This week, someone sent me a link to Scott Hahn’s Facebook page, where the prominent Catholic professor, author, and speaker shared Bishop Joseph Strickland’s latest pastoral letter, writing, “I am grateful for Bishop Strickland’s inspiring words.” Later, another reader mentioned the fact that Hahn is scheduled to speak in Strickland’s diocese of Tyler, Texas, in mid-October. This seems to make public what many have long suspected: in the deeply-divided US Church, Scott Hahn has aligned himself with the dissident, anti-papal wing of the Church. For the most part, Hahn has publicly avoided the controversies surrounding Pope Francis over the last decade. With his endorsement of Strickland’s letter, the prospect of a schism in the US Catholic Church — or at least that of an angry populist revolt against the pope — suddenly seems more realistic.

Sure, the signs were already there with Hahn, such as in 2020 when he told LifeSiteNews founder John-Henry Westen that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Cardinal Raymond Burke, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, of all the bishops in the world, “I’m not sure there are anyone who has been shepherding the flock as courageously as those three.” His St. Paul Center Published Calming the Storm: Navigating the Crises Facing the Catholic Church and Society, a book-length interview of Fr. Gerald Murray, an outspoken critic of the pope, by Diane Montagna, the Vatican journalist who translated Viganò’s 2018 “testimony” against Pope Francis into English. But for Hahn to publicly express his support for Bishop Strickland — a controversial bishop known for promoting dangerous conspiracy theories and fomenting opposition to the pope — shortly after Strickland’s diocese underwent an Apostolic Visitation by the Vatican is a bold move for a leading Catholic figure to take.

For those Catholics who have remained loyal to the pope, and who worry about a schism coming from the far-right of the US Church, this is deeply disappointing. Many of us have admired Scott Hahn for many years, and he has been instrumental in deepening our faith. Sadly, few in the pre-2013 conservative Catholic milieu have been able to avoid being ensnared by the reactionary traditionalist ideology that has trapped countless others. In this sense, Scott Hahn is just one among many. Due to his popularity and the respect that many Catholics have for him, however, his embrace of this toxic movement is significant.

The first time I heard Scott Hahn’s voice, it was emanating from my mom’s tape player in the early 90s as she listened to “Three Former Protestant Ministers Convert To Catholicism,” a bulky, twelve-tape audio cassette box set featuring Jesuit and EWTN regular Fr. Mitch Pacwa along with the newly-Catholic Hahn and his fellow converts Steve Wood and Gerry Matatics, discussing the stories of their conversions. The series isn’t easy to find these days, possibly because Matatics left mainstream Catholicism and became a sedevacantist shortly thereafter, meaning that he rejects the validity of the Second Vatican Council and every pope since 1958.

Hahn, on the other hand, quickly rose to the top of a new and growing industry of popular Catholic apologists, becoming a highly-sought speaker and author and a theology professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. Countless “cradle Catholics” and converts to the faith have read and been inspired by Hahn’s 1993 spiritual memoir, Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism, a bestseller written with his wife, Kimberly about their conversions.

Hahn, a former Presbyterian minister with a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Marquette University, has achieved remarkable popularity in certain circles within the Church. He has written over forty books and has delivered thousands of talks. He is also the founder and president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, a non-profit publisher and media organization dedicated to teaching scripture to Catholics. Perhaps more than any Catholic layman in the history of the US Church, Hahn has presented his view of the Catholic faith in an accessible way for ordinary Catholics, and he has built a loyal following among the faithful. For the typical lay US Catholic who takes part in conferences, retreats, or bible studies, his influence is palpable, his voice immediately recognizable.

Although his work has received wide readership and is often cited by laity, it’s worth noting that some critics within the academic theological community have questioned the scholarly rigor of his writings. Sean Swain Martin, an assistant theology professor and the author of the 2021 book American Pope: Scott Hahn and the Rise of Catholic Fundamentalism, decided to do his doctoral dissertation on Hahn’s biblical scholarship because “despite the fact that Scott Hahn was the loudest voice in shaping the minds of the faithful, as a doctoral student in Catholic theology, I had no idea what he taught. … Moreover, when I turned to the theological world, I found that no one else had engaged with Hahn either.”

As far as I can tell, Martin is correct about that fact. Other than Martin’s book and dissertation, as well as a few Protestant apologetic challenges to Hahn’s work, it is difficult to find much scholarly engagement or debate over Hahn’s thought. Is this because, as another Catholic theologian told me, “No serious scholar takes Hahn seriously”? Because if that really is the case, Catholic seminaries, bishops, and schools in the US see him very differently. In a 2021 interview for the Crisis Point podcast, Hahn claimed that a high school text produced by his St. Paul Center was used in “35 to 40 percent of Catholic high schools” and that the center was “also now publishing the textbooks that are required texts in all of the seminaries — on the Eucharist, on fundamental theology, on scripture, on the sacraments.”

I have spoken with many priests and seminarians over the years who have praised Hahn’s biblical scholarship. And the esteem given to Hahn’s work by his fans cannot be underestimated. The backlash against American Pope was fierce. In a blog post about the reception of his book, Martin wrote, “A constant theme in the negative reactions to the book’s publication (not necessarily to the content of the book) is that I must have written the book because I am either jealous of Scott Hahn’s success or because of a hatred for the Church.”

I can already anticipate the backlash that I will receive for writing this article. But if you are planning to say something to the effect of “Respectful criticism of Pope Francis is not dissent” or “Just because he shows support for Bishop Strickland doesn’t mean he supports everything Strickland says,” please don’t. Scott Hahn is an intelligent man. He knows what he’s doing and he understands the significance of his timing. Just because he hasn’t spent the last ten years of his life publicly bashing Pope Francis doesn’t mean he disagrees with the attacks on the Holy Father. For Scott Hahn to openly support a heterodox bishop who once responded to a video describing Pope Francis as a “diabolically-disoriented clown” with the words “I didn’t see anything that wasn’t true” is not an insignificant gesture. Nor should it be treated as one.

Image: YouTube screenshot.

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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.

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