It all started with a solid homily.
To be more specific: Fr. Matthew Mary Bartow walked to the pulpit during a televised Mass on EWTN, and preached a homily critical of the Amazon synod and supportive of a campaign to pray and do penance for a positive outcome.
But yesterday, Dawn Eden Goldstein, a formerly-popular conservative Catholic writer and until recently, a professor of theology at at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut, actually accused EWTN of “schism” for allowing Father Bartow to preach it:
Now, this absurdity aside, if you don’t have time to listen to it, I assure you, she’s grossly exaggerating and mischaracterizing what he said. Father’s homily is a serious but carefully respectful criticism of the evident problems heading into the synod and what the pope is allowing that you could ever ask for from a priest. He makes clear his love for the pope, and his concern for his sacred duty. He supports the prayer and fasting campaign that Bishop Schneider and Cardinal Burke have called for against the six “serious theological errors and heresies” they see in the synod’s instrumentum laboris.
No reasonable person, no matter how much they disagree with Fr. Bartow, could conclude that his kind, calm, concerned homily was anything approaching schism.
If you can, please give it a listen and see for yourself. Sure, you’ll be amazed that this was televised on EWTN. It’s forthright. It’s bold. But it’s hardly shocking. And perhaps it should be obvious, but Goldstein’s totally unjust attack on the network for allowing it is almost certainly why such a thing hasn’t happened before:
Using the official 1P5 account (my personal one has been long since blocked), I responded to Goldstein on Twitter. She’s been on a tear lately, defending the pope at all costs, championing Amoris Laetitia, and bashing Archbishop Vigano. Having had enough, I confronted her over the schism comments:
Her immediate response was with to offer the false and defamatory accusation that our criticism included veiled antisemitism. (Goldstein is a Catholic convert from Judaism.)
Of course, we did no such thing.
It took me most of a day, and listening to a number of people speculating, to figure out what tenuous connection she was trying to make. (She never explained the charge.) When Goldstein said that the “veil had been lifted” on EWTN, my response turned it around on her.
Yes, I replied, the “veil has certainly been lifted” about who she was. Some people thought she was taking it to be — and this is about as much of a reach as you could ask for — a reference to the old Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews:
Let us pray also for the faithless Jews: that almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord….
Which, let’s just be clear, is also not antisemitic.
It’s also not at all what I was referring to, which context should have made clear. I was using her own language as a form of rebuttal.
The fact is, if the Amazon synod promotes heresy, and Goldstein defends it, she’s not with Jesus. She’s against Him.
Sorry not sorry for saying so.
Goldstein proceeded to make further attacks following an Amazon synod article by Bree Dail that we published yesterday, and another at The National Catholic Register. Bree woke up this morning to a suspended Twitter account after a number of people apparently reported her as being in violation of the Twitter terms of service. She hadn’t even engaged with anyone. (Her account was later reinstated, and she talked to Mike Church this morning about it on his radio show.)
I can’t prove it, but it would appear the reporting and suspension may well have come as a result of Goldstein’s attempts to smear Bree, and 1P5 & EWTN by extension:
It appears easy enough to game the system: get a bunch of people to report an account, trigger an automatic suspension and review, keep a person in limbo until a human reviews the reported tweets.
I’m not 100% sure that’s how it works — Twitter doesn’t exactly publish all its secrets on content moderation — but having been on the receiving end of mysterious content blocks, I’m pretty confident it’s close. And though it may seem a trifling thing, for a content producer, being locked out of your social media profiles is like being put in jail. I’ve written about this before. Being deplatformed means not being able to get your work to your audience.
If Saul Alinsky lived in the present moment, you can bet this kind of tactic would be in his revised edition of Rules for Radicals. The progressive Catholic left, in fact, is already quite comfortable using such weapons. Which is why, I assume, they’ve adopted some of his other rules.
Like this one: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”
What do you think falsely accusing people of things like antisemitism and white nationalism is?
And platforms like Twitter are hostile territory. Once you agitate the PC mob, they want their pound of flesh. Orders started coming in that 1P5 needed to denounce antisemitism clearly and firmly! Even though we’ve engaged in zero antisemitism. I might as well denounce Marcionism, clearly and firmly. Give me a break.
They just want you to jump through their hoops.
The game goes like this:
“All we want is just one pinch of incense to the rage mob. Just one! Surely if you’re not an [INSERT POLITICAL PEJORATIVE HERE] you’ll have no problem saying it into the microphone!”
Translation: “Either you do what we command and prove your subservience, or don’t, and prove your complicity in evil. (And we’ll move the goalposts as soon as you’re finished, and attack you either way.)”
See how it works?
When I first sat down to write this, I began putting together some relevant backstory — because this whole episode is just a snippet of a larger saga — and naming some names. (You’ll be unsurprised to learn, for example, that the Patheos “Catholic” crowd always seems to show up for these little soirees.) But the thing is, 1200 words in, I nearly lost the will to live, so I re-wrote it to be much more generic. Not only was the whole thing difficult to explain, it was tedious to read. The behavior in question is clearly problematic — and frankly, immoral — but I found myself looking at all the rabbit holes that litter the road to this point, and wondering why anyone would care. It’s obnoxious when it isn’t childish and stupid — at one point Taylor Marshal and I were accused in three different articles of white-nationalism-by-association for following one or two outlying political commentators — but the stakes are real. Damaging reputations has become so effortless in the information age.
It’s as though the 8th Commandment no longer exists.
A more detailed the exposition would also likely touch off another war. The people named would use whatever I wrote as a launching board for their own screeds, further unjust and untruthful attacks would ensue, and so on, and so forth, ad nauseam, until it all devolved into some parody of a Shakespearian tragedy in bursts of 280 characters and on websites only a few people actually read.
And for what? Even exposing legitimately bad behavior reaches a point of diminishing returns. It’s the whole “playing chess with a pigeon” or “wrestling in mud with pigs” analogy writ large.
So why did I bother at all? Well, since accusations are flying once again about our little publication here, and I don’t know when they’ll stop, I thought you, kind readers of 1P5, should know what actually happened. And better yet, I thought you should know about the great homily that started the whole thing, and remind you to pray for the priest that found the courage to preach it.
Because let’s not forget what happened the last time a great homily went viral.
At the end of the day, I cannot begin to tell you how weary I am of the toxicity of the online Catholic media environment. The level of ugliness, vitriol, backbiting, dishonesty, and uncharitable behavior. Social media platforms are a necessary evil for Catholic journalists and commentators, but these days, its a fever swamp more often than not.
So much of this has been caused by the crisis of leadership in the Church, so here’s to hoping God restores some sanity to the Church, and soon.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.