Check out the third episode of The Critical Catholic on Where Peter Is Media, with Mike Lewis and D.W. Lafferty. We stream live every Sunday on YouTube at 8 p.m. EST.
This week’s guest: Paul Fahey
We all have a tendency to make sweeping generalizations about ideologies we oppose. This is not unusual among Catholics. Indeed, many popes have spoken this way, offering blanket condemnations of great social and political movements, although recent popes have been more restrained and nuanced in this regard, seeking dialogue rather than confrontation. Over the last four or five years, however, this sort of grandiose rhetoric has become endemic in the world of Catholic media, with even some very public members of the clergy taking it to new extremes, including Archbishop Viganò, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Cardinal Burke, and Cardinal Müller. They are what Pope John XXIII referred to as “prophets of doom”—voices of a Church that at once claims dominion over all and at the same time suffers from a persecution complex—and we have seen that those in the grip of this mentality are susceptible to falling into conspiracism.
The prophets of doom cling to an idea of the Church that, quite simply, is at odds with both reality and the Francis papacy. Paul Fahey connects this impulse to the decline of the concept of “Christendom” within the contemporary Christian imagination, stating that this is “part of the reason there’s so much animosity against Pope Francis within the Church; he isn’t interested in fighting for Christendom. The Catholics who are pining for privilege and influence, who want to win back spaces of power, correctly see that the pope doesn’t support their efforts.” David French has noted, in the context of American Evangelicalism, that there is also a connection between the concept of defending Christendom and the willingness many Christians showed in embracing Donald Trump and his employment of weaponized misinformation. The situation is no different in the Catholic Church.
Even those who don’t feel animosity toward Pope Francis will at times create their own version of him as a defender of Christendom, based on selective or esoteric readings of his statements and actions, in order to fit him into an “Integralist” Catholic vision.
A recent piece by Laura K. Field of the Niskanen Center, titled, “The Highbrow Conspiracism of the New Intellectual Right: A Sampling From the Trump Years,” offers further insight. She looks at a brand of conspiracism that arose during the last five years, one form of which draws upon religious traditionalism as a way of tapping into the currents of Trumpist conspiracy theory while remaining in the safer realm of abstract culture-critique.
It is the job of the critical Catholic to avoid embracing an imaginary vision of Christendom, and to refrain from indulging in grossly exaggerated, fear-based rhetoric about liberalism, “the left,” or the enemies of the Church.
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D.W. Lafferty, PhD, is a Catholic husband, dad, and independent scholar from Ontario, Canada. He works in higher education and has published articles on the literature of Wyndham Lewis, the conspiracy theory of Douglas Reed, and the life and legacy of Engelbert Dollfuss. Online, he tweets as @rightscholar.