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The EditorsSeptember 18, 2017
(iStock photo)

The recent uproar over Theological College’s decision to disinvite our colleague, Father James Martin, in response to organized pressure via social media offers several important lessons. The pattern of bullies and trolls being incited to strong-arm an organization or institution into cancelling a speaker whom they find objectionable is an increasingly common tactic among an array of ideological factions, as President John Garvey of the Catholic University of America has observed. Leaders in the church should think carefully about how to respond.

First, it is neither possible nor prudent to expect to be able to surrender to the internet troll and get to the other side of the bridge unscathed, with controversy avoided and no one the wiser. Recognizing this requires only attention to the current media environment, not theological analysis: Either the threatened disruptions or the cancellation of the speech will become the story, but once the trolls have a target in their sights, the story will not pass without notice.

These attacks do violence to the truth.

Second, since the bullies and trolls are preying on weakness as much as or more than hunting for supposed transgressions against orthodoxy, succumbing to such pressure only invites more of it in the future, from the same sources and others who conclude that heckling and harassment get results.

Third, and most important, these attacks do violence to the truth. They are almost always rooted in prejudice and characterized by uncharity and personal insults. They almost never bother with a careful reading of the material they summarily dismiss and denigrate. Even if they do, in their carelessness, touch on important doctrinal questions, the attractiveness, coherence and clarity of Catholic truth suffer from the suggestion that it needs or encourages such vitriolic “defense.” Put more simply: The truth that the Gospel is a message of salvation and freedom is undermined when those who claim to be serving it act without love. The work of evangelization seeks not the defeat of those in error but their conversion, and it ends not in victory but in communion.

The work of evangelization seeks not the defeat of those in error but their conversion, and it ends not in victory but in communion.

It is likewise a mistake to ignore or dismiss those whose so-called evangelization takes the form of online attacks, and whose goal seems to be a purge of Catholic voices who do not meet their standards of purity. Those who lead such efforts are claiming a kind of parallel magisterium, substituting their own outrage for the judgement of those who occupy the church’s legitimate teaching office.

They must be confronted, and church leaders—especially those whose viewpoints may differ from those of the persons under attack—should speak up strongly and clearly against these attacks and attempts at intimidation. The communion of the church needs to be defended—not from the peril of theological discussion but rather from that of being monitored and policed by the loudest and least loving voices among us.

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Christopher Lochner
5 years 4 months ago

But does this not work both ways? Francis appears to be quite dismissive of disagreement, after all. Today I was told by a priest that the Gospel was NOT about salvation but was about poverty as per Francis and Vatican radio 2015. When things are this confused where is the communion? Perhaps some of the Faithful are not trolls but are honestly confused over the contradictory messages emanating from Rome and the current leadership.

Kevin Murphy
5 years 4 months ago

Exactly. If you believe, and try to practice, that which is taught in the Catechism, you are labelled a troll or bigot. As for Francis, his history of insults and condescension is unprecedented. Of course, he is never called on it by his Jesuit apologists.

Kester Ratcliff
5 years 4 months ago

Selectively reading the Catechism superficially will lead you to misinterpretations.
People studying theology do so in a rigorous relationship with a teacher whose role is to challenge preconceptions and prejudices.
If you haven't done that kind of rigorous, disciplined engagement with the subject, as least listen with some respect to those who really seriously have done, e.g. Pope Francis.

You are not required to believe that every word he says is infallible, far from it, but at least seriously listen and actually pause and think about it before reacting, even internally reacting.

Henry George
5 years 4 months ago


I don't think anyone would say that Francis, or Paul VI - were Academic Theologians
along the lines of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

As such, I doubt that Pope Francis can be considered an expert on the Catechism.

It is because Francis is Pope that those who question/wonder what he means in his statements - ask for clarity.

Francis has the authority to change much in the Church
and so we pray that he has the wisdom to authenticate what he says -
be it "off the cuff" or in formal pronouncements.

James Haraldson
5 years 4 months ago

Kester Ratcliff: So you believe education precludes the corrupting sins of pride? Have you never examined the history of intellectuals?
I have listened carefully to Francis, and find him to be prideful and venomous towards anyone doubting his moral relativism. Whether wholly accepting or not, Francis has been known to sympathize with process theology, fashionable in the seventies, of whom Walter Kasper and Hans Kung were leading proponents. It suggests that God is incomplete, still in the process of learning how to be God and that no received truth about anything should be considered absolute. It’s as if their imperfect God might have accidentally misled the Church in the past, and it’s up the superior minds of today’s theologians to reorder God and His Church in accord with their current thought, whose “consensus,” they believe, can never be wrong. Yet there is seldom more depth to the moral theology of these geniuses other than to suggest that because moral intentions can be confused, objective morality doesn’t exist. After all, the Jesuit’s new Superior General did buffoonishly say of the Gospel’s unambiguous moral precepts that “Jesus did not have a tape recorder, so who knows?” Well, anyone with faith in the Holy Spirit knows.
Even worse, liberal theologians don’t appear minimally schooled enough in Catholic wisdom, or common sense, to comprehend the implicit break with everything Christian through accepting the preposterous idea that politically-made social definitions and norms can ultimately perfect the human condition. It essentially amounts to the social enslavement of everyone as their own moral arbiter leading lives without remorse. The real freedom our Lord guarantees with moral truth, doesn’t occur to them.

Henry George
5 years 4 months ago

Hi Kevin,

We all say things, when we are frustrated, that we would rather not have made public.
However, I am rather stunned by some of the comments that Francis makes.
Instead of dismissing what the people who disagree with him via Faith/Ethics
he should reach out to them.

Eric Haiduk
5 years 4 months ago

Perhaps some of the Faithful are not trolls but are honestly confused over the contradictory messages emanating from Rome and the current leadership. Thank you Mr. Lochner; my thoughts exactly.

Adeolu Ademoyo
5 years 4 months ago

Christopher, I believe we all-even as Christians- are bound to disagree on many issues because of our mortality and our being human. And that disagreement is heightened and looks unresolvable when we allow flesh, rather the spirit to take us over. But we have a guide in Jesus Christ. And we have HIS word with us-the Bible. I do believe that the scriptural questions of salvation and poverty are right there in the Bible. And I am not sure that Pope Francis while pointing to us that Jesus' ministry took him to the poor, that he-Pope Francis said that, that ministering to the poor and the vulnerable among us excludes salvation. Jesus, when he was with us in human flesh would always withdraw to the "mountain" (i.e. salvation) and the next hour he was back with the poor on the streets (i.e. poverty) carrying out HIS ministry. Isn't that what Pope Francis has enjoined us to do i.e. act in a Christ like manner combining the "mountain" with the "street"-Christ ministering to the poor? I am a Christian and a Catholic. I will not insult you. However, I will draw your attention to the only WORD we are called by our Baptism to rely on in carrying out the ministry of Christ. And that WORD is the Bible.

Leslie Hershberger
5 years 4 months ago

This is not about disagreement. It's about HOW we talk with one another. While I find Pope Francis congruent with the gospel, I've no problem with your respectful disagreement. We could have a conversation about the poor, salvation and belief using more than our reptilian brains. Trolling and the childish name calling against Fr. Martin is too easy and requires minimal enagement with nuances of any given issue. It feeds into a culture of black and white thinking which requires little discernment. The stuff I've read about him is shock jock shaming and it reduces the conversation to simplistic polarities which has become the norm. Rather than defending the lowest common denominator, we could elevate the conversation by reflecting on how we talk with one another. Then perhaps we'd be able to pause enough to hear one another and find points of connection and understanding.

Adeolu Ademoyo
5 years 4 months ago

Leslie, I do not see the reason why Fr. Martin should have been disinvited by a Catholic University. I am Catholic. And I think it is wrong to have disinvited Fr. Martin. Second, I find Christopher's comment on Pope Francis worrisome. It is worrisome that Christopher did not see the Biblical foundation of Pope Francis' Ministry to the poor, the most vulnerable among us, the sick, the elderly, the prisoners, and the socially and economically invisible among us who live on the margins of our society. For me , I follow Jesus Christ and the Bible. And when Jesus was here, he did not stay or live in walled golden palaces. Jesus, when he was with us in flesh would go to the "mountain"(the theology) to unite with HIS Father, our Father- and after being in unity with the Father, Jesus would return to the poor-that is the pastoral ministry. Recently, I took a Faith Formation For Ministry Class on "Collaborative Ministry", and our instructor helped us see that when we are in doubt in our theology and ministry as to the "correct" position we should do two things (i) return to the bible as the only source and (ii) see Jesus Christ as the true model (the only model) theologically and practically-the ministry. This is why I think that Pope Francis's example is drawn from the Bible, is very close to the Bible and is a reminder of Christ priestly ministry. I do not know if commentators on this site and thread are Christians, and if they are Catholics. However, what I wish to respectfully say to those who disagree with Pope Francis (and they should if they do) is locate their disagreement in the only WORD Christ left with us-and that is the Bible. If anybody's position cannot be supported by the Bible, then that position becomes mere personal opinion. Holding a personal opinion is legitimate, but personal opinion is one thing, God's truth as revealed in the Bible, and as lived by Christ is another.

Christopher Lochner
5 years 4 months ago

And I disagree with the statement of violence to the truth. To consider the self to be the repository of Truth and not opinion in many cases is quite arrogant. Yes, Fr. Martin should not have been uninvited. (But, wow, you really have quite a number of burrs under the saddle.) If only our calling for Christian love could truly extend to everyone and not those with whom we agree. Understand, I do not believe in preferential treatment for anyone as this is in direct conflict with our calling and is all too human.

J Rabaza
5 years 4 months ago

Consider the scientific data recently published in an academic study on internet trolls. They share many psychological qualities of what is known as a "dark tetrad":
Machiavellians, Psychopaths, Narcissists and Sadists

Catholics need to be informed.

"Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour." - 1 Peter 5:8


"The troll persona appears to be a malicious case of a virtual avatar (Dunn & Guadagno, 2012; McCreery, Krach, Schrader, &Boone, 2012), reflecting both actual personality (Dunn & Guadag-no, 2012; McCreery et al., 2012) and one’s ideal self (Bessière, Seay,& Kiesler, 2007). Our research suggests that, for those with sadistic personalities, that ideal self may be a villain of chaos and mayhem– the online Trickster we fear, envy, and love to hate: the cyber-troll."
Buckells, E. E., Trapnell, P. D., & Paulhus, D. L. (2014, September). Trolls just want to have fun - ScienceDirect. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886914000324?via%3Dihub

Complete scientific study here:


John Walton
5 years 4 months ago

With respect to internet trolls, Fr. Martin has the same problem that Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Madow have.

In this era of internet anonymity you just have to deal with it. The trolls aren't necessarily truth-seeking, but some and perhaps many are.

My advice to you, young man...if a comment isn't personally signed, ignore it. "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but anonymous comments won't harm me..."

Carlos Orozco
5 years 4 months ago

Open debate is under attack in our snowflake, PC culture. Let's not act as if the problem started yesterday. Catholic universities, to put an example, constantly surrender the defense of longtime held Catholic positions in order to not offend the political radicals.

We should speak what we think always. Nobody wins predicating one thing to one group and saying something completely different to another. That is advancing a political agenda.

Alfredo S.
5 years 4 months ago

The LOH has become a comfort in this age of unbridled trolling:

I must lie down in the midst of lions
hungry for human prey.
Their teeth are spears and arrows;
their tongue, a sharpened sword. [Ps 57:5]

JR Cosgrove
5 years 4 months ago

I have no opinion on the disinviting of Fr. Martin since I do not know the specifics but what the editors are describing is a tactic used frequently by one side of the political spectrum in the US. The irony is it is the side of the political spectrum they seem most comfortable with.

Maybe the editors will be more vocal on the rights of others to be heard and not shouted down or bullied or physically intimidated. As far as I can see such intimidation is done nearly every week some place in the US and sometimes at Jesuit institutions.

Bennett Kalafut
5 years 4 months ago

Fr Martin decided to try to do material harm to the lay apostolate "Catholic Vote" by bearing false witness against them. That probably isn't the way to respond even to trolls (one of which Catholic Vote was not). And to acknowlede that Fr Martin's wrongdoing escalated this conflict is not to pretend that striking back was the appropriate response.

Justin Ramza
5 years 4 months ago

What material harm did he commit?

Joseph Jaglowicz
5 years 4 months ago

Perhaps our fellow blogger needs more time to compose a response?

Ysais Martinez
5 years 4 months ago

I was very disappointed that Father Martin got disinvited from speaking engagements. You may disagree with the man but let him speak. I have listened to his online talks and have read some of his books. He doesn't threaten my Catholic identity in the slightest bit but rather enriches it. This editorial said some of the most important things I have read about getting into theological arguments online that I have ever read: we cannot usurp the voices that truly have authority to teach or we cannot engage in administering purity tests against people we probably never met. While I understand Father Martin's pain, I also understand the frustration of many faithful with Father Martin's brand of Catholic teaching. In my opinion Father Martin is an amazing master in love and mercy --few priests are as eloquent as he is about the subject-- but more often than not he obscures the truth and stays in muddy waters. I also feel like he turns a blind eye to some parts of Catholic teaching and replaces them with the fads of the moment. Finally, I was almost mortified with the personal attacks that came against father Martin calling him vicious names or heretic. I give father the benefit of the doubt and I thank him for his life dedicated to the Church and Society of Jesus.

Dimitri Cavalli
5 years 4 months ago

What is a "troll," and who specifically fits that definition? Frances Kissling? Christopher Hitchens? The Southern Poverty Law Center? ACT-UP?

It's hilarious to observe the employment of double standards: a few years ago, liberals organized a campaign against Anne Coulter's scheduled speech at Fordham University (my alma mater). The speech was canceled, and the university president, Fr. Joseph McShane, even publicly criticized the Fordham Republican club for inviting Miss Coulter in the first place. Those who on the left who objected to Miss Coulter's invitation were thought to be exercising their First Amendment rights. These liberals (and Fordham's administration) rejected conservative charges of "censorship."

Those conservative Catholics who objected to Fr. James Martin's scheduled talk at the Theological College behaved no differently than the liberals who objected to Anne Coulter's presence at Fordham.

Of course, America's editors opt to label the conservatives as "trolls" while having no problem with liberal activists whose activities (but not always their goals) are always assumed to be not only normal but legitimate.

5 years 4 months ago

Lighten up. Love one another. Respect another's view and let everyone speak his/her mind. Why close the door on another? We all seek the truth. None have it in it's entirety. It's all quite simple. Marlene Appledorn

Lisa Weber
5 years 4 months ago

Catholic trolls are not limited to the internet. Many of them are happily prowling the aisles of churches, looking to smite the ungodly with their prejudices and misunderstandings. The most reliable indicator of a parish troll is someone who uses the word "magisterium" frequently. Part of the education in RCIA should be lessons in how to avoid the trolls if possible and how to deal with them forthrightly if they cannot be avoided.

Arnoldo Miranda
5 years 4 months ago

You must attend a strange parish because I've never encountered anybody even mention the word magisterium at any Church. How you can read their hearts? It's pretty amazing. Your example here shows why there is never a debate but just verbal commentary on people. You should see Bishop Barron's talk at Facebook where he clearly states that people should use reason and ideas to argue and not personal attributions towards anybody.

Joseph Jaglowicz
5 years 4 months ago

More than 20 years ago, my cathedral pastor occasionally told the congregation of certain kinds of Catholics who complained to the archbishop of the pastor's efforts to welcome *all* people to worship and of his ecumenical undertakings with other Christian communities downtown. They did not share his progressive Catholic views underlining God's "unconditional love". Fortunately, the archbishop continued to support our pastor and refused to be intimidated by their (my word) "orthodoxy".

Henry George
5 years 4 months ago

Are not most "Trolls" those who disagree with you and like the "Hound of Heaven" chase after you through the Internet - seeking you out wherever you go ?

It seems the Church is split into three groups:

One preaches the gospel of "Happiness" it is a sin to prevent anyone
from being happy on this earth doing whatever they want as long as it
does not harm anyone - they often use the word "hateful".

Another preached the gospel of "Legalism" - just follow the rules.

The third is still trying to figure out what the gospel means but has
a hard time being taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ, versus the
gospels the first two groups like to trumpet.

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