“The great mass of people . . . will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.” (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 1, Ch. 10, 1925).
I wish I could begin this by saying it’s the last time I will write about SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. In some of the comments posted after “SNAP Judgements Part II,” several readers pointed out the irony of its timing·. On the same day it was posted – and on the very heels of a blistering Catholic League report, “SNAP Exposed” – the leaders of SNAP did far more than Catholic League President, Bill Donohue could ever do to expose SNAP’s true agenda. SNAP itself has demonstrated the very point of “SNAP Exposed.”
Assisted by what Bill Donohue called “the most radical leftwing legal organization in the nation” – the New York based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) – SNAP has petitioned the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute Pope Benedict XVI and other Vatican officials for “crimes against humanity.” In the petition, CCR attorney Pam Spees described the complaint:
“Crimes against tens of thousands of victims, most of them children, are being covered up by officials at the highest levels of the Vatican.”
I had to pause after reading this. I’ve read such claims in regard to the Catholic scandal a hundred times, but this time something seemed hauntingly familiar, not just for its untrue content, but for its tone. I had read this same propaganda delivered with the same effect somewhere before. And then it struck me. It was in a speech delivered by Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda for the Third Reich. I wrote of it in “Catholic Scandal and the Third Reich: The Rise and Fall of a Moral Panic” in May of 2010. The speech was delivered in Berlin on May 28, 1937. Here’s an all-too-familiar excerpt:
“There are cases of sexual abuse that come to light every day against a large number of the Catholic clergy. Unfortunately, it’s not a matter of individual cases, but a collective moral crisis that perhaps the cultural history of humanity has never before known with such a frightening and disconcerting dimension. Numerous priests and religious have confessed. There’s no doubt that the thousands of cases which have come to the attention of the justice system represent only a small fraction of the true total, given that many molesters have been covered and hidden by the hierarchy.”
The speech was quite effective in its original German, its orator bedecked in the uniform and insignia of the Third Reich, an immense swastika waving in the wind behind him as he fired up the mob. In the moral panic to follow, 325 Catholic priests from every diocese in Germany were arrested and sent to prison on trumped-up sex abuse charges.
The propaganda campaign was later exposed as a gross exaggeration of a few real cases. In the end, less than six percent of those accused were found guilty, and even many of those were later exposed as based on false witness and phony evidence.
In a new post, “A Touch of Deja Vu” on his A Ram In the Thicket blog, writer Ryan MacDonald called upon readers to
“Pay a little attention to the details and look for common denominators, and then sometimes a light just goes on in your mind.”
A light went on in my mind when I compared SNAP’s latest attempt to fire up the mob with that speech by Joseph Goebbels. What prompted Hitler’s Third Reich to target the Catholic Church and priesthood? It certainly wasn’t to protect children from real or even imagined sexual abuse. What was behind the Nazi propaganda campaign was a 1937 encyclical by Pope Pius XI entitled “Mit brennender sorge” – “With burning concern” – in which the Pope spoke forcefully against the Nazi ideology that was sweeping Europe. The encyclical was smuggled out of Rome into Germany and read from every pulpit in every Catholic parish in the Third Reich in 1937. It was this that prompted Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda to divert public attention against the Church by creating a “moral panic,” a term used “to identify a social alarm created artificially by amplifying real facts and exaggerating their numbers,” according to sociologist, Massimo Introvigne.
By the time World War II was over, according to Introvigne, the moral panic created by Goebbels aroused far more indignation than the charges that remained against a relatively small number of priests. Eight years after his anti-Catholic rant, Joseph Goebbels murdered his wife and children, then, like Adolf Hitler before him, took his own life.
The terror of the Third Reich was over, but the lesson in mob manipulation and propaganda tactics was well learned. The Church and Pope have been a frequent target ever since. Just before Pope Benedict’s historic visit to England to beatify Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman last year, British atheist Richard Dawkins was given a soap box by The Washington Post to declare the Catholic Church “a child-raping institution.” Dawkins added:
“This former head of the Inquisition should be arrested the moment he dares set foot outside the tin pot fiefdom of the Vatican, and he should be tried in an appropriate civil court.”
Does this sound like civil discourse to you? The language of moral panic and false witness has not changed much since Hitler’s reign of terror, and SNAP’s latest attempt at media manipulation contains all of its elements in tone, style, and content. Everyone with a heart of justice sees this, but not everyone can write of it. Sometimes I find it helpful to be in a position of having lost everything. When there is nothing left to lose or protect, we are free to speak and write the entire truth. This is the truth.
With unusual candor and exasperation, a Vatican spokesman has called SNAP’s petition against the Holy Father “a ludicrous publicity stunt.” That summed it up well.
SNAP leaders should be embarrassed by the clear transparency of their agenda. In a comment on “SNAP Judgements Part II,” writer Jamil Malik raised an alarm about the clarity of this agenda and called it “SNAP’s last gasp.” He has seen such tactics before. “I can only conclude,” he wrote quoting the Vatican’s statement, “that SNAP itself is now little more than a ludicrous publicity stunt.”
THE BIG LIE AND THE BIG LIARS
As I write this, the news is reporting that the Vatican has named a new bishop-elect for my diocese, the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire. It is Bishop Peter Anthony Libasci, presently Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Center. I know little about him, and hope and pray that he is a man of strong faith and moral courage. From this moment on, he will be in my prayers and I ask you to pray for him as well.
But more than one TSW reader has alerted me to something ominous and contrived. In just about every news item and posting about this development, there are one or two comments posted by members of SNAP. These comments are highly negative, and all bear the same terminology, careful to include terms like “child rape” and “Church cover-up.” The comments demean the bishop-elect just because of the diocese he comes from, claiming that Rockville Center has “a terrible history” of “child rape” by priests and “cover-up” by bishops. When Spero News Service reprinted my recent post, “SNAP Judgements Part II,” a writer identified as “MN_SNAP” posted this comment for example: “MacRae is just another enabler of child rapists.” There was no attempt to refute my facts or respond to my reasoning. It was just hysteria and name-calling. Fortunately, some other commenters informed SNAP that they had just proven the very point I made in that post.
I cannot see any of these comments myself, of course, because I am a prisoner and have no online access at all. But when I was alerted to them by some TSW readers, I asked a trusted contact to go online and analyze these comments. Sure enough, in just about every media venue reporting on the Vatican’s naming of our new bishop, the report is followed by one or two nasty comments by SNAP members. The comments are seemingly everywhere from the most obscure blog posts about the appointment to the Wall Street Journal’s news ticker mentioning it.
These comments all contain the same keywords as though they were launched by some group with a formula for attack. The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue exposed some of this formula in “The Truth About Snap,” in the September 2011 Catalyst. There was one line especially that should make anyone resent the Goebbels-like manipulation going on. This was the advice of one SNAP leader on how to stage a media event:
“Display holy childhood photos . . . If you don’t have compelling holy childhood photos, we can provide you with photos of other kids that can be held up for the cameras.”
I mentioned such contrived tactics in “When the Gloves Come Off on Catholic Blogs.” There are those with an agenda – and they are few, but loud – whose daily grind includes “seeding the Internet” with negative and formulaic comments containing the words “child rape” and “cover-up by bishops.” The comments are left on just about every media article and high-traffic blog post with news about any development in or about the Catholic Church. The names of the commenters are both few and familiar, and they seem to be everywhere.
Sometimes these comments are posted just to bait the rest of us into providing an ongoing platform. Sometimes the best response is to follow these comments with a more positive comment of our own without even acknowledging the negativity – treating it as though it were invisible or has absolutely no impact. This, I think, is a most effective strategy for dealing with anti-Catholic voices online, especially those of dissident and self-serving Catholics. Believe me, people with egos can’t stand being ignored. (Please don’t ask me how I know this!).
SNAP FINALLY SNAPS
In its latest publicity stunt, SNAP leaders unwittingly demonstrated the truth of the Catholic League report, “SNAP Exposed.” In a September 13 press release, the Catholic League detailed many of the factual distortions in SNAP’s complaint about the Holy Father. Those facts speak for themselves, and a terrific analysis of them can also be found at The Media Report, the site of David F. Pierre, author of the landmark book, Double Standard profiled here on These Stone Walls.
The Catholic League is doing a great service to the Church by publishing the truth in the face of a highly distorted and manipulated moral panic. One of the recent commenters on TSW wrote that the Catholic League site should be linked on the Home Page of every Catholic blog and website. I agree. After I posted “SNAP Judgements Part I,” another reader wrote in response, “I just joined the Catholic League.” I was very happy to see both comments, and I urge TSW readers who are not members of the Catholic League to join it. There is a link to it under “Related Links” on the TSW Home Page. In the culture war, the Catholic League is often all that stands between the truth and the propaganda of a moral panic out to destroy the Church.
I’ve been writing a lot about the scandal in the Catholic Church, and the true details are disturbing enough. There is no need to nuance or exaggerate them. When I wrote in “SNAP Judgements Part II” about the case of Father John Geoghan, “ground zero” of the American Catholic Scandal, some readers stressed the failures of his bishops in their comments. This is a matter the entire Church has to own, including his brother priests and even his parishioners. Father Geoghan had free will, and moral culpability for his sins, but too many of us looked the other way. We were all too concerned for the scandal and its stains on the Church to see the extent to which this man’s reason and judgement were compromised.
But as other writers have pointed out in these pages, “greed ranks right up there with lust among the Seven Deadly Sins,” and in the end, only God can sort out which drove the Geoghan scandal and his 130 accusers. Holding that case up as the norm, however, and judging every other accused priest in light of its sensationalism, is the sin of SNAP and SNAP’s enablers in the news media.
By the way, you might be interested to know that the story of the 1937 Third Reich propaganda campaign by Joseph Goebbels was sent to me last year by a clergy sexual abuse survivor – one of several now reading These Stone Walls – who feels rather strongly that SNAP stopped speaking for him and ceased representing his needs as a victim long ago.
He is not alone in that assessment. “Scott,” a sexual abuse survivor, posted a lengthy and heartfelt comment on my post, “SNAP Judgements Part II,” and his central message is clear:
“There will be no true justice for victims until we move beyond the false notion that the Church and priesthood have been a special locus of sexual abuse, a myth that has benefited no one but personal injury lawyers and their enablers in SNAP and VOTF . . . It is time to turn off the TV cameras, send the lawyers packing, stop vilifying the new class of lepers we have created among the accused in our Church, and act like the Catholic Christians most of us strive to be.” Amen! (The “Amen” is mine!).
Among the many astute comments on “SNAP Judgements Part II,” reader Jeannie Ash wrote in regard to SNAP’s charge against the Pope. “People are of no mind for this,” she wrote, and added:
“There are so many agencies and movements whose disguises are being torn off to expose them for the greedy people that they are. It is not just the United States. The entire globe seems to be growing aware of this confrontation of moral good vs. evil.”
Jeannie might be on to something here. The Book of Revelation, Chapter 13, speaks of a beast – “a false prophet” – who produces great signs “to deceive the people.” The number of the beast (Revelation 13:18) is “a human number.” It is 666. We’ve seen this beast before in human history, and it didn’t die with Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler.
I hope I’m not the only person to have noticed: the Center for Constitutional Rights – the radical group representing SNAP in its childish, self-serving, misguided, and poorly informed attack on the Church and Pope – is located at 666 Broadway in Manhattan.