Beliefs Opinion Politics

COMMENTARY: Anti-Catholicism and `Nothing Sacred’

c. 1997 Religion News Service

(Andrew M. Greeley is a Roman Catholic priest, best-selling novelist and a sociologist at the University of Chicago National Opinion Research Center. Check out his home page at or contact him via e-mail at agreel(at)

UNDATED _ There have now been enough episodes of the ABC series”Nothing Sacred”to establish that it is not, as some critics allege, anti-Catholic. Rather, it is a sensitive and effective story of the moral and religious problems which face the country today.

Moreover _ and again, despite the critics _ it is clearly a public relations boon for Catholicism and for the priesthood and might even contribute to the growth of priestly vocations.

The Jesuit writer of the program is marvelously skillful at presenting the nuances and the clarities, the agonies and the ecstasies of contemporary Catholic life. For all his human faults, Father Ray (Kevin Anderson) is superb at representing Catholicism at its compassionate best. Contrary to what some people have said, he really is the Bing Crosby of the 1990s.

For anyone who really watches the program, it is obvious that it is not a”political attack”on Catholicism. Yet William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights continues to denounce it as such and to boast that, as someone who plays hard ball, he is going to drive it off the air.

Donohue’s tactic is the one he usually employs _ a sweeping attack ignoring all facts or other opinions. If the same broadside is repeated often enough, he seems to think, he does not have to prove the charge. He thinks”Nothing Sacred”is a political attack on Catholicism just because he says it is.

Ultimately, far more harm is done to Catholicism by Donohue’s bullying tactics in the”Nothing Sacred”controversy than by the program itself.

He claims to speak for an organization of”300,000″Catholics. However, two letter writers to the National Catholic Reporter have properly called for an independent audit of these claims. They point out they received a membership card several years ago without requesting it and have never paid dues.

One would hope that the craven sponsors who have canceled ads on”Nothing Sacred”would also want such an audit before they cave into the Catholic League’s thuggish tactics.

In addition, many Catholic groups vehemently reject his skewed condemnation of the program and deny his claim to be”the”Catholic voice on the series. Archdiocesan newspapers in Chicago and Los Angeles, for example, have taken issue with his assessment of the show.

Unfortunately Donohue has seized upon anti-Catholicism to further his own ultra-conservative Catholic agenda, an agenda which he equates with the Catholic heritage. In fact, the Catholic League does not represent the Catholic Church, is not an official Catholic organization, and speaks for only a tiny minority _ substantially less than 5 percent _ of the Catholic population.

There is indeed anti-Catholicism in the United States. Unfortunately, Donohue’s attempts to turn his group into a contemporary version of the old and unlamented Legion of Decency will not hasten but only postpone the day when Americans confront this last surviving”big bigotry.” If ABC abandons”Nothing Sacred,”Donohue will claim victory and then bully other programs and books, and intimidate other sponsors and media outlets. Those who cave in to his threats are creating a monster.