The New Catholic Fascism

I wrote the following article for a website that is combatting the radical so-called ‘traditionalist’ Catholic bloggers on the Internet, the fellow-travellers of those fascist thugs who have thrown the USA into its present crisis of democracy. ‘Rad-trads,’ as they are known for short, promote anti-vaxxer lies and are also happy to share QAnon conspiracies. They openly support ultra-right/fascist enablers like Steve Bannon and millenarian apocalyptic ranters like Cardinal Viganò stirring dissent and schism to undermine Pope Francis and the teaching authority of the Church.

(1) Read my article “The Blogenberg Tribes.” (2) Then read the ‘Afterword’ and see what bully tactics these Catholic fascists used to stop the article from being published.

The Blogenberg Tribes

by Gareth Thomas

It is sixty years since Marshall McLuhan wrote The Gutenberg Galaxy [1] and while some say his axiom ‘the medium is the message’ is now tired, I believe it can be usefully applied to the noise of the rad-trad Catholic blogging world with which we are now so familiar. Gutenberg is the town of origin of the 15th century printing press and the consequent cultural revolution, and McLuhan compares that with the eclipse of print media in the 1960s, with TV and other media dominating our discourse.

As a student of mass media, I know there are limitations in McLuhan’s work, and others, like Victor Hugo[2] had already described the paradigm shift of Gutenberg. However, through the lens of that axiom, ‘the medium is the message’ we may examine the rad-trad ‘Blogenberg Tribes’ at the centre of the culture wars, and learn how it is the blog medium itself that commands our attention, rather than its messages.  Catholics can identify and counter some of the underlying causes of our divisions by seeing that they simply reflect the nature of the medium.

Much attention has been given to other social media e.g. Twitter and Facebook, and we are now aware how the algorithmic superiority of falsehood gives it greater currency than facts or expert opinion. Peer-reviewed science and authority become distrusted and conspiracy flourishes.  But less focus has been given to blogging, which is a form of digital punditry, or ‘ePunditry’ as Forrest and Duff call it[3].  The ePundit is the individual blogger in “the new opinion-making landscape.” Their etymology also informs our enquiry: “(pundit) is based on the Hindu term pandit meaning a learned person of religious scriptures.” So the rad-trad bloggers may be seen as theological ePundits who gather in distinct tribes, which I shall call – after McLuhan – the ‘Blogenberg Tribes’: the blogging media-network of rad-trad Catholic ePundits.

A decade ago I joined with a group of like-minded ePundits to set up a ‘traditional’ Catholic blog.  I shall explain its evolution but – in order not to embarrass delicate souls – I will refer to our blog in pseudonym as ‘super-caths.com’ which we designed to be a haven for pure and simple Catholicism that we convinced ourselves could not be found elsewhere!  The group of people who got together to start super-caths.com started out as sockpuppets.  The group was forged in the shared experience of battling with atheists and commenters of various affiliations on the Daily Telegraph blog hosted by Damian Thompson. We founders of super-caths.com built our happy reputation manipulating an outrageous multitude of comedy sockpuppets in the below-the-line comments on the ‘Holy Smoke’ blog.  These invented characters were sent into battle as mouth-pieces for a ‘traditional’ Catholic viewpoint. This might have appeared superfluous, since the blog author already expressed such a viewpoint in his own articles, but the point was more to enjoy the battle!  We acted as a team in combat with all who did not hold traditional Catholic views, which we rarely defined concretely, but demonstrated them by Pavlovian knee-jerk responses to key stimuli.

So in those days, ‘traditional’ simply seemed to mean supporting anything said or done by Pope Benedict XVI; or which suggested Vatican II was the beginning of the new age of Sodom (while conveniently forgetting the enthusiasm of a certain young Ratzinger for the Council, many years before). We applauded the introduction of the Latin Mass into any parish that wanted to experiment with it; although some of us, as we privately admitted, had never experienced a Latin Mass! 

In our sockpuppet world, this was soon reduced to the Orwellian simplicity of ‘Benedict XVI Good, Vatican II Bad’ and variations on that profound theme.  We tribal sockpuppet masters began to further refine the idea of Catholic authority, and we discovered there hadn’t really been a proper pope since Pope Saint Pius X, so maybe Pope Benedict XVI was actually a bit of a liberal in comparison!  People who – a year ago – would not have been able to name a pope before John XXIII were suddenly disagreeing over which long-dead pope was a better model for our faith than any recent one!  I developed a liking for Pope Martin V but nobody wanted to talk about him as he had ended the Great Schism. Where was the fun in unity, for heaven’s sake?

The back-stories of our little Blogenberg Tribe were instructive.  Quite a few of us were converts or ‘lapsed-and-recommitted’ Catholics.  The zeal of the converted was evident.  A distant relative of mine, born Catholic from Irish heritage, was appalled by my new attitudes and she said to me, “That’s the trouble when you Anglicans come seeking certainty: you start more Catholic than the Pope and after six months you end up heretics!”

When Damian Thompson finally felt he was losing control of his blog, he threw out all our sockpuppets and we decided to set up our own Super-Catholic blog!  At first, the password for super-caths.com was controlled by an experienced ePundit, (see note in ‘Afterword’) and one of the more extreme voices among the Blogenberg Tribes.  A dispute soon arose about editorial control, and we managed to seize his password (“Salazar” the Portuguese dictator!) and we changed it and locked the dictator out. A new rad-trad blog was born! At super-caths.com we were only sorry that one comrade didn’t join us: instead he went solo with a niche ‘comedy-trad’ blog and extended by another decade the life of his favourite sockpuppet ‘Eccles’!

The two blogs, while different in style, followed a similar trajectory: a descent by imperceptible stages from a purely Catholic mission to overt right-wing political propaganda.  The writing on super-caths.com began with a righteous zeal to introduce the audience to Catholic ‘spiritual nourishment’ and ‘pure and simple’ Catholic faith.  Coming from a Franciscan background, I wrote a Lent series on the letters of Saint Clare to Agnes of Prague; and others wrote articles on the Rosary and other devotions, the liturgy, the Catholic saints, and so on.  Nobody thought of contributing an overtly partisan political article as it would have been completely out of place.

None of us put our real names to what we wrote, but used assumed names, some still using their old sockpuppet names; and I wrote as ‘Frere Rabit’with an avatar of Thomas Merton in habit with a rabbit head. (I only ever met one person from super-caths.com in real life, a man who said he was an investment consultant but had fallen on hard times!)  As for the rest of super-caths.com writers, I never knew who they were, for they did not use their real names.  After a decade it is still the case, and apart from notable exceptions such as celebrity priest bloggers, the Blogenberg Tribes are quite anonymous, which should be concerning in an age of troll farms and manipulation of opinions.   

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in 2013 was a body blow for super-caths.com and all among the Blogenberg Tribes and gave a new boost to tribalism.  This was a key factor in readying the tribes for the Trump politics which would soon arrive.  Just as those ‘forgotten people’ in the Rust Belt formed an army of the hopeless; and the same happened in the unemployment blackspots of England, ready for the wily manipulators of Brexit; the idea that Pope Benedict XVI was ‘stolen from us’ resonated with the disappointed band running super-caths.com and they would later happily propagate the lie that the US election was ‘stolen’ from Trump, as well as form alliances with anti-vaxxers, Viganò’s conspiracy theories; and lamentably, indulge in a steady drip-drip leakage of trust and obedience to Pope Francis and the Magisterium of the Church.

As those were the very certainties I had sought when I converted and became a Catholic, I parted company and I ceased all involvement as a writer for super-caths.com but watched from the sidelines in dismay, as the Blogenberg Tribes increasingly converged into an echo-chamber and an overt political project.  They seemed to support ever more extreme elements that were no longer even conservative.  Any questioning of the views of a person like the unhinged Viganò was seen as selling out to the view of the ‘MSM’ as they started to call it.  The enemy was increasingly the ‘mainstream media,’ or as we old-fashioned types prefer to simply call it professional journalism, which provides facts for all our fragile democracies!

This madness seemed to be without limits and during Covid-19 lockdown I watched super-caths.com tempt their readers into mortal danger with anti-vaxxer propaganda from the depths of the conspiracy-enthusiast web.  I looked on as another super-caths.com former writer of the old sockpuppet days who is a medical doctor tried to reason with them, but to no avail, for they regard any who have not gone down their rabbit hole as ‘sheep.’ Truth was a lost cause. If the Blogenberg Tribes now use ‘sheep’ to mean ‘stupid’ they have plainly not read the same Good News of Christ that I read, where the Good Shepherd feeds His sheep; and I asked myself, who are these Super-Catholics who would have us feel ashamed to be called His sheep?

The outer satellites of the Blogenberg Tribes like super-caths.com now contain very little original writing, which is what gave them their original purpose, but they simply re-blog articles from ‘hubs’ providing new ePundit content; places like LifeSiteNews, TheRemnant or Rorate-Caeli, so a typical comment by super-caths.com readers is: “Re-blogged that!” And they obediently copy it to their own satellite-of-a-satellite blog!  That is the very definition of an echo-chamber! This pattern of blurred distinctions between production and consumption is a process that Bruns and Jacobs call ‘produsage’[4], and it describes the happy echo-chamber in which so many spend their time: a never-ending process of re-circulating and tribal enthusing without development or critical analysis.

As my case study of super-caths.com and the wider context of the Blogenberg Tribes shows, ‘the medium is the message’ for its only real function is the medium itself and the buzz it generates for so many in its ‘produsage.’ The ephemeral nature of much of the content means that little of it is remembered, even a week later, and it was not surprising that McLuhan’s axiom later morphed into: “the medium is the massage.”  Writers and readers join the Blogenberg Tribes to keep up a noise, enjoy a protest, or maybe wave a sockpuppet.  They go away invigorated and can forget about the content. Traditional Catholicism it is not.  Much of it is purely and simply an indulgence, and indulgences invite a reformation.


[1] Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy. (1962)

[2] Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris. (1829)  The chapter “This Will Kill That” is a highly readable essay within the novel, comparing architecture and printing as dominant modes of communication.

[3] Eve Forrest and Alistair S. Duff, “The ecology of the ePundit: Surveying the new opinion-making landscape.” First Monday, Volume 21, Number 4 – 4 (2016) (Online publication accessed 04/02/2021 at URL: https://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/6351/5359 )

[4] Axel Bruns and Joanne Jacobs (eds.), Uses of blogs. New York: Peter Lang. (2006)

Afterword:

The blog anonymised as ‘super-caths.com‘ in my article above is actually catholicismpure.wordpress.com and in the article the unnamed founder can also now be named as the radical right-wing schismatic ‘Mundabor‘. My article had been invited by the editors of WherePeterIs.com and I wrote The Blogenberg Tribes referring to my subject only in an anonymised way, following the Editor’s advice, in order not to get into any ‘whataboutery’ with them.

Not wanting to do this behind the backs of co-founders of catholicismpure.wordpress.com, I told them I intended to write the article. Even before I had finished writing it, one of the anonymous luminaries of catholicismpure.wordpress.com (“mmvc”) contacted the Managing Editor of WherePeterIs.com to shut down my article. The mask of anonymity suddenly slipped for “mmvc” had to furnish her real name in order to make allegations about me. Her real name is Maryla Chidell (or Maria Chidell as mistakenly described in the email* to me from Mike Lewis). As an anonymous author on catholicismpure.wordpress.com she hides her identity while spreading schismatic propaganda and writes as “mmvc“; but had to use a real name in order to be taken seriously by WherePeterIs.com. What better example of the pernicious anonymity of Catholic fascism: they only crawl into the daylight and present a real name in order to close down someone else’s freedom of expression, and in my case a viewpoint which happens to coincide with loyalty to the Church and support of the Pope, a position presumably once taught by Ms Chidell and her husband Ray as part of their catechetical ministry in Chester (Diocese of Shrewsbury) at a time when there was a different Pope under whom they chose obedience. Some catechists! Obedience to the Magisterium does not change with your opinion of a particular Pope.

The editor of WherePeterIs.com Mike Lewis told me about the complaint from Maryla Chidell:

Hi Gareth
…We did receive an email from a Maryla Chidell who tried to “warn” us about you…

Mike Lewis, Managing Editor at WherePeterIs.com (*Email: 09.17 am, 2 February 2021.)

I have some experience of their modus operandi from earlier dealings with these traditional fascists. In the past, after I began to express a critical view of their blog’s ultra-right direction of travel and I ceased any further association with them, the anonymous people who run catholicismpure.wordpress.com published cheap innuendo suggesting I left the UK ‘under a cloud’. In fact they got that idea from something I had written on my own blog ten years ago, for I had been entirely open about a problem I was having obtaining clearance due to a computer error. I coincidentally obtained a job abroad at that time, and I later received a full apology and compensation from the UK authorities.

Using their anonymity to deliver ad hominem slurs online is the ‘radical traditionalist’ equivalent of the jackbooted fascist street thug with a knuckleduster. Maryla Chidell was up to the usual game of malicious innuendo used in the past by catholicismpure.wordpress.com but whatever the nature of the “warning” in the form of slanderous innuendo or whatever they had received from Ms. Maryla Chidell, it was ultimately counterproductive, and two can play at delivering “warnings”. I sent the Diocese of Shrewsbury catechesis-coordinator, Reuben Purchase, a warning about the writings of Ms. Chidell, in case the Diocese think she is suited to deliver catechesis to the faithful while at the same time promoting the schismatic Viganò’s attacks on the Holy Father. An invitation to view her comments on CP&S should provide warning enough to Mr Purchase, without any comment from me.

In the end I am grateful for Maryla Chidell’s intervention because nothing could have better demonstrated the dangers detailed in my article! This is the new Catholic fascism at work: cancelling alternative voices other than their radical ultra-right version of the Catholic Church. You’ve seen what Trump’s fascism has done to the (surprisingly vulnerable) democratic institutions of the USA. That is exactly what these Catholic fascists – ‘radical traditionalists’ – are doing to the Catholic Church, and its institutions are equally ill-prepared to confront it.

My experience of this thuggery as recounted here is minor when compared with the true target for their attack – the constant and openly stated target! – which is the authority of Pope Francis. This is being attacked every day by thousands of online blog voices, most of them anonymous (like “Mundabor” or this Maryla Chidell hiding behind “mmvc”) and many of them in some way connected with extreme right political movements and conspiracy theories. The Catholic faithful must support Pope Francis always: that is the best way to combat this radical-traditionalist fascism and expose it for what it really is.

The Editor of The Tablet Brendan Walsh read this blog article yesterday and wrote to me this morning:
“This is interesting background, and very helpful to read.”
(15/02/21)

Update Ash Wednesday 17 February 2021

I am pleased to say that the totally inappropriate intervention by Maryla Chidell of “Catholicism Pure” (sic), intended to damage my writing on WherePeterIs.com, had no lasting effect beyond ruining publication of the above article. In new communications, the Managing Editor of the site – which supports Pope Francis against the attacks of the schismatic “traditionalists” – has invited me to submit more work and I shall write something during Lent.

The “Walking Out of the World” blog pilgrimage series will continue after a Lent pause, resuming on Palm Sunday.


One thought on “The New Catholic Fascism

  1. I just received an email from a reader of this blog who is a lawyer in UK, with some useful advice regarding libel laws relating to the Internet and email communications, particularly when people use anonymity online (which I don’t, by the way).

    He followed my link above to the ‘rad-trad’ schismatic blog of “Mundabor” and he drew my attention to this article from 2010, where the argument is set out for anonymity on blogs: mundabor.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/ten-reasons-for-the-anonimity-of-catholic-bloggers ; and in that 2010 article was the most amazing admission (italics):

    “It is undeniable, though, that insisted, repeated slander may – even if unsubstantiated – have some effect in the long-term on the person affected. Voltaire used to say something on the lines of “keep on slandering: something will stick”. There you are, you will say, but the best protection against such slander is, once again, anonymity! Every non addetto ai lavori (as journalist, or priest) who willingly renounces to his own anonymity when he writes on the internet is allowing his ego to play him the most dangerous of tricks. Be assured that there will be a price to pay, as recently seen in the case of a “commenterer” known to many of us.”

    It was I who used to playfully use the word “commenterer” in those days and I had only recently renounced my anonymity and begun to write boldly under my own name, on my brotherlapin.wordpress.com. Almost immediately I came under attack from a malicious campaign of hostile innuendo – making the very same false connections that I described in the article above – and which have been repeated occasionally, down the years. Now I see that the origin was the anonymous “Mundabor”, whose poisonous blog is only read by the most dedicated ultra-radical promoters of schism. The new Catholic fascism on the internet is a jungle filled with snakes: the most poisonous of them are usually to be found somewhere near the nest of “Mundabor,” the chief founder of catholicismpure.wordpress.com and the man who originally held the password to the site, until it was taken from him during a raid on his bunker!

    Thanks, Kevin, for making that connection. It solves a ten year old mystery!

    Like

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