Catholic League President Bill Donohue says Republican lawmakers in New Hampshire “crossed the line” with comments threatening to revoke the tax-exempt status of the Catholic Church in their state and by associating the league with cases of child abuse.
“I've never seen such an incredible reaction from state lawmakers in my entire life,” said Donohue, describing the response he received from state representatives after speaking out against remarks by Republican state representative David Bettencourt. The leading Republican called Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester a “pedophile pimp” after the bishop criticized proposed budget cuts.
Bettencourt eventually apologized for the remark and is scheduled to meet with the bishop on April 7. But several of Bettencourt's fellow party members lashed out at Donohue for asking state legislators to censure him. Donohue highlighted two messages in particular, one accusing the league of defending an enabler of sexual abuse, and another threatening the Church's tax-exempt status in New Hampshire.
“I am now considering a bill to remove the Church's tax exempt status in New Hampshire, for you have clearly shown that you no longer want it,” Rep. Andrew Manuse wrote in an e-mail to the league, after Donohue called for Bettencourt to be censured.
Donohue said another Republican, Representative Lynne Ober, told him it was “certainly unfortunate that the Catholic League chooses to harbor a person who helped pedophiles continue abusing children.” Bishop McCormack, who became head of the Manchester diocese in 1998, was once an administrator for Cardinal Bernard F. Law in Boston and investigated sexual abuse complaints.
Rep. Manuse told CNA that he had received a large volume of e-mailed responses after Donohue informed Catholic League supporters of the threat. Manuse confirmed that he was now “no longer considering legislation” to begin taxing the Church and said he retracted the threat.
A colleague of Rep. Ober said she was not available for comment on April 6.
New Hampshire lawmakers, unlike those in many other states, are “citizen legislators” who do not hold a full-time government position. While Donohue sees some advantages to this system, he also believes it may partly account for the conduct of Bettencourt, Ober, and Manuse.
“I wish the rest of the country had part-time legislators,” said Donohue, who believes the system tends to make government less intrusive. “But, there's a negative side. They don't know what's expected of the public servant, because they're not full-time public servants.”
Donohue believes that the entire incident shows political discourse reaching a low point. “If that's the road we're going to go down, it means everybody who disagrees with someone, on whatever issue, can have a free-for-all – and we can all now engage in the most incredible vitriol and name-calling of the most scurrilous sort, and expect that to stand.”
“It'd be one thing if we had a bunch of bratty teenagers throwing a temper tantrum – one might expect that. But you're talking about public servants, who are there to represent the citizens of New Hampshire, carrying on in this manner.”
“The standards of discourse in our society have collapsed to such an extent that I think we're at a dangerous level. We at the Catholic League, along with others, are prepared to hold up a 'STOP' sign and call attention to it.”