ASK FATHER: What is the Church’s role in creating the cancel culture?

From a priest…


I have a bilingual parish and I refuse to accept the idea that the two communities must be separate. For that reason, I’ve tried to introduce the basics in Latin so we can have communal celebrations. The push back from the older Anglos is really interesting. Then it occurred to me that the post Vatican II crowd was engaged in the cancel culture long before 2020. They tried their best to cancel the longtime liturgical history of the Church and were quite successful at it.

My question is: What is the Church’s role in creating the cancel culture. I just offer that as a morsel for thought.

That is a really good question.   Of course I must at the top introduce the usual caveats about how complicated things are, how many and varying factors could be in play, how fraught with blah blah bleg beh blup de blup blah blah.

The Catholic Church has for centuries been a titanic force for either stability or for change.  A lot of times the force for change has been slow and carsic, fading into the background and reemerging.   However, the Church has been more obvious as a force for stability in the face of massive movements of change.   Over history there have been pretty sharp conflicts between the Church and “the world”.   When the Church stood firm in the face of the world whims, there was a productive and fruitful exchange and inculturation that flowed both ways.

However, the Church by and large abandoned her resistance role.  Modernism was on the rise and there was an overarching, overly optimistic view of man, which is why many of the documents of Vatican II seem to have an predominantly anthropocentric core.   The seminaries and leadership in the Church were being systematically infiltrated by different groups who desired to instrumentalize the Church’s structure for their own ends (Communists, homosexuals, Masons).

We saw a tipping point the other day.  The 60s were a tipping point.  In these United States we had various forces at work that shaped the minds and world-views of the very Anglo seasoned-Catholics who are pushing back against your attempts to foster unity.  What’s with that?

Liberals of a certain age were formed in those halcyon days of revolt against authority, the anti-war movement, a slurry of lies about the “spirit” of Vatican II sweeping through the Church.  This cocktail of influences changed the chemistry of their brains, such that when they now hear a call for Latin, see a cassock, or catch a whiff of tradition, a circuit in their heads blows, the fog and static begin, and they rise against the priest who is just trying to bring some Catholicism in.

And consider the cultural impact that the wholesale abandonment by the Church of tradition – often with savage vituperation against those who resisted.  “If Catholics can change their Mass and stop the fish on Friday thing…. then anything can change!”   That was disorienting and, frankly, scandalous.

So, did the Church teach others how to engage in cancel culture?

It is more the case that experts in cancel culture infiltrated the Church and used the Church for their ends.

Cancel culture is the classic weapon of the Left.    Note well the rise of what I call the New Red Guards in the Church today.  Their tactics are nearly the same as those used during the Cultural Revolution.   They are entirely without ethics or decency.  They are relentless and focused.

I’m afraid that the primary impulse in leaders of the Church today is so deeply shaped by the Left – they don’t even realize it in many cases – that it is hardly a surprise that those same leaders engage in cancel culture themselves.

“Gotta stomp out tradition! No! NO!  We have to form new committees!  We have to have a pamphlet printed!  We must craft a slogan!  But… NO TRADITION!”

“Why? Look!  It works where it is tried! For example, over here…”

“Shut up!”, they’ll explain.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Semper Gumby says:

    The currently toxic Vatican and certain bishops (e.g. “Purge” and “Cancer” McElroy), priests and Leftist “c”atholic journalists and laity absolutely have a role in this. Bergoglio pontificated “Trump is not Christian”- though one can argue that Pres. Trump is more Catholic than Bergoglio. In his recent book “Let Us Dream” Bergoglio compared Pres. Trump to 1930s dictators, displaying once again his usual historical ignorance. Several more examples:

    “What I really want you to understand is the incredible anti-American attitude held by those who surround Francis.”

    “The well-deserved fallout continues for the vicious anti-American attack piece penned at Inciviltà cattolica by Jesuit Fr Antonio “2+2=5” Spadaro…”

    Then there’s this from the “c”atholic Left:

    “To my friends in the Republican political and legal establishment who have not stood up to Trump: When the revolution comes, you are on your own, and I will be clamoring not for mercy but for a seat next to the guillotine, where I can do my knitting.”

    That bloodthirsty Leftist should expect determined Resistance.

  2. Charivari Rob says:

    So, did the Church teach others how to engage in cancel culture?

    Well, the Church has at times engaged in cancel culture. Others might have learned it from them, though it’s not as if the Church invented it.

    I think of stories from my own family, just in living memory in “the good-old days” of the firmly self-assured and fully-respected Church. Family that broke with propriety or convention (child out of wedlock, or (worse yet) married a Protestant (!)) were disowned, cast out… Because that was what the Church expected.
    At best, harped on for years. At worst… yeah, “canceled” is a fitting term.
    Years and decades later, they looked back at what they had done to family and bitterly regretted it.

  3. When I was sitting for my MRE under the guidance of the holy and orthodox Msgr. Michael Wrenn (RIP) at the NY Archdiocesan Catechetical Institute in the early 80s, my thesis dealt with a somewhat revisionist history of the changes in teaching out of V-II in light of tradition (yeah, could be pretty dry, if I’m being honest) that posited:

    1. V-II published documents were ambiguous enough that the literal reading of them would not indicate anything was amiss, but that ambiguity (and derogation of the implementation to committees) provided enough wiggle room to achieve in practice what would never be achieved by fiat.

    2. The changes made via constant experiments in practice left a vacuum in catechesis, understanding, and practice…anything went, and usually was passed off as a ‘pastoral’ answer to people’s (unknowing whether they felt it, the high hats said it, so folks were still in awe of their hierarchy) longing for something ‘different’.

    3. This displacement contributed to (not THE cause, but certainly did nothing to stanch it…) the subsequent societal upheaval: if an organization such as the Catholic Church could apparently upend centuries of practice, teachings (remember, in ’68, Humanae Vitae was roundly, if not ignored, then downplayed by the usual suspects), and views of itself…then society itself had lost one of its reliable anchors (whether it acknowledged it or not…) and was freed from any restraint or consistency. (echoing +Cdl George’s observation). Even with the US’ long history of anti-Catholic undercurrents…there was a stability we gave to the body politic that no other group could claim.

    Remember, the radicals and fellow travelers never went away…they just insinuated themselves in positions of power over the intervening years…and the result is that the whackos of the 1960s are now the people in federal legislatures, state bureaucracies, and form the majority of the party of death here in the US.

    Just my thesis. It was accepted, by the way, and for Msgr. Wrenn’s years of spiritual guidance…I am eternally grateful

  4. Semper Gumby says:

    Charivari Rob: Thank you for your interesting comment on Church-Family relations.

    Several friends ask for amplification.

    1. “Family that broke with propriety or convention (child out of wedlock, or (worse yet) married a Protestant (!)) were disowned, cast out…”

    If those family members that had a child out of wedlock were untactful or disdainful toward those that emphasized propriety that would also impact the situation.

    “Because that was what the Church expected.”

    It is unclear that the Church expected disowning.

    “…harped on for years.”

    That is likely to be a matter of personalities rather than Church teaching.

    “…and bitterly regretted it.”

    Whether those other family members also had regrets is relevant.

    Thank you.

  5. Neal says:

    I would have thought inquisitions, excommunications, and handing heretics over to civil authorities to be executed would all be good examples of cancelling, and they all show up in Church history. I’ve also seen a few calls for defrocking here over the years, which would probably qualify as deplatforming.

  6. Charivari Rob says:

    Semper Gumby:
    Unfortunately, there have been times and places in the Church where the only (earthly) Church teachers and authority to whom the Faithful had access taught exactly that – to disown.

    As to the point about regrets… In the instances and people I was discussing, the other party’s regrets (or lack thereof) weren’t relevant. These people regretted their own nonproductive and counterproductive choices.

  7. JonPatrick says:

    I think that one thing we are missing in “the Church did it too!” responses about cancel culture is that the Church is guided by Objective Truth, while those in the secular culture are guided by the feelings and desires of the moment which can change at any time. Of course the Church is composed of sinners as a result their actions are not always in keeping with Charity. But the principles behind the actions – the sanctity of marriage and the proscribing of sex outside of marriage, etc. – are from God and are unchanging.

  8. Semper Gumby says:

    Charivari Rob: Thank you, my friends read your comment with interest.

    JonPatrick: Good point.

  9. Semper Gumby says:

    Four subcultures will probably be surprised when they are cancelled by the incoming illegitimate regime: Integralism, Jesus is a Socialist, Left-“c”ath Marxists and Papalotry.

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