Catholic League: Oxford Union Reneged on Invitation to Defend Church in Debate

By Emily Ward | January 16, 2019 | 2:51pm EST
Catholic League President
Bill Donohue. (NewsBusters)

( -- Catholic League President Bill Donohue said the Oxford Union Society at Oxford University, which is famous for its high-profile debates, has reneged on its invitation to have him debate in defense of the Catholic Church on Feb. 28.

According to the correspondence between Donohue and the Oxford Union, beginning on Dec. 5, 2018, he was formally invited to participate in the debate by Oxford Union President Daniel Wilkinson.

“I am writing to extend an invitation for you to speak at the Oxford Union in one of our historic debates this coming term,” Wilkinson wrote (by email) to Donohue on Dec. 5, 2018.

Oxford Union
President Daniel

That same day, Donohue’s director of communications, Rick Hinshaw, emailed back to Wilkinson’s assistant, Beatrice Barr: “Thank you so much to President Wilkinson for this invitation. Dr. Donohue would be most pleased to participate in this debate.”

Also on Dec. 5, Donohue’s office said Feb. 28 would be fine for the event and Barr replied on Dec. 11, “The date for the debate is almost certain to be February 28th. Thanks so much to you and Bill for your continued interest.”

Donohue’s office then contacted the Oxford Union on Dec. 11 and Jan. 9 asking for final details and advice on accommodations.

The Oxford Union replied on Jan. 9, “Apologies, but as we did not hear back from you we’ve now filled the debate.”

The Catholic League emailed back: “I have passed along your cancellation to Dr. Donohue, and he assures that you have not heard the last of this.”

“Either no one will debate me or someone got to Wilkinson and nixed the invitation,” said Donohue in a Jan. 11 press release.  “Either way, it shows what a fraud these people are. They speak endlessly about the virtue of free speech and their commitment to honest debates, yet their public pronouncements are belied by their actions.”

Donohue had agreed to speak in opposition to the motion, “This House Believes The Catholic Church Can Never Pay For Its Sins,” at the debate on Feb. 28.

The Catholic League, by its own description, “is the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization.” It defends the “right of the Church to promote its teachings” and “works to safeguard both the religious freedom rights and the free speech rights of Catholics.”


“I am appalled that the Oxford Union would invite me to a debate and then, in effect, disinvite me,” Dr. Donohue said in a Jan. 9 letter to President Wilkinson. “You have much to explain.”

“This is unacceptable, unprofessional, and not believable,” he continued. “In one of her emails on December 5, Barr said, ‘I will continue to update you on plans for the debate as we develop them.’ Then why didn’t she, or anyone else, reach out to Hinshaw [at Catholic League] or me saying they were ready to discuss the event in greater detail?”

“I would like to know the exact reason why I was disinvited,” he added. “Was it because no one would debate me? If not, you need to be specific.”

As of Jan. 11, Wilkinson had not responded to the letter.

“That Wilkinson chose not to reply to my letter – I gave him two days – makes him doubly delinquent,” Donohue said in the Catholic League’s press release. “It does not speak well for the Oxford Union that they have people like him in senior positions.” reached out to Wilkinson for comment, but did not receive a response.

To watch Dr. Donohue's video response, click here

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