radical catholic blogs: ignore or challenge?

Fr. Dwight Longenecker has written a commentary for Crux titled Radical Catholic blogs may be a cesspool, but saying so won’t help.  His article is a response to Fr. Thomas Rosica’s no holds barred condemnation of those who partake in “character assassinations” online. (See my previous post.) Rosica accused some Catholics of turning the Internet into “a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith”. (The full address can be found here.)

Fr. Longenecker believes that lack of catechesis is partly to blame for the rise in extreme traditionalism or fundamentalism in the church. He writes,

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, too much preaching and catechesis focused only on peace and justice issues, or presented a subjective and sentimental understanding of the Catholic faith. Pastors and catechists are not the only ones at fault. The Catholic faithful themselves have too often preferred a fuzzy, feel-good message.

Indifference, and indifferentism, have produced a notoriously lax and ineffectual form of American Catholicism.

Catholics who are looking for a faith with rigor, discipline and a tough line are invariably drawn to the traditionalist message.”

Longenecker believes that “Self-appointed online teachers fill the vacuum, and a poisonous, self-righteous extremism takes the place of true, simple, and humble piety.”

I agree that fundamentalism is fed on a perceived weakening and watering down of faith, a need to “get back to our roots”. Fundamentalism often morphs into an aggressive regression to simplistic, black and white thinking. Fundamentalism leaves little room for questioning and dialogue, for discerning personal circumstance and diversity. Fundamentalists often bully others into what they perceive as purity of belief and ritual.


Blaming a lack of catechesis and a “notoriously lax” Catholic populace is an over-used  tool for many clerics and lay alike. How many times were we told during discussions on the recent Synod on the Family that all problems in the family could be solved with more catechism classes? This is not only simplistic. It also bypasses the messiness of real encounter and true dialogue. It is easier to quote catechism and bible verses at a person than to immerse yourself in the reality of their life. It is easier to believe in and promote black and white teachings than to deal with the uncertainty of the grey, in-between.

Lonenecker did some online research on some of the “radical” Catholic blogs. The examples of nastiness that he lists show the lack of charity and basic human respect shown by these self-appointed arbiters of doctrinal purity. Their venom and vitriol prove that Fr. Rosica was justified in his condemnations.

Lonenecker ends the article on a note of resignation. There is no way to talk to these extremists, he believes, so we should simply ignore them.

Therefore, one must shrug, get on with the difficult calling of following Christ the Lord, and remember Rosica’s final comment: “We must pray for them, for their healing and conversion!


History is filled with religious and political ideologues whose incendiary words stoked the flames of bigoted hatred and division. Their modern day contemporaries surprise us with their seemingly effortless rise to power. How did they achieve such a strong voice? How did they get others to not only listen to them, but to believe and support what they are saying?

They do so by feeding on ignorance and despair, giving simple answers to complicated issues. They  promise heaven to those who feel the despairs of earthly existence. They target insecurities and feelings of inferiority by labelling and attacking the “other”. In doing so, their own egos are nourished.

Sorry, Father Lonenecker. Sure, we need to pray. We also need to shake off our complacency and speak out. We need to protect our church and our world from extremists, both religious and political.

Cesspools need to be called out for what they are. Shrugging them off will not take the smell away.

11 thoughts on “radical catholic blogs: ignore or challenge?

  1. Being naturally lazy, I have not trolled the antecedents of your blog. I might admit that I do deliberately avoid pronouncements of those who know better.
    I do dispute Fr Longenecker’s thought that diminishes the value of Catechism (especially at school level). How many of us can truly point to a laissez faire approach from our religious education teachers for our ambivalence towards religion, morality and general view of the world? We either believe in a catholic education,or, we don’t. What the children are supposed to learn are the foundations of our faith, presented, if possible, in an objective, dispassionate manner. We can give credit to the students to work out ” The grey parts” for themselves. This would lead to the knowledge-based discussion that the good father advocates.
    And, Yes. As the Lord advised, when faced by a serious problem, we must pray more, fast more and have greater faith.

  2. O,K,…

    I haven’t read too much in terms of radical Catholic blogs, but when I do see it I cringe because it repels people. Beauty draws people in.

    I am concerned that society in general isn’t open to healthy debate or to upholding people’s dignity. For instance, women who fear that male rapists will dress up as women and assault them in bathrooms are labeled as haters and bigots. The same labels are given to women who express that they do not feel comfortable showering with men.

    And it has become so extreme that people with certain traditional views are at risk of losing their life’s savings and/or going to jail for their beliefs. It is very scary.

  3. And yet, so many people are drawn in rather than repelled by those spouting bigotry and hatred. Why? Is it because it feeds their own insecure ego? It’s sad….

    1. That’s a really tough question. I don’t really know. All I can do is brainstorm a few possibilities…some people take the darkness that is inside of them and project it onto other people…maybe some people are so desperately aching to be seen and heard that they think they need to be really loud and angry for that to happen…some people don’t feel safe unless they are able to exercise great control…maybe some people think that they will lose part of themselves if they make room for other people’s feelings and ideas…and I think that some people just don’t really know how to love…

  4. “Ignore or challenge”? Challenge! Arrogant Catholics as you describe in these few blogs are bullies, plain and simple. Arrogant Catholics are also, in most cases radical fundamentalists. Whether of the liberal bent, aka anarchists or of the conservitive, aka selective traditionalists, they are bullies. The challenge is how to challenge.
    You refer to a position that arrogant catholics suffer from a lack of or inadequate catechesis. I am with you and Fr. Rosica. It has more to do with personal formation than with “information”. Information is but a tool – or weapon – to the bully. Consequently challenge will have little or no effect, but there is always hope. There is also an obligation, I think, to attempt to minimize the harm by challenging.
    Our tradition has a lot to answer for in causing and reinforcing this arrogance and its focus on incidentals as absolutes as well as the exclusion of difference. If one reads Pope Benedict’s response to the sexual abuse scandal in Ireland it is quite clear that his proposed “cure”, a return to “traditional markers” of Catholicism, this arrogance not only lives but is legitimized.
    I hate to admit it but conservative, traditionalist haranguing has contributed more towards my liberalization than anything else. As Fr. Rohr wries: “Reality is God’s best friend”.

    1. A thought. The bullies you refer to are not usually honest enough to do so in person so an “in person” response is ruled out. A “friend” of mine, recently passed, was a stereotypical red-neck retrograde. It was an ironic situation. His wife was a traditionalist ex-nun. We argued in private and in public but for some strange reason, perhaps because of his wife, I liked him. No, he was a good person. He would help anyone, anytime, anywhere. And….then he would comment vigorously on any eccentricity or difference they displayed. I knew he was a good person; his spouse though personally rigidly traditional was/is genuinely non-judgmental. This doesn’t help but I just had to pay tribute to my beloved “others”.
      Any ideas? Ask “why”. Challenge them to articulate the why of their view. Then attempt to address the weakness, erronious fact or perception, gently “punch holes” in their. position. Importantly, I think, acknowledge whatever validity in their view. And then be prepared to be betrayed in you charity and/or rejoice in the honesty of response.
      The reductio ad absurdum or vitriol of response is the next level of fundamentalist mentality. If so, be assured that they have been exposed, not so much to you but to those who may have been influenced by their opinion.

  5. May I use your space to make an apology. I have in the past vented unbridled anger at trends of hypocrisy and un-Christlike posturing. In retrospect, I believe I may have offended honest, practising Christians. I am sorry

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