Church Militant, the ultraconservative website with the stated aim of “educating individuals about the Catholic faith,” is getting considerable attention after Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, and Argentine Presbyterian Pastor Marcelo Figueroa assailed its “shocking rhetoric” last week in La Civiltà Cattolica. They described Church Militant as “a successful U.S.-based digital platform that is openly in favor of a political ultraconservatism and uses Christian symbols to impose itself,” adding: “This abuse is called ‘authentic Christianity.’ ” Carrying the clout that accompanies the Jesuit-run, Rome-based publication’s close association with the Holy See, the authors cite Church Militant as a prime example of the apocalyptic fear-mongering they decry.
There is some debate about whether to give Church Militant any more attention than it already gets, since it seems to operate on the premise that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Church spokespersons generally avoid engaging with it, which is understandable since Church Militant goes after its perceived enemies with “faith-based investigations”—highly personal attacks based on flimsy sourcing or a very slanted use of the facts.
Church Militant and its founder, Michael Voris, often attack the Catholic “soft right” for wavering from the site’s anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, and anti-climate-concern line. Targets have included Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron (“spiritual poison”), Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who has called it “destructive.” It ran a “Top 20 Most Dangerous Catholics” reader survey in which Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Dolan, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, and Cardinal Roger Mahony placed, in order, No. 1 through No. 4.
Wuerl is a particular target, to the point that Bill Donohue of the Catholic League denounced the “right-wing nuts” attacking him:
The crazies on the Catholic right have set their sights on Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington. Why? Because he is close to Pope Francis, and they hate the pope. The attacks are coming from The Church Militant, a loose gang of angry right-wingers who specialize in character assassination, and American Spectator hater George Neumayr.
Church Militant has created an expansive multimedia operation large enough to gain a niche in the news ecosystem, a marker on the slippery slope that slides the alt-right into conservative Catholic media, no matter how antithetical far-right views are to Catholic teaching on many subjects. The Detroit Free Press described the Ferndale, Michigan-based outfit this way:
Church Militant’s audience is about 10 times bigger than it was five years ago, and Voris said its revenue—from online subscriptions, donations, merchandise and an annual cruise trip—is “well past seven digits.” He said the “authentic” Catholic news website and social media presence draw about 1 million to 1.5 million interactions per month. It’s part of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Christian organization called St. Michael’s Media.
The people at Church Militant consider themselves journalists “bearing witness to the truth,” lonely gumshoes exposing corruption in the church. I believe that news media should hold religious institutions accountable in the same way as any other powerful institution, and that independent Catholic media should help to do that. The Italian reporters who made use of documents leaked from the Vatican were, in my view, doing a service to the church and not criminals, as church authorities would have had it. Similarly, National Catholic Reporter deserves gratitude for exposing the clergy sex abuse scandal and staying on the story. This is evidence-based accountability journalism, built on documents and facts.
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