The contributors to Where Peter Is are happy to see that the magazine Vanity Fair has published an article called “Deep State, Deep Church: How QAnon and Trumpism have Infected the Catholic Church” by journalist Kathryn Joyce that describes for its readers the ideological and spiritual struggle going on within the Catholic Church—the struggle that we at Where Peter Is have been writing about for nearly three years. Many of us are of the belief that these issues gaining broader public notice will strengthen our efforts to think with the Church, to defend and promote the ideas of the Francis papacy, and to draw attention to the political polarization of the Church, particularly in North America.
This is an important piece that we hope will draw attention to a crisis in Catholicism: the growth of a highly politicized alt-right Catholicism that is reaching a fever pitch as we approach the US election on November 3. Finally, this problem is being recognized outside the confines of Catholic media. The article is over 6,000 words, but well worth reading. This extremely well-researched article features quotations from some WPI contributors.
Mike Lewis is quoted discussing the uphill battle faced by WPI in our attempts to counter this growing reactionary movement, which has been largely ignored by Church leaders:
“You hear about these people who say, ‘I lost my mother to QAnon,’ but it’s happening in Catholic families as well,” says Lewis. “I’ve been one of the few Catholic moderates banging the drum, saying this is not a movement we can ignore. They are getting more and more radical, becoming more and more conspiratorial, and causing serious polarization. And if we don’t dial it back right now—” He stops. “I mean, I don’t even know if we can come back from it now.” Indeed, by the time Francis released a new encyclical earlier this month, sharply rebuking nationalism and appealing for universal fraternity, Catholic traditionalists could only respond that it would be “the ultimate Masonic document,” and that there was no unity they could have with him.
The primary focus of the article, however, is how conservative American Catholicism has now become, in effect, an extension of the toxic very-online mediatic ecosystem surrounding US President Donald Trump:
“It was kind of like Pepe Catholicism,” says David W. Lafferty, an independent scholar who writes about conspiracy theories for Where Peter Is, a moderate Catholic site founded to rebut right-wing attacks on Francis. A sort of “Catholic LARPing,” Georgetown theologian Adam Rasmussen noted on a Where Peter Is podcast, where alt-rightists organized primarily around racial grievance could pretend they were “Knights Templar fighting the forces of darkness in the deep state.”
According to Vanity Fair, Trump with his “famously transactional worldview” has elevated right-wing Catholic concerns within his reelection campaign in exchange for political support:
Alongside drumbeat messages about abortion and religious freedom, Catholics for Trump hosted “Theology Thursday” Zoom sessions with figures like [Taylor] Marshall and Sebastian Gorka; weekly prayer calls and rosaries; and blessings from priests like [Fr. Frank] Pavone before canvassers went door-knocking. From his new perch within the campaign, Marshall cohosted a live-streamed LifeSiteNews rosary, led by Viganò, praying for Trump’s victory. And CatholicVote, an independent political group that shares an adviser with the campaign, commissioned a mailer pitting collaged photos of Trump, Ronald Reagan, and John Paul II against those of Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Ilhan Omar, asking recipients, “Which side are you on?”
Then there was the convention, which opened in August with a prayer by a delegate who described himself as a “Catholic, Donald Trump Republican” and Don Jr., warning the election was “shaping up to be church, work, and school versus rioting, looting, and vandalism.” There was Nicholas Sandmann, the Catholic high schooler turned conservative celebrity after his clash with a Native American activist; former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, who garnered a Presidential Medal of Freedom after calling Biden “Catholic in name only”; and a nun, Sr. Deirdre Byrne, who declared Biden and Kamala Harris “the most anti-life presidential ticket ever,” while brandishing a rosary she described as her “weapon of choice” (a flourish she later said that Marshall had inspired).
At one point in the article, Vanity Fair quotes John Zmirak astonishingly calling the 2020 Republican National Convention “the most Catholic moment in American history.”
It is not the mission of Where Peter Is to tell our readers how to vote. Voting is a personal decision, made in conscience. Some of our contributors are left-of-center, politically. Others are from right-of-center backgrounds. Some are moderates or are simply not political animals. That said, we have grave concerns about the increasing overlap between the American right-wing political movement and Francis’s self-appointed opposition within the Church. From Archbishop Viganò’s “V drops” (a term I coined in a Peter’s Field Hospital podcast over the summer) to the racist memes that cropped up in the wake of last year’s “Pachamama-dunker” incident, the tactics of the extremely-online Trumpist right are becoming those of anti-Francis Catholics as well.
We have four days until the US Presidential election, but it is also two days before All Saints’ Day, and, thus, the day before Halloween. In the true Halloween spirit, it’s undeniable that this movement within the Catholic Church is behaving ghoulishly. The Italian communist philosopher Antonio Gramsci is often paraphrased as having said that “the old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters.” Evidently much the same can be said of the interregnum between pre-Trump and post-Trump American Catholicism. I highly recommend the Vanity Fair article to all Where Peter Is readers. Spooky stuff!
Image: Adobe Stock
Nathan Turowsky is a native New Englander and now lives in Upstate New York. A lifelong fascination with religious ritual led him into first the Episcopal Church and then the Catholic Church. An alumnus of Boston University School of Theology and one of the relatively few Catholic alumni of that primarily Wesleyan institution, he is unmarried and works in the nonprofit sector. He writes at Silicate Siesta.