Following in the footsteps of many other media outlets (including America, where my article on the division caused by papal critics was the most read in the month of August), we present to you a year-end roundup of our top stories of 2020.
The articles listed below were the most widely-read of the past year, both by month and (at the end of this post) cumulatively. You may notice that in the overall top 10, most of the top articles were published towards the end of the year. This is because our readership has grown steadily and significantly over the past 12 months. Thank you very much for your support, your loyalty, and for helping to spread the word about the work that we are doing at WPI.
Our most popular stories of January were written in response to two media-generated controversies. The first of these was the New Year’s Eve incident where Francis slapped the hand of a woman who grabbed him and wouldn’t let go. Pedro Gabriel’s article, “On Yanking and Slapping Hands,” contained a summary of the incident and a roundup of the commentary in the media. Pedro conceded that while both the woman and the pope bore responsibility, the attempts to impugn both her character and that of Francis were disproportionate to the event. Several days later, Nathan Turowsky put his language skills to use to determine what language the woman was speaking and what she was saying. His conclusion? “It’s Japanese.”
The other papal “controversy” in the first month of 2019 was the surprise announcement of a book by Cardinal Robert Sarah on priestly celibacy that listed Pope Emeritus Benedict as a coauthor. If Benedict had truly consented to coauthor this book, it would have indicated that Benedict had broken his promise not to interfere in the papacy of his successor. Our top story of January was my essay responding to his official statement clarifying that he had never agreed to be a coauthor: “Benedict kept his word.” (Click here for my February 3 article with further details and clarification on the controversy.)
The following month, our most-read article was our response to another controversy. On February 20, a news outlet published a story based on statements by anonymous American bishops asserting that during their ad limina meeting in Rome, Pope Francis expressed his displeasure about Fr. James Martin and his ministry and said that disciplinary action had been taken. One of the unnamed bishops said the pope “felt he’d been used” in relation to his September 2019 meeting with Fr. Martin. Two bishops who were present at the meeting immediately challenged this account, and Fr. Martin directly challenged some of the claims that were made about him. Nathan Turowsky weighed in with his analysis “On the CNA/Martin Affair,” which was the most-read article on WPI that month. Also popular was Dan Amiri’s essay, “Fr. Jame Martin and the End of Modernity,” which analyzed Fr. Martin’s ministry to LGBT Catholics in light of doctrinal orthodoxy, pastoral considerations, and contemporary culture. (You might also want to check out my article on the affair from March, “Fr. Martin vs. the Anonymous Bishops.”)
The second-most popular article in February was the first installment of our series on “The New Americanism” by J. Patrick Yodzis. In six parts, Yodzis analyzes aspects of contemporary Catholic cultures and mindsets in light of Testem benevolentiae, Pope Leo XIII’s letter on Americanism, and explores how today’s traditionalists embody many of the key attributes condemned by the 19th-century pope. This series continued through the month and was extremely well-received by our readers. (All the parts can be found here.)
March 2020 brought the COVID-19 pandemic and changed the world. Interestingly, our top post that month wasn’t an article, but a resource. I created our “Printable Rosary Guide for the COVID-19 pandemic” in response to Pope Francis’s call for a worldwide Rosary on March 19 of this year. Because Francis composed new prayers to Mary and Joseph, and because we want to encourage Catholics to pray the Rosary, I thought people might enjoy having a “cheat sheet.” They did. We still have dozens of visitors every day who come to our site looking for printable Rosary guides.
Also popular was Dan Amiri’s “Now the Elderly Need a Pro-Life Movement,” written in response to the callous attitudes towards the value of the lives of the elderly during the pandemic, and my piece on the challenges facing the newly-appointed bishop of Birmingham, Alabama, “Birmingham’s new shepherd and the challenge of EWTN.”
In April, our most popular post was an episode of our new Peter’s Field Hospital podcast, where Dan Amiri and I interviewed Catholic academic and author Dr. Phyllis Zagano. Phyllis, who was named by Pope Francis in 2016 to serve on the Papal Commission on women in the diaconate, discussed her book Women: Icons of Christ, and shared some very interesting stories and anecdotes about her decades of service to the Church.
Also widely-read in April was “Criticizing the Critics,” a piece I wrote in response to an article in National Review, by Francis X. Maier (former advisor to Archbishop Chaput), where he lamented what he believed to be the shoddy treatment by the pope’s supporters of Francis’s “respectful critics.” Of course, in his essay, he proved to be anything but respectful of the pope or his supporters, describing them (among other things) as “anti-intellectual” and as causing the “diminishment of Catholic thought.”
The top post in May was our publication of the 1968 “Statement of the Black Catholic Clergy Caucus.” This historically-significant statement, unearthed by Nate Tinner-Williams (he also wrote an introduction in the post), was shared widely across social media at the height of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and when the voices of Black Catholics were demanding to be heard.
The second most popular article in May was an essay by Mexican philosopher and member of the Pontifical Academy for Life Rodrigo Guerra Lopez entitled, “We must be open to correction from Pope Francis.” This essay analyzed a bizarre episode surrounding an open letter spearheaded by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò that promoted conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and the New World Order. It was signed by a handful of bishops and cardinals, as well as some priests and laypeople. Cardinal Robert Sarah, who was originally listed as a signatory, denied his participation, which led to a social media war and an escalating series of public accusations against the cardinal by Viganò.
Website traffic rose significantly in June following a series of open missives by Archbishop Viganò, and the most-read article was an essay by Dr. Robert Fastiggi asking, “Is Archbishop Viganò in Schism?” As Viganò’s output began to increase, both in frequency and in bizarre conspiracism, and was bolstered by a presidential tweet, we responded. DW Lafferty’s “The Redpilled Pope of the Qatholic Church?” which explained the QAnon-inspired rhetoric in Viganò’s open letter to Donald Trump, as well as my article “The extremist reactionaries have all the oxygen they need,” and Rachel Amiri’s “Who Are Viganò’s Children of Light?” All three of these articles shed light on the seriousness of the threat of the reactionary, conspiracy theorist movement in the Church.
Perhaps no article (or series of articles) in the history of WPI was met with a more impassioned response than Dawn Eden Goldstein’s four-part theological analysis of the devotional book, In Sinu Jesu: When Heart Speaks to Heart—The Journal of a Priest at Prayer, written by an anonymous (well, not that anonymous) Benedictine monk who claimed to receive locutions from God, and recorded them in this book. Beloved of traditionalists (it is a favorite of Archbiship Viganò, Bishop Joseph Strickland, and Cardinal Raymond Burke), this book has circulated quietly among priests and seminarians for several years and had never undergone any serious theological scrutiny, and many fans of the book were outraged when Dr. Goldstein’s reporting uncovered some less-than-ideal information about the book’s author and questioned the book’s theological approach. (Click here for Part 1 of “In Sinu Jesu: A Critical Analysis.”) Meanwhile, those who had concerns about the book were pleased that we initiated a discussion about its problematic elements.
The top article of July was Pedro Gabriel’s “Why the Vatican is Silent on Viganò.” In this analysis, Pedro notes that the Vatican did, in fact, give one official response via Cardinal Marc Ouellet, which was immediately twisted and dismissed by Francis’s critics. Since then, however (and perhaps in light of their one futile attempt), the Vatican and Pope Francis have not commented on his antics. Digging into Pope Francis’s history and writing, Pedro explains the pope’s motivations for opting for this approach.
Also creating a buzz in July was Adam Rasmussen’s two part theological analysis of Viganò’s newly-adopted opposition to the Second Vatican Council. The first essay, “Vigano: Radical Traditionalism Redivivus,” explored how Viganò’s arguments are a nearly-incoherent collection of radical traditionalist tropes. Part two, “Exposing Viganò’s spurious theory of two councils,” exposes Viganò’s ahistorical and theologically irresponsible explanation of what he thinks about the Council.
In August, the top two stories related to the excommunicated former Sacramento priest, Jeremy Leatherby. Leatherby, if you recall, was a popular and charismatic priest who was suspended by Bishop Jaime Soto in 2016 for sexual impropriety. For years, his large, influential family and many of his former parishioners waged a campaign, both in person and in Catholic media, protesting his innocence and claiming that he was being persecuted by Soto. Then, this year, Leatherby decided, against his bishop’s orders, to resume public ministry while claiming that Pope Francis was a false pope. This resulted in his excommunication for his act of schism. I wrote about this in, “Is the schism upon us?” Days later, after a troubling video of Leatherby emerged and one of his victims of abuse described her experience of his manipulative and abusive behavior, I wrote, “Sacramento priest: Horrifying details emerge.”
Another top article of the month was “Biblical” by DW Lafferty, in which he explained the theological overtones of the QAnon mythos, as well as the adoption of QAnon’s rhetoric by Catholic figures like Viganò.
Our top story in September was “LifeSiteNews: The Origin Story,” in which DW Lafferty traced the roots of this reactionary news outlet, which began as an outgrowth of Canada’s pro-life movement. Unlike the US pro-life movement, which has a great deal of support from the Catholic hierarchy, the Canadian iteration has had in many ways a much more antagonistic relationship with the institutional Church. The leadership of the Canadian movement, according to Lafferty, tends to be “starkly dualistic,” and sees the Canadian hierarchy’s approach to abortion as indifferent or even complicit.
The second most read article in September was “Apocalypse When? Catholic millenarianism rising” by Emmett O’Regan. In this essay, he explores the problematic theology of the popular endtimes-themed website Countdown to the Kingdom. He writes that in addition to the promotion of numerous false or unapproved apparitions and prophecies about the end of the world, at its core, the site’s authors promote a repackaged form of the ancient millenarian heresy.
In October, Pope Francis published his third encyclical, Fratelli Tutti. WPI was on top of the coverage of this groundbreaking document. On the evening of its release, we hosted a 2-hour international live event, featuring a number of regular WPI contributors, as well as special guests Christopher Lamb (joining us from Rome), and Steve Millies of the Bernardin Center in Chicago. All told, we had 9 participants joining us live from 5 countries and two continents. Our most-read post on Fratelli Tutti was “Fratelli Tutti: Pope Francis’s Love Letter to the World” by Fr. Satish Joseph. Just behind that was my commentary on Taylor Marshall’s lazy and dishonest response to the encyclical, “The inanity of CTRL-F criticism.”
The traffic generated by these contributions was dwarfed, however, by the attention given to yet another media-generated controversy surrounding Pope Francis. Our coverage of Pope Francis’s comments on same-sex civil unions in the documentary Francesco resulted in two of our four most-read articles of the year: Pedro Gabriel’s “Those Pope Francis quotes: Video editing and media controversy”—his analysis of how the pope’s comments were edited in the documentary—came in at number one, and, “Pope Francis and Civil Unions: Critical Context,” my early analysis of the pope’s words in the context of his previous statements was the second most-read that month.
November was the month that the McCarrick report was released, and our top article was Austen Ivereigh’s sober and insightful analysis, “The McCarrick Report: 40 years of facts laid bare.” Ivereigh wrote that in the report, there were “two jaw-dropping revelations”: the fact that Pope Saint John Paul II had been informed of the accusations against McCarrick prior to moving him to Washington, and that the disgraced Archbishop Viganò failed to act on a credible accusation of abuse against McCarrick in 2012, when he served as papal nuncio to the United States.
The second most-read article was, “Viganò burns EWTN and Raymond Arroyo,” my investigation into an interview between Viganò and Raymond Arroyo that aired on EWTN’s The World Over. After noticing that there were multiple versions of the interview transcript, as well as apparent edits in the video, I worked to uncover the reason for the discrepancies. When I discovered a third transcript, the explanation became clear: Arroyo had agreed to an interview that was pre-scripted by Viganò, and tried to edit out some of his more outrageous statements. They hadn’t counted on Viganò revealing what they’d done. (Also, when Arroyo accused me of lying during the broadcast of the following episode, I issued a response.)
At present, the most widely read article in December is “A Dangerous Bishop,” about Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, who openly advocated for a candidate in the US presidential election, took part in the “Jericho March” rally to overturn the results of the election, and has publicly dissented from the Church’s teachings on the moral licety of receiving COVID-19 vaccines—even taking part in a conference sponsored by a prominent anti-vaccination organization.
Second on the list is Pedro Gabriel’s “The Vatican Nativity Scene explained,” in which he interviews Italian art historian Lucia Arbace on this year’s controversial nativity scene in St. Peter’s square. She dispels all the rumors of sinister motives and conspiracy theories surrounding the erection of this display. Also widely read was Pedro’s “Is that an astronaut in the Vatican’s nativity scene?” This article was the result of his initial investigation into the origins of the display.
The Top 10 Most-Read Articles on Where Peter Is in 2020
You might notice that many of our top articles, both in the monthly reports above and in the overall top 10 below, created buzz because they were written about controversial events and figures. Sadly, this seems to be the way of things: controversy is popular.
In part 2 of my year-end review, I will be drawing attention to our pieces that should have received more attention because they were well-written, insightful, and (in many cases) inspirational. Stay tuned.
1. Those Pope Francis quotes: Video editing and media controversy, Pedro Gabriel
2. The McCarrick Report: 40 years of facts laid bare, Austen Ivereigh
3. Viganò burns EWTN and Raymond Arroyo, Mike Lewis
4. Pope Francis and Civil Unions: Critical Context, Mike Lewis
5. Printable Rosary Guide for the COVID-19 pandemic
6. LifeSiteNews: The Origin Story, DW Lafferty
7. Fratelli Tutti: Pope Francis’s Love Letter to the World, Fr. Satish Joseph
8. Is Archbishop Viganò in Schism?, Dr. Robert Fastiggi
9. Michel Rodrigue: When will no mean no?, Mike Lewis
10. The inanity of CTRL-F criticism, Mike Lewis
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.