The End of Church Militant

By Hank Kennedy

We fighters for LGBTQ rights have to take our victories where we can get them. As state governments continue to try to take our rights away, as right-wing bigots fulminate about eliminating us from public life, as we reel in horror from the death of Nex Benedict, it’s nice to get some good news. What kind of good news? How about an anti-LGBT hate group shutting down?

In April, the Southern Poverty Law Center-designated anti-LGBT hate group Church Militant is closing its doors and shutting down its website. The group had its headquarters on Hilton Street, incongruously in Detroit’s premiere Gayborhood of Ferndale. The brainchild behind Church Militant was former broadcaster Michael Voris. Voris was incensed by what he viewed as inaccuracies about Catholicism presented in the book and film the DaVinci Code. He sought to clear up misconceptions about Catholicism through the website, later renamed Church Militant.

It appears that clearing up misconceptions about Catholicism was really a front for Voris’s true goal, spreading hatred and intolerance. Church Militant insinuated that more liberal Catholics were gay in an attempt to force them out of the church. They called composer of Catholic hymns Dan Schuette an “active homosexual,” and garnered even more publicity by calling the Archbishop of Washington D.C, a Black man, a “Marxist” and an “African Queen.” These racist and homophobic slurs were too much for the Detroit Catholic archdiocese, who wrote an official rebuke of the organization.

This rebuke did not lead to a moderation of Church Militant’s message. They promoted Holocaust denier and Trump-dinner guest Nicholas Fuentes and hosted a fawning interview with conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed Christian nationalist Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. Within Ferndale, they attempted to get their neighbors on city council to fly their flag but wisely, the city decided against flying the flag of a hate group. In an episode that showed the group’s influence, Donald Trump’s head of the Federal Elections Commission, James E. Trainor, gave an interview to Church Militant. In his interview, Trainor called the separation of church and state “a fallacy” and declared that the 2020 presidential election was “a spiritual war.”

As to what else Church Militant did to earn their hate group designation, for one they endorsed the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy. They ran homophobic headlines like “Episcopal Sodomy: Exposing the Enablers” and “The Gay Rainbow is the Mark of the Beast.” They targeted a LGBTQ owned bakery by asking them to bake a cake with a homophobic message.

I only encountered Church Militant once, during a counter-protest in Royal Oak. They were there, along with the 11th District Republican Committee led by fellow bigot Shane Trejo, to protest a Drag Queen Story Time event at Sidetrack Books. Happily they were vastly outnumbered. An estimated two dozen protested the event but there were 1,000 joyful counter protesters. Church Militant and friends could not halt the event and had to slink away in defeat. No children were harmed by the storytime or by any bigots.

An obvious influence on the group was notorious historical resident of Metro Detroit: The Anti-Semitic “Radio Priest” Father Charles Coughlin, who broadcast in Royal Oak. Like Church Militant, Coughlin spewed hate against minority groups and theorized that foreigners and Communists were secretly controlling the United States. Coughlin’s hated minority was Jews, for Church Militant it was LGBTQ people. Also like Church Militant, Coughlin used modern media to spread his message. In the 1930s that was radio; today it is the internet. Church Militant seemed aware of the connection given that they posted an article to their website recommending Coughlin to members as a fighter against Communism and the welfare state. For obvious reasons, they avoided the swastika-covered elephant in the room of Coughlin’s Nazi sympathies.

A few months ago, Vorhis stepped down. He had admitted in a 2017 Atlantic documentary that he had “live-in relationships with homosexual men”, but that he was now no longer gay. Apparently that change did not take since he had been sending out shirtless selfies to male staffers at Church Militant, surely embarrassing behavior for such a virulently anti-LGBTQ organization. After that misfortune, the group was sued for defamation by Reverend Georges de Laire due to Church Militant publishing an article calling him unstable and vindictive. The costs of the lawsuit settlement are so great that Church Militant will have to shut down in April. When I mentioned at a vigil for Nex Benedict in Ferndale that Church Militant would no longer be in operation, there were cheers and applause.

While I may fantasize that Church Militant were driven out a pitchfork and torch-wielding mob out of a Gothic horror story, I’m glad to see them gone, regardless of what eventually shut them down. They are down for the count, regardless of who delivered the knockout blow. But, we must be ever vigilant and ready to mobilize against any groups that may try to take the place of that dark satanic mill of propaganda.

Complete Article HERE!

Nicaragua frees two detained Catholic bishops and 15 priests

Bishop Rolando Álvarez speaks to the media in Managua, Nicaragua, in May 2022. On Sunday, the Nicaraguan government released Álvarez and more than a dozen priests from prison.


Nicaragua’s government released two jailed Roman Catholic bishops and 15 other priests who had been detained during one of the world’s harshest crackdowns on the church, according to a communiqué Sunday.

The most prominent of the detainees is Bishop Rolando Álvarez, 58, an outspoken critic of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. The bishop of the central province of Matagalpa had been held for more than a year, and in recent months was locked up in solitary confinement, according to U.N. human rights rapporteurs. His imprisonment was the subject of a November hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives. The State Department had called his detention “unconscionable.”

The other prelates freed Saturday night had been detained in December during what came to be known as “Black Christmas” — a round of arrests of Catholic leaders, including Bishop Isidoro Mora of Siuna. Many of them apparently angered the government by calling for prayers for Álvarez.

The priests and bishops were released after negotiations with the Vatican, and flown to Rome, according to the statement from the Nicaraguan government. Two seminarians who had been jailed were also included in the prisoner release. Ortega’s government thanked Pope Francis and his team for the “very respectful and discreet coordination.” It did not respond to a request from The Washington Post for more details.

Ortega has conducted an unprecedented offensive against the church in this majority-Catholic country. In August, his government revoked the legal status of the Jesuit-run Central American University and seized the campus. He’s stripped the registration of more than 300 religious organizations — including Mother Teresa’s missionaries. The Vatican closed its embassy in Nicaragua last spring after the government proposed suspending relations.

During the recent Christmas holidays, the government banned traditional Catholic processions known as “posadas.” Priests say they’re routinely spied on and harassed. More than 100 Catholic priests have fled, been kicked out of the country, or denied reentry to Nicaragua. In October, the government freed 12 other Catholic priests from prison and sent them to Rome, under a deal with the Vatican.

The Rev. Uriel Vallejos, an exiled priest, wrote Sunday on X, formerly Twitter, that the government “wants to leave Nicaragua without priests.”

Ortega was a leader of the leftist Sandinista revolution that toppled U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. The former guerrilla served as president of Nicaragua from 1985 until 1990 and returned to power in 2007. He was sworn in to a fourth consecutive term in 2022, after jailing all his significant competitors.

Ortega has focused his ire on the Catholic Church since 2018, when a wave of anti-government protests swept the country. He’s accused the church of siding with the demonstrators, an accusation it has denied.

Álvarez was placed under house arrest in August 2022. The following February, he declined an offer to join 222 political prisoners who were freed and flown to Washington. Friends said he preferred to remain in jail in his homeland rather than go into exile. He was subsequently sentenced to 26 years in jail on charges of treason and spreading false information.

His detention has been the subject of growing international alarm. In November, a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee held a hearing titled “An Urgent Appeal to Let Bishop Álvarez Go.” The State Department has designated Nicaragua a “Country of Particular Concern” because of religious repression, adding it to a watch list including Cuba, North Korea, China and Iran.

The crackdown on the church and civil society organizations has contributed to soaring irregular migration. About 139,000 Nicaraguans were detained at the U.S. border in 2023. A recent study by AmericasBarometer found that about half the population wanted to emigrate.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Church

— The most important stories from the Vatican in 2023


In a year that began with the funeral of his predecessor, Pope Francis, who marked the 10th anniversary of his own election in March, stepped up his reforms of the Catholic Church, and by year’s end he could point to a series of wins in shoring up Vatican finances, reducing corruption and enacting his plan for a more welcoming and inclusive church. He had also marginalised several outspoken critics.

But 2023 also exposed the weaknesses of this pontificate. Under Francis, the church continued to stumble in dealing with sexual abuse, extending the perception the hierarchy still doesn’t take the problem seriously. Despite concerted diplomatic efforts, the Pope failed to project real influence over foreign affairs, especially in the major conflicts in Ukraine and the Mideast. His age and his medical scares, meanwhile, had many Vatican players considering a church under Francis’ own successor.

Vatican St Peters Synod 291023
Pope Francis presides over a Mass for the closing of the 16th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, on 29th October, 2023.


But as the following top stories of 2023 from the Vatican show, Francis steadily made news by pushing his vision for the church despite the challenges.

1. Pope Francis strengthens his position inside the Vatican and beyond
For much the first 10 years as pontiff, Pope Francis lived in the shadow of the previous pope living inside the Vatican. With Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral on 5th January, Francis was finally able to move past the Benedict era, cementing his legacy while eliminating opposition in and outside the Vatican.

In early January, papal critic Cardinal George Pell died in a Roman hospital due to complications from hip replacement surgery. Pell had issued memos to fellow prelates calling Francis’ pontificate “a catastrophe.”

In June, Francis sent a delegation to investigate the diocese of Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, a vocal opponent of Francis’ pontificate, and in August rapped his American conservative critics for, he said, replacing faith with ideology. By November, Strickland had been fired from his post, and soon after the Pope removed Cardinal Raymond Burke, who had replaced Pell as the de facto leader of conservative opposition, from his Vatican apartment and took away the cardinal’s stipend.

The Pope also solidified his position at the Vatican by appointing a close friend and fellow Argentine, Monsignor Victor Manuel Fernández, to lead the Discastery of the Doctrine of the Faith. Francis later made Fernández a cardinal, along with 20 others. The Pope has now appointed a majority of the cardinals who will elect his successor.

Pope Francis adjusts his skull cap at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at The Vatican, on Wednesday, 15th March, 2023
Pope Francis adjusts his skullcap at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, on 15th March, 2023. Francis passed his 10th anniversary as Pope on 13th March.


2. The Synod on Synodality shows a new way to govern the church
The month of October saw a major summit of Catholic bishops and lay individuals at the Vatican, called the Synod on Synodality, convened by Francis to address issues raised by worldwide listening sessions in local dioceses. The gathering considered questions ranging from LGBTQ inclusion to female ordination to church structure.

Ahead of the summit, in April, Francis made an unprecedented decision to allow lay Catholics, including women, to have a vote at the synod. Its lively discussions were for the most part kept under wraps at the Pope’s urging, but reports showed that the most time was spent on the roles of women and laypeople.

The final document emerging from the synod did not usher in the sweeping changes some had hoped for – and others had feared. Instead, it suggested that synodality, a way of governing the church through dialogue, was the church’s future. While the Catholic world waits for the second part of the summit, scheduled to take place next fall, it’s up to the Pope to discern and guide its impact.

3. The church moves toward LGBTQ acceptance
Beginning with his famous 2013 response to a question about LGBTQ Catholics – “Who am I to judge?” – Francis has signaled a new acceptance despite church teaching about homosexuality. In an interview with The Associated Press in January, the Pope stated that “being homosexual isn’t a crime.”

A June document summarising the discussions at the synod called for the “radical inclusion” of LGBTQ Catholics, underscoring the importance of this topic to many Catholics around the world. Francis had invited Rev James Martin, a prominent advocate for LGBTQ inclusion in the church, to take part in the gathering.

In a written response to a series of questions by five conservative cardinals in October, Francis opened the door for the blessing of same-sex couples. In December, a declaration by the Vatican’s department for doctrine sanctioned priests to bless same-sex and “irregular” couples, provided the practice not resemble a wedding.

In another document by the doctrinal department, the Vatican approved trans individuals for baptism and to act as godparents. A trans community from the outskirts of Rome was invited to join the Pope for his yearly lunch for the poor at the Vatican.

Russian Orthodox clergy and Patriarch Kirill, right side of table, meet with Cardinal Matteo Zuppi and Roman Cathoic delegates at the Patriarchal Residence in Danilov Monastery, in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, 29th June, 2023
Russian Orthodox clergy and Patriarch Kirill, right side of table, meet with Cardinal Matteo Zuppi and Roman Catholic delegates at the patriarchal residence in Danilov Monastery, in Moscow, on 29th June, 2023.

4. A Pope between two wars
Francis has been active in his efforts to promote peace in Ukraine and the Holy Land. In May, he appointed the president of the Italian bishops conference, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, to act as peace envoy in Ukraine. The cardinal visited Kyiv, Moscow, Washington and Beijing to offer mediation in the conflict and joined with other religious representatives to make an appeal for peace.

But Francis was harshly criticised for praising the imperial past of the tsars while speaking to Russian students in August, and his refusal to assign blame to one side or the other in the Ukraine war caused backlash and frustrated his diplomatic outreach. Meanwhile, his use of the term “terrorism” to describe the activities of both Israel and Hamas in the Middle East was met with anger and dismay by some.

5. The shadow of sexual abuse in the Rupnick case
Rev Marko Rupnik, a Jesuit artist who was expelled from his congregation after credible accusations of sexual, spiritual and psychological abuse of adult women,deeply divided the church and underlined the challenges that remain in the institution’s handling of sex abuse cases. The Diocese of Rome, led by Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, had to issue a formal apology for allowing the priest to remain active in his parish despite the accusations against him.

6. A historic sentence for a historic Vatican trial
Closing the year, a Vatican tribunal sentenced nine individuals – including Cardinal Angelo Becciu – with punishments ranging from fines to significant prison time for their various roles in a controversial real estate deal that had cost the Vatican millions. It was the first time a cardinal was tried and convicted of financial crimes in the church, signaling a new era in the Vatican’s financial reform efforts.

Though many of the accused will appeal, the sentences, after a trial that lasted almost three years, were interpreted as a decisive win for the Pope and his reforms of the Vatican’s notoriously corrupt and mismanaged finances.

7. Health scares curb papal visits
In March, Francis was admitted to the hospital for a respiratory infection that caused him to skip liturgical functions and celebrations. In June, Francis underwent a hernia surgery and had to stay at the hospital for nine days. He was sick again in November with an inflammation of the lungs, which kept him from attending the COP28 summit for the environment in Dubai. But despite his ailments, Francis, who turned 87 in December, shows few signs of slowing down.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope forcibly removes leading US conservative, Texas bishop Strickland

FILE – Bishop Joseph Strickland walks in front of a reliquary bearing the bones of Saint Maria Goretti, dubbed “The Little Saint of Great Mercy,” into the sanctuary at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, in Tyler, Texas. Pope Francis on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023 forcibly removed from office the bishop of Tyler, Texas, a conservative active on social media who has been a fierce critic of the pontiff and some of his priorities.


Pope Francis on Saturday forcibly removed from office the bishop of Tyler, Texas, a conservative active on social media who has been a fierce critic of the pontiff and some of his priorities.

A one-line statement from the Vatican said Francis had “relieved” Bishop Joseph Strickland of the pastoral governance of Tyler and appointed the bishop of Austin as the temporary administrator.

Strickland, 65, has emerged as a critic of Francis, accusing him in a tweet earlier this year of “undermining the deposit of faith.” He has been particularly critical of Francis’ recent meeting on the future of the Catholic Church during which hot-button issues were discussed, including ways to better welcome LGBTQ+ Catholics.

The Vatican earlier this year sent in investigators to look into his governance of the diocese, amid reports he was making doctrinally unorthodox claims.

The Vatican has not released the findings of the investigation, and Strickland had insisted he wouldn’t resign voluntarily. He had said in media interviews that he was given a mandate to serve by the late Pope Benedict XVI and couldn’t abdicate that responsibility, and had complained that he hadn’t been told what the pope’s investigators were looking into.

It is rare for the pope to forcibly remove a bishop from office. Bishops are required to offer to resign when they reach 75. When the Vatican uncovers issues with governance or other problems that require a bishop to leave office before then, the Vatican usually seeks to pressure him to resign for the good of his diocese and the church.

That was the case when another U.S. bishop was forced out earlier this year following a Vatican investigation. Knoxville, Tenn. Bishop Richard Stika resigned voluntarily, albeit under pressure, following allegations he mishandled sex abuse allegations, and his priests complained about his leadership and behavior.

But with Strickland, the Vatican statement made clear he had not offered to resign, and that Francis had instead “relieved” him from his job.

Most recently, Strickland had criticized Francis’ monthlong closed-door debate on making the church more welcoming and responsive to the needs of Catholics today. The meeting debated a host of previously taboo issues, including women in governance roles and welcoming LGBTQ+ Catholics, but in the end, its final document didn’t veer from established doctrine.

Ahead of the meeting, Strickland said it was a “travesty” that such things were even on the table for discussion.

”Regrettably, it may be that some will label as schismatics those who disagree with the changes being proposed,” Strickland wrote in a public letter in August. “Instead, those who would propose changes to that which cannot be changed seek to commandeer Christ’s Church, and they are indeed the true schismatics.”

There was no immediate comment from the diocese, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops merely posted an English translation of the Vatican statement with data about the size of the diocese.

In a social media post sent a few hours before the Vatican’s noon announcement, Strickland wrote a prayer about Christ being the “way, the truth and the life, yesterday, today and forever.”

Complete Article HERE!

What is being discussed during the first week of the Synod on Synodality?

The Synod on Synodality convened on Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023.

By Hannah Brockhaus

More than 400 people gathered at the Vatican on Wednesday to officially begin the Synod on Synodality.

During the first full day of work Oct. 5, participants met in small groups of about 12 people to discuss the first part of the Instrumentum Laboris, a document that will guide discussions over the nearly monthlong assembly.

The first section, which will form the basis of synod discussions Oct. 4–7, is titled “For a Synodal Church: An Integral Experience” and has two subpoints: “The characteristic signs of a synodal Church” and “A way forward for the synodal Church: conversation in the Spirit.”

According to Cristiane Murray, the vice director of the Holy See Press Office, synod members were given “a kind of task of answering” several reflection questions based on these themes on Oct. 4.

The president of the information commission for the synod, who is also the head of Vatican communications, Paolo Ruffini, said participants “were asked to pray with these [questions] yesterday evening, night, this morning before speaking at the synod.”

The main question for discernment was: “Starting from the journey of the local Churches to which we each belong and from the contents of the Instrumentum Laboris, which distinctive signs of a synodal Church emerge with greater clarity and which deserve greater recognition or should be particularly highlighted or deepened?”

The following questions were listed as “suggestions for prayer and preparatory reflection”:

1) Reflecting on how the synod course unfolded in the Church where I come from, what is the prevailing spiritual tone that characterizes it? What emotions and feelings did it arouse in those who took part? What desires did it arouse in the Christian community? What concerns emerged?

2) How can we grow in a synodal style of liturgical celebration, which highlights the distinctive contribution of all participants, starting from the variety of vocations, charisms, and ministries they bear?

3) In my local Church, how have we used and adapted the method of conversation in the Spirit? What are the main fruits it has enabled us to reap? How can it continue to help us grow as a missionary synodal Church?

4) What have we learned about listening as a characteristic of a synodal Church? What resources have we discovered we possess in this regard? Where do we perceive shortcomings? What do we need to address them? How can the ability to listen become an increasingly recognized and recognizable feature of our communities?

5) “A synodal Church promotes the passage from ‘I’ to ‘we’” (IL, No. 25). How has the synodal process promoted the cohesion of the local Church where I come from? How has it helped us to experience “the spiritual savor of being a people” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, Nos. 268–274)? How do we feel we can grow in this dimension?

6) Did we meet with members of other Churches or ecclesial communities during the synod journey? Did we meet with believers from other religions? What was the spiritual tone of these meetings? What did we learn in order to grow in our desire and ability to walk together with them?

7) In my local Church, which tensions have emerged most strongly? How did we try to manage them so they did not become explosive? How do we evaluate this experience? What have we learned from this to help us grow in the ability to manage tensions without being crushed by them, which is proper to a synodal Church?

8) What experiences of discernment in common have we had in my local Church context? What have they enabled us to discover? In what direction do we need to continue growing?

After a day off on Sunday, Oct. 8, the Synod on Synodality will reconvene Oct. 9–12 to discuss the first question under section “B” of the Instrumentum Laboris: “A communion that radiates: How can we be more fully a sign and instrument of union with God and of the unity of all humanity?”

Section B is on “Communion, participation, mission: Three priority issues for the synodal Church.”

Complete Article HERE!