One of the more unfortunate things in the past 20 years…
…has been the disastrous rise of what I call the “counter-revolutionary priest”. That is, the priest who sees himself as the Savior of the Church from the Pope and the Damn Libruls, whose catechesis comes, not from Holy Church, but from a toxic brew of whack social media cults of personality centered on conspiracy theories and hostility to the actual tradition, and who regards his flock not as souls to be cared for, but as enemies to be purged and allies to be forged into a conspiracy to “retake the Church”.
Take, for instance, Fr. David Fulton, who imitated internet grifter Fr. John Zuhlsdorf by joining the insurrectionists at the Capitol on January 6 and performing an “exorcism” to cast out the results of a free and fair election:
In his defense, one could say that his prayer was heard. The visible-from-space antichrist Donald Trump was, in fact, cast out. But I’m pretty sure this is a case of God writing straight with crooked lines. As our father Joseph remarked, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”
A reader who suffered under this guy’s ministrations describes his fascistic approach to his flock:
This jackass is why I drive 25 miles to go to Mass. I had been sort of the de facto music director at one of his parishes. This idiot came in 2017, following a wonderful progressive priest who had been here 24 years (and retired just before his 89th birthday). He first stopped allowing the faithful to receive the Precious Blood. Then tried to get rid of girl altar servers – they can sing and clean after all (his actual words). When we pushed back about girl servers, he gave in, but then got rid of servers all together. Last fall he “fired” all CCD teachers without telling them and taught CCD himself. The K-6 program went from about 30 students to 4 (all grandchildren of 1 deacon). He installed a communion rail (in a church never built for one – in 1967) and encouraged all to receive Communion by kneeling at it or at the very least only receiving on the tongue. He tried to force people to receive on the tongue. He humiliated my wife (a convert) became she didn’t hold her hands right and he scolded her loudly as she tried to receive Communion. He tried to get some money left to the church, but “accidentally” deposited in the wrong account to install an altar so he can say Mass with his back to the people. He encourages women to wear veils on their head. When the daughter-in-law of a newly-ordained deacon had an affair, this jackass did an exorcism on her. He refuses to wear a mask at Mass. And what I’ve said just scratches the surface. We tried to get rid of him, but the Archdiocese wouldn’t move him.
One gets the impression that the diocese is unsure how to deal with this guy. In the article, the Chancery spokesperson said, “Fulton did not break any civil or ecclesial laws while in Washington, D.C.,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “He attended the rally as a private citizen.” Then, McNeil said, however, that Omaha Archbishop George Lucas is “very upset” with Fulton and said Fulton should not have been at the rally. Then, “He should not have been there dressed as a priest. It was a misuse of his priestly ministry,” said McNeil, relaying Lucas’ comments. Then, Thirty minutes after the article was posted on Omaha.com, McNeil sent an additional comment from Lucas: “Whether or not Fr. Fulton broke any laws, I condemn his participation in the event in the strongest terms.” It looks a lot like this rogue MAGA priest didn’t bother to tell Abp. Lucas of his nutty plan, that the chancery was scrambling to deal with it, and that they are dimly awakening to the fact that this guy needs to be reined in.
During his tenure as pastor, Buckler has preached that parishioners had the moral obligation to vote for former President Donald Trump, skirted North Carolina pandemic regulations, and attracted a new set of parishioners from other parts of the diocese who now contribute to the support of what has become a traditionalist parish.
Buckler is among a number of pastors in the Charlotte Diocese who are dubbed restorationists, traditionalists, or, in some cases, rad-trads. They are often younger than other priests — Buckler was ordained in 2011 for the Raleigh Diocese — and they are trained in a liturgical tradition foreign to most Vatican II Catholics. Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte has invited them into his diocese and they now lead a number of parishes, much to the chagrin of some older clergy, who, mostly quietly, question their bishop’s judgment. Jugis recently opened a junior seminary to help train future pastors in a similar mold.
The Charlotte Diocese is not alone. While Pope Francis preaches an accompaniment for all spiritual seekers and castigates clericalism — he once described young priests who put a premium on enforcing church regulations as “little monsters” — seminaries in the U.S. continue to graduate priests for ordination who look not to Francis, but to Pope John Paul II for inspiration. It is a quiet, awkward and uneasy kind of schism in church practice and discipline.
Many traditionalist seminarians seek training in regular seminary classes. But on their own time, they follow leaders such as Taylor Marshall and Church Militant, both anti-Francis websites.
“It’s an alternative magisterium,” Fr. Tim Kelly, a pastor in the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, told NCR. Kelly was formerly a teacher of homiletics and patristics at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, where he observed how seminarians, after classes, would flock to social media for instruction on liturgical rubrics and moral doctrine.
While the faculty at St. Mary’s offers a curriculum much in line with Vatican II teachings, said Kelly, seminarians are often inclined to go online, where they are presented with an alternative vision. There they are told that Francis is failing to proclaim church teaching, that most bishops are lacking in orthodoxy, and that it will be up to new, younger priests to rescue the church from its shortcomings.
While bishops became more conservative and tradition-minded, so have their seminary students, said Schuth.
“They want certainty. They want answers,” she said, noting that they prefer to gloss over complicated issues of moral theology and other concerns. They also prefer the power granted to pre-Vatican II clergy and look forward to running parishes on their own terms.
Today’s seminarians, said Schuth, are part of an overall generational cohort that is more likely to be liberal and secular. These conservative seminarians are set apart in many ways from their peers, with a strong focus on evangelizing their age group members into traditional Catholic ways. They latch on to traditional modes and symbols, such as the wearing of elaborate cassocks. She said they will exert influence on the church as more are ordained.
“It’s a small number, but they are not insignificant because they tend to be active,” she said of today’s more tradition-minded seminarians. They immerse themselves in conservative Catholic media sites such as EWTN, Life Site News and Church Militant.
Their politics also tend to the conservative. Many supported former President Donald Trump. Their vision of church social teaching is limited, said Schuth.
“It’s all about abortion, nothing else matters,” she said about their politics.
In my experience, the fruit of Traddery is always toxic. I know a few–a handful–of nice Trads. But where Traddery reigns, the extinction of charity, the growth of anti-semitism, the rise of weird conspiracy theories, the crushing grip of legalism, the domination of a fear-based relationship with God, the suffocation of the Catholic intellectual tradition, and an Inquisitorial contempt for nearly the entirety of the actual body of Christ is always the fruit. When I meet a Traddery whose hatred for me and those I love does not hit me in the face like a blast furnace, I will take it seriously as an expression of the Faith that I want to be associated with. But I don’t have any belief I ever will and I will not miss it if it brings about its own well-earned extinction. The chief fruit of Traddery, in my experience, is overwhelming Pride–and a shocking ignorance of the actual Tradition.
The reader above, who was driven away by this domineering priest, like people driven away in the Reporter article, is a familiar story and one which Reactionaries see as a win. Alienation of people seeking Christ and expulsion of the impure is a feature, not a bug, for this sect of self-pitying bullies. They will reply “OK Boomer” to people like me as they smirk, but this only makes clear the incoherence of their narrative.
Y’see, one of the little cognitive dissonances of Traddery is the whinging and complaining about the “trauma” of Vatican II coming from the mouths of kids who delight in mocking Boomers. But unless you believe in genetic memory, the sneering makes clear that much if not most of the Trad demographic is kids who weren’t even alive at the time of the Council cosplaying at a “tradition” that is younger than the Bangles and almost entirely a creature of the internet.
Meanwhile, it is the Magisterium in union with the Holy Father that is the proper custodian of the Tradition, not some pipe-smoking dilletantes with a fetish for Latin, Euro-aesthetics, fascism and a penchant for conspiracy theories and anti-semitism and libertarian econ videos. That Magisterium bids us go out into the highways and byways and call in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. That has been the constant call of this papacy and that is why he is so hated by these people. Because Reactionary Catholicism is about pouring boiling on all who approach Fortress Katolicus and driving out most of those who are within in a misguided zeal for aesthetic and ideological purity that long ago excommunicated the pope himself.
Had they known the first thing about actual Tradition, they would have welcomed Amazonian Catholics seeking the sacraments with open arms. Instead they spat in their faces over an aesthetic quibble. Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Isaac Jogues, and most especially St. Paul would have had their guts for garters.
The solution, of course, is to learn the actual Tradition taught by the actual Magsterium under the guidance of the actual Holy Spirit, not the paranoid conspiracy theories of the spirit of MAGA and QANON. That process can begin any time for any who are humble enough to try.
I would start here, with Pope Francis’ fine new letter Fratelli Tutti.