"Taliban Catholicism" is John Allen's description of web-based McCarthyism on the rise in the Catholic blogosphere. Rachel Zoll has this fine piece about the self-appointed Inquisitors who flourish on the Internet. (H/T to Margaret Steinfels at Dotcommonweal.) Zoll's piece is called "Catholic Bloggers Aim to Purge." It starts off:
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.
-In the Archdiocese of Boston, parishioners are dissecting the work of a top adviser to the cardinal for any hint of Marxist influence.
-Bloggers are combing through campaign finance records to expose staff of Catholic agencies who donate to politicians who support abortion rights.
-RealCatholicTV.com, working from studios in suburban Detroit, is hunting for "traitorous" nuns, priests or bishops throughout the American church.
"We're no more engaged in a witch hunt than a doctor excising a cancer is engaged in a witch hunt," said Michael Voris [pictured above] of RealCatholicTV.com and St. Michael's Media. "We're just shining a spotlight on people who are Catholics who do not live the faith." 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.
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."
The blog "Bryan Hehir Exposed" is aimed at a top adviser to Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, who is the former head of national Catholic Charities and a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Among the bloggers' claims is that Hehir is a Marxist sympathizer who undermines Catholic teaching on abortion and marriage.
Hehir, who has advised church leaders for four decades, hasn't responded to any accusations and neither has O'Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan friar known for his humility. However, O'Malley said in April on his own blog that Hehir "inspires us with his compassion, vision and fidelity to the work of the Church." In August, O'Malley blocked access from archdiocesan headquarters to one of the critical blogs, the anonymously penned Boston Catholic Insider. "The lack of civility is very disturbing," said Terrence C. Donilon, the archdiocesan spokesman. --AP
This is a disastrous trend for the Catholic church, for several reasons. (And, by the way, what I say applies to both the left and the right. And the middle, for that matter.)
First of all, too many inquisitorial bloggers attack anonymously, which makes it next to impossible to hold them to any real accountability. Likewise, some commenters on such blogs also hide their real identities when carrying out their attacks, which are linked to and repeated by other bloggers. This seems both craven and cowardly: If you are sure of your fidelity to the Catholic church, sure of the veracity of your opinions, and sure of your mission, why hide behind a pseudonym? Those who are attacked by those bearing fake names have real names, real reputations and real jobs at stake.
Second, many of these attack-bloggers betray little theological knowledge. It is one thing to be informed by a theological scholar with years of relevant experience working at the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for example, that your article or book or lecture is not in keeping with the tenets of the Catholic faith. Or to have your work critiqued by someone who has carefully considered your arguments and, after weighing what you say regarding the tradition, responds in charity. It is quite another to be attacked with snide comments by someone barely out of college who spends his days cherry-picking quotes and thumbing through the Catechism in an endless game of Catholic gotcha.
Third, the focus of their blogs is almost risibly narrow. Here are the sole topics of interest, in the order in which they cause foaming at the mouth (or on the keyboard): homosexuality, abortion, women's ordination, birth control, liturgical abuses and the exercise of church authority. Is this really the sum total of what makes us Catholic?
Fourth, anonymous attacks drummed up by these bloggers often make their way, slowly but surely, to the offices of church leaders, where they can do real damage to real people with real jobs in Catholic schools and universities, parishes and chanceries. Church officials, often unsure of the veracity of the attacks, may try to play it safe by disciplining or even firing the target of the attack. But the target often doesn't know what hit him, or her. This is McCarthyism at its worst.
Fifth, there seems is little apparent desire on the part of some of these watchdogs to speak to their targets. Rarely are the targets of ad hominem attacks contacted for any comment or explanation. And, in my experience, when you respond to some of these bloggers, while at times you will receive a thoughtful apology, or a revision on a blog, or you will agree to disagree in charity, most often than not you are met with even more invective and further hateful comments. After a while, you just find yourself give up.
Finally, many in the "Catholic Taliban," as John Allen so bluntly puts it, seem devoid of any sense of Christian charity. Calling someone a "cancer"? Does that sound like Christian charity? Of course the common defense is that real charity is pointing out a "heresy," which will damage the faithful. (As in, "It's a good thing we burned Joan of Arc at the stake!") Or they say that calls for charity just mask dissent. But fidelity and charity are not competing values. Or they argue that they're just doing what Jesus did when he called Herod a "fox." What they seem to forget is that they are not Jesus. Overall, while many of these bloggers certainly seem Catholic, they don't seem particularly Christian.