Earlier today, Robert Christian of the Catholic website Millennial published an interview he did with Mike Lewis about the reasons for starting Where Peter Is. In the interview, Mike discusses the events in the Church and the shifts in the Catholic media landscape that led to a need for an outlet dedicated to simply sharing the message of the pope with Catholics. He explains:
We started WPI because we saw a gap in Catholic media coverage and commentary of Pope Francis in the English-speaking world. Many conservative Catholic media outlets were regularly criticizing Pope Francis, his priorities, and his teachings. They were stoking all kinds of controversies and creating scandal among ordinary Catholics, including many of my friends and family members. The outlets that supported Francis were largely ignoring these issues. Hardly anyone was addressing the growing opposition to the pope, and the reactionary narrative was starting to take hold, because no one was offering the other side of the story on a consistent basis.
Mike goes on to discuss the many problematic aspects of Catholic media coverage of the pope and his teaching. He also explains that much of the problem is unique to the Catholic “right.” He discusses the role of racist and alt-right ideology in the movement, as well as how social media plays a role. He says, “You can’t underestimate the effects on ordinary Catholics when the largest Catholic media outlet in the world is pumping the reactionary narrative into millions of homes; when the Catholic websites that continue to address the issue are all pushing the same point of view; when this phenomenon is ignored by 99% of the bishops and non-reactionary Catholic media; and when their most respected bishops and priests are repeating the same refrain.”
On a personal note, I discovered this site last year when I was trying to find articles to refute the claims of reactionary Catholics, particularly Archbishop Vigano’s wild and false statements. My parish by that time had become so entrenched in the same rhetoric and worldview that Mike describes in the interview. Members of my parish were regularly sharing articles from LifeSiteNews and similar outlets. They frequently shared negative gossip about the pope after daily Mass and in parish groups. They even invited Proud Boys supporter and former Taylor Marshall sidekick Tim Gordon to speak at Theology on Tap.
At one point I set up a meeting with our pastor to inform him of these disturbing trends, and he confessed that he had never heard of these reactionary figures. In searching online, Where Peter Is was one of the only sites I found that provided reliable information that could explain what was happening to pastors like mine and attempted to refute the narrative that was being fed constantly to ordinary Catholics.
For a long time, I tried to keep lines of communication open with these Catholics in my community who had fallen into the anti-Francis worldview. I tried, little by little, to explain that true orthodoxy was defined by faithfulness to Magisterium, the protection of which is entrusted to the Pope. I watched as they became progressively more reactionary, especially in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the lead-up to the 2020 US presidential election.
The content of alt-right Catholic media sites stoked fears and spread lies in response to these events. And on top of all this, they constantly promote conspiracy theories about Pope Francis. And the followers of these voices spare no effort to close off their echo chambers from any dissent—even from close friends and family. As I became more outspoken against it, they turned on me. I have received letters from former friends accusing me of having turned against the faith. Once, a woman yelled a prayer at me that might best be described as a pseudo-exorcism. But the overwhelming response was to simply ostracize my family and me from gatherings or any kind of dialogue.
There is one incident has motivated me the most. One night, a close friend—a traditionalist Catholic—adamantly insisted that the death penalty was an intrinsic moral good. I showed her the relevant passage in the Catechism, and I referred her to all the other Church teachings that refuted her claim. She replied that the Catechism wasn’t magisterial.
I then read her the official statements that explicitly state the Catechism is indeed magisterial and that it was issued with apostolic authority. She looked into my eyes and said that she still wouldn’t accept that because she was told otherwise by a video that she had seen on Taylor Marshall’s site. This was a profound moment for me that I often return to when my work with WPI seems difficult. I draw strength on this moment precisely because I know my friend loves Jesus deeply. She is not malicious or hopeless. She is intelligent, kind, sincere, and has a deep yearning for her faith. And my heart has broken as I’ve watched her also accept the alt-right, racist views promoted in these traditionalist circles. I understand that she is so much more than this.
While it’s true that we all have individual responsibility for our actions, there are also people who are manipulating good people in the name of our faith. They are conflating ideology with the Gospel and fooling so many of our brothers and sisters. My commitment to WPI is motivated by her and is for those who have been directly harmed by this ideology, most especially the poor and marginalized. The mission of WPI is to support the Church I love, the Church who suffers deeply when its members are led astray.
My personal story is anecdotal, but Mike’s interview outlines the problem in a much wider context. Please read it in its entirety. My hope is that once we identify the problems and divisions, we can take the necessary steps toward uniting all members of our Church in the truth that was entrusted to the Successor of Peter by the promise of Jesus Christ.
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Melinda Ribnek is a lifelong Catholic, originally from Savannah, Georgia. She currently lives on California's Central Coast with her husband Brian and their seven children. In her spare time, she volunteers for the Church and in her community.