I’m going to break one of my main internet rules with this post. Many years ago I decided to not write about Catholic “personalities” that I consider generally on “our side.” I try to focus only on general issues that impact all Catholics, such as what’s going on at the Vatican or at the USCCB. I will sometimes comment on something from a major personality like Fr. James Martin who lead many astray. I’m not interested in dissecting what Catholic Personality X thinks or analyzing the spat between Catholic Personality Y and Catholic Personality Z. Let them do their work and I’ll do mine.
But I’m violating that rule here, and I hope I don’t regret it. I want to write about my friend Steve Skojec, the founder of OnePeterFive (which, full disclosure, I’ve written for quite frequently). Over the years Steve has been one of the most prominent online voices for traditional Catholicism, and he often says things that no one else is willing to say, but needs to be said. His style is much different than mine—more confrontational, more raw, more personal—but I always felt we were kindred spirits: two flawed people trying to make sense of what’s going on in the Church in a passionate desire to save souls.
Over the past year, however, Steve has become quite disillusioned with the traditional Catholic movement, and apparently Catholicism in general. This all came to a head last week when he recounted that his traditional Catholic parish priest denied Steve’s soon-to-be-born son of baptism and his 8-year-old son of his First Communion, due to their family’s lack of attendance at the parish during Covidtide. For Steve, this seemed to be the final straw.
Now, to be clear: I’m not writing to litigate whether the priest was justified in denying the sacraments or not. We only have one side of the story, and it’s possible the fault lies entirely on Steve’s end. It’s also possible the priest is essentially correct but handled the situation terribly. But it’s also possible the priest is horribly, terribly wrong. Or it could be a little bit of all three. I just don’t know. That being said, I am sympathetic to the argument that it’s unjust that only one side can go public on this—due to the nature of the situation, the priest can’t really publicly defend himself.
(A quick aside: just being a member of the parish does not mean you have “inside” information on this particular situation. I have personally had a situation in which my family was treated horribly by a well-respected FSSP priest, and I’m sure many if not most of the parishioners would have ferociously defended him if I even suggested publicly that he wronged us. He was beyond criticism in their eyes because he was a traditional priest.)
So although I know a number of Catholics are rushing to the priest’s defense while others are attacking him, I think taking sides is a mistake, as we simply don’t know all the details. And ultimately, this event was just the final push for Steve, who was already moving in this direction before this particular event happened.
Beyond the details of that particular situation is the more pressing issue: Steve’s public abandonment of traditional Catholicism and possibly the Faith itself (it’s unclear to me exactly what he believes right now, and perhaps he doesn’t even know himself). No matter the details of the issue with his parish priest, Steve feels wronged, and the fact is, he has been wronged. Because we’ve all been wronged. We’ve been wronged by members of the hierarchy who have continually sold out our Faith and who have gaslighted us time and time again into compliance while they deny Our Lord time and time again. Jesus has harsh words for such hypocritical religious leaders because they wrong the faithful and thus lead many astray.
I’m particularly sympathetic to one of Steve’s main complaints about today’s Church: that the faithful are guilted into accepting all sorts of malfeasance and heresy amongst the clergy, with the threat of eternal damnation hanging over our heads if we dare speak up. Steve calls it spiritual abuse, and he’s right. I know in my own life that it took years for me to gather the courage to speak out against problems in the Church because deep down I was afraid that doing so made me a “bad Catholic.” And we know where bad Catholics end up on the Day of Judgement, don’t we?
Steve has been wronged. And so have all Catholics who have had to endure the modern Church. Yet Steve is also wrong. He’s wrong about the path he’s taking, in spite of being largely right about the problems in the Church and even in some instances about the traditional Catholic movement.
One of the biggest issues with being wronged, as Steve has been, is that it becomes difficult to see what is right. He and I have had a long debate over the state of traditional Catholicism today. He sees it becoming more toxic and more crackpotish. I see it as thriving and drawing in many great and beautiful people.
Perhaps some of our different perspectives come from different personalities. But perhaps some of it comes from the fact that while Steve has stayed home on Sundays for the past year, I’ve been at Mass each Sunday meeting new people literally every week. These are often refugees from “good” parishes that locked down for COVID, and they are stable, solid Catholics who don’t know—and don’t care—about the online debates Steve often engages in. They—and not some yahoos with Twitter accounts—are the future of traditional Catholicism.
Again, being wronged makes it hard to see when things are right. One of Steve’s apparent problems with his current parish is that most of the parishioners have to watch Mass on a screen from an overflow hall. This is a real problem, and Steve’s right to see that it’s not the way things should be. But isn’t the fact that a traditional parish needs overflow space a good thing, something to rejoice over? Yes, maybe the pastor isn’t handling the overflow correctly, but it’s a good problem to have, nonetheless. Here is where a wronged person can only see the wrong, instead of realizing a lot of right is, well, right in front of him.
Being wronged also makes it difficult to see the deeper realities of what is right: the sacraments, the Catholic spiritual tradition, the saints, Our Lord Himself—all those aspects of the Faith that first drew us to a committed Catholicism. Those things didn’t disappear just because some (many) members of the hierarchy have behaved badly and wronged us. But when we are wronged, those wrongs consume our souls and block out the beauty of the Catholic Faith. Yet the rights of Catholicism quite literally infinitely outweigh the wrongs.
Because of this inability to see the right due to being continually wronged, Steve is wrong on the path he is taking. We should not stop practicing the traditional Catholic Faith, but should instead embrace it more deeply. As St. Peter said to Our Lord after many disciples were scandalized by the Eucharist, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). Yes, many wrongs exist in the Church today, but she is still the Bride of Christ with great, if often covered, beauty. We should not leave Catholicism because of the wrongs within the Church, since only in Catholicism will all wrongs eventually be righted.
One final point. I don’t think our response to situations like Steve’s should be to blame the wronged person and see him as the problem to fix. While I know Steve can be abrasive online and so has made some enemies out of people who should be friends, I’m still disappointed that so many traditional Catholics have “cancelled” Steve so quickly.
When a brother is wronged, you don’t point the accusing finger at the brother even if you don’t think he handled being wronged the best way. You direct your ire to the real problem: the ones doing the wrong-ing. And I’m not talking about Steve’s parish priest, since, again, we don’t know all the details of that situation. I’m talking about the Church leaders who have wronged us over the past few decades in so many ways. Those wicked men should be the ones we spend our energy opposing, not a wronged soul like Steve’s.