AP: 'Unsettling' Conservative Catholics 'Aim to Purge Dissenters'

In a Monday article, Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press played up the efforts of Catholic "theological conservatives" online who "say the church isn't Catholic enough" and are "unsettling the church." Zoll even quoted from a Vatican analyst for a heterodox Catholic publication who dubbed the phenomenon "Taliban Catholicism," with the slight caveat that "liberals can fit the mindset too." The writer, however, focused most of her attention on the conservatives.

Zoll, who berated conservative Southern Baptists as "vicious" zealots embarked on trying to "wipe out" every last liberal or moderate from their church in a January 29, 2008 article, wasted little time in her latest article, "Catholic bloggers aim to purge dissenters," in zeroing-in on her conservative targets: "Pressure is on to change the Roman Catholic Church in America, but it's not coming from the usual liberal suspects. A new breed of theological conservatives has taken to blogs and YouTube to say the church isn't Catholic enough. Enraged by dissent that they believe has gone unchecked for decades, and unafraid to say so in the starkest language, these activists are naming names and unsettling the church."

After listing some of the campaigns that these "theological conservatives" are involved in (such as "combing through campaign finance records to expose staff of Catholic agencies who donate to politicians who support abortion rights"), the AP writer dropped her "Taliban" reference: "John Allen, Vatican analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, has dubbed this trend 'Taliban Catholicism.' But he says it's not a strictly conservative phenomenon - liberals can fit the mindset, too, Allen says. Some left-leaning Catholics are outraged by any exercise of church authority. Yet on the Internet and in the church, conservatives are having the bigger impact."

Zoll would go on to use the "conservative" or "conservatives" term six more times (for a total of nine times in her article), compared to three times for "liberal" or "liberals," and once for "left." But the writer also devoted much more space to the efforts of the "theological conservatives," spending 19 out of 23 of the following paragraphs to specific effort of these activists, while only making passing references to their more heterodox opponents. The writer devoted about a third of those 19 paragraphs on the conservatives to just two individuals: Michael Voris of RealCatholicTV and Thomas Peters of American Papist blog:

Among Voris' many media ventures is the CIA - the Catholic Investigative Agency - a program from RealCatholicTV to "bring to light the dark deeds of evil Catholics-in-name-only, who are hijacking the Church for their own ends, not the ends of Christ."

In an episode called "Catholic Tea Party," Voris said: "Catholics need to be aware and studied and knowledgeable enough about the faith to recognize a heretical nun or a traitorous priest or bishop when they see one - not so they can vote them out of office, but so they can pray for them, one, and alert as many other Catholics as possible to their treachery, two."

....Thomas Peters, who runs the popular "AmericanPapist" blog, said fellow orthodox Catholics have embraced the Web because they feel they finally have a platform that can compete with well-established liberal Catholic publications, such as the National Catholic Reporter. (Some conservative bloggers call the paper "the National Catholic Destroyer.")

Peters, 25, considers himself on the more positive side of the orthodox Catholic blogosphere, although some targets of his commentary disagree.

He condemns the vitriol he sees online, and promotes a blog feature called "bishops with backbone," in praise of church leaders who rein in dissenters. He also added an online function to send thank you notes when leaders take tough stands, recently generating 500 letters in one day for Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis who refused Holy Communion to gay rights protesters at a recent Mass.

"All of these things that we say in public are meant for the best good of the church," said Peters. He began his blog several years ago and now works for the American Principles Project, a conservative advocacy group founded by Princeton University scholar Robert George....

"There's a general sense among many faithful Catholics that no matter how much they write their bishops, no matter how much they go to the pastors, all of these unfaithful things keep getting taught," Voris said. "I think enough Catholics are saying, 'That's it. I've had it.'"

Later in her article, Zoll tried to tie the efforts of the "theological conservatives" to trends inside the wider Catholic Church, and even to domestic politics:

The rise in lay conservative fervor comes at a time when the need for activism would seem less urgent. The U.S. hierarchy has seen a wave of retirements in recent years that has swept out leading liberals. The men taking their place are generally more traditional and willing to take a harder line against disobedient Catholics, from politicians to parishioners.

But even with these changes, bloggers say too few prelates speak out. The activists also say that since the 1970s, after the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, liberals have filled the bureaucracy of the church, hiding dissent from the bishops they serve....

Critics of the bloggers contend the activists are motivated mostly by politics, not theology. The blogs feature nearly as many attacks on President Barack Obama as church leaders. [Carol] McKinley's site, until recently, was called "Throwthebumsoutin2010," in anticipation of the midterm elections.

The late Saul Alinsky, the father of modern community organizing, is also a common topic on the conservative Catholic blogs. Activists complain that many groups that receive grants from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development use the tactics of Alinsky, a hero of the political left and a preoccupation of the political right since the 2008 election. When Obama was a community organizer in Chicago, he worked with people trained by Alinsky.

However, the conservative Catholic activists insist their faith, especially church teaching on abortion, inspires all their work.

Despite all of her attention on specific conservatives, the AP writer did not name any of the "critics of the bloggers" or any of the "left-leaning Catholics [who] are outraged by any exercise of church authority."

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center