The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Ron Howard to Catholic League chief: Put a sock in it!

April 21, 2009 |  1:44 pm

William Donohue, the always volatile head of the Catholic League, has once again gone on the attack, this time against the Ron Howard-directed "Angels & Demons," the prequel to "The Da Vinci Code," one of the biggest hits of 2006. Donohue claims that Howard and "Da Vinci Code" author Dan Brown have "collaborated in smearing the Catholic Church with fabulously bogus tales," adding that the movie -- which, of course, Donohue hasn't actually seen -- paints the church as "anti-reason."

Angels_and_demons_eng1 Howard responded with a heated defense of the movie on the Huffington Post, where he dismisses Donohue's charge as a "silly and mean-spirited work of propaganda," adding that "Mr. Donohue has, in effect, smeared me by claiming I am smearing his Church.... Let me be clear: Neither I nor 'Angels & Demons' are anti-Catholic."

When it comes to diatribes from Donohue, Howard is in good company. Donohue's list of adversaries includes everyone from Kevin Smith, Bill Maher and Marilyn Manson to Bob Jones University, the producers of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and Christopher Hitchens, who have all been accused by Donohue of various anti-Catholic bias. For someone who runs a religious anti-defamation group, you'd think Donohue would be more respectful of other religions. But at the height of the hubbub over Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ," it was Donohue who said that "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's why they hate this movie."

So the real question is this: Why would anyone in Hollywood dignify Donohue's fanaticism by responding to his crackpot charges in the first place (unless you were just hoping to get a little more publicity for your movie, though it's hard to imagine that 'Angels & Demons' needs any more ink)? If you go back and read Donohue's column in the New York Daily News, you'd learn that his broadside against "Angels & Demons" only occupies one tiny paragraph in the column, which is largely devoted to bashing any legislation that would permit gay marriage or defend a woman's right to abortion. So then why make such a big deal about it? 

In an era where even the most conservative Republican politicians have largely abandoned their assaults on Hollywood and the pursuit of culture-war wedge issues, why give Donohue's charges any free publicity? After all, people like me are only writing about the issue because an A-list talent like Howard has weighed in on the matter. In this case, silence would be golden. If revenge is really necessary, why not follow the example of the creators of "South Park," who after being attacked by Donohue put him into their 2007 "Fantastic Easter Special" episode of the show, where Donohue is portrayed as a power-hungry Catholic Church functionary who overthrows the pope and sentences Jesus to death. It's just a guess, but I'm betting that might have something to do with why Donohue hasn't been attacking the "South Park" guys lately.