In November 2006--less than 3 months ago--Bill O'Reilly of FOX News was attacked as an "ignorant" anti-Catholic "tyrant" by Bill (a.k.a. "Onion Dip") Donohue of the Catholic League. O'Reilly's offense? He dared to criticize the political positions of the Pope....

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 02/13/2007

In November 2006--less than 3 months ago--Bill O'Reilly of FOX News was attacked as an "ignorant" anti-Catholic "tyrant" by Bill (a.k.a. "Onion Dip") Donohue of the Catholic  League.  O'Reilly's offense?  He dared to criticize the political positions of the Pope. 

And yet--despite having been the subject of a full frontal attack by a man who has been denounced repeatedly by American Catholics and experts on the history anti-Catholicism--O'Reilly has now joined in to help amplify the very same kind of campaign that Donohue once waged against him, but is this time waging against John Edwards.

Given this history, anyone who locks horns with O'Reilly on this subject should avoid getting draw into the "Christian haters" frame and focus on O'Reilly's past tussle with Donohue himself.

In particular, to control the frame, the question to be asked is: Why didn't you resign, Bill, when Donohue accused you of being anti-Catholic?

On November 15, 2006, the Catholic league web site posted the following Press Release on their site:

November 15, 2006 


Catholic League president Bill Donohue issued the following statement today on Bill O’Reilly’s remarks about the Vatican that he made last night on his Fox News show:

“Bill O’Reilly cannot blame his ignorance of all things Catholic on his high school because Chaminade, located in Mineola, Long Island, is the flagship Catholic school in the New York metropolitan area. So it must be his intellectual sloppiness. For example, last night he said that ‘the Vatican is calling the proposed fence on the southern border inhuman’; a picture of the pope was shown on the screen.

“O’Reilly is wrong—the Vatican has said no such thing. As a matter of fact, Pope Benedict XVI never once mentioned the fence in his recent annual World Day for Migrants and Refugees message. Neither did Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers; he spoke at a press conference about this issue yesterday. The person who made the remark at the press conference was Cardinal Renato Martino, temporary president of the migrants council.

“More important, unlike one of O’Reilly’s guests, Pat Buchanan, who disagreed with Martino’s remark without becoming disrespectful, O’Reilly went for the jugular saying, ‘the Vatican needs to wise up or shut up.’ O’Reilly’s outburst signifies his tyrannical approach: those who disagree with his ‘wisdom’ have no right to speak. To top it off, he showed how much wisdom he possesses when he said that the Martino remark was the kind made by ‘a lot of secular progressives.’ It is not everyday that ‘the Vatican’ (as he sees it) is charged with promoting a secularist agenda; his other guest, Sally Vance-Trembath, was wise enough to chastise him for making this absurd comment.

“O’Reilly ended this segment by saying, ‘The Vatican wants all the illegals to come here but it does want them to be Catholic.’ Looks like the time has come for O’Reilly to take some of his own medicine and wise up or shut up.”

So there it is:  Donohue accusing O'Reilly of ignorance, tyranny and of accusing the Pope of advancing a secular progressive agenda.    Sound familiar?

What did O'Reilly actual say that day?

The following transcript comes from The O'Reilly Factor of November 14, 2006 (transcript from LexisNexis).  The segment began with O'Reilly laying out his theory that "S.P.s" ("Secular Progressives") are the reason that the United States has an immigration problem.  This opening section is the set up for everything that O'Reilly says later in the interview about the Vatican:

O'REILLY: [...] Millions of illegal aliens have entered the USA to make money. Most of them are hard working and they come here because if you do work hard in America you can do well. The S.P. crew wants open borders so everyone can have economic opportunity. More on this in a moment.

But if you don't want to work hard and get educated, the S.P.s believe society must provide you with stuff anyway, a house, good food, the staples of life.

And if you oppose open borders and cradle to grave entitlements, you are monstrous, terrible, a really bad person -- here, here I am.

Over the years, "Talking Points" has seen the secular progressive movement gain a lot of ground in America and this new poll proves it. Dismiss the S.P.s at your peril. And that's the memo.

Not too difficult to understand,  since Bill was using the classic arguments against liberals,  albeit trying to sound cool by using the word "progressive."

What then follows is an exchange with Catholic Theologian, Sally Vance-Trembath, during which O'Reilly takes the position that the Vatican's position against building a fence on the U.S. southern border was tantamount to the Pope advancing what he had just defined as a secular progressive point of view.  Not a bad setup for Bill, I'd say.  And here is that exchange that turned the wrath of "Onion Dip" Donohue against O'Reilly [emphasis mine]:

O'REILLY: The Vatican opposes the fence, they oppose the National Guard, it opposes any kind of punitive action against people who sneak in here, so how would we secure our borders and protect ourselves from the illegal invasion, professor?

VANCE-TREMBATH: What the Vatican is asking us to do is pay attention to the whole system of laws so that the problems that cause people to flee Mexico to come to this country are addressed and that we should look at the whole -- the system, the problems that are caused by the things that keep people poor and that have ...

O'REILLY: But that's theory. We can't do anything about what happens inside of Mexico. And let me tell you this. You have been to the Vatican, have you not?


O'REILLY: All right. If a million people decide to camp out at the Vatican Square tonight, the Swiss Guard will have them removed and so will the Italian police. And I think that the Vatican needs to wise up or shut up. Am I wrong, Mr. Buchanan?

At this point, O'Reilly throws the ball to Pat Buchanan who again questions the politics of the Vatican and accuses  Catholic clerics in Latin America of being "anti-American":

BUCHANAN: I think what the Vatican is doing here is a terrible mistake. They are asking -- We are not responsible for the failure of the Mexican government. But the government of the United States, by the Constitution, by our laws, is responsible for securing the borders of the United States and enforcing the laws of the United States.

And the immigration laws of America are not unjust. We are the most generous people on earth. They simply say you cannot break into this country illegally and stay. And if you do, you will have to return.

And because 150,000 are stopped every month on our border, we have decided to build a security fence around this country the way you build a security fence around your property or around the White House. And the Vatican seems not to understand the reality on our southern border where frankly these individuals saying this are engaged in a little bit of anti- Americanism.

O'REILLY: See, I don't know if it's anti-American. I don't believe it is. I think it is a one world philosophy that a lot of secular progressives, I pointed out, really believe that no country has a right to ban anybody or stop anybody from doing anything. Now, have you confronted that philosophy, Pat? Have you seen that?

BUCHANAN: Yes, look. Let me tell you something. I have seen among some clerics in Latin America and other places real anti-Americanism.

For example, why is there not an outright condemnation of the Mexican government which considers it a felony to cross over from Guatemala into Mexico and brutalizes these people and the second arrest puts them in prison. They are brutal on these people, even the Mexican Human Rights Commission says whatever we say about the Americans, they treat our illegals far better than we treat the illegals from Central America. Why isn't the Vatican condemning them?

What we see unfolding, here, is a full critical discussion of the Vatican's involvement in political issues by right-wing mouthpieces.

In the final segment,Vance-Trembath picks up on the logic O'Reilly is advancing--Bill's idea that the Vatican is advancing an anti-American secular agenda--and refutes it.  And then Bill closes with the chestnut that also earned him the wrath of Donohue [emphasis mine]:

VANCE-TREMBATH: Well, I think we have to pay attention to the fact that many of my students are children of these precise people that you're talking about. People who have come to this country because they want a better life and their children are now getting an education and making a fabulous contribution to our society. And I think we have to take care in identifying the Vatican with secular progressivism. The Vatican doesn't want us to be secular and take the Gospel out of our actions.

The Vatican precisely wants the--

O'REILLY: I agree -- I got to run. The Vatican wants all the illegals to come here but it does want them to be Catholic.

And that's the end of the segment.

O'Reilly's Criticism of Vatican Anti-Catholic?
Just knowing that this episode of The O'Reilly Factor exists is important.  As he and his Republican allies continue to smear Democrats, it is important to understand that less than 3 months ago "Onion Dip" Donohue was accusing a leading media figure of the right-wing noise machine of tyranny and anti-Vatican ignorance for daring to question the politics of Pope.

In fact, the complexity of the Catholic Church as a political voice is found precisely in the contradictions of many of its positions and the wide range of diversity amongst its leading voices.  Catholics in one part of the word regularly critique and engage the politics of the Pope.  Catholics in the U.S. speak out against some progressive principles (e.g., women's equality), but speak in favor of other progressive principles (e.g., abolition of death penalty, freedom from poverty, immigrant rights).

It may be ironic that Bill O'Reilly helps us to see this clearly, but it is pathetic and immoral that Bill O'Reilly should then turn around and join Donohue in the very specious arguments that Donohue once hurled at him.

Pathetic indeed.

So, if anyone should happen to find themselves in the O'Reilly hot seat over the next few days, weeks or months, remember to ask Bill about his tangle with "Onion Dip" Donohue. 

©  2007 Jeffrey Feldman, Frameshop

© Jeffrey Feldman 2007, Frameshop

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