As the word ‘Catholic’ means ‘universal’ – i.e. for all – and many Catholic saints have died in bringing the faith to all nations – how have some people who identify as Catholic come to believe that Catholicism is compatible with white racial supremacism and even with extreme neo-Nazi movements that aim to provoke a global race war?
‘Once persecuted by the Ku Klux Klan, some Catholics now embrace the most extreme forms of racial hatred.’
This was the heading summary of an article that appeared in Sojourners magazine in July 2020, the online outlet of an inter-Christian politically-oriented community based in Washington DC, USA.
Written by an anti-war Catholic activist and scholar, Eric Martin, the article’s original title ‘Harboring a Culture of Hate‘ proved too much for some prominent US Catholics and has been replaced by ‘The Catholic Church Has a Visible White-Power Faction‘ .
This change – and Martin’s disturbing detailing of this ‘visible faction’ of Catholic white supremacists – raises some serious and obvious questions: especially why it appears to be unexceptional for white supremacists to claim a Catholic denominational identity.Among Eric Martin’s findings:
- There was a strong ‘Catholic’ representation in the group that planned the ‘Unite the Right’ torch-wielding rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 – with the torch-bearers chanting ‘Jews will not replace us!’ These ‘Catholics’ had their own chat-room in which, following the rally, they joked about the death of Heather Heyer, deliberately run over by a ‘Unite the Right’ supporter – and enthused about Pope Urban II who in 1094 had launched the first Crusade against the Islamic presence in the Holy Land. They also encouraged genocide against Jews, greeted one another with the Nazi salutation ‘Sieg Heil’ and pledged their support for the “14 words”: These are “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
- Some prominent leaders of known extremist neo-Nazi groups either claim to be Catholic or are known to have had a Catholic upbringing. Among these is Nicholas Fuentes, a far-right provocateur and conspiracy theorist who in a YouTube podcast once declared: “Who runs the media? Globalists. Time to kill the globalists.” Fuentes was also present at the Unite the Right rally in 2017.
- Another notorious ‘Catholic’ neo-Nazi activist, a member of a group calling itself ‘Atomwaffen Division’, Samuel Woodward, was charged in 2018 with the murder of a Jewish student in California, Blaze Bernstein. According to the investigative website ProPublica, other Atomwaffen members cheered the news of Bernstein’s death on an Internet chat forum.
- Politically high-profile US Catholic white supremacists include Pat Buchanan, Milo Yiannopoulos and Steve Bannon. The latter led the Trump electoral campaign for some months in 2016 and was charged in August 2020 with alleged fraudulent diversion of donations to a campaign to build part of the Wall that separates the southern USA from Mexico. Before joining the Trump campaign in 2016, Bannon is reported to have advised the far-right Italian leader Matteo Salvini to attack Pope Francis’s stance on welcoming refugees – then risking their lives to get to Italy across the Mediterranean.
Given that the US bishops’ 2018 anti-racism pastoral letter – ‘Open Wide Our Hearts‘ – declared that racial hatred ‘has no place in the Christian heart’ – and that racism is also clearly ‘anti-life’ in spirit and intent, the open claiming by some of a Catholic rationale for the murderous bigotry of white supremacism is both absurd and scandalous. At a time when the USA is close to the tipping point sought by the worst racist bigots – that of a rapid descent into uncontrollable inter-racial violence – the absence of a far more pointed denunciation of ‘Catholic’ white supremacism led Eric Martin to call that a ‘harboring’ of this malignancy in his initial version of the Sojourners article. If that is not fair or accurate, how are US bishops finally to make clear that the church is not a safe harbour for those who, according to the bishops 2018 pastoral, are not Christian either?
‘Dry rain’, ‘loyal treason’, ‘apathetic enthusiasm’ – these are all oxymorons – word combinations that are so self-contradictory as to be meaningless. ‘Catholic white supremacism’ is therefore also an oxymoron – and so are ‘Christian hate group’ and ‘Christian white nationalism’. The overt racism that flourished as a global blight in the wake of the election of Donald trump in 2016 is one of the greatest global threats to world harmony and to an acceptable future for the world’s children. As a virus that has already caught hold of too many who call themselves ‘Catholic’ it needs to be identified for what it is – naked racist imperialism – totally repugnant to the Gospel and the Lord who calls us to love the entire human family equally.
It is far from clear that the enemies of Pope Francis have separated themselves convincingly from this malignancy. In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, Archbishop Carlo Vigano’s identification of the Black Lives Matter movement with the apocryphal ‘deep state’ that is allegedly satanically opposing President Trump, is deeply disturbing. It would follow naturally that Vigano was far from hostile to the Charlottsville neo-Nazi demonstration of 2017 and the ‘very fine people’ bent on atrocity who are detailed above.
Covid-19 is benign in comparison to white supremacism. By way of the vicious hatred it engenders, racism destroys the soul.
Sean O’Conaill, 24th August 2020
This kind of extreme distortion of the Faith also highlights the need to emphasise the two great commandments – love God and love neighbour. It illustrates the need in many to join a group that facilitates the expression of anger.
There are always going to be people who identify as Catholics but who for whatever reason behave in outright contradiction of Catholic teaching. The best approach is to follow the lead given in “Open Wide Our Hearts” issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This pastoral letter is rich in Catholic thought including condemnation of all racist groups in the strongest terms. One example reads as follows:
“Therefore, we affirm that participating in or fostering organizations that are built on racist ideology (for instance, neo-Nazi movements and the Ku Klux Klan) is also sinful—they corrupt individuals and corrode communities. None of these organizations have a place in a just society.”
The words “none of these” plainly includes those who identify as Catholics. There is no pulling of punches – the term “sinful” – is very clear.
One of the merits of the Pastoral letter is the extent to which it acknowledges Catholicism’s sins of racism and provides the fundamental Catholic teaching that the struggle against racism begins within ourselves. It also does something quite rare in Catholic commentary today. It clarifies that social sins like racism are immoral not just because they are offences against other people, but very importantly are offences against God. The latter offence is addressed quite rarely in modern Catholic commentary and amounts to a fundamental ignoring of a fundamental reality.
The Pastoral letter is worth dissemination to a broader readership