Catholic League: Oxford Union ‘Makes a Mockery’ of What a Debate Should Be

By Emily Ward | January 17, 2019 | 5:48pm EST
Catholic League President
Bill Donohue. (YouTube)

( -- Catholic League President Bill Donohue said the Oxford Union Society at Oxford University is making a “mockery” of what a debate should be given its apparent stacking of the deck against the Catholic Church in a debate scheduled for Feb. 28.

The forthcoming debate will address the motion, “The House Believes The Catholic Church Can Never Pay For Its Sins.  There will be five speakers, three defending the proposition and two opposing it. However, the selected debaters apparently are all anti-Catholic to one degree or another, said Donohue, which makes the contest not credible.  

The Vatican. (Getty Images)

“The deck is so stacked against the Catholic Church that it makes a mockery out of what a debate is supposed to be,” Donohue told “They are acting like junior league players, not the big league players they think they are.”

The Oxford Union is “staging a phony debate on the Catholic Church,” he said in a Jan. 16 statement.

Donohue continued, “This House Believes That England Can Never Pay For Its Sins Against Irish Catholics. Imagine a debate on this subject with representatives of the Irish Republican Army on one side and Sinn Fein (the political arm of the IRA) on the other.”

The Oxford Union “is hosting anti-Catholic bigots to defend the Catholic Church, making a mockery of its once stellar reputation," said Donohue.

The Oxford Union, famous for its high-profile debates, initially invited Donohue (in December) to defend the Catholic Church in the Feb. 28 contest, as an opposition speaker. The Catholic League, which he heads, is a “civil rights organization” that works to protect religious freedom and the free speech rights of Catholics.

Oxford Union
President Daniel

Nearly a month later, however, the Oxford Union dis-invited Donohue, claiming it “did not hear back” from him, even though Donohue’s communications director had sent a response and there were several email communications between the two parties firming up the details for Feb. 28.

The Society has since filled its debate slots, but none of the chosen speakers seems to be pro-Catholic – and while the proposition side (arguing in favor of the motion) will have three speakers, the opposition will only have two.

On the proposition team are Mitchell Garabedian, Elizabeth Coppin and Thomas Reilly.

Garabedian is a lawyer well-known for representing victims of Catholic clergy sexual abuse, including in Boston during the 2002 scandal. Reilly, as former Massachusetts attorney general, investigated clergy sex abuse during the same scandal. Coppin, according to the Oxford Union, was “confined in three Magdalene laundries from the age of 15” and is “now bringing a case against the Irish state to the United Nations committee against torture.”

The Magdalene laundries were Irish institutions run by Catholic nuns where some children and young women were allegedly held against their will and abused.

On the opposition side of the debate, charged with defending the Catholic Church, are Jay R. Feierman, a psychiatrist who has studied and treated abusive Catholic priests, and Marci Hamilton, who has sued the Holy See on behalf of an abuse victim and argued that Catholic leaders who opposed funding contraception were part of a “war against women.”

Donohue said the lack of pro-Catholic debate participants made the debate “phony” and “staged.” When asked why he thought the Oxford Union chose the speakers it did, Donohue said he believed the Society’s “animus against Catholicism is so strong that it has disfigured their thinking.”

“That’s what happens when ideology conquers reason,” he added.

Bill Donohue, left, debates Christopher Hitchens at the Chesterton Belloc Debates
New York's Union League Club, March 23, 2000.  (YouTube)

Lepanto Institute President Michael Hichborn said it was “highly unethical and extraordinarily dishonest” for the Oxford Union to choose debate participants who “are ideologically connected to one side.”

“Not only are those arguing for the defense of the Catholic Church not Catholic themselves, but among them there is a very clear and proved track record of antagonism toward the Catholic Church,” Hichborn told

“I don’t see how this debate can have any real meaning or come to any viable conclusions when its participants are all completely outside the central focus of the debate, which is the Catholic Church herself,” he said.  “If the Oxford Union was being intellectually honest, it would have at least one ardent defender of the Church on the defense panel.”

Hichborn also questioned the “point of the debate.”

“If they are trying to convince themselves or others of an honest answer, then they must allow those in the best position to defend the Catholic Church to speak,” he said. “Otherwise, all they are engaging in is a form of propaganda that steers to a highly predictable outcome.”

“Those in charge of this mockery of a debate should be ashamed of themselves,” he concluded.

Rev. George Rutler. (YouTube)

Rev. George William Rutler, a Catholic priest from New York and an Oxford graduate, said the Oxford Union should be given “the benefit of the doubt.”

“It would seem that the speakers they have chosen, at least as of now, do not adequately include an orthodox Catholic defender,” Rev. Rutler told “I hesitate to say that this is deliberate, although it could be. I think that more likely this is out of ignorance, since most people of a secular mentality simply are unaware of authentic Catholicism.”

Rev. Rutler also said the Oxford Union “thrives on controversy and does not shrink from heated exchanges,” pointing to famous debates such as Thomas Huxley v. Bishop Wilberforce, William F. Buckley v. James Baldwin, and debates involving Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, as well as the society’s inclusion of “some of the most distinguished Catholic apologists,” such as G.K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien. reached out to the Oxford Union and to its president, Daniel Wilkinson, for comment, but neither responded. Donohue has also reached out to the organization and its president requesting an explanation for his dis-invitation from the debate, but said he had not received a response.

Donohue also said that if any of the debate speakers would like to debate him, he would “arrange it and pay for all the expenses.”

“But I won’t hang by the phone,” he added.

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