Catholic League Obscenities
by Thomas Strobhar
It has been almost 10 years since the priestly sex abuse scandal became major news. It is hard to imagine how the sins of a tiny percentage of all too-human priests could have caused as much damage as they have. Church attendance is down, giving is down and the Church still reels from accusations from many years ago.
Into this fray rides the tough and articulate Dr. William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. He appears regularly on various talking-head shows and writes a considerable amount of press releases defending the Church. I worked briefly with him some 15 years ago when Disney's then-subsidiary Miramax produced the movie Priests. I helped file a shareholder resolution against Disney for the movie's anti-Catholic bias, the first time anti-Catholic bigotry was ever addressed at the annual meeting of a public corporation. (My specialty is filing shareholder resolutions, having filed almost every pro-life resolution ever introduced.)
When that was done, Dr. Donohue sent a note of thanks. He also thanked me for sending him information on the Christian Brothers Investment Services (CBIS). I had sent him a copy of an article I had written earlier reporting that the Christian Brothers were investing Catholic funds in companies manufacturing abortifacient drugs and devices.
To most people's surprise, for being the small organization it is, the Catholic League is well-endowed with more than $25,000,000 in reserves. Those reserves led me to contact Dr. Donohue a year ago. I noticed the organization had tens of millions invested with CBIS. I was surprised and impressed with the amount. With that much money I thought they might be able to dissuade the Christian Brothers from investing in companies that sold pornography. I had criticized CBIS for doing exactly this on behalf of more than 1,000 Catholic institutional clients a few years earlier in an article entitled, "Holy Porn."
The BBC used that article as the basis for a portion of a documentary entitled Hardcore Profits. It included an interview with Brother Louis DeThomasis, a co-founder of CBIS, the Chancellor of St. Mary's University of Minnesota and a senior fellow of SMU's Hendrickson Institute for Ethical Leadership. He was even a featured speaker at the 2009 U.S. Military Academy's annual National Conference on Ethics in America.
But he couldn't seem to figure out if it was ethical to invest the Catholic Church's money in pornography. The BBC's questions were pointed and the interviewer persistent in asking why CBIS was invested in hotels and cable companies and hadn't done anything in seven years to protest those companies' involvement in porn. Brother Louis, at first, tried to defend the CBIS position. Later, he cut the interview short. (It can be seen at www.corporatemorality.org.)
The Christian Brothers responded to my criticism by acknowledging that they do invest in porn-selling companies, but insisted it is permissible because they contact the companies and "offer to work with them to help get them out of the business." To date, they can offer no examples of this tactic's success. Companies CBIS has owned that sell pornography include such heavyweights as Time Warner, Marriott Hotels and the Sands casino in Las Vegas.
I wasn't sure if Dr. Donohue was aware the Christian Brothers were investing in companies selling pornography and thought he could help change their mind. I was wrong.
Dr. Donohue turned the matter over to the chairman of the Catholic League, Father Philip Eichner. The latter's response: my claims are "exaggerated." My only claim was that the Christian Brothers invested in porn distributors. To date, this claim has not been denied.
Father Eichner reasoned it was just too tough in this complicated world to avoid investments in pornography. He added, "The very fact that you used the United States Post Office to send your letter to the Catholic League involves you in a communication system which supports a number of operations that are not consonant with Catholic morality - such as pornography and abortion propaganda." Thus, according to Father Eichner, my 44-cent stamp to send a letter was morally equivalent to investing tens of millions of dollars in a company that promotes and profits from the sale of pornography.
As I had noted to Dr. Donohue in my original letter, there are some things over which we have little control, like the sexual sins of others, but refusing to invest in a company that destroys human souls for profit is a relatively easy thing to do. The Christian Brothers avoid tobacco companies without any problem. Surely they could avoid companies selling pornography, which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has likened to selling drugs.
Father Eichner also noted that the Catholic League had been using CBIS for 20 years. This would include the time when the Brothers were investing in producers of abortifacients. I had pointed this out to Dr. Donohue as far back as 1995. The League was comfortable with the Christian Brothers' investment decisions back then and has no difficulty owning companies that sell the worst kinds of smut now.
While researching the League's 990 tax return at GuideStar.org, I discovered that Dr. Donohue was paid more than $399,000 in 2009. Not bad for a modest-sized charity with a budget over $2.7 million and an entire staff of 11 employees.
According to Charity Navigator, a group which tracks the salaries of non-profit CEOs, the average salary for similar sized non-profits is in the $90,000+ range. Now Dr. Donohue does work in New York and $400,000 a year is peanuts compared to the princes at Goldman Sachs, but that kind of income does raise eyebrows from people who live west of the Hudson.
His board of directors must think he's worth it. And maybe he is. After all, South Park, the vulgar cartoon brought to us by Viacom (another CBIS holding), once parodied Dr. Donohue. Not many other non-profit heads can lay claim to that distinction! But neither do many non-profit big shots consume almost 15 percent of the group's budget.
(Full disclosure: I am chairman of Life Decisions International and our top employee gets paid almost 27 percent of our budget. But our total budget is just above $100,000 compared to Catholic League's more than $2.7 million. And Life Decisions' president works out of his basement at no charge while the League's occupancy costs are more than $355,000 annually.)
Which brings me to a recent fundraising letter I received from the League. The appeal itself was a survey and a request for funds, a common method these days. Strangely, I received the same letter at least two more times in the following months. In the letter Dr. Donohue said, "I need to raise at least $42,000 of the total cost - about 12% - in the next sixty days." Why? So more people can get more surveys! But the Catholic League is quite comfortable financially. It seems less than ethical to say you "need" money in 60 days when you already have more than 600 times that amount in reserves.
The National Institute on Philanthropy's guidelines state that any charity that asks for money when they have more than five times their annual budget in reserves deserves an F. Since the Catholic League's reserves are 10 times their annual budget, perhaps they deserve a double-F.
The appeal itself lamented how a number of major media outlets were guilty of anti-Catholic bigotry. Companies mentioned were Time Warner, Disney, Viacom, The Washington Post and The New York Times. Most, if not all, of these companies have been or are owned by CBIS. The irony is self-explanatory.
Perhaps Dr. Donohue should have consulted League Advisory Board member L. Brent Bozell of the Parents Television Council. The Council has challenged Viacom programming such as MTV, South Park, Comedy Central and others for years. They even sponsored a shareholder resolution at Yum Brands' annual shareholders' meeting opposing Yum's decision to buy advertising during disgusting shows. One wonders, would Mr. Bozell have counseled the Catholic League to avoid investments in companies that sell porn? It seems more than likely that he would.
Although it should be noted, the Parents Television Council has a few problems of its own. The New York Times recently reported upwards of 195,000 pieces of mail delivered to the Parents Television Council were opened for their donations, but the surveys the donors completed were never delivered to their intended target. So much for surveys!
In the end, we have the Catholic League asking for money it doesn't need, doing it in a disingenuous manner, then handing it to the Christian Brothers Investment Services, which invests the funds in companies that profit from the destruction of souls and are responsible for the worst displays of anti-Catholic bigotry. And all the while the League represents to its supporters and to the world that they are defending the Catholic faith from the onslaughts of the pagans. This is hypocrisy and moral repugnance beyond telling.
If the Catholic League chooses to ignore the problem of pornography because it is seemingly so widespread that you can't even mail a letter without supporting it, there is little hope. Fortunately, Jesus Christ brings us eternal hope. He did not die on the cross so CBIS and its clients, including the Catholic League, can beat the stock averages. He died to forgive those who acknowledge their sins and repent.
Voltaire, a great enemy of the Church in 18th century France, once said he only prayed that God would make Voltaire's enemies look foolish. Bill Donohue, the Catholic League and CBIS seem to be answering the prayers of today's anti-Catholic bigots.
This article was published in the May 2011 issue of Culture Wars.
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