Monday, January 2, 2012

It's 2012, and the 2011 Coughie Award Goes To . . .

Father Charles Coughlin

It's 2012, and this year's annual Coughie Award goes to . . . Dr. William Anthony Donohue!  This prestigious designation is awarded every new year by Catholic activist-blogger Frank Cocozzelli (who is one of the best things the American Catholic church has going for it).  As Frank notes, here's what you have to do to be in the running for a Coughie (which is named for Father Charles Coughlin, "the notorious radio priest of the 1930s who is the role model for today’s Religious Right radio and television evangelists and other conservative media personalities"):

In order to win a Coughie, a candidate must do something that completes three qualifying tasks:  1) Makes the faith decisively less inclusive 2) engages in incendiary behavior  and 3) thereby ultimately embarrasses the Church. This year’s winner — as usual — has risen to the challenge by completing all three tasks with breathtaking simplicity, snatching the victory from a determined field of tough competitors. Deserving winners all.

As Frank notes, with so many deserving winners in the field, it wasn't easy to identify the Catholic who, more than anyone else, made Catholicism less inclusive, more embarrassing, and more incendiary in 2011, but Mr. Dohonhue of the Catholic League managed to edge out the large field of contenders.  These included

1) Frank's own pastor, Father Michael Gelfant of St. Finbar's, Brooklyn, who "unilaterally took it upon himself to stand in for the Almighty regarding the eternal judgment of atheists";  
2) Ettore Gotti-Tedeschi, the Vatican banker who miscommunicates about Keynsian economics, opposes labor unions, attributes the world's economic crisis to declining birth rates, is said to be tied to Opus Dei, and is under investigation for alleged money laundering while he headed the Vatican Bank; 
3) And Opus Dei Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who shielded a priest, Father Shawn Ratigan, for months after it was known that Ratigan possessed child pornography.

Mr. Donohue beat out his Coughie competitors by transforming "the art of feigned outrage over imaginary acts of anti-Catholicism into a high art form" while simultaneously ignoring real acts of bigotry, by continuing his fixation on homosexuality and anal sex in 2011, by resorting to "some un-subtle anti-Semitic commentary," but first and foremost, for his aggressive, unashamed public defense of the indefensible Bishop Finn and his attempt to bully the media into silence as they reported on the Finn story. 

And so the prestigious 2011 Coughie goes to Mr. Donohue, who never fails to keep Catholics on the radar screen of the American public and media in the worst, most embarrassing way possible (embarrassing for those who care about the church's real teachings and values, when the tradition at its best is allowed to speak):

Donohue has been consistent over the years, and never added any nuance or balance to his repertoire of bombast and hyperbole while pursuing the agenda of  laissez-faire economics, social conservatism, and conservative Catholic orthodoxy — and enabling the cover-up of the acts of serial pedophiles.

I'm sure some folks somewhere might think that monitoring and lampooning the buffoons who strut across the stage of American theocratic politics is unkind and unloving, but I don't think that's the case myself.  I think we have a strong obligation to expose dangerous distortions of what religious traditions really teach at their best--precisely because religion wields such strong influence in the American public square.

And to laugh as we do so.  Because what else is left to us, except to laugh and to love?  And the American religio-political scene certainly afforded much opportunity for the former in 2011 (and many invitations to the latter).  And will, no doubt, continue to do so in 2012.

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