Is the Anti-Pope Francis Rad-Trad Catholic Movement Headed to QAnon Territory?Roundup
tags: conservatism, far right, religion, Catholicism, Vatican, medieval history, Church History
Dr. Joshua P Hevert is an Assistant Professor of History at El Paso Community College. He holds a PhD in medieval history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also contributes to the Footnoting History podcast, which can be found on Twitter at @historyfootnote.
Thomas Lecaque is Associate Professor of History at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, located on Baxoje, Meskwaki and Sauk lands. He has written for The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, and The Bulwark. Follow him @tlecaque on Twitter.
On Halloween, Rhode Island police announced that they had arrested Father James Jackson, the pastor of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP)’s church of St Mary in Providence, Rhode Island, for possession and transfer of child pornography. The response thus far has been interesting—the FSSP released a statement saying they were shocked and saddened and fully cooperating with law enforcement. Some parishioners insisted he was innocent and that he might have been framed; not solely because they love their priest, but because of an ongoing conflict within the church between traditionalists and the modern post-Vatican II liturgy.
Pope Francis’s July Traditionis Custodes was seen as a direct assault against anti-Vatican II traditionalism, which has been characterized by scholar Massimo Faggioli as “[a] problem [that] is particularly acute in the United States, where liturgical traditionalism is a misguided response to a crisis of liturgy more than to a crisis of faith.” The arrest was also seen in this light by the editor of The Remnant, a newspaper by and for radical traditionalists, or “rad trads,” who are engaged in active opposition to the modern Church.
An editorial on the arrest warns:
“We ask our readers to pray for Father Jackson, whether he’s found innocent or guilty. It is abundantly obvious that the forces of hell are keenly intent on corrupting good and holy priests at this pivotal moment in history. We are witnessing the Devil’s final battle, and it should surprise no one when he targets our priests first.”
This language of apocalyptic struggle is common in rad trad spaces, including the Church Militant and The Remnant.
A year ago, writing for Vanity Fair, journalist Kathryn Joyce* pointed out the ways Trumpism has infected the American Catholic Church—Bannon’s brand of militant authoritarianism; rad trad ultraconservatism blending political and theological concerns; and conservative bishops’ opposition to Biden and the Democratic Party. And she pointed out that QAnon has started making inroads in American Catholicism.
A year later, those trends are getting worse–the far right infiltration of the American Catholic Church is now giving way to a growing number of “Q-atholics.” PRRI’s March poll on QAnon’s influence in religious groups has been widely discussed, mostly with regard to evangelical Protestants, but 16% of Hispanic Catholics and 11% of white Catholics agreed with the core QAnon idea that the world is being run by a secret group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles running a global sex-trafficking operation. This still represents a substantial minority of believers subscribing to QAnon doctrines, especially as American rad trads, and overwhelmingly The Remnant, move ever more “Q-atholic.” As the church engages in a quiet schism, the schismatics are only getting more and more apocalyptic.
This kind of behavior, an effectively open ideological war within the Church against the Pope, may feel quite foreign now, but it has happened before—repeatedly. A short history lesson may serve as a warning for those tempted to close their eyes and hope this latest far-right uprising goes away. In the Middle Ages, for example, internal battles spread from discussions of theology to full blown anti-papal apocalypticism—a debate over apostolic poverty in the 14th century ended with schismatics calling Pope John XXII the Antichrist, openly declaring that the pope himself was a heretic, and calling in the Holy Roman Empire to intervene.
That kind of language can be heard once again, not only in The Remnant, where Pope Francis has been called a tool of Satan, among other insults; but also from the popular conservative Catholic YouTuber and traditionalist Taylor Marshall (who was appointed to the Trump reelection campaign’s Catholic Advisory Board); from former President Donald Trump; and, of course, from Archbishop Viganó.