Virginia Governor Appoints an Activist with a History of Anti-Catholic Tweets

Billy Atwell, chief communication officer of the Diocese of Arlington, called Gail Gordon Donnegan's appointment 'disappointing.'

Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia
Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

RICHMOND, Va. — The Governor of Virginia has appointed a Democratic activist with a history of profane, anti-Catholic statements to an influential public body. 

On Aug. 16, democratic Gov. Ralph Northam appointed Gail Gordon Donegan to the Virginia Council on Women, an advisory group for the governor and the state’s General Assembly, which also awards educational scholarships. Gordon Donegan is a Democratic activist from the city of Alexandria, Virginia.

On Friday, Donnegan’s past Twitter usage was reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which discovered numerous, repeated, jokes about Catholics, including several jokes about pedophilia. 

Donnegan offered apparent justification for her tweets, saying that her father was “severely beaten” in Catholic foster homes as a child, and that she was an atheist. She also claimed that her husband, who she said is an “ex-Catholic” is not offended by her tweets. 

Questionable content on Donnegan’s social media accounts dates back to 2010, when she tweeted “Abortion is morally indefensible to Catholic priests bcuz it results in fewer children to rape” [sic]. 

Later that year she tweeted “Saw a bumper sticker: ‘You can’t be both Catholic & Pro-Choice.’ Add: You can be a pedophile though!” 

On Ash Wednesday 2011, she tweeted “Go tell a Catholic they have dirt on their forehead,” along with the hashtag #waystooffend. 

Donegan also repeatedly tweeted a joke regarding a priest seeking to sexually abuse a child. In 2018, she said this was her “fave joke” [sic]. 

In addition to the Catholic Church, Donegan issued profane tweets at the Boy Scouts, Republican politicians, and supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president. 

Virginia’s two Catholic dioceses of Arlington and Richmond released statements condemning the tweets and questioning the governor’s decision to appoint Donegan.

The Diocese of Richmond’s spokeswoman Deborah Cox told local media that the tweets “are extremely offensive to Catholics and the Catholic faith.”

“We would expect anyone appointed to a council or commission for the Commonwealth to be respectful of all faith groups and civil in his or her public comments--including social media--given their status as a representative of the Commonwealth, appointed by the governor.”

Billy Atwell, the chief communications officer of the Diocese of Arlington, called the appointment “disappointing.”

“Ms. Gordon Donegan has a record of ridiculing Catholic beliefs and practices and trafficking in stereotypes that would disqualify her from this role had they targeted any other category of persons,” said Atwell. “Her statements are offensive to human dignity and fail to reflect the depth of character one would expect of a leader in our Commonwealth.” 

Donegan has since locked her Twitter account.

Northam’s office did not respond to CNA’s request for comment. 

Earlier this year, Gov. Northam’s judgment and fitness for office were questioned over a series of scandals. In January, he expressed support for a bill to legalize abortion until the moment of birth, even if the mother of the child were in active labor at the time. During a radio appearance in defense of the proposed measure, Northam appeared to support infanticide, says that if a baby were to survive an abortion, the child should be “made comfortable” while a decision were made about whether or not to provide care.

Shortly after these events, pictures emerged from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page. The page included a picture of a person in blackface standing next to a man in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Northam initially conceded he was in the picture while declining to identify which person was him. He later said he did not believe he was in the picture at all. He has resisted numerous calls to resign from state party officials.