‘Catholic Alt-Right’ Groups Go On Offensive Against LGBT Issues

Though the majority of American Catholics are in favor of LGTBQ+ inclusion in the church, a vocal minority of conservative groups continue to spread harmful rhetoric and practices of exclusion. Deemed the ‘Catholic alt-right’ by Fordham University theologian Jason Steidl, this extreme wing of the church was profiled in an NBC article drawing comparisons to the well-known conservative political ‘alt-right.’

Fr. James Martin, author of Building a Bridge, describes these groups as “inject[ing] fear, hatred, and homophobia into religious discourse,” and notes that “they use the same tactics as the political alt-right: lies, personal vilification and demonization of minority groups.”

The NBC article begins by describing a hate-filled missive sent out by a conservative Catholic group shortly before the 2018 election but notes that this type of rhetoric is not one that mainstream Catholics endorse:

“Many Catholics say they are worried that [these] activists…are the vanguard of a new offensive by ultra-conservative Catholic groups that see the growing acceptance of LGBTQ Catholics by Pope Francis and other reformers as a mortal threat to their church. Websites like Church Militant, LifeSite News and the Lepanto Institute are ratcheting up the rhetoric while replacing polite and prayerful discourse with personal attacks on supporters of gay Catholics.”

One of the ways that the ‘Catholic alt-right’ has moved their attacks offline is by protesting supportive programming for gay clergy, including a New Ways Ministry sponsored annual retreat. During the October program, the Dominican nuns who hosted the retreat hired security to protect visitors to their retreat house.Other such protests are becoming common, the article noted.

Additionally, another trend is  that conservative groups have been striving to ‘weaponize’ the August grand jury report detailing child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania by blaming gay priests for the abuse of children, including 1,000 girls, rather than the structural dishonesty among the hierarchy.

Catholic alt-right groups have sometimes gone beyond simply writing hate screeds on the internet.. The NBC article references the targeted attacks against Aaron Bianco, a former pastoral minister in San Diego who was the victim of an individually targeted due to his marriage. Bianco “received death threats, had his tires slashed, got hundreds of harassing letters, phone calls and emails, and was physically attacked after mass.” Someone spray painted a slur on his office wall, and two major conservative Catholic websites published articles calling for his removal from his job. These articles included his address and pictures of his family, and were what Bianco says was the ‘final straw’:

” ‘Probably 95 percent of Catholics are fine,’ Bianco said. ‘The people in my parish are great. It’s just these fringe groups that have been able to garner so much attention. The problem is no one has put them in check.’ “

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, postulated that the rise of these extremist groups is because they have been emboldened by Trump, who “has legitimized attacks against entire groups of people and these people are following his example to go after gay Catholics.”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, observed that the U.S. Catholic hierarchy has turned a blind eye to extremist Catholics:

“The U.S. bishops have done absolutely nothing to respond to the very vicious and violent way these groups are threatening people…these are things the bishops really should have been speaking out against. But they’re afraid of these groups.”

NBC reported that it took some effort to get a response from the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference about Catholic alt-right groups:

“In response to repeated requests for comment from NBC News, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released the following response from their spokesman Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont:

” ‘The promotion and defense of the faith should invite an encounter with the merciful love of Christ and contribute to a more civil and peaceful dialogue in our church and society,’ he said. ‘I urge my brothers and sisters to exercise extreme caution before giving credence to anyone who instigates shameful, digital stoning as a way to defend the Church. Catholic participation in the public square should be marked by both fidelity to the Gospel and to charity toward all our fellow citizens.’  “

Fr. Martin says that he knows of bishops promoting these conservative websites, and that they have an ‘outside influence’ for such small groups. “Fear and hatred are remarkably motivating for some people.”

According to Steidl, who coined the ‘Catholic alt-right’ label, the homophobic stereotypes that these groups use are “as false as they are salacious, revealing…desperation in a society that is quickly moving toward LGBTQ affirmation and a church that is in the earliest stages of considering and acting on the pastoral and spiritual needs of LGBTQ Catholics.”

While some of these groups are quite small, one listed as having only one employee, the impact they are able to have through fear-mongering online content is vast. NBC records the numbers:

“Church Militant produces podcasts, YouTube videos, online articles and a daily talk show that . . .  gets about 1.5 million views a month. It has nearly 19,000 Twitter followers, over 68,000 YouTube subscribers and more than 196,000 Facebook likes.”

Their reach has been noted by major secular publications, and the Southern Poverty Law Center says that they focus on attacking LGBTQ members of the church with an “intensity and frequency bordering on obsessive.”

If faithful and loving Catholics hope to remake their church as a place where LGBTQ+ people are fully welcomed, they will need to confront these groups. The Catholic alt-right will continue to grow as long as calls of exclusion and harmful stereotypes are allowed to dominate the messaging of the church. Catholics who believe instead in love and justice as the core tenets of their faith should say so directly and often, and encourage their church leaders to do likewise. We can not allow Catholic alt-right groups to go unchecked.

Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, December 10, 2018

8 replies
  1. Chuck
    Chuck says:

    KofC fits I here somewhere. I guess vast financial resources is a strong shield against criticism. They are virulently anti-gay and I won’t support their fund-raising.

  2. Mary Jo
    Mary Jo says:

    This is an interesting article especially following the article about Cardinal Burke. It seems hierarchy promotes these kinds of groups and they tend to be rabidly anti-abortion and anti-lgbtq. The gay folks in this article, and the author, tend to blame the hierarchy and a small vocal minority. They let Catholics in the pews off when it comes to misbehavior and violence toward LGBTQ persons. But the people in the pews are the people who watch the alt-right videos and read the articles. Those are the people who love Burke. Remember, a majority of Catholics who voted did so for Donald Trump. A problem exists for sure and it’s not just the hierarchy and a tiny minority.

  3. Deacon Thomas Smith
    Deacon Thomas Smith says:

    We cannot depend on our bishops to stand up to these Catholic Terrorists and the pain and fear they foster. More theological platitudes about love and acceptance will not stop them. They, like all terrorists, stir up violence and hatred in cowardly ways… Anonymous on-line activities, phone calls, etc.

    Conceding to these vile tactics by moving conferences and speakers that support LGBT Cafholics to secular or non-Catholic venues gives the terrorists greater power. They are emboldened every time New Ways or Father Martin surrenders and changes venues as a response to their warnings.

    We cannot depend on the UCCB to stand up to these hateful groups. They are apparently still compromised by contradictory theology and confused about the true meaning of Christian courage in the face of injustice. We must do what they obviously cannot: stand our ground, as so may Catholics prophets have done when confronted by other issues of social justice. We must refuse to concede to fear. As long as we acquiesce to terror, little progress will be made. As Maya Angelou wrote, “Stand in the ground of love.”

  4. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    I’m not sure what is different in the RCC with these alt-right people? It was Paul VI who silenced John McNeill. It was John Paul II who with the assistance of Cardinal Ratzinger (later to be Benedict XVI) who called homosexuality “intrinsically disordered” and said no one should be surprised when people react violently to those who called for the decriminalization of homosexual behavior and the recognition of gay relationships. It was John Paul II who railed against the group of LGBT people rallying in Rome during his self-declared Holy Year. It is Francis who has reiterated Benedict’s ban on gay priests, and refused to condemn antigay laws while in Africa, and opposed the legalization of same-gender marriages, and has written of transgender people words denying transgenderism. It was bishops in this country who since at least the Seventies opposed any ordinance or law that would protect the rights of LGBT people to jobs, housing, and access to public accommodations. It is bishops and their underlings in this country who spread lies and wild fears about marriage equality. It is bishops who have sanctioned the firing of gay employees, and who have sponsored workshops with “experts” who deny that homosexuality is anything other than “same-sex attractions,” and who claim that gender is limited to only one’s biology, denying that the brain and one’s inner psychology has anything to do with it. It has been lay people who have snitched when there have been any programs to discuss LGBT people. A seemingly lay person who sent out outrageous letters about Sr. Jeannine Gramick and a retreat for Dignity in St. Louis back in the Seventies. It has been bishops whose accusations led to a Vatican inquiry of New Ways Ministry back in the Eighties, and the St. Louis Archbishop who criticized the conference on gay priests and religious that was scheduled for St. Louis in 1986.

    In other words, there has been a long history of opposition by RCC leaders and some laity to LGBT people world-wide for decades. This alt-right reaction is just the latest iteration.

    The heart of all this opposition, whether it is from church leaders or laity, are the teachings that homosexual behavior is immoral, and that gender is based on one’s external sex organs (even when a person is intersex). And those doctrines are based on a particular interpretation of Biblical passages, and on prejudice, and on an ignorance of or unwillingness to learn about the reality and science of human sexuality. So we have today a man who is pope, who seems to be a good man, and to be a man who really does care about people, making outrageous statements about issues about which he knows nothing.

    But the larger issue is human sexuality as a whole. Women are still second class in the RCC. It is their lack of male sex organs that is the basis for for the men in charge declaring that God doesn’t want them in certain church ministries. And celibacy is still the rule for most priests, despite this rule being just a discipline, not a doctrine. And it is considered a scandal for priests to be sexual because of this rule and because of the demand that they live in a way that for most people is unnatural. Even Jesus and Paul realized that lifetime sexual abstinence was not for everyone.

    So the question is what is the difference between today and twenty, thirty or forty years ago? Perhaps there is no difference. Perhaps it is simply that for every step forward, there are those who will push back.

  5. Deacon Thimas Smith
    Deacon Thimas Smith says:

    All you say is true. We have a long and sordid recent history of suppression and duplicity in our Church. To answer our question, though, today we have many more opportunities for dialogue with the hierarchy, including dissent on matter of moral theology. Will this dialogue translate to changes in doctrinal language that show greater respect for the diversity of God’s creation? Let’s hope.

    DON E SIEGAL says:

    On Changing Venues

    Moving venues from Roman Catholic sites to secular or other denominations of the universal church is not in and of its self a bad thing. The Holy Spirit is not confined to the walls of the Roman Catholic Church. The message and need to be inclusive and welcoming of LGBT persons is the work of the Holy Spirit. Changing the venue is a means to prevent the Catholic alt-right groups from imposing the censorship they would like to have over pro-LGBT Catholics. If New Ways Ministries were unwilling to relocate our retreats and speakers, our message would not get out at all. That is precisely the intention of the alt-right groups, and they would in fact win.

    I am a confirmed ecumenist. My family and educational experiences have given me groundings in Judaism (father), Lutheran (elementary and secondary education), Christian Church Disciples of Christ (college education), and Roman Catholic (step father/brother/sister). I embrace the universal church and all its constituent denominations. Some of whom are indeed inclusive Christian communities. It is an important act of Christian hospitality when they invite New Ways Ministries to use their worship spaces. We, as Roman Catholics, should affirm and accept their gracious generosity.

  7. Tom Smith
    Tom Smith says:

    The hospitality of other faith traditions is not the point here. The expulsion of a group of faithful Catholics who have already struggled to be accepted by their church is a disgrace to all the values we hold dear. Our Holy Father Francis has unequivocally called for courageous dialogue. Bishops who stifle this dialogue by rejecting dissenting Catholics defy his guidance and, in doing so, “impose the censorship” of which you speak. Of course the Holy Spirit is not confined to the RCC! But rejection by ANY religious leaders is a particular insult to Her.


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