As with a previous fisking of mine, this one is coming almost a year later but I felt compelled to do it given the subject matter. It will mostly be taken from this response by Rod Dreher to a highly emotional post by Steve Skojec who is the founder of the Catholic blog One Peter Five. It was already responded to in a timely fashion by Edward Feser here and then again when Dreher briefly responded to his first post. This was all over a few days in late May, last year.
Before moving forward, I want to comment in general on Catholic writers, journalists and anyone who has a prominent position whether paid or not in the church. Feser, Dreher and Skojec all fit into this category. And even I do at a lower level and in a way, everyone who is a Catholic also bares witness to the faith in their own way however small. This is especially the case for public figures though who I would say are putting themselves under similar judgement to priests with their very visible status within the church. What they do and how they behave in public can cause far more scandal than the average layman can.
You may love Catholicism and want to promote and write about it but it isn’t hobby writing like I do with video games or others do with train sets, stamp collecting, crafts and so on. It has significance beyond even that of political and social commentary. I should hardly need to emphasise how important it is. And I believe that the very public way that both Dreher and (it seems Skojec), have left the church have greatly discredited them in my eyes and caused immeasurable scandal.
I am not in a similar position to them but I imagine if I had similar misgivings that led me away from the church, I should keep this all as private as possible for the sake of the audience I had. Of course, as I am not in such a position, you can only take my word for it.
Now neither Dreher or Skojec could plausibly deny that it is mostly their precious feelings that are behind the ruptures they’ve both had with the Catholic Church. Unlike Feser I am not particularly sympathetic and yes, I have had struggles — even similar ones to both Dreher and Skojec. As I read through the latter’s original post I got to thinking that I could easily produce something similar about my own struggles only most of it would have involved experiences outside the Catholic Church. Though I’ve been in the church a far shorter time than him, I could still make some similar complaints if I wanted to make it all about me as he admittedly does in the opening lines. I won’t though because as Feser indicates, what both Dreher and Skojec have experienced within the church could easily be experienced outside of it.
The next thing to point out is an update related to what ultimately led to Skojec’s post that appears at the very bottom of the Dreher’s but which really needs a prominent place at the top and I will quote it directly here:
I have heard from someone in Steve Skojec’s parish who, as it turns out, I know. This person says that the portrait of the parish priest painted in Skojec’s column (and repeated by me here) is very, very far from the mark. The person does not want to say anything else publicly, because the person doesn’t want to make a bad situation worse. The person only wants readers to know that the priest is a good and holy man who, in the correspondent’s view, has been badly mischaracterized.
This is very, very important and relates also to something Feser points out in his second post asking us to
keep in mind always the Christ who was beaten raw and bloody, spat upon, mocked, falsely accused, deserted by his friends, persecuted by religious and political authorities, nailed to a cross, and stabbed, and who suffered agony in the garden of Gethsemane in anticipation of all this. I was urging that we keep him in mind especially when we undergo suffering ourselves, and that we remember too that our undergoing such suffering is precisely what he predicted for us and asks of us.
Countless Saints have similarly imitated Christ in this way. Skojec is one side of the story and the priest on the other is better following our Lord’s example in this case. I don’t know and will not claim to know the whole truth but I am far more inclined to side with the one who is remaining silent as our Lord did, than the one going public in a very immature way.
Let’s get now directly to the Dreher and Skojec’s words.
Skojec opens by quoting Jordan Peterson at length and I will spare the reader from giving the full quote:
That’s this proclivity of people to get tangled up in ideologies, and I really do think of them as crippled religions. That’s the right way to think about them. They’re like religion that’s missing an arm and a leg but can still hobble along. It provides a certain amount of security and group identity, but it’s warped and twisted and demented and bent, and it’s a parasite on something underlying that’s rich and true.
I have bolded the section that Skojec used to title his post. Skojec also has a far more recent post on his Substack titled, ‘How Jordan Peterson Changed My Life’ which now doesn’t surprise me. Peterson is not a Catholic or even a Christian and has uttered nothing but what Vox Day accurately describes as “bafflegarble” in response to questions on the topic of religion. The quote above I assume is referring to modern “woke” ideologies and not long established religions like Catholicism but Skojec applies it to traditional Catholicism anyway. I suppose he imagines quoting Peterson gives what he is saying some sort of gravitas.
Jordan Peterson has taken in a great many otherwise intelligent people with his incredible gift for indirectness. His success where not artificially promoted largely comes from the ability for those who follow him to apply what he says to anything they like. Something they couldn’t do if he ever decided to do something direct like recite the Apostle’s Creed. If you look at his history and work in any depth as Vox has, you likely won’t like what you find and I recommend reading or at least watching some of the videos where Vox covers all this and quotes extensively from the man himself. In short, starting a piece by quoting approvingly of Peterson, is not a sign of a healthy mind.
Before quoting the above Dreher primes the readers saying:
Let me quote generously from it — but don’t for a second think that just these quotes do justice to the cry from the heart that is this piece.
In other words, what we’re in for is a whole lot of emotion. Skojec makes this immediately clear:
As I sit down to write this, I’m so unbelievably angry.
I’m angry because I’ve spent my life trapped within various ideological subsets of Catholicism that subvert autonomy, critical thinking, and reason itself.
To paraphrase Phil Connors, “don’t write angry”. So by his own admission everything presented is written while angry and anger itself subverts both critical thinking and reason. This along with the Peterson quote is enough to dismiss what follows but unfortunately people haven’t and the few comments I read there were approving though he may have deleted critical responses if they’re not further down. Only looked at the first few to get an idea.
The reason he is angry is soon detailed:
My young, inexperienced, and frankly arrogant pastor has overstepped his canonical authority and denied sacraments to my children — a Baptism for my soon-to-be born son, and a First Holy Communion for my 8-year old. Why? Because my family hasn’t been physically present at our parish enough during COVID for his liking, even though there’s a dispensation in place. His reasoning, reached entirely without a second of consultation with me, is that he’s not sure my children are getting a “good Catholic upbringing.”
Both Dreher and Skojec complain about “legalistic” pastors but surely the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass is a matter of legalism? You should attend Mass if you’re healthy and able to regardless of dispensations in place. I returned to Mass as soon as the doors reopened though I could still “technically” remain home.
Remember too that this was written in 2021 when it was clear to anyone with the critical thinking skills Skojec claims to value that the whole pandemic wasn’t anywhere near as dangerous as originally claimed. This was written over a year after the first lockdowns and madness and after the “vaccines” were available to everyone who wanted one as well as plenty who didn’t.
There is more background to this missing too. Ann Barnhardt has referenced people like Skojec over the last few years and there various Twitter meltdowns. This post was a long time coming and I am guessing his parish priest had been worried about him for a while.
A little before the above quote he says,
The relentless presence of those emotions in my life, seemingly without connection to any immediate cause, hurt me psychologically, damaged my health, and worst of all, caused me to treat people I love very poorly. Inexcusably so. I lashed out at them.
Here he is blaming others for his own actions. Though others can contribute to someone’s actions, we generally still claim (if we’re reasonable), to ultimately be in control of them. I know what I’d be in for if I went into the confessional with this attitude and it wouldn’t be absolution. It is also worth adding that the aforementioned Ann Barnhardt was accused of being insane by him while he was going through all this. And despite all he’s said about her, she has been genuinely troubled by the descent that culminated in this post.
A little bit further down Dreher quotes Skojec’s discovering of traditionalism:
It was historical. It was reverent. It was liturgically and theologically sound. I started reading, and not only did I become compelled, I got angry. I saw what had been stolen from us. Saw the bad actors swoop in and change everything. Saw how the problem went right up to the papacy, and how the faithful had been incredibly damaged by what followed.
This is about the only section of what is written that I can completely relate to especially the righteous anger we both felt at it being stolen. I also felt something else and that was an obligation to make myself worthy of it. To work for it and to improve myself. The enormous drop in religious adherence in recent history didn’t happen in a vacuum. There were people present to do something and clearly not enough did.
And so, finding solace at last, I’ve spent the past 17 years of my life as an apologist for traditionalist Catholicism — the most recent seven of which have been devoted to founding and running 1P5, which was, for a couple of years at least, the most-read traditionalist Catholic website in the world.
By becoming a prominent figure in the fight for tradition, Skojec was taking on a tremendous responsibility. A responsibility he has scandalously abandoned in a rather pathetic way. As I mentioned, this isn’t like starting a popular stamp collecting blog.
But during that time, I have gradually come to realize that if the post-conciliar Church I grew up in isn’t really Catholicism, traditionalism isn’t either. Instead, it is an ideological mask more identifiably in the shape of true Catholicism. It is, in some respects, a long-running Live Action Roleplay — a LARP — in which participants act out what they think Catholicism looked like in “the good old days” while perpetually running down any kind of Catholicism (or Catholic who practices it) that isn’t traditionalism. But it is essentially an affectation; an attempt to reconstruct and live within a historical context that no longer exists. Traditional Catholicism does exist, in the sense that all history exists.
Here he reveals more about himself than about fellow traditionalists. This is how he feels when going to church — not how everybody does. He openly suggests traditional Catholics are LARPing which is another way of saying what they believe isn’t real or is at best insincere.
Even if we allow this is the case, what does he propose traditionalists do instead? Should they start going to the totally irreverent alternatives? Become Protestant? Join the Eastern Orthodox — or are they just LARping too? Perhaps Jordanetics?
Speaking of Eastern Orthodox, we now switch to Dreher’s commentary.
This is deep.
No, it really isn’t.
It helped me to understand what I found so unattractive about Catholic traditionalism, even as I affirmed it as a viable alternative. I had always thought it was just the pockets of bitter reactionary factionalism that were everywhere. I was sensitive to this because reactionary bitterness is a constant temptation of mine, given my character. I saw people — not everybody, and not even most people, but enough to give me pause — who seemed to thrive on anger and spite towards Catholics who weren’t trads. I realized, I think, though it never came to mind as a fully formed thought, that I was looking at my future self if I gave myself over to my darkest impulses.
Remember he is responding to a post by someone who began by stating just how angry they are. Again, there are certainly Traditional Catholics who are unpleasant people. Some people may even think I am one. Now please name a group where there are no unpleasant people present ever — at all. I will join that group if you can point me to it.
Skojec’s essay made me realize that traditionalism is parasitic on corrupted modern Catholicism, which lives rent-free in their heads.
What tosh. Most just want somewhere to go where the liturgy is reverent and the clergy and laity are faithful. That is what they are seeking and is generally what they find. I assume this is what Dreher was seeking in Orthodoxy too.
There are people who focus inordinately on church politics — like Skojec and Dreher for example and that could — as both personally demonstrate — lead to bitterness. The answer then is to draw back from the politics and focus on living it which is hard when your bread and butter is based on the former.
Dreher encourages everyone to read Skojec’s post and states:
It is one of the most powerful pieces of spiritual writing that I’ve read in a long time. And I am certain that in it, Steve Skojec doesn’t just speak for burned-out Catholics, but for all people broken by ideological religion. He is offering a solidarity of the shattered.
No, it isn’t. It is an angry, effeminate rant that should never have been made public.
Though to his credit, Dreher does add towards the end:
There is no escape anywhere from modernity and its disorders. Not in Orthodoxy, or in any other church. This cross must be borne by all of us Christians. It is easier in America not to see the problems within Orthodoxy, because we are such a small church, poor and powerless. This is not the case in Russia and Greece, for example, and I imagine there are Steve Skojecs within the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches. Whether you are Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, the point is to allow God to throw down the idol of the institutional church. Be careful, though: the institutional church is not irrelevant!
One wonders then why Dreher left the church at all then as he admits the problems are to be found everywhere. As Feser notes, both Skojec and Dreher were motivated not by reason — but emotion. I can be understanding of personal struggles but not when they are made public like this and Dreher was a fool to give it more exposure. I suspect he is motivated partially to justify his own decision to leave the church though he probably wouldn’t agree with this assessment.
In general, both Dreher and Skojec put the fault on others. They make it as if they were forced out when really they have both made a choice and the fault ultimately lies with them. Every committed Christian will have their cross and we often won’t know what people suffer in their lives. There have been countless men and women through history who suffered silently. Both these special boys seem to think their suffering is unique.
I never intended to quote and respond to everything because there is a lot that simply isn’t relevant but I do want to highlight one more part not included by Dreher. Towards the end of the effeminate rant, Skojec again comes back to COVID rightly stating that the world went insane. Unfortunately, he joined the insane side and is thus embarrassed by the large number of traditionalists who didn’t:
Viganò spoke with conviction against nefarious and undefined global powers, and that was enough to earn him a slot at the top of every traditionalist speaking list. Although I published a number of his earlier pieces, I remember coming to a distinct point where I couldn’t, in good conscience, do that any longer. Some of what he was saying was simply wrong. He turned out to be a big, bright, canary in the COVID mine. Like the rest of the secular political landscape, COVID conspiracy theorism has become inextricably intertwined with mainstream, online traditionalist Catholicism, and its dogmatic axioms are no longer up for discussion — under pain of excommunication.
Hyperbole aside, this is I think another motivating factor for his decision to all but apostatize. He went along with all of it (as I believe did Dreher) and is embarrassed to be associated with those that didn’t or — Heaven forbid — admit they were right.
The world is always a temptation for committed Christians and we are all tempted in various ways by it. One big temptation is the desire for acclaim or just acceptance by those of the world. Something a committed Catholic — or Christian — really can no longer expect without significant compromise with the Faith.
Converts like myself are troubled by the sins of their past lives. Cradle Catholics like Skojec are at times tempted to wonder what it would be like to have indulged in the world as he reveals:
I studiously avoided the hedonistic pleasures of youth enjoyed by my peers.
I hope I’m wrong but I detect a strong hint of regret here. If I were to speak to him, I’d tell him not to have any regret because I wish I could say I had avoided those same hedonistic pleasures when I was young. I didn’t and I still suffer for it.
What would really help Steve Skojec and the advice I offer to him is to get off social media and the Internet for a while or permanently. I did. This is something he could have easily done instead of posting this rant and social media is far more poisonous than anything he has experienced in the church. Unfortunately instead he decided to play out a drama publicly and has likely scandalised many of the faithful as a result. Dreher and Skojec can try to rationalise what they’ve done but they and not the Church, or us mean and nasty trads, are responsible for the actions these men both took.
I pray that Steve Skojec works through these issues and returns to the flock. Despite all I’ve said here, I’d love to have Dreher and Skojec back in the fold, to delete this post and forget it ever happened.