitlement who loves to manufacture controversy and turns every debate/conversation into a metaphorical beer brawl. Most of the mainstream media news outlets (well, television news outlets, at least) much prefer that to a reasonable and intelligent guest who will “fight fair”, so to speak. If those talk shows wouldn’t give him so many opportunities to be a shouty vicious jerk, he wouldn’t have nearly as much influence or fame as he does.

      At least The New York TImes is willing to criticize him sometimes. Of course, he loathes them for it, accuses them of “anti-Catholic bias”, and will never ever admit that they’re right about anything to do with the Catholic sexual abuse scandal, etc.

      Honestly, I can’t stand conflict and I loathe shouting and I’m extremely soft-spoken, etc., but, given the opportunity, I would love to debate Donohue. He brings out the fierceness in me, and, seriously, I think I could take him. And then he’d have to deal with having been beat by a girl ;)

      August 31, 2011
      • pete #

        The format endorses loud-shoutiness because it’s both inexpensive and dramatic enough to satisfy viewers in a way special effects would otherwise do. Same for talk radio. The producers would just hire a screeching monkey if it were less a financial burden than the bigots willing to shout down any opposition. That’s right, he’s cheap and a monkey could do his job better. But I like monkeys…

        August 31, 2011
        • I would pay good money to see Donohue debating some really loud monkeys!

          September 1, 2011
  2. This is really very sad and horrible. Like you, I very much hope that most Catholics don’t agree with this type of victim-blaming. (I wonder if Donohue would be employing the same rhetoric if the perpetrators of the crime were not Catholic and/or not Catholic clergy.)

    August 30, 2011
    • Yes, I really do want to think that most Catholics don’t agree with his stance on this, or with the rhetoric that he uses to communicate that stance, but it’s very hard to give them the benefit of the doubt over and over again.

      Honestly, just based on my own observations of Catholics that I know, I think most of them just try not to think about the sex abuse or the Church’s cover-up of it. It’s a cognitive dissonance thing, and I imagine that they do it because they’re decent people who, if they sat down and really thought about it, might find it so troubling that they’d start to question their faith, and they have to avoid that at all costs. Of course I’m assuming a lot there, but I do so based on my memories of what it was like to be a Catholic who actively avoided thinking about certain things for fear that doing so would make me a “bad” Catholic, etc.

      August 31, 2011
  3. Max #

    Donehue doesn’t let this kind of vitriol fly when on CNN or on some other mainstream news outlet. They call him because he says these kinds of things on his website and in other fora. Generally though his chief contributions to discussion on the talking head shows is volume,indignation and then more volume. It is really his picture in the dictionary next to blowhard.

    August 30, 2011
    • True. He’s great at being shouty and obnoxious and talking over people and manufacturing controversy, and, as I mentioned above, turning every debate/conversation into a metaphorical beer brawl. Those cable talk shows love that because they know that audiences (for whatever reason) eat it up.

      But he often does let the vitriol fly on those shows. It’s just that he’s smart like a fox and knows just how much nastiness he can get away with in each context. For example, in general, he’s more of an asshat on Fox News than he is on CNN, etc.

      August 31, 2011
  4. Not every male is a big macho man, there are some of us who couldn’t punch our way out of a paper bag. Don’t forget that these were also vulnerable people, and those abusing them had a position of trust. By this twerps reasoning, no female is ever raped either because, let’s face it, they could have fought back, like he would have. What a moron.

    August 31, 2011
    • Exactly. His argument is ridiculous and cruel on so many levels. It’s textbook victim-blaming rhetoric. And, as you say, he ignores the fact that these boys saw the priests as trusted authority figures. That omission makes his victim-blaming all the more horrifying and vicious.

      August 31, 2011
      • Copyleft #

        It’s funny how many legal “arguments” seem to ignore the existence of the status “minor child” as if it didn’t exist. “Hey, if that 14 year old didn’t want to be a slave, she shouldn’ta signed the contract!”

        Children are treated under the law as different from adults for a very good reason. Funny how the excuse-makers seem to gloss over that.

        September 1, 2011
        • pete #

          Oh, I think he doesn’t so much gloss over it as is willingly pushing the boundary as far back as possible to do, as you say, excuse making. Let’s play “what if the shoe was on the other foot,” and tell them aborted fetuses should have told the nice doctor to get bent and pummeled them if necessary.

          September 1, 2011
  5. Cain #

    There is a bizarre (even for Donohue) video of Donohue debating Hitchens about some topic that I forget. It’s probably on Youtube. If you get a chance watch it for the lulz.

    September 1, 2011
    • Ha! I’ve seen that! It’s hilarious. Donohue desperately flails about in an attempt to keep up with Hitchens, and Donohue fails miserably, of course. I mean, even the best debater in the world should be wary of taking on Hitchens, but Donohue is so cocky that he really thought he could take him down. Once Donohue begins to realize that he’s failing, it gets really bizarre (as you say) and he shouts something about how an English man needs to shut up when an Irish man is talking (??) and then asks Hitchens if he wants to “take it outside”. HA! I laughed so damn hard at that.

      September 1, 2011
      • pete #

        I tried really hard to watch it, but every time there could have been a screeching monkey there was instead a high-pitched humpty-dumpty. Seriously, Mickey Rooney called and wants his childhood role as Puck back.

        September 1, 2011
        • Hee! & That reminds me of this screenshot from Laurel & Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers. In it, “The King” (I’m not sure what he’s supposed to be the king of) harrumphs and shouts and wanders around in his pajamas, and looks just like Donohue. So, a couple of years ago, I made a little screenshot montage-y thing. Lolz!:

          September 1, 2011
  6. I am glad Bill is around to give Catholics such a bad name.

    September 2, 2011
  7. I don’t really have a comment on the article (aside from an unequivocal agreement). I just wanted to point out that – in response to “Unfortunately, because the Catholic League website’s search functionality is very poorly implemented, I wasn’t able to find additional examples.” – many sites have lousy search engines (including my own uni; the university of Queensland) but that’s why Google’s ability to search specific websites is a Godsend.

    October 24, 2011

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