Thursday, December 16, 2010

New President of U.S. Catholic Bishops Praises Bully Bill Donohue for Attack on Smithsonian

Here--sadly--is a sign of the quality of leadership the U.S. Catholic bishops have just chosen with the election of Timothy Dolan as their president.  In a posting on his blog today, Dolan praises Bully Bill Donohue--"Dr. Donohue"--for Donohue's recent opportunistic and politically motivated attack on the Smithsonian for staging the art work of David Wojnarowicz at an exhibit.  Dolan accepts Donohue's claim that his objection to Wojnarowicz's work is that he found the art, which depicted a crucifix with ants crawling on it, to be blasphemous.

But as S. Brent Plate notes at Religion Dispatches, Wojnarowicz's use of ant imagery and the crucifix to probe the depths of human suffering--in the case of this exhibit, the suffering of those with AIDS--stands in a venerable tradition of Christian iconography, and was precisely the opposite of blasphemous.  (And see Andrew Sullivan's first-hand testimony to the religious power of Wojnarowicz's art--"first-hand," in that Sullivan saw the piece at the Smithsonian, and also in that he lives with HIV infection.  And, yes, it's not beside the point that Sullivan is Catholic, and speaks about these issues from the standpoint of his own Catholic commitment.)

Wojnarowicz's real crime in the eyes of Bully Bill and his supporters?  He had run afoul of the powerful religious right group the American Family Association, due to his outspoken AIDS activism.  And when Bully Bill saw an opportunity to exploit the clip of a video by Wojnarowicz at the Smithsonian for political ends--for right-wing Republican political ends--he did so with alacrity. 

As he always does.  And so it is absolutely not coincidental that Republican House speaker John Boehner and Republican House majority leader Eric Cantor immediately jumped into the fray to second Donohue's screams of anti-Catholic bigotry on the part of the Smithsonian.  This was politically manufactured theater for the political gain of the Republican party.

And it's also not accidental that the newly elected president of the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference is now praising "Dr. Donohue" for his stalwart defense of our embattled Catholic faith.  Dolan's praise of Donohue signals what his election as USCCB president is all about: yet a further consolidation of the alliance of the U.S. Catholic bishops with the Republican party.

And that, to me, is the real blasphemy that ought to be discussed right now--not an artist's attempt to explore the meaning of suffering by using the crucifix as his central symbol.  I'll say frankly that I have far more trouble finding Christ and his message in my church today because of Bill Donohue and, yes, Timothy Dolan, than I do because of an artist's depiction of a crucifix with ants crawling on it.  (And thanks to Chris Korzen at the new blog of Catholics United, Our Daily Thread, for bringing Dolan's posting to the table for discussion.)

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