I’m Just Wild about Harry.
And apparently so is President Obama. Harry Knox, Director of the Religion and Faith program at the Human Rights Campaign was one of the few human rights-oriented religious leaders appointed to the Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnership Advisory Council. Rev. Knox, a member of RD’s Advisory Council, is a seasoned advocate of glbt rights from a faith based perspective. Like others on the Council, he is a man of strong opinions and has not been shy about criticizing religious leaders who have engaged in homophobic rhetoric or in dangerous and misleading statements about condoms. Harry is now under attack as a “virulent anti-Catholic bigot [who] has made numerous vile and dishonest attacks against the Church and the Holy Father.”
A rogue’s gallery of some of the most vicious and marginal figures on the Catholic right have sent a letter to the President calling on him to oust Harry. Who are these guardians of civility in religious discourse? As usual, the Catholic League’s William Donohue is the leader of the pack.
Donohue certainly knows about bigotry. He has a long history of virulent rhetoric against Jews, Muslims, and feminists. Judie Brown, of the American Life League, a group so virulent in its own anti-Catholicism that it attacked DC’s former Cardinal McCarrick during the 2004 election campaign for not denying communion to pro-choice John Kerry. Brown claimed McCarrick was not obeying the Pope who had, according to her, demanded that Catholic legislators who were pro-choice must be denied communion. Another signer, Austin Ruse, head of C-Fam, a right wing Catholic lobby at the UN had once joked that he had been offered a plenary indulgence if he would only “take out” Hillary Clinton. To make things perfectly clear, Ruse added that it wasn’t a “date” he was talking about.
What, you may ask, could Harry have said that was more virulent than this crowd? Harry, it seems was highly critical of the Pope’s comments on condoms and AIDS. In March, on his way to Africa, the Pope said that the “distribution of condoms…increases the problem” of AIDS transmission. The remark was widely condemned, by UNAIDS, The prestigious British medical journal The Lancet and others. Comments in the past had led to condemnations from WHO. Harry, of course, took a religious slant. He said the Pope was “hurting people in the name of Jesus.”
By and large, the president has ignored the critiques of the Council from the left. He has further expanded its mandate to include the environment and his final set of appointments did little to change the gender imbalance or to add more progressive voices. It will be interesting to see if the President stands by Harry. And it will be equally interesting to see if groups like Catholics United and the Catholic Alliance for the Common Good are as eager to support Harry as they were to support Notre Dame and HHS Secretary Sibelius. A call to Catholics United was cut short with a promise that “they’d get back to me.” And Faith in Public Life’s Jen Butler had not heard of the attack and was eager to look into it.
We’ll be waiting.