Washington DC, August 15, 2022 / 4:06 p.m. (CNA).
An article published in The Atlantic magazine on Sunday suggests that the rosary has become a symbol of violent right-wing extremism in the United States.
The article sparked a frenzy of reactions among Catholics, ranging from amusement to grave concern over what some see as anti-Catholic sentiment.
The magazine then changed the title of the article from “How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol” to “How the Extremist Gun Culture Is Trying to Co-opt the Rosary”. Among other changes to the text, an image of bullet holes forming the shape of a rosary was replaced with an image of a rosary.
These editorial changes nevertheless left intact the article’s thesis that there is a link between the Rosary and extremism. The author’s claim was based, in part, on his observations regarding the use of the rosary on social media and rosaries sold online.
“The rosary has acquired a militaristic significance for radical-traditional (or ‘rad trad’) Catholics,” writes Daniel Panneton of the sacramental used in prayer by Catholics for centuries.
“Militia culture, a fetish of Western civilization, and masculinist anxieties have become mainstays of the far-right in the United States — and rad-trad Catholics have now taken up residence in that society,” Panneton writes, whose article includes three links to Roman Catholic Gear, an online store that sells rosaries.
He describes photos of rosary beads “made out of cartridge cases and topped off with metallic-finish crucifixes,” as well as warrior-themed memes and content aimed at survivalists.
The Catholic reaction
Asked to comment on the article, Robert P. George, professor of political theory at Princeton University and former chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), told CNA:
“It seems to me that the guy who politicizes the rosary and treats it as a weapon in the culture wars is… Daniel Panneton. I don’t know anything about the guy other than what he says in the article. I had never heard of him before. While it’s hard to miss the play’s classic anti-Catholic tropes, he may not really be a fanatic. Maybe he’s just overworked and needs to take an aspirin or two and lie down for a while.
Chad Pecknold, professor of theology at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that the publication of the article indicated a “theo-political” conflict in the culture.
“The politically elitist core of the liberal left media hate Western civilization and intend to overthrow all natural and supernatural signs of it. That’s why it’s not enough to just publish an article about right-wing gun cultures, but they need to tie it to something that’s theologically central to the civilization they believe most threatens their progressive ziggurat. It is a sign of the theo-political conflict which grips us now; even still, they grossly underestimate the power of Our Lady to reign victorious over evil,” Pecknold said.
Prof. Pius Pietrzyk, OP, a Dominican priest from the Province of St. Joseph, told CNA, “The article is a long stream of inaccuracies, logical errors and distortions.”
The author, he says, fails to understand that “the notion of ‘spiritual warfare’ has been present in the Church since time immemorial. Remember that a traditional view of confirmation is that it makes someone a “soldier for Christ.”
“The problem is that The Atlantic doesn’t seem to understand what metaphor means. In no way does the notion of the rosary as a ‘combat’ imply physical violence,” Pietrzyk added.
On Twitter, Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, OP responded to the article with a photo of two brothers in white robes wearing their traditional rosary around their waists. “WARNING: The image below contains rosaries,” reads the caption.
Novelist and essayist Walter Kirn commented that The Atlantic article itself serves as an example of “extremism”.
Eduard Habsburg, Hungarian Ambassador to the Holy See, responded by conceding that the Rosary is indeed a weapon – used for centuries against evil:
Catholic Beliefs Considered Extreme
Panneton specifies in his article that it is not just about the rosary.
During his argument, he refers to Catholic beliefs as evidence of “extremism”.
He sees extreme views on masculinity in the Catholic faith. He writes: “Militarism also glorifies a warrior mentality and notions of virility and masculine strength. This confusion between masculine and military is rooted in broader concerns about Catholic manhood.
“But among radical-mainstream Catholic men, these concerns take on an extremist twist, rooted in fantasies of violently defending his family and his church against marauders,” he continues.
The Church’s advocacy of the unborn child’s right to life is also evidence of its ties to right-wing extremists, according to Panneton.
“Convergence within Christian nationalism is cemented in common causes such as hostility toward abortion rights advocates,” he writes.
Pietrzyk, the Dominican priest interviewed by CNA said, “The author takes fundamental Catholic positions on the nature of the Church, Christian morality, etc., and posits that they are somehow ‘extremist’. This is classic misdirection.
The rosary, a “weapon” of choice for centuries
The rosary, first promoted by the Dominican Order in the 16th century, is a form of prayer based on meditations on the life of Christ. Beads are a tool to help keep track of prayers that are recited before and meditations.
Since 1571, popes have urged Catholics to pray the Rosary. In doing so, they often used military terms to designate these “weapons” of prayer. In 1893 Pope Leo XIII saw the Rosary as an antidote to the evils of inequality born of the Industrial Revolution, and during World War II Pius XI urged the faithful to recite it in the hope that “the enemies of the name divine (…) finally be bent and led to penance and return to the straight path, entrusting oneself to the care and protection of Mary.
More recently, Pope Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have recommended the rosary as a powerful spiritual tool.
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