The most popular moral heresy in the world is Consequentialism: the belief that the ends justify the means. It is has always been beloved by fallen human beings and is, indeed, bound up with the Fall. For of course, to be like God is a good end and what God himself has desired for us in the very moment of creation. It is the entire end of the gospel that we should be “participants in the divine nature” as 2 Peter 1:4 puts it. That is why God the Son became man, according to St. Athanasius: “The Son of God became man that men might become God.” It’s what Eastern Christianity means by “theosis” and the West calls “divinization”. Our humanity was created by God to participate in his divinity.
But the story of the Fall is precisely the story of human beings seeking that good end by evil means. You do not get to the Tree of Life by looking God in the eye and defying him by eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That is what the myth of the Fall is communicating and we keep living it out over and over till we finally repent and receive his grace that alone can give us life.
One way we live out the myth is by trying to lie our way to the God who is truth. It’s folly so obvious a child can see it, but we are amazingly easy marks for this con from Hell. Most recently, a massive liar named Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former apostolic nuncio to the United States, became famous for lying that Pope Francis had done nothing about abuser Cardinal McCarrick and loudly demanding his resignation in an attempted palace coup he coordinated with such media as Liesite News and EWTN. Francis is, in fact, the only person who did do something about McCarrick, removing him from office.
The reason for the lie was that, as apostolic nuncio, Viganò was the one man on US soil who, long before Francis became pope, could have done something about McCarrick. But instead he feted, wined and dined him and gave him awards and medals. So the attack on Francis was a massive act of ass-covering that played extremely well with the MAGA Catholics who hate Francis.
As a result, a symbiosis developed between Viganò and the QANON weirdos and conspiracy theorists who are now the core think tank for MAGAfied Catholicism. He has become one of their main spokesmen, blathering on about the Great Reset and spouting anti-vax and Big Lie election idiocy to suckers who eat it up, all while bringing scandal on the gospel by invoking his office as successor to the apostles to lie for what he imagines is the Greater Good: the defeat of Francis and “liberals” by his parody of the gospel.
In this, he is helped by the worst bishop in the US, Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, who instantly joined his call for Francis to resign, promotes anti-vax and QANON idiocy, cheers on inflammatory and rebellious priests like James Altman, and most recently praised a Reactionary video calling the Holy Father a “diabolically disordered clown” and comparing him to Judas Iscariot.
Also, acting as an accomplice to the Big Lie is Frank Pavone, who long ago gave up being a priest of Jesus Christ as anything but a fig leaf for being a priest of Trump, mediating Trump to suckers and suckers to Trump. Infamously, offering a corpse on an altar in a stump speech for Trump in 2016, he was rebuked by his bishop and now appears to simply be a free-lance priest, accountable to no bishop that anybody can discover. The internet and the funding of the same sort of gullible Catholics who send money to a billionaire con man keeps Pavone afloat so that he too can lie for the Greater Good. Paul Moses exposes the Lie:
During the two days before the January 6 riot in the Capitol, numerous far-right websites carried an interview with a Catholic archbishop who warned that the United States would be “wiped out from history” if it failed to expose “now” what his interviewer called “the coordinated theft of our election.”
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former Vatican ambassador to the United States, is a renegade cleric best known for calling for Pope Francis’ resignation.
He is the most prominent of a group of Catholic clergymen who joined evangelical Protestant figures in the religious wing of the “Stop the Steal” movement. Given the role of Catholics as a swing vote — and as 30% of the members of Congress — these far-right clerics have played an important role in supporting President Donald Trump’s Big Lie that he won the 2020 presidential election.
Video messages from Viganò, Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Tyler diocese in east Texas, and the Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, were featured in the December 12 “Jericho March” called “to preserve fair and free elections in America.” Viganò’s role is particularly troubling. He invokes his position as an archbishop, “Successor of the Apostles,” and former top Vatican official to claim apostolic authority to indulge in conspiracy.
The claims that Viganò, Strickland and Pavone have made were amplified through their access to a large range of conservative and far-right Catholic media such as the EWTN Global Catholic Network, and many others.
Catholic bishops and other Catholic opinion-makers have mostly been slow to respond to this misuse of their faith to help Trump, in all his pride and wrath, as he tried to lie and bully his way into a second term. Divided by their own intra-church battles, their voices have been absent or tepid.
The Jericho March’s organizers adopted Trump’s falsehood: “We will not let globalists, socialists and communists destroy our beautiful nation by sidestepping our laws and suppressing the will of the American people through their fraudulent and illegal activities in this election,” its website said at the time.
The march’s publicity release listed Viganò as the headliner for that rally, along with retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser Trump pardoned. From a jumbo video screen on the National Mall, Viganò said he prayed that “order will triumph over destruction,” telling the crowd, “We are the silent army of the children of light, the humble ranks who overthrow evil by invoking God, the praying army that walks around the walls of lies and betrayal in order to bring them down.”
Bishop Strickland, filmed standing before an altar, was more restrained but still worked some of the rally’s buzzwords into his prayer: “We pray in a special way for our nation in a time of darkness, confusion, this time of too much corruption and doubt.”
Strickland was so agitated over Biden’s victory that after the US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement with congratulations on his victory, he tweeted on Nov. 10, “A dark cloud has descended on this nation when the USCCB and Planned Parenthood speak in unison in support of a Biden-Harris administration that supports the slaughter of innocents by abortion for all 9 months of pregnancy.” He repeated the false claim that the bishops had somehow acted “in unison” with their arch-foe Planned Parenthood on November 24 in his program on LifesiteNews.
Pavone sounded more like a politician as he pushed Trump’s Big Lie for the December 12 rally: “Lord you have given President Trump victory over all these enemies and we ask you to give him and us victory once again,” he said. “Bless his campaign as it fights voter fraud.”
After that event, the Jericho March organizers put together a five-day “Save the Republic” rally that culminated on the fateful afternoon of January 6 in a Capitol Hill meet-up with the “Stop the Steal” crowd. For further directions, the Jericho March provided a link to wildprotest.com, according to its website at the time. Jericho March’s promotional material featured a picture of Trump, pointing straight on like Uncle Sam, under the header, “Take America Back.” Below, it borrowed from Trump’s infamous tweet, “Be there, will be wild!”
There can be no doubt that the statements of these religious leaders helped to create the violent atmosphere that exploded on Capitol Hill. After the violence, the Jericho March has cleared away the edgy statements from its website, replacing them with a page that says, “Jericho March has a history of totally peaceful marches and we have not, did not, and never will condone violence or destruction.”
As a Catholic, I cringe especially at Viganò’s actions. The “open letters” he issued throughout 2020 are reminiscent of the demagogic radio addresses that Father Charles Coughlin delivered in the late 1930s, filled with apocalyptic warnings about evil forces vying for world domination.
The day after November’s election, Viganò wrote a “Letter to American Catholics and Americans of Good Will.”
“We have seen the deep state organize itself, well in advance, to carry out the most colossal electoral fraud in history, in order to ensure the defeat of the man who has strenuously opposed the establishment of the New World Order that is wanted by the children of darkness,” he wrote. “In this battle, you have not failed, as is your sacred duty, to make your own contribution by taking the side of the Good. Others, enslaved by vices or blinded by infernal hatred against Our Lord, have taken the side of Evil.”
Though he is on the run from papal authority, the archbishop invoked his status as “Successor of the Apostles” to make statements such as this one in an October open letter to Trump: “Around you are gathered with faith and courage those who consider you the final garrison against the world dictatorship.” He also plays on the piety of devout Catholics by frequently invoking the Blessed Mother in support of his fantasies.
Pavone, for his part, showed no regret. At 4:33 p.m. on January 6, he tweeted, “These Democrats are hypocrites. Biden should shut up; he has no authority to talk right now. He is a fraud & he is not the president-elect. The rest of these sanctimonious, self righteous Democrats should stop complaining. They tried to steal the election & want us to accept it!” His organization Priests for Life issued a statement January 13 saying it opposes violence.
Bishop Strickland has hinted that he is examining his conscience, however. He declined to discuss this with me, but he tweeted on January 11, “Let us stop blaming each other, yes I’m a sinner & I can be foolish but I love God & I love this country.”
It is one of the little ironies of history that as the Church blessedly loses the power to impose an Index of Forbidden Books on the laity, we are being given, in Real Time, a demonstration of why the Index was well-intentioned by massive liars like Vigano, Strickland, and Pavone, who show that the Total Democratization of Information afforded by social media is not the road to paradise some naively assumed. The combination of skilled liars and an audience of ill-educated suckers and malignant personalities is quite able to create a toxic brew of stupid and poisonous disinformation in pursuit of the Greater Good. There is a such a thing as Liars For Jesus. Trying to forbid books in an age of mass information technology is a fool’s errand. But trying to stem the spread of lies by the lying liars who tell them is not.
The way to do that is through really learning how to “rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), not by attempting the fool’s errand of damming a Niagara of disinformation. To be sure, initiatives to, for instance, deplatform massive lie machines like FOX are worthy efforts for laity to undertake. But the Church should busy itself with teaching laity to do what the Treasury Department does. Treasury agents don’t waste time memorizing every possible permutation of a counterfeit bill. They learn what a real bill looks like and then can instantly spot counterfeits. People should be learning the mind of Christ and the revelation of the gospel the Church teaches. If they do that, they will instantly grasp that anybody saying, “Let us do evil (including lying) that good may come of it” is not to be trusted, no matter what office they hold.
That includes, of course, the Pope (which is why all four gospels take great pains to emphasize Peter’s failure and lies on the evening of Jesus’ arrest). But the fact that the Pope is a weak man and always has been does not prove that the wretched liars smearing Francis since the day of his election are right, good, or honest. It just shows that you have to learn out to think and discern and not buy every wingnut lie from every ideologue who tells you what your itching ears want to hear. Francis is clearly an honest man. I’ll take him over grifting MAGA demagogues like Vigano, Strickland, and Pavone any day.