Bill Donohue

Ghettos without Windows

Historically, ghettos were quarters or sections of a city that isolated ethnic groups from the rest of the inhabitants. The term originated in Venice, identifying the area where Jews were forced to live. Over time it came to signify any area in which minorities or those considered less desirable are cordoned off from the remainder of the city. In recent decades, the concept and use of the word ghetto has become much more ubiquitous.

In the United States, ghetto has become almost synonymous with those parts of the big cities where African-Americans have been housed, frequently in government projects. Due to the poverty and ensuing violence, these ghettos are also symbols of squalor and destitution. Although the term is not used in South Africa, the townships established during the Apartheid regime were a tragically perfect imitation of the American ghetto, replete with the poverty, violence, and lack of government services that every citizen has a right to expect. Like the ghettos of Europe and the United States, these were populated by forced occupancy.

The condition of these ghettos has frequently and accurately been depicted in literature and film. In most cases, at least absent wartime, the inhabitants are free to leave their confines and traverse the larger city, even if they cannot live in it. In modern ghettos the people are not walled off, the buildings have windows and there is some open space from which to view the sky. I am not here attempting to sanitize the living conditions of the poor and ethnic minorities. This is merely a foundation for using the physical reality of ghettos as a metaphor for an even worse state of existence.

This is the ghetto of the mind. Its state of existence is worse because it is self-imposed. Why someone would choose to live in such a state is anyone's guess. Existing solely within the mind, it is not physical, and yet it permeates the real world spreading infection for which there are no antibiotics or cures.

Examples abound, with arguably the most corrupt and destructive one being what I like to call the "Catholic Ghetto". Not unlike prejudice, it is rooted in pure ignorance. What is even more distressing for me, as a Catholic, is that it bears no resemblance or kinship with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and most truly should not be afforded the name Catholic. The nonpareil of the Catholic ghetto is the Catholic League, an insular and hysterical caricature of the Christian Faith. If the Catholic League is the nonpareil of this kind of ghetto, then its leader, Bill Donohue is the archetype of intellectual vacuity, and his expressed Catholicism disingenuous.

Take for example, his recent and totally fabricated row with the Smithsonian over an art exhibit. David Wojnarowicz, was a gay artist who died of AIDS in 1992. His video included a brief clip of a crucifix with ants on it, a description of the artist's pain and suffering. There seem to be three elements at work in this hullaballoo all of which cast doubt on Donohue's integrity, his intellectual prowess having already been put to rest.

First, the suffering of someone dying of AIDS is probably beyond the imagination. Second, Wojnarowicz was attempting to infuse our imaginations with his reality thereby assisting our comprehension of great physical suffering. Third, through the imagery of the Cross, Wojnarowicz embraces the exhortations of the Apostles to link our sufferings to those of Christ. To suggest that this art somehow desecrates a symbol of Christianity, demonstrates an ignorance of art and demeans the Cross itself. Donohue's faith is unbecoming any follower of Christ. Believe it or not, the reality of the ghetto actually gets worse.

In popular mythology there is a belief that tragedies occur in threes. Of course, there is no scientific validity to the claim. Perhaps our sensitivity is simply heightened by the first event. But clearly, tragedies do multiply. In the case of Donohue and the Smithsonian, it appears in the person of Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York. He wrote in his latest blog how Bill Donohue's work is of great value to the Church. One would assume he was writing about the Catholic Church, after all, Dolan is not only the Archbishop of New York, he also is the newly elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. And if he was writing about the Catholic Church, then beware.
Hoping that Dolan's blog is tongue-in-cheek, would be asking too much even of God. If the Archbishop really thinks and believes what he writes, then the Catholic ghetto mentality is receiving a fresh dusting of ecclesiastical approval. The tragedy? One might excuse Donohue for his ignorance of the Catholic Faith. We cannot be so generous with Dolan.
When Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council he wanted to open the windows and let the Spirit of God breathe freely upon the Church. In the Catholic ghetto that defines Archbishop Dolan's Church, there are no windows to open. In fact, there is no Spirit to let in. In a world of tremendous poverty, and injustice, with natural disaster of untold proportions afflicting every corner of the globe, it seems as though Dolan has his priorities totally out of balance.
Although it is not always easy, I usually seek to find some kind of hope when bishops so distort the truth of Jesus Christ. In this case, even though Dolan is the new President of the Catholic Conference, he lives in New York. I live in Los Angeles. That is scant consolation to the people of New York, of course. But keep this in mind. The church of Jesus Christ is broader, more tolerant, more compassionate, and even wiser than Bill Donohue or Archbishop Dolan. Intellectually, and in terms of faith, no one has to live in their ghetto.