The talented Catholic journalist Brian Fraga has written an excellent and insightful piece at his blog, The Catholic Beat. Entitled, “Your Choice: The Eucharist or the Red Pill,” Fraga looks at the emergent radicalization in the traditionalist Catholic movement.
Hallmarks of this movement include conspiracy theories, antisemitism, the rejection of Vatican II and the liturgical reforms that followed, and what he describes as extreme “political and religious positions that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago to see espoused so openly on Twitter or Facebook.”
Fraga goes on to describe how the rise of social media has dramatically raised the profile of fringe ideas and bizarre narratives, such as the QAnon conspiracy theory. While in the past, those who might have been inclined to embrace such ideas might have found it difficult to find communities of like-minded people, due to the internet, “dysfunctional social networks become perfect conduits for misinformation to spread like a virus.”
Combine these toxic ideas with demagoguery, and suddenly the Church is facing a dangerous threat. He writes about how many of these online traditionalists “post vile anti-semitic memes and tropes such as the blood libel and the shadowy cabal of ‘globalists’ who control the money supply and pull the strings.”
“That last trope was a central feature of a conspiratorial manifesto that Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former papal nuncio to the United States, circulated this past spring that suggested the novel coronavirus pandemic was an over-hyped ‘pretext’ to deprive the faithful of Mass and impose a new world order ruled by a “world government beyond all control.
And it’s not just our radicalized former nuncio, who made a huge splash in 2018 with his demand that Pope Francis resign over the McCarrick affair and has since gone on to champion conspiracies about the “suppressed” Third Secret of Fatima. I know educated Catholics, some who attended Ivy League colleges, who believe this stuff. They really think the former nuncio is trying to warn us about a malevolent global conspiracy to abolish true religion.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, a brilliant American canon lawyer with well-documented traditionalist views, apparently thinks there is a global movement, operating under the guise of pushing a vaccine to ward off the coronavirus, that believes “a kind of microchip needs to be placed under the skin of every person, so that at any moment he or she can be controlled by the State regarding health and about other matters which we can only imagine.”
The cardinal made that claim in a speech last May reported by the far-right portal Lifesite, which has published several of Vigano’s missives and interviews with Burke. It’s easy for critics to dismiss Lifesite as a “fringe” outlet, but it carries enough influence and wields enough of an impact in the English-language Catholic media universe that it has to be contended with.
Far-right outlets like Lifesite and Church Militant, and certain hardline traditionalist personalities with large social media followings like Taylor Marshall, have developed loyal audiences of disillusioned Catholics who are distrustful of all Church and civil authorities that in their mind perpetuate the modern world’s unjust liberal order.”
Fraga goes on to describe the intersection of these radicalized Catholic reactionaries with the Alex Jones-type conspiracists we find in our secular and political culture. Many of the people who adhere to these ideas describe themselves as “redpilled,” and the term has come to represent a postmodern worldview that is detached from facts, reality, and common sense. Sadly, this phenomenon seems to be growing.
Fraga observes this, and proposes a solution:
“I see the red pill as a perversion of the Eucharist, which is the true source and summit of the Christian Life. The Eucharist is where you find transcendent truth and reality, not some elaborate global conspiracy that you can only see if you swallow a pill or buy into a certain ideology.
The Eucharistic host we consume at Mass contains actual grace, beauty, love and truth. The Eucharist is He who is the Truth and the Life by which all men and women come unto the Father. And the Eucharistic Lord is available to any humble man or woman, regardless of their race, background, gender, education, liturgical preference or opinion on political matters that good people can disagree on in good faith.”