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Press: ‘Cancelled’ priests round on Pope Francis

11 August 2023


IN A Guardian daily news conference at about the time of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to England, I was solemnly asked by the editor in front of everybody whether the Roman Catholic Church had been on the German side in the Second World War. I wasn’t expecting this, and floundered for a bit before realising that the answer was that nationalism trumped ideology. Shared anti-Semitism and anti-Communism had nowhere been stronger than patriotism. The countries on Hitler’s side had Churches that were, too; those who fought him had Churches that fought him — and the Irish were strictly neutral.

Since then, The Guardian has noticed that the only reactionary part of the Pope’s teaching today is his sexual morality. Admittedly, that is the only part of the Church’s teaching which most newspapers are aware of. But, on refugees and the environment, Pope Francis is a long way to the left of anyone electable in Western Europe.

The reaction, especially in the United States, has been very fierce. The Free Press, an online magazine, sent a reporter to “the conference of cancelled priests” in Wisconsin, which represents the extreme Trumpist faction of the Church there. One star speaker was Fr James Altman, suspended from ministry for a YouTube video telling people they could not be Catholic and vote Democrat, something that will have come as news to Joe Biden.

“The crowd at the second annual conference for the Coalition for Canceled Priests is going wild for Altman, who . . . spends his forty minutes at the lectern skewering the church’s hierarchy from top to bottom,” The Free Press reported. “Throughout, he refuses to call the pope Francis. ‘No one in 2,000 years has been as fake and a fraud of a Catholic as the imposter prancing around in white in our day, Jorge Bergoglio,’ Altman informs the rapt room.

“Altman goes on to describe Pope Francis as an ‘anti-Pope’ and an ‘earthly viper’ in his talk. ‘We’ve had enough, Jorge,’ he says. ‘If he doesn’t repent for his fraudulent and damned papacy, he will burn in the lowest level of hell.’”

The final quote in the piece goes to a woman horrified by what she thinks she has learned at he conference: “I’ve heard of the deep state before but I never heard of the deep church. It’s kind of terrifying.”

IN THE Financial Times, Jonathan Derbyshire looked at some polling on Catholic France: “While church attendance in France continues to scrape along at levels that are a tiny fraction of those seen in the 1950s, the poll suggests that young French Catholics today are highly observant and favour the most traditional forms of ritual, including the Latin mass.”

Derbyshire’s perspective is that of a secular Protestant liberal. He is particularly horrified by the idea that RC teachings should have any effect on secular law: “In the La Croix poll, 59 per cent see the church as a ‘beacon which shows the way through the darkness’ of secular modernity.’”

That this looks strange to him shows the weakness of the conventional imagination. If the function of Christianity is not to be a beacon in the darkness, but merely a kind of flattering ring light for what all nice people think already, what is the point of it at all?

As the writer and photographer Chris Arnade wrote on UnHerd: “Here in the US, at a spiritual level, we are becoming a thin culture, obsessed with the surface, more and more in denial about the importance of what is beneath. We have forgotten that we need webs of meaning, eroding so many of them. People are left trying to cope with what we humans are not equipped to cope with — the isolation and chaos that follows from meaninglessness.”

THERE are even worse answers to this problem than neo-fascist Roman Catholicism. Try neo-fascist paganism, to start with. The magazine The Atlantic carried a 5000-word essay by Graeme Wood on the “Bronze Age Pervert” (BAP), an American Nietzschean of Romanian Jewish origins who has become a cult figure on the apparently respectable Right.

“America’s civic religion holds that all humans have inherent and equal worth, that they should not be graded according to beauty or nobility, and that they should not aim to destroy one another,” Wood writes. “BAP says this orthodoxy is exactly wrong. He argues that the natural and desirable condition of life is the domination of the weak and ugly by the strong and noble. He considers American cities a ‘wasteland’ run by Jews and Black people, though the words he uses to denote these groups are considerably less genteel than these.”

Wood tells the story of a Yale political scientist who warned his peers last year that “His best students were choosing between the protofascism of Nietzsche and a neomedieval, quasi-theocratic version of Catholicism opposed to Enlightenment liberalism. These students considered liberal democracy an exhausted joke, and they hinted — and sometimes did more than hint — that the past few centuries had been a mistake, and that the mistake should now be corrected.”

Go and watch the Barbie film, and then tell me that this idea is ridiculous.

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