A WAKE-UP CALL FOR THE USCCB
An Authentic Preaching of the Gospel Demands
a Critique of Radical-Right-Wing Catholics
Part I: Pope Francis' Reform of the Catholic Church
John R. Connolly
February 21, 2022
John R. Connolly
February 21, 2022
The leadership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, has turned a blind eye to the theological and political distortions and lies of the radical right-wing of the Catholic Church in the United States. The U.S. bishops’ conference has watched these radical right-wing Catholic groups and their followers continue to spread their lies and distortions and remained silent without making any public criticism or warning that many of their views may violate some very basic Catholic teachings. The views of these radical-right-wing Catholics can be found on Catholic websites and in the Catholic media. Spokespersons for these views can be found among the Catholic hierarchy, as well as among Catholic priests, religious, and laity. Financial support is provided by wealthy Catholic donors who actively work to further the agenda of these radical-right-wing Catholics.
Although LifeSiteNews and Church Militant are the most prominent websites disseminating the views of radical-right-wing Catholics, their positions also can be found on Catholic websites such as Catholic-voter.org, OnePeterFive, vaticancatholic.com, Novus Ordo Watch, and Catholic Family News. The television network, EWTN, Eternal Word Television Network, is, without question, the most significant and far-reaching media source of the Catholic far right. An influential newspaper source for the views of these radical-right-wing Catholics is The National Catholic Register. which is owned by EWTN. Some of the major spokespersons among the Catholic hierarchy include Cardinal Raymond Burke, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Bishop Joseph Strickland, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, and Bishop Robert Baker. Notable Catholic priests who disseminate and support the views of the radical Catholic right-wing include Fr. James Altman, Fr. Frank Pavone, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., and Father Gerald Murray. Prominent lay spokespersons for the views of the radical-right-wing of the Catholic Church include Raymond Arryo, Steve Bannon, George Weigel, Tim Staples, Dorothy Cummings McLean, Joseph Shaw, Robert Royal, Michael Voris, John-Henry Westen, Jonathon Van Mare, and Dr. Taylor Marshall. There is also a Catholic nun, Mother Miriam, who has a blog on LifeSite News. However, the primary reason why the radical-right-wing Catholic movement is so pervasive and influential is due to the enormous financial support it receives from wealthy Catholic donors. Some of the major donors include people like Timothy R. Busch of the Napa Institute, Harry G. John through the De Rance Foundation, Rose Patek of the Birch Foundation, Frank Hanna III through the Solidarity Foundation, John N. McAleer, former executive vice-president of Krispy Kreme, and the Kock family through The Charles Koch Foundation.
It is not being suggested that all of the sources listed above subscribe totally and in the same way to all of the views of the radical-right-wing Catholics that are going to be discussed in this essay. My point is simply that, if you wish to encounter their views first-hand, these are some of the places where you will find them. The presentation of the major views of the radical- right-wing Catholic movement will be divided into two parts. Part I will treat their rejection of Pope Francis’ reform of the Catholic Church, their questioning of his legitimacy as pope, and their rejection of the Second Vatican Council. In part II the right-wing Catholic movement’s endorsement of the Trump agenda, including his fraudulent claims about the 2020 election and the January 6, 2021, insurrection, will be examined. The rest of this essay will focus on Part I. Part II will be discussed in a second essay.
The basic theological starting point of these radical-right-wing Catholics is their rejection of Pope Francis’ mission to reform the Catholic Church according to the theology and teachings of the Second Vatican Council. From the very beginning of his papacy, starting with Cardinal Raymond Burke’s infamous “dubia,” the radical-right-wing Catholic media along with its followers has been harshly critical of Francis’ mission to reform the church. Their charges are based upon distortions, misinformation, and false accusations. They are totally unsubstantiated and without any foundation in truth. In their intensity, these attacks have been extremely vicious, unfair, unjust, mean spirited, and hardly Christian. The arrogance and vehemence of these radical-right-wing critics of Pope Francis goes far beyond what one would expect from someone who simply might want further clarification or discussion on an issue of concern. Anyone who disagrees with their interpretations of the teaching of the church is labeled either as an unfaithful Catholic, an apostate, a heretic, a schismatic, or all of the above. At various times they have accused Pope Francis of all of the above.
Not only do these radical-right-wing Catholics reject Pope Francis’ reform of the church, but some have also questioned his legitimacy as pope and others even have made attempts to remove him from office. Early on in Francis’ papacy the radical right-wing Catholic media began to spread conspiracy theories regarding Benedict XVI’s resignation which raised doubts about the legitimacy of Pope Francis’ election. These false claims still linger on in some outlets today. It was claimed that Benedict did not freely choose to resign, but was forced to resign, either by pressure from the gay lobby in the Vatican or perhaps, because of threats being made to reveal Benedict’s involvement in the sexual-abuse cover-up. Others maintained that there were so-called irregularities in the wording of his resignation. No credible evidence has been presented for any of the false claims made in this conspiracy theory. In fact, on March 1, 2021, Benedict XVI publicly issued a statement in which he definitively affirmed that his resignation was the result of his own free choice and that the conspiracy theories were false. He even stated that there is only one pope and that is Francis. Nevertheless, these false claims still linger on in some outlets today. Still some Catholics today believe that Benedict is the true pope.
Then, there is the 2018 Vigano attempted coup. With the support and help of the radical-right -wing media in the United States Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano made an attempt to force Pope Francis to resign. On August 25, 2018, Archbishop Vigano published a letter in which he accused Pope Francis of participating in a cover-up of the sexual misdeeds of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. In the letter Archbishop Vigano claims that Pope Francis removed alleged sanctions that Pope Benedict XVI placed on Cardinal McCarrick and, on the basis of this accusation, called on Francis to resign. However, in the letter Vigano offered no concrete evidence to support any of his claims. He never provided any proof that Benedict XVI actually placed sanctions on McCarrick, that Pope Francis knew about these sanctions, or that Francis did indeed lift the alleged sanctions. All of Vigano’s claims have since been demonstrated to have been false and erroneous accusations. See The McCarrick Report (November 10, 2020). What the Vigano letter demonstrates is the severity and vehemence of the radical-right-wing opposition to Pope Francis and his efforts to reform the Catholic Church. Vigano and his supporters used the McCarrick case as a pretext to undermine the papacy of Pope Francis.
Not only do these radical-right-wing Catholics question the legitimacy of Pope Francis’ papacy, but many also reject the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Some even go so far as to question the validity and legitimacy of the council itself. An article in LifeSite News (June 30, 2020) reported that Archbishop Carlos Maria Vigano maintained that all the evils that afflict the Catholic Church today can be traced back to the teachings of Vatican II. The article goes on to maintain that the council promulgated documents that support heresy and that undermine the traditional dogmas of the church. Some of the more radical outlets have called the council heretical. The website vaticancatholic.com blatantly states that the Second Vatican Council was a false council that contains many heresies. This website goes on to state that Vatican II was called by manifest heretics like John XXIII and Paul VI. Novus Ordo Watch favorably reviewed a book entitled Counterfeit Catholicism: The Inside Story of the Second Vatican Council on its website. The book maintains that the Second Vatican Council was a cunning attempt to destroy the Catholic Church from within by a group of twentieth century modernists.
One might respond to these observations on the views of radical-right-wing Catholics in the United States by saying that they have a right to their own opinions. And this is, of course, true as long as they make it clear that these views represent their own opinions. The problem is that they are presenting their own positions, beliefs, and teachings as if they were the only authentic interpretations and are claiming that their views represent the official teaching of the Catholic Church. They have set themselves up as a “parallel magisterium,” a term John Paul II applied to theologians.
Yet, what so is ironic about the vision of radical-right-wing Catholicism is that many of its own views are so obviously contrary to some very fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church. Spreading lies about the pope, misrepresenting his teachings, making false accusations, and calling him a heretic based upon their own erroneous interpretations of the teachings of the church are not actions that are compatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church accepts Jesus’ command to love God and your neighbor as yourself. Lying and bearing false witness violate the letter and the spirit of the eighth commandment. Spreading conspiracy theories about the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the legitimacy of Pope Francis’s papacy, and attempting to remove him from office based upon lies and fabricated evidence are not actions compatible with the moral teaching of the church. At what point does questioning the legitimacy of Pope Francis become schism? If one actually rejects Pope Francis as the vicar of Christ on earth and the head of the Catholic Church, how can one be in full communion with the Catholic Church? Does this not place one in some kind of objectively grave sinful condition? Would such a person meet the church’s qualification for Eucharistic communion? Certainly, spreading conspiracy theories about the Second Vatican Council, rejecting its teaching, and calling it an heretic council are actions that are not compatible with the full acceptance of the teachings of the Catholic Church. All the Ecumenical Councils represent the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church throughout history. It is not the prerogative of a Catholic to pick and choose which councils one thinks represent the true teaching of the church. Pope Francis himself has clearly stated that those who reject the Second Vatican Council have placed themselves outside the church. Either you are with the church and follow the Second Vatican Council or you do not stand with the church.
When will the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops acknowledge the threat that the radical-right-wing Catholic movement poses to a consistent and authentic presentation of the teachings of the church as well as to the unity of the Catholic church in the United States and begin to speak out against its distorted and erroneous teachings? A consistent preaching of the Gospel demands correcting false and distorted views of the teachings of the Catholic Church no matter their source. The time for silence has passed.