The Rise of Conservative Anti-Catholic Catholics

The Rise of Conservative Anti-Catholic Catholics October 10, 2011

A few months back, George Weigel wrote a column about the phenomenon of the anti-Catholic Catholic on the Left. It is a familiar narrative and quite true. There are, on the Left, numerous voices (one thinks of Maureen Dowd, James Carroll, numerous contributors to the Reporter and so forth) who regard the teaching of the Church–notably with respect to the Pelvic Issues with contempt and who labor to attack the Church and the Magisterium on a number of points pertaining to these and a few other matters.

When I entered the Church in 1987, I naively assumed I understood the landscape. There were Faithful Conservative Catholics who treated the Magisterium and the bishop with respect and then there were the Maureen Dowd types, who looked on the Church’s teaching and her teachers with disdain. It was all so simple back then.

However, these days I’m realizing things are more complex. For there is also a growing contingent among self-identified Faithful Conservative Catholics[TM] who likewise are coming to somehow regard it as a mark of fidelity to True Catholicism to hold the Magisterium and the bishops in contempt. Witness, for instance, the huge amount of bile and suspicion flung at Bishop Mulvey for his crime of doing exactly the right thing and calling the rebellious, fraudulent, and lying Fr. Corapi to heel. For his troubles, he got implicated–on the basis of nothing whatsoever–as somehow being a member of a shadowy gay cabal by Real CatholicTV. Some will say, “The bishops brought this on themselves with their coverups during the abuse scandals!” But this is, how to put it?, insane. If the problem was bishops refusing to confront corrupt and abusive clerics under their watch, then why in blazes was it wrong for Bp. Mulvey to do precisely that with the corrupt Fr. Corapi?

No. The real issue–tellingly–was that Michael Voris and the mob of yammerers who took his cue and started attacking Bp. Mulvey spoke as though it was self-evident that “the bishops” could be dismissed contemptuously and the “real Catholic” faith was to be found with Conservative Catholic Folk Heroes. Similar patterns played out repeatedly through the past decade with people like Maciel and Fr. Euteneuer, as well as others.

Now we have arrived at another similar (but not identical, since there is no hint of sexual scandal) situation with another Conservative Folk Hero, Fr. Pavone. Not a few of his defenders have, once again, taken the position that it is self-evident his bishop is corrupt, evil, a servant of the devil and is to be regarded with suspicion and contempt. Indeed, some self-identified “faithful conservative Catholics” have started to mouth the language I distinctly remember from Progressive Dissenters I remember when I was entering the Church. So, for example, I had this topsy turvey conversation with a woman I know; a self-described “liberal” and revert to the Faith, who recently had the bizarre experience of trying to talk some Fr. Pavone fans into docility to an orthodox bishop in good standing. She wrote of the video I just linked:

This is SO horrible. I didn’t think my jaw could drop further. I was wrong. The disrespect for the Bishop—“a ‘real man’ wouldn’t have done this,” “this guy,” “his idiotic letters,” “his ego”—is shocking.

She then continues:

Well, I never thought I’d be spending a Saturday afternoon trying to convince “Catholics” that there’s no such thing as “the magisterium of the laity”(!) and that it probably wouldn’t be such a good idea if the Church reshaped itself to align with the “divinely inspired” American principles of democracy.

Where do people GET these notions? Oh. I forgot. Generations of lousy catechesis. My fault.

I replied:

The astounding thing is that it’s no longer the fuddled members of Voice of the Faithful or We Are Church who are leading the charge on such things. It’s the “orthodox” who adore Conservative Folk Heroes who talk this way.

And they say there’s no such thing as evolution.

To which she replied in astonishment:

I know! That’s why I’m having such whiplash—I *am* the fuddled liberal who’s supposed to be in the streets demanding more rights for the laity. How’d I get here?!
And then there’s this:
“The bishop is probably sinning, and I’m a theologian so I know what I’m talking about.” Oy.

Sorry, but this is craziness. Bp. Zurek, like Bp. Mulvey, is acting completely within his rights *and* within his duties to see that Fr. Pavone properly discharges his priesthood and to see that he has a proper accounting for where all that money has gone. It is fantastic to me that laity who were enraged a decade ago about bishops who did not exercise proper oversight of their priests are now enraged that bishops *do* exercise proper oversight of their priests. Like the Bourbons, many on the anti-Catholic Right within the Church seem to remember everything and learn nothing. An ideological tribe that manages to make the hideously bad call again and again with Maciel, Euteneuer and Corapi does not persuade me that they have the discernment chops it takes to call Bp. Zurek a devil’s disciple and demand he “Free Fr. Frank”.

Speaking of which, I got this from a reader the other day. The next time somebody tells you that Fr. Frank is not actively participating in the guerrilla war against his own bishop, consider this:


I’m only on the Priests for Life mailing list. The only way I receive the following? Priests for Life has shared their mailing list with the Free Father Pavone people.


And his Facebook page indicates he’s traveling across the country for the celebration of the founding of PfL in San Francisco-that’s not solitary confinement.

God bless,

Life Dynamics founder Mark Crutcher has released a video decrying what he calls the “outrageous” treatment of Fr. Pavone ever since he was summoned to the Diocese of Amarillo.

blah blah blah “imprisoned” blah blah blah “exiled” blah blah blah. I wonder how the nuns who *live* at the convent feel about hearing their home described this way?

In short, the letter turns out to be an ad for the video referenced above in which Crutcher rails against the bishop as not a “real man”, “idiotic”, etc.

Who is Crutcher? Along with his daughter, he is one of only two paid employees of something called Life Dynamics. Sources inform me they list an in-kind contribution of $46,000 from Priests for Life for Fr Frank’s services as a co-host on their monthly video updates. Not sure how they figure that, since Fr Frank gets no salary from PFL. But suffice it to say it’s that sort of thing that makes Bp. Zurek’s concerns understandable and Crutcher’s attack video against the bishop also, in it’s own way, understandable.

Ed Peters, as ever, has a sensible reply to Crutcher’s hysteria.

Meanwhile, for my part I say this: Fr. Pavone, by sharing his mailing list with this guy, has lost me as even a troubled sympathizer. He is in rebellion against his bishop and he is teaching more Catholics on the Right to be anti-Catholic Catholics just as MoDo teaches Catholics on the Left to be anti-Catholic Catholics.


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  • Pansy Moss

    1. I’ve never watched a Real Catholic video before. I don’t know why, but whenever I see a link to a video online, it irritates me. I prefer to read text. So I finally decided to follow a link and I couldn’t get past his hair. Is that a wig or a toupee? I’m not being catty, but honestly between that and the silly point he’s making, the whole thing is just creepy. He is a fellow Catholic and sort of represents all of us.
    2. Same sort of feeling with Crutcher. What is this notion that Fr.Pavone is the pro-life movement? I “liked” Pastor Walter Hoye on FB and when this happened, he had a blurb about how they all are supporting Fr. Pavone. Something about non-Catholics weighing in on his “persecution” upsets me. This isn’t about attacking the pro-life movement.

    It’s all so childish.

    • Thanks, Pansy, I thought I was the only one who couldn’t help seeing that Mr. Voris wears the most ridiculous-looking toupee of all time! It just makes me laugh every time I see him up there in that thing twirling his finger in the air.

      All that may be laughable, but the contents of his videos aren’t. I agree with Mark that he is a divisive force among Catholics.

    • Pansy: The only thing that’s childish here is your unkind remark about his hair (which happens to be his own). Since you admittedly have no knowledge of RealCatholicTV, then you wouldn’t know about the hundreds of hours of solid catechesis, apologetics, and history it provides, all from a solidly orthodox perspective (and much of it entertaining and some even humorous). How about an informed opinion before writing something off as “creepy”?

  • Tammy

    I had never heard of Life Dynamics before but I just read the link you included. I know that bios are supposed to show the good stuff people do, but Im uncomfortable with the awards and fame people are accumulating while trying to keep babies from being killed…there is an “ick factor” for me that I am apparently to stupid to have the capacity to elaborate on.

    Someone in my city gave me the link to Real Catholic and now I find myself wanting to avoid her. Im afraid that Im the next person to be deemed “not Catholic enough” by people who dont know what it is I do in the first place.

  • Dan C, the earlier Dan

    This is just the pro-life movement’s problem. There has always been the “warrior conservative” dissenter-crowd and George Weigel has provided intellectual support for this crowd. In the 1970’s and 1980’s the USCCB’s papers on nuclear weapons and economics (largely repeated by JP2 and B16) were and are reviled by the same crowd. And conservative support of the Dirty Wars of Latin America against priests and bishops (to the point of justifying their murder) was the routine.

    It’s not just liberals. Not for a long time.

  • Confederate Papist

    Only Fr. Frank can free Fr. Frank.

  • Ellen

    Yes the Pavone defenders are overboard. Pavone is overboard.


    Mark – it is okay to question bishops in their administrative capacity. It is even okay to have a hermeneutic of suspicion towards bishops in their administrative capacity. Couple of reasons:

    1) Bishops do not operate in solitary. In fact most of what comes out of a bishop’s office – even with his signature – is not from him directly. They sign off on decisions made by their staff. Most bishops don’t write their own homilies or speeches. They don’t author their own “pastoral letters.” (Note to the previous commenter – do you really think bishops wrote the pastorals on nuclear arms and the economy? Of course not. They were written by USCCB staff.)

    It makes for an interesting question – the exact shape of episcopal authority when most of what they produce emanates from the penumbra of their own persons (same with the Pope). But please.

    2) For an example of why it is okay to live out of this hermeneutic of suspicion please just take a look and 16th century England where the vast majority of bishops and other clerical authorities simply caved to the crown. I mean – caved. Willingly turned their backs on Rome for the sake of continuing in office. Or take a look at the Arian controversies of the 4th-7th centuries. Bishops – bishops – bishops. Everywhere bishops denying the consubstantiality of Christ.

    3) You have not shrunk from heaping contempt on bishops yourself. I believe you invented the phrase “episcopal spine alert” implying that it was highly unusual for bishops to have backbones and fidelity.

    I would like you to address this last point in particular. You seem to be in danger of falling into the trap of selective outrage.

    • Dan

      Sure, an individual in the office of bishop is subject to critique. Mr. Shea himself has done so just recently with his own ordinary.

      Authority and responsibility extends however to those activities, sermons, homilies, pastoral letters, etc. which the bishop approves. So, that the chancellory makes a series of administrative decisions for which the bishop provides approval is not unique, but routine and is a responsible use of his authority. By signing off on the actions, he however takes responsibility for them. (So that when the USCCB approves a pastoral letter, the letter, largely written by staff members, does not have less teaching authority. Encyclicals are the same. The bishop, bishops, or the pope has authorized that this is his/their authoritative pronouncement.)

      For example, the story of Msgr. Lynch and his actions as head of the clergy in the Philadelphia archdiocese is well-documented in his own words as authorized by his bishop, although he had been the actor for most decisions.

      A bishop is responsible, determines who is in his Chancellory (as the Kansas City Diocese found out when Bishop Finn changed the staffing dramatically) and therefore is responsible for their actions.

      They and we cannot hide behind the fact that underlings were involved in moving some letters, homilies, decisions forward.

    • drogah

      1) Most Bishops DO write their own homilies. I cannot think of one that I’ve met who doesn’t, from Cardinal George on down to my own. Same goes for their pastoral letters. The reason for this is because most dioceses simply do not have competent lay staff to do these things, and lack the priests to keep a couple around the chancery for such tasks.

      2) It isn’t at all permissible to live out a “hermeneutic of suspicion” toward your bishop: it is right and just that you correct him, sometimes forcefully, when you must: but it is never acceptable to operate under the unproven suspicion that he is incompetent, unholy, or anything else negative. See Ignatius of Antioch (107 AD) for plenty of references in this regard: to be suspicious of your bishop is, in essence, to be suspicious of Christ.

      3) Can’t disagree with you there :).

  • ds

    Early in the video Crutcher says Pavone is one of the most effective pro-life leaders. How can you measure effectiveness of particular pro-life activities or groups? I cant think of a way to gauge such a thing, can anyone else?

    Pavone and PFL have always been heavy on very strong rhetoric (calling people murderers, using terms like pro-death, abortuary, etc) and graphic images of aborted fetuses. These tactics always struck me as more likely to inflame the righteous anger of the pro-life crowd than to change any minds on the other side.

    I am reminded of a combox exchange between two pro-life people about the such tactics: “i am afraid this will only harden hearts against the pro-life cause”, the reply: “their hearts are hardened already.” The implied meaning is proudly proclaiming our pro-lifey-ness is first priority, actually changing hearts and minds (and thus saving more lives) is secondary. I think some statements by Pavone and supporters throughout this controversy have proven this to be true to.some degree.

    My question to others if you would please reply is what are ways to effectively reduce abortion and how could this be measured?

    • Tammy

      I am the coordinator of a Perinatal Palliative Care (oftne called Perinatal Hospice, but not in my hospital – you can google the phrase thought and find a lot) progam that lovlingly provides support and birth planning for women who find out that thier infant has a life limiting condition. My goal and my actions are to serve and meet the needs of the families in my care. I dont club anyone over the head or tell anyone what to do. There is a side effect of reduced abortions by these families as they have another option. As of today, I am caring for my 28th case in 7 years of running this program.

      In terms of numbers, that is a drop in a bucket, but for families who dont have to heal from the brokneness of abortion, it is everything. This care model has become wider known and stats are shifting quickly away from near-automatic terminations in the past to many more palliative care deliveries now and it is quantifiable.

      I have to add though…if people go into this ONLY to decrease abortion, they will fail, if not in deed then in purpose. If the only goal is to convince people to do/not do what you want then you are not serving, you are manipulating…and we are called to serve.

      In the past, I self-identified as a “Prolifer” but I can barely stand to say that anymore…Im too often embarrassed by the wrods and actions of prolifers who do nothing but throw stones and squalk while doing nothing to help anyone. I dont remember “Tel everyone they are wrong” as being a corporal work of mercy. So I will continue to care for the dying in my care and hope that the love I set free into my culture will have an effect.

      • ds

        Tammy thanks very much for telling me about your work. I didn’t know the field of Perinatal Palliative Care care existed. Good luck to continued success in your career, I expect you can ease a lot of suffering and help people to bear a terrible cross in that situation.

        • Tammy

          Perinatal Palliative care is a very small but growing field …if you go to youtube and search “Perinatal Hospice” you wil find a video I created on the topic.

  • MarylandBill

    I think we always need to remember that the way of Truth is narrow, and you can’t stay on it by getting as far to the right or left as possible, but rather by trying to stay on the path. And how do we know the path? That is why God gave us the Bible, the Pope, the bishops and priests.

    Not every bishop is going to be right every time he calls a priest to heel, but as Christians, we need to give the bishop the benefit of the doubt (since he almost certainly knows far more about why he is curtailing the priest’s activities than we do!) unless the actions of the bishop are so egregious as to demand action. This is simply not the case for the Father Pavone case.

  • My life got a lot simpler when I realized I don’t need to take sides on these type of things.

  • I find Michael Voris refreshing in his bluntness , if sometimes over the top- and I don’t see much difference between how he conducts himself and how Mark Shea conducts himself. (I prefer Voris- he seems less petty). There’s enough room in the confessional for all of us .

    • lwestin, if when you say you see similarities between how Voris and Shea “conduct themselves” you mean that they both are aware that they have to have an element of entertainment in how they communicate, you are right. Both are entertaining, and both are outspoken and quite boldly say what they think.

      But you are quite wrong in the pettiness angle. Mark does not argue by smearing his opponents with innuendo and unfounded suspicion. Voris does. This is the very definition of “pettiness”.

      • Baron Korf

        Shea’s trademark is never letting the truth get in the way of a good blog post. He just shots from the hip and never looks back.

    • Dan C.

      I read “he seems less petty” as “he seems less pretty.” I was confused for a moment.

      • Well, no doubt about it. Voris’ hair is prettier than Shea’s hair any day.

        • Mark Shea

          Rev. Cletus’ hair beats everybody’s.

          • ds

            I chuckled when Crutcher said “they literally have him squirreled away,” cue mental image of Pavone stuffed into a hollow tree with hundreds of acorns.

  • Peggy R

    I haven’t much experience w/Voris’ videos. I am very disappointed in Fr. Pavone and his supporters. I really had great regard for Fr. Pavone. He’s a great homilist–I’ve watched him on EWTN masses. He did a great thing in bringing Baby Joseph from Canada to Cardinal Glennon here in St Louis. (I guess I can feel good that the over-inflated charges and overhead we had to pay out of pocket went for some good works.)

    I have lost respect for Fr. Pavone in this episode. I have found Ed Peters’ analyses and comments to be right on.

    I pray for the souls of Fr. Pavone and his defenders to see Truth.

  • B

    I’m in the “don’t cause the church scandal” camp. So I don’t jump on the bishop or the priest when accusations are flying. I wait until all the info shakes out. Because falsely accusing any clergy is a bad news for the Church.

  • wj

    Judy Brown has been sowing the seeds of anti-Catholic – at least anti-bishop – thought for years. What we are seeing now are the fruits of work.

  • There is no “rise” of conservative extremists. Extremist conservatives in the church are nothing new; SSPX has been around for 40 years. In the history of the church, they are just new comers. I tend to fall into the conservative side myself but recognize that there is a danger in being so conservative that you end up becoming more Catholic than the Pope (in one’s own mind anyway).

    Mark’s examples of “anti-Catholic Catholics” of both right and left are more evidence for my theory that the liberal/conservative spectrum is not linear, it is circular. Both extremes tend to meet at the bottom of the circle. Notice how both the extreme left and right end up rejecting the authority of the bishops.

    It happens in politics too. That is why both the left of communism and right of fascism end up with the same result of authoritarian control.

    • Dan C

      The polarity is multi-dimensional. I agree absolutely. For every SSPX schism of the 1960’s there was a Cardenal.

  • Melanie

    I think both the Bishop and Fr. Pavone have shown a complete lack of respectful discretion. This should not be a public campaign pitting one against the other. The Catholic Church is NOT a democray and Fr. Pavone is a Dioscesan priest and as such is bound to obey his Superior. Rather than reacting with the same lack of discretion and decency as the Bishop, Pavone should keep his mouth shut and ask that his supporters do the same – and NO sharing of email addresses!

  • kris

    One more tirade against Fr. Pavone, a priest with a history of good work, masked as some kind of “deeper” analysis of fellow Catholics….once again generalizing people and their serious concerns into some reason to divide good people even further.

    The best part of this excuse for getting more people on one side, even without the facts as yet to be understood in the matter, is its ending: “Enough”. Yes, but let’s see how long that lasts.

    • Mark Shea

      “Enough” was directed at Fr. Pavone and his fellow attackers of his bishop, not a promise that I will have no more to say while this guerilla war continues.

  • caroline

    I’ve learned from all the divisions in our Church never to be guilted by the begging letters.

  • DC

    whether liberal or conservative, a promise is a promise…and when he was ordained a transitional deacon (as are all deacons, permanent or transitional), Fr. Pavone was asked by his bishop, ‘do you promise obedience and respect to me and my successors?’ to which the one being ordained answers, ‘I do’. That promise would hold as well when a priest or deacon is incardinated into a new or other diocese. There are no conditions placed on that question. Obedience and respect. Plain and simple. And it matters not a whit whether one is a liberal or conservative making that promise; there is no room for charitable or uncharitable responses…

  • Fr. Peter

    Having listened to Fr. Frank Pavone interviews since the controversy began I have no doubt that he is fighting but unlike Fr. Corapi he has complied with the directives of his legitimate ecclesiastical superiors. For me this is a good sign. One is allowed to ask and fight for what one believes is correct. Is he perfect? No, but at this point he appears to be cooperating and that speaks volumes for me. I am praying that when they meet on October 13, the anniversary of the last Fatima apparition the Fiat of Mary will be the model that will allow these two men of God to come to a mutual understanding and move us forward.

  • Lili

    Right on again, Mark!

    I am stunned at how many folks have become so enamored of Fr Frank that they really believe that one man is capable for saving all the babies. The pro-life movement has never been about one magic solution to this terrible tragedy! It has always been about each of us doing what we can, each in our place to change our culture.

    At this moment when there is a major vote about to take place in Congress on the funding of abortion under the new Obama Health Care law why aren’t the people writing so franticly about “freeing Fr Frank” busy writing to their Congressmen instead! I would have hoped that all of Father’s preaching had taught folks how to get the job done themselves!

    There have been some amazing speakers that I have heard in my 25 yrs in the prolife cause. It feels great to get your spirits charged up by a good sermon or speech, but just listening w/out action is useless. Fr Frank gets lots of chances to preach to the choir, but ask folks randomly on the street if they know who he is and they won’t have any idea.

    I would much rather get back to work supporting the annonymous groups like NRLC and SFLA and all the local Pregnancy centers. These groups don’t have “Stars” but just keep getting the job done, on Capital Hill, on college campuses, and one on one with each troubled mother. PPL it appears to me promotes Fr Frank.

    One good measurement of success is the number of solid prolife bills passed in Congress and the number of bad bills defeated. NRLC holds the record on that at the national and state level since 1973. I have been a member in my state for many years and I have seen their steady, willingness to jsut get the job done. They are the only pro-lfe group witha daily lobbying staff in Wash DC. That is how laws get changed in America, Slowly but steadily.

    I find Fr Pavone’s refusal to silence or calm his fans very troubling. especially that there has been no comment about Mark Crutchers rudeness to Bishop Zurek! Very sad indeed. I fear Father likes the attention! I Pray for Bishop Z. to be able to help him find humility.

    I know I will have angered some here but somebody has to say it!

    Pray for the good sisters that are stuck out in the desert with Fr Frank!

  • Jude K

    I received an email from about the Crutcher video. And the part about being “literally squirreled away” is hysterically pathetic. If the conditions there are so awful, what is being done to rescue the poor nuns? Since the only place Free Frank could have gotten my email address is from Priests For Life, I immediately asked them to remove me from their list and then requested the same from Priests For Life. I have lost every shred of respect for this organization and their cult of celebrity.

  • Thanks, Mr. Shea. You expressed many of my own feelings.

  • A Random Friar

    Four words: St. Ignatius. of. Antioch.

    Read. Learn. Pray. Do.

  • Pansy Moss
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