Amidst the many news articles and commentaries published last week about the violence in Charlottesville and the tearing down of Confederate statues, I happened to notice a few Tweets about the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map. I ignored them until someone started to point out that fourteen Catholic organizations were included. I had to learn more.
The Southern Poverty Law Center
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a nonprofit organization that specializes in civil rights litigation. It was the brainchild of Morris Dees and was co-founded with Joseph J. Levin Jr. in 1971. Beginning with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in 1979, the firm continues to monitor several categories of hate organizations across the United States and files lawsuits on behalf of victims when hate-related events occur. The Wikipedia article about the SPLC includes a list of their most notable cases. As part of their monitoring, the SPLC maintains lists of organizations that conduct hate-related activities. The Hate Map featured on the SPLC website is a visualization of these lists that can be filtered by category and by State. (There is also a Wikipedia article dedicated to maintaining a cumulative listing, but it currently holds only three years of list data.)
What criteria must be met to end up on the map? The answer to that seems to be a bit subjective. The most basic criteria is that a listed organization attacks or maligns a specific class of people. Beyond that, inclusion is handled on a case-by-case basis. In the 2006 Winter Issue of the firm’s magazine Intelligence Report, the twelve (at the time) Radical Traditionalist Catholic groups are described, and it is clearly stated that their primary target is the Jews. The article was posted online in January 2007.
The Catholic List
Of the 917 organizations on the list, fourteen of them are categorized as “Radical Traditional Catholicism”. Here is the list as it appeared in August 2017:
- Christ or Chaos [Dr. Thomas A. Droleskeyis, Website]
- Culture Wars/Fidelity Press [E. Micheal Jones & James G. Bruen Jr., Website]
- Robert Sungenis [Website, Wikipedia]
- Catholic Family News / Catholic Family Ministries [Joseph John Vennari, Website, Wikipedia]
- Most Holy Family Monastery [Michael Diamond, Website, Wikipedia]
- In the Spirit of Chartres Committee [Website]
- IHS Press [Website, Wikipedia]
- Catholic Counterpoint [John Maffei, Fr. Gregorius Hesse & Fr. John O’Connor, Website]
- IHM Media [Website]
- Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary [Fr. Leonard Feeney, Website, Wikipedia, Catholicism.org]
- Fatima Crusader, The / International Fatima Rosary Crusade [Fr. Nicholas Gruner, Website, Wikipedia]
- The Remnant Press [Michael Matt, Website, Wikipedia]
- OMNI Christian Book Club [Website]
- Tradition In Action (TIA) [Website]
All Wikipedia articles linked above include an indication that the organization in question is included on the SPLC list.
An examination if the organizations’ websites and related information, a number of similarities start to arise:
- All of the organizations oppose (to some degree) the teachings of the Catholic Church.
- Almost all of the organizations sympathize with schismatic (e.g. SSPX) or heretical groups.
- Almost all of the organizations are owned/operated by or are based on the work of single individuals or small groups.
- Many of them offer literature or share content written by the same authors (e.g. Sungenis, Vennari)
- Only one organization appears to promote physical activities. The remainder author or publish literature.
- None of the organizations appear to promote violence.
Wait…what? All of these organizations oppose the Church? Indeed. For those not familiar, there are a number of believers who identify as Catholic but who do not align themselves with the present-day Church. Vatican II was a breaking point for most of them due to its wide-sweeping reform in both the Church’s customs as well as her approach to man’s problems in the modern day. The Latin Mass was no longer the norm (thought by many to be forbidden), church architecture leaned toward the modern, and ecumenism seemed to trump dogma. Some view Pope Pius XII (d. 1958) as the last true Pope and consider all of the Popes that followed to be antipopes. This topic has become a hotbed for Catholesque conspiracy theories written à la Dan Brown.
While ecumenism typically involves building relationships and resolving differences with other Christian denominations (i.e. getting a little too chummy with those Protestant heretics), the post-conciliar Church also boosted its involvement in interfaith dialogue with members of other religions, particularly Jews and Muslims. Traditional Catholics (or “Trad Caths” as they are often called these days) only see this fraternizing as an opportunity to compromise the faith, and thus they label the modern Church and its leadership as traitors against Christ. They speak out vehemently against her, stating in no uncertain terms exactly with whom they do not believe the Church should associate and why. Recall that one criterion for being on the Hate Map is that the organization maligns (syn: defame, slander, vilify, slur and revile) a specific class of people? With that in mind, could it not be said that the literature associated with this movement isn’t only anti-Semitic, but anti-Catholic as well?
The real Catholic Church (headed by the real Pope) does not promote hate of any kind (as it is a mortal sin) and it does not compromise on faith and morals — even if some of its members do. Despite what the Traditionalists believe, the purpose of the Second Vatican Council was not to reshape the Church to conform with the world’s norms, but to understand how the Church could better serve the world in its Catholic ministry. It should also be noted that there are traditionalist Catholic groups on good terms with the Holy See who accept (in spirit anyway) the documents of Vatican II and who have been approved to practice the traditional rites of the Church.
It’s hard to believe that anyone would want to be called a racist or a hatemonger, but given their dedication to the cause, it is rational to assume that many wear it as a badge of honor. But is this true of the Radical Traditional Catholic crowd? A few articles I found would suggest the answer is an emphatic no! In Philadelphia Magazine’s 2013 piece What Hate Groups Say About Being Called Hate Groups, Catholic Counterpoint owner John Maffei, the follower of an anti-Semitic renegade priest, denies being a racist, stating that he is simply nostalgic for the way life used to be. Only a few days ago, on August 16th, Micheal Matt of The Remnant defended the 50-year-old newspaper after the local CBS television station in Minnesota, WCCO-TV, attempted to link it with the white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, VA based on the paper’s inclusion on SPLC’s list. He referred to the SPLC as a generator of fake news, which is a popular name for propaganda containing false or misleading information presented in a way that makes it look like real news from authentic sources. Similarly, two days later, Brother André Marie of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary posted Civil Unrest Means Hate Map Time for Lazy Journalists, asserting that the SPLC profits greatly by framing conservative organizations as hate groups and providing false information to journalists and law enforcement, while ignoring leftist extremists. (It seems that the SPLC has cast a few stones in Brother André’s direction as well.)
While it is clearly wrong (indeed, quite sinful) to hate another person or group of people, it is not necessarily wrong to disagree with them. In fact, the right to harbor and even promote differences of opinion is protected by the Constitution of the United States (yeah, that whole First Amendment thing again, with its freedom of speech and religion). A line must be drawn somewhere, and it seems that the primary conflict between the SPLC and the “Radical Traditionalist Catholic” groups is that they don’t agree where that line should be. I invite readers to seek out and review the literature on their own. Does it call for the active extermination of the Jewish people? Or does it lay out in scholarly terms an argument based on hard facts that supports the notion that Jewish beliefs pose a real threat to Christianity? Is it somewhere in between? Does it attack people or ideas? How much of it is based on assumptions and speculation? And where is Dan Brown when you really need him anyway?