It’s Advent. I’m very aware that it’s Advent. I don’t want things to be business as usual on the Catholic internet. So please believe me: I thought long and hard about how to approach this topic usefully, rather than just stirring up anger.
Last night, Catholic News Service tweeted out a “Happy Hanukkah” message “to those who celebrate.” Here’s a screenshot:
One problem: That’s an image of Roman soldiers carrying off loot from the Temple they desecrated. So yes, there is a menorah in the picture. No, that doesn’t make it appropriate for Hanukkah, any more than it would be appropriate to tweet out, “Merry Christmas to those who celebrate!” along with a photo of Herod slaughtering the innocents, or a lion mauling some martyrs, or maybe just a straight up crucifixion picture. It’s a depiction of one of the darkest moments in Jewish history.
One wag on Twitter had the same thought:
After several people immediately chastised CNS for their image choice, they deleted the tweet and posted this:
Which . . . was not great. It puts the onus on “many of our followers” for having been offended, rather than saying, “We posted something terrible, and we’re terribly sorry.” There was more backlash, and this morning, they posted this:
I do believe the original image choice was inadvertent. I do believe it’s possible that some overworked or lazy social media manager simply Googled “menorah” and thought, “ooh, that one looks classy” and went with it. Dumb stuff happens, and I’m willing to believe the photo choice was not a veiled threat against Jews, despite how it appeared.
The barely-an-apology apology is harder to get past. The follow-up apology is better, although it puts the blame a single person, even though the tweet went out under the CNS name; but I feel a dreary certainty that CNS learned the lesson “Jewish people are touchy” rather than the much more important lesson, which is this:
Antisemitism is in the Church.
Catholics who aren’t antisemites are obligated to reject even the smallest hint of it, whenever it turns up.
Even if it was unintentional; even if it seems minor; even if it seems to gentiles like an isolated, meaningless incident that can be explained away if everyone would just calm down. Even if the antisemite does other good things or is an effective fundraiser for Catholic causes.
If we don’t step up and say something every single time, then those who really are malicious become more bold, and ideas that once pushed the envelope become commonplace.
A few months ago, the Catholic News Agency published an article about Franciscan University’s response to allegations of mishandling sexual assault, which was uncovered by freelance journalist Jenn Morson and published in the National Catholic Reporter.
CNA named George Soros as the originator of the funding, and then devoted eight paragraphs of their article to the funding angle. But the funding was not, in fact, from George Soros, and even if it had been, Morson was unaware of the grant and did not receive it until after the story was published. Her editors clarified:
The grant was made eight years before Morson started writing her story. The putative connection to George Soros was, in short, imaginary. Moreover, even if it had existed, it would not have been newsworthy, much less deserving of eight paragraphs.
But Morson is a Catholic of Jewish origin, and “Soros” is shorthand in the United States for “evil Jewish influence.”
So, maybe the CNA reporter, and the editor who okayed the story, simply didn’t know the name “Soros” is an anti-semitic dogwhistle. That happens.
But after Morson and several others told them what “Soros” means to so many people, they defended their story. They added a paragraph noting that Morson was not aware of the origin of the funding; but they retained the eight paragraphs noting the alleged source of funding. It’s hard to understand why that information was relevant unless CNA wanted readers to believe the source of funding affected the reporting itself.
Well. Still. Why is this worth bringing up? Why can’t we just give the benefit of the doubt to Catholics who do good work otherwise? Why are Jews so damn touchy?
Because there are so many Catholics of bad will. Because anti-semitism is once again gaining ground in the Church, just as it is everywhere else. Anti-semitic attacks in the U.S. have surged 57% in the last year alone. If you think those attacks only happen outside the Church, just ask any public person with a Jewish-sounding last name. Stroll by the wrong hornet’s nest, and the anti-semitism comes swarming out, sometimes disguised as piety, sometimes proudly acknowledging itself for what it is.
Does anti-semitism exist only in Catholic circles? Of course not. But when it does exist there, it’s every Catholic’s job to stamp it out in horror. Catholics of good will are obligated to be especially careful to utterly reject even the hint of antisemitism, before it gains strength.
But they’re not. They’re not stamping it out, and they’re not learning to be careful. And when they’re not careful, those without good will consistently amplify dogwhistles, whether they were originally intentional or not. The Catholic Crisis Magazine followed Catholic News Agency’s “I spy George Soros” cue and gleefully doubled down on the imaginary Soros-Morson connection with an article titled “The Soros-Funded Attacks on Orthodox Catholic Universities.” The word “attacks” is plural because the author, Austin Ruse, included my Christendom articles in this category of attack. It is common knowledge that I am Jewish.
My articles were, of course, in no way funded by George Soros, and were in no way part of a coordinated attack. But that’s not relevant, if you know your readership. And Crisis does.
The Remnant Magazine used a similar tactic in their strange, rambling article about me: They called my work “satanic” and then devoted two paragraphs to my Jewishness and how I convey it, even though my articles has nothing to do with Judaism.
In other words, they said: We are not antisemitic. But you should know that this evil article was written by a Jew.
Because this kind of thing is tolerated, because people want to pretend it’s not happening, the authors grow more bold. Austin Ruse, the author of the Crisis article fallaciously linking Morson to Soros, recently said this on Twitter of his nephew, who is an “Elder” in the Proud Boys.
Ruse, who has received numerous awards from mainstream Catholic organizations, including Franciscan University, has repeatedly insisted that Proud Boys are
mostly a men’s drinking club” and “not an extremist group nor or they even remotely white nationalist.” According to the ProudBoysUSA.com:
Men have tried being ashamed of themselves and accepting blame for slavery, the wage gap, ableism, and some fag-bashing that went on two generations ago, but it didn’t work. So they’re going with their gut and indulging in the natural pride that comes from being part of the greatest culture in the world. It’s very freeing to finally admit the West is the best. That’s because it’s the truth.
Jason Kessler was a member of the Proud Boys when he helped organize the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville where tiki torch-wielding marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us.”
This is the organization that brings Austin Ruse such familial pride.
Of course, it’s all about context and nuance, when you’re marching through the streets with torches.
John Zmirak in 2016 reissued his Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He’s gone on the record rejecting anti-semitism, which is bold. Was that before or after he worked for the white nationalist publication VDARE, including this Christmas essay, which is essentially a chattier version of the 14 words? Before or after he recorded at least one giggly interview, now mysteriously vanished, with neo-Nazi Richard Spencer? If he’s repented, the man has some public reparation to catch up on.
I don’t like guilt by association. I don’t like punishing people for failing to expunge every possible hint of unsavory connections from their public past. But I’m also no fool. I know that evildoers count on the cover given them by the naiveté, the timidity, the mistaken charitable intentions of decent people.
Jewish writers will tell you that anti-semitic insults and threats from people calling themselves “Catholic” are commonplace. Gentiles have told me they have no idea such a thing happens. So I’m telling you: It happens all the time. My family has received numerous explicitly anti-semitic threats of violence from people calling themselves Catholic. After years of writing for Catholic publications, it doesn’t even raise eyebrows anymore. It’s routine.
Guys, the Catholic people and publications I named are only ones I happened to have come into contact with recently, and so their names popped into my head. They are the tip of the iceberg.
I am exhausted. I am exhausted with extending good will where it is neither desired nor deserved. I am exhausted with taking the high road, telling myself people simply didn’t know any better, they simply travel in different circles, they simply don’t realize what it’s like to be Jewish. I am exhausted with arguing with myself over whether I’m overreacting or not, whether I’ll make things better or worse by saying something.
And I am exhausted with trying to persuade myself, “No one is listening to these fringe figures anyway, and I’m just boosting their signal if I respond.”
People are listening to these fringe figures. They’re becoming less fringe as people listen. My children walk through the halls of a public school where swastikas are scrawled by self-described “rednecks” who think “oven” jokes are just some snarky fun. Down the road from us is a traditionalist Catholic Church that has preserved the beautiful and reverent music and liturgy my family craves — and which teaches its children that the Jews are here to infiltrate and subvert the Church from within. It’s not dying out on its own. New generations are being raised on casual or even ardent antisemitism, and Catholics are letting it happen.
Jews ought to be able to count on Catholics to reject antisemitism with vigorous revulsion, because that is what Catholics are for: defending the vulnerable, defending the truth, defending our Faith which is inextricable from its Jewish roots.
Instead, we hear excuses: We didn’t realize. It was an honest mistake. We’re sorry you were offended. Let’s not jump to conclusions. But they do so much good otherwise. Just ignore them, and maybe they’ll go away.
Or: It’s Advent. Can’t we take a break from thinking about this stuff? It’s Advent!
And during Advent, Jewish Mary and her Jewish baby boy fled for their lives. During Advent, Jews all over the world are in danger, and their danger increases when Catholics pretend they don’t see antisemitism in their ranks. It is here. I, a Jew, a mother of Jews, am asking you, if you’re a writer, an editor, a social media manager; if you book speakers or hire teachers; if you’re in charge of choosing curriculum; if you are active on social media; if you are a priest, if you influence other people:
Please see this cancer on the Body of Christ for what it is. Name it as evil, every single time, and keep it from spreading.