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Editor's note: In light of the South Poverty Law Center's recent attack against our conference, we repost a still-relevant response by John Vennari to this reckless organization.
Saint Augustine once said that in the case of some individuals, an intellect may be capable of forming an objection without being capable of understanding the argument that meets that objection. Is the Southern Poverty Law Center, supposedly staffed by intelligent people, truly incapable of grasping basic rudiments of Catholicism? Or are they willfully malicious in their refusal to understand the Catholic Faith, and in their refusal to admit the most fundamental distinctions? My guess, it is a combination of both.
In its Winter 2007 Intelligence Report, the Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC], an enormously wealthy left-wing organization that sets itself up as a watchdog of hate-groups, racism and anti-Semitism, published a brutal attack on traditional Catholics. For years, SPLC monitored scurvy groups such as Neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, Skinheads and White Supremacists. More recently it targeted the so called “Christian Right”. Pat Buchanan’s organization is listed as a hate group, one reason being Buchanan’s opposition to illegal immigration. Two years ago, its Winter 2005 Intelligence Report disparaged the “Christian Right” for its opposition to homosexuality, gay marriage and the gay agenda, after which the homosexual New York Blade celebrated with the headline: “Report Labels Religious Right as Hate Group”.
Now the SPLC has targeted traditional Catholics, claiming various “radical traditionalist” organizations “are preaching anti-Semitism to as many as 100,000 followers.” Twelve traditional Catholic groups, which the SPLC calls “The Dirty Dozen”, have been “added to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups.” Catholic Family News is listed as one of the “Dirty Dozen”, along with The Remnant, The Fatima Crusader, Catholic Apologetics International, the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart in New Hampshire, Tradition in Action and others, including at least one sedevacantist organization. The Society of Saint Pius X was also lambasted, independently from the “Dirty Dozen” section, as a “Radical Powerhouse”.
I knew the SPLC assault was coming, and the attack is every bit as absurd as I thought it would be. The members of the other groups targeted are capable of answering the SPLC if they choose to do so. My response and observations will center primarily on what was said about Catholic Family News.
In its so-called “interviews” with various traditional Catholics before the article was published, and in the article itself, the SPLC employs tactics and stratagems designed to demonize its opponents. Their tactics are what I call “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Hate-Mongers”, which we will look at one by one.
1) Ignore the facts and adhere to your pre-conceived prejudices.
In late September, Michael Matt from The Remnant was contacted by a representative from the SPLC. She explained they were working on a piece about traditional Catholics, and asked Mr. Matt a series of antagonistic questions. The questions revealed a formidable lack of understanding of what the traditional Catholic Movement is all about, but when Mr. Matt tried to answer or offer a clarification, she immediately jumped to another question. One of the questions was: “Isn't it true that traditional Catholics share the same heroes with the neo-Nazi movement such as Father Denis Fahey and Father Charles Coughlin?” Mr. Matt tried to explain the clear distinction between traditional Catholic teaching and Neo-Nazi racism, but to no avail. He then terminated the conversation, as it seemed clear that the SPLC had no intention of trying to understand traditional Catholics or to present them in an unbiased manner.
Around the same time I received a call from Heidi Beirich of the SPLC. I was not in the office at the time, but called her back a few days later: twice, only to receive her answering machine on which I left polite messages. She never tried to contact me again. As I was aware of Michael Matt's bizarre interrogation, I was not eager to attempt to contact Ms. Beirich any further. From the beginning, there was a strong note of SPLC ill-will. It is my belief that the SPLC telephoned various traditional Catholics for one reason only: so the SPLC could say, if asked, “Yes, we contacted, or tried to contact, them.” But this contact was not for the purpose of seeking the truth, or seeking to be corrected of their pre-conceived prejudices. This was obvious from the SPLC's phone call to Mr. Matt.
2) Employ “Politician’s Logic”.
“Politician’s Logic” is a term coined by the brilliant British comedy, Yes, Prime Minster. It runs as follows:
- all dogs have four legs;
- my cat has four legs;
- therefore, my dog is a cat.
In the SPLC context, “Politician’s Logic” runs as follows:
- Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists are hate groups that talk against Jews.
- Traditional Catholics “talk against” Jews.
- Therefore, traditional Catholics are a hate group on a par with Neo-Nazis.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The Catholic’s quarrel with Judaism has nothing to do with race, but is religious in essence. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “He who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” Our Lord also commanded his Church: “Go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. He who believes and is baptized will be saved. He who does not believe will be condemned.”
The adherents of Judaism reject Jesus Christ, and some are openly hostile to Him and to the Church He established. Witness the explosion of fury from certain Jewish groups over Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, a film that merely attempted to portray the Gospel account of Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday. Witness the hostility to the Oberammergau Passion Play from Jewish groups who called for an international boycott. Witness the Tel Aviv journalist who in the May 3, 2000 edition of Ha'aretz Daily Newspaper, openly denounced the New Testament, saying that any Passion Play based on the Gospel is beyond redemption. Here, Eliahu Saltpeter wrote: “The New Testament was written by a cult which loathed the Jewish establishment and everything it stood for. Christianity is founded upon the New Testament, and no script alterations or interpolated explanation can change that fact.”
Catholics have no choice but to oppose those who display such hostility to Christ and His Gospel, not by force or bloodshed, but by argument, by proclaiming the truths of the Catholic Faith, and by not complying with their demands.
Father Denis Fahey, whom the SPLC despises, made the clear distinction in his treatment of Anti-Semitism. He explained: “On the one hand, Catholics must stand unflinchingly for the Integral Rights of Christ the King, as contained in the Papal Encyclicals, while on the other hand, keeping their minds and hearts free from hatred of Our Lord's own nation according to the flesh. On the one hand, they must battle for the Rights of Christ the King and the Supernatural Organization of Society, as laid down in the Encyclical Quas Primas, unequivocally proclaiming that the rejection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the True Messiah, by His own nation, and the unyielding opposition of that nation to Him, are a fundamental source of disorder in the world. On the other hand, as members of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Catholics should neither hate the members of the nation in which, through the Blessed Mother, the Lily of Israel, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity assumed human nature, nor deny them [Jews] their legitimate rights as persons.”
SPLC’s Heidi Beirich presents a skewed summary of Father Fahey’s distinction and immediately rejects it as a “distinction without a difference.” To the SPLC, Father Fahey and those like him oppose Jews. Therefore, Fahey and those of his ilk are anti-Semitic. The dog is a cat because they both have four legs. Politicians' logic!
3) Don't even try to get your facts straight.
Ms. Beirich's SPLC report gets a number of facts wrong, which displays shoddy journalism. I will not treat all of them, but a few regarding myself, the 2003 Catholic Family News conference, and some obvious falsehoods concerning the Society of St. Pius X.
Beirich writes that John Vennari “says he is now part of the official Vatican press corps.” I have no idea where she got that one. Any CFN reader will attest that I have never made such a claim. I received Press Credentials from the Vatican Press Office for the June 2002 Vatican Press Conference on the clerical scandals, but this does not constitute any journalist as a member of the Vatican press corps. It seems Ms. Beirich just made up certain things as she went along.
There were also some silly falsehoods contained in SPLC comments on the October 2003 Catholic Family News conference in Philadelphia. “Sunday’s activities started with a now rarely celebrated hour-long recitation of the Rosary.” Again, where that came from is anyone's guess. We have never at any of our conferences recited a Rosary that lasted an hour. Of the vendors at this CFN conference, Beirich writes, “Priests in Roman collars staffed many tables: brown cloaked monks manned others.” Again, this is straight from outer space. Only one table at that conference was manned by two brothers in Roman collars, the rest of the venders were that of lay organizations staffed by laymen and women all wearing lay clothes. Perhaps, if there was a SPLC informant at the conference, he saw a vender in a brown hoodie and knows so little about Catholicism that he could only describe him as a “brown-robed monk”. This is an “Intelligence” Report?
The report also published blunders regarding the Society of Saint Pius X. Beirich said, “In the late 1980s, Pope John Paul II excommunicated all SSPX priests and declared the sect formally in schism.” In truth, any mention of “excommunication” was limited only to the six bishops involved in the June 30, 1988 consecrations, and even these “excommunications” are extremely doubtful when examined in light of the Canon #1323 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Also, Ms. Beirich chose not to mention that the Vatican's Cardinal Hoyos said in November 2005 — well before the Intelligence Report went to press — that the SSPX is not in formal schism.
Regarding the possibility of the SSPX’s reconciliation with Rome, Beirich said Pope Benedict XVI “last September approved an institute for French priests who left the movement [SSPX]. The pope's move marked the effective end to efforts by the Vatican to bring the SSPX sect back into the Catholic fold.” This is patently untrue. The resolution between today’s Rome and the SSPX will indeed be difficult, but it is a lie to claim Pope Benedict has abandoned all efforts to effect a reconciliation. The Vatican has never made such a statement. Again, Beirich appears to be making it up as she goes along.
To spotlight each of the various untruths, partial truths and misrepresentations is beyond the scope of this short commentary. Suffice to say that the SPLC is so arrogant and reckless, so accustomed to bullying others with impunity that it prints falsehoods and inaccuracies that would not be tolerated in a fourth grade history report.
4) Use pot-boiler rhetoric at every opportunity.
The SPLC employs explosive terminology calculated to generate emotional response. It uses the term “anti-Semitic” constantly. Traditional Catholics “may represent the largest population of anti-Semites in the United States” Father Fahey spouted “the same kind of anti-Jewish propaganda as the Nazis.” (Beirich does not understand the distinction, nor does she mention that the Vatican condemned the Nazis and praised Father Fahey.) From traditional Catholics, “disdain and outright hatred of the Jews flows like a poisonous river.” The CFN conference Sunday Mass was said by “an apostate priest”; Father Charles Coughlin was “a leading American anti-Semite of the 1920s and 1930s.” The list goes on.
Another example of the SPLC’s unbalanced rhetoric is their condemnation of my booklet, The Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita, a Masonic Blueprint for the Subversion of the Church. SPLC calls it an “anti-Semitic” tract. Yet throughout the entire booklet, readily available to anyone who wants to read it, I do not mention Jews at all, nor do I employ the term “Judeo-Masonry”.
SPLC disparages the booklet nonetheless. Warnings against the dangers of Freemasonry are a laughable conspiracy theory. After denouncing my critique of the French Revolution, in which the SPLC, not I, mentions the Jews, Beirich then makes an unbelievable admission. She says: “Catholic fears about Masonic power have not been limited to Vennari. Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) for one branded Freemasonry as an ‘enemy of religion and society’ and wrote in an 1884 encyclical that Masons sought to impose the ‘kingdom of Satan on earth’.”
The SPLC thus denounces me for fidelity to the teaching of Pope Leo XIII, and to all the Popes who condemned Freemasonry. Clearly, it is the Catholic Faith of all time that the SPLC despises.
Further, the SPLC never mentions the fact that both Pope Pius IX and Pope Leo XIII considered the Alta Vendita a true Masonic document that should be published as a means of tearing the mask off of Freemasonry.
Ms. Beirich stokes the fires saying, “In his CFN newspaper in 2003, Vennari called Judaism ‘part of the Kingdom of Satan’ and accused the Talmud of ‘teaching of contempt’.”
As for the “Kingdom of Satan”, Beirich (deliberately, I believe), did not tell her readers the context in which this is said.
In the 2003 article, which was on the attack against the Oberammergau Passion Play by certain Jewish groups, I quoted Saint Augustine’s doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, reiterated by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical against Freemasonry. Augustine and Leo teach that the world is divided into two camps, the Kingdom of God to the contempt of man, and the kingdom of man to the contempt of God. The kingdom of man is ultimately the kingdom of Satan.
Those who are baptized and live the life of sanctifying grace are part of the Kingdom of God, and those who reject Christ and live outside of His Grace are part of the kingdom of Satan. Muslims, Jews and all non-Catholics, according to the defined dogma of the Catholic Church, are, in the objective order, not part of the kingdom of God and are therefore part of the kingdom of Satan. There is no third alternative. The eminent American theologian Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton reiterated this truth in the pages of the American Ecclesiastical Review. The SPLC, however, does not give the full context, but merely limits it to “Jews”, as if the denouncement of Jews is all that traditional Catholics live for. Again, skewed and selective journalism on Beirich's part.
As for the Talmud containing “teaching of contempt”, this is admitted by Jews as well.
First of all, the term “teaching of contempt” was coined by the Jewish historian Jules Isaac in the 1940s as a derogatory term against the Catholic doctrine that Jews will not find salvation unless they convert to Christ and His Church. This, in fact, is the teaching of Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ that Isaac finds contemptible. Our Lord said, “He who is not with Me is against Me”, and “He who believes and is baptized will be saved, He who does not believe will be condemned.”
In describing the Talmud, I purposely used the term “teaching of contempt” to emphasize that this Jewish holy book contains contemptible teachings against Jesus Christ. Israel Shahak, an Israeli Jew, born in Poland, incarcerated for four years in Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp during World War II, lived in Palestine from 1945 until his death in 2001. His 1994 book, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, speaks openly about the Talmud’s anti-Christian teachings. Mr. Shahak writes:
“It must be admitted at the outset that the Talmud and Talmudic literature … contains very offensive statements and precepts directed specifically against Christianity. For example, in addition to a series of scurrilous sexual allegations against Jesus, the Talmud states that His [Jesus’] punishment in hell is to be immersed in boiling excrement, a statement not exactly calculated to endear the Talmud to devout Christians. Or one can quote the precept according to which Jews are instructed to burn, publicly if possible, any copy of the New Testament that comes into their hands. (This is not only still in force, but actually practiced today: thus on March 23, 1980 hundreds of copies of the New Testament were publicly and ceremonially burned in Jerusalem under the auspices of Yad Le’ akham, a Jewish religious organization subsidized by the Israeli Ministry of Religions.)
“… The Edito Princeps of the complete Code of Talmudic Law, Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah [is] replete with the most offensive precepts against all Gentiles but also with explicit attacks on Christianity and on Jesus (after whose name the author adds piously, “May the name of the wicked perish) …” (pp. 20-21).
I published this quotation in the 2003 article that Ms. Beirich refers to, but she never mentioned it. Only certain kinds of “hate crimes” are worthy of her censure. Nor did she report that caveat I wrote in the same article regarding the Talmud and the average Jew:
“I am aware that the average Jew on the street probably does not know about the severe anti-Christian teachings in the Talmud. I am virtually certain that many of them would be scandalized if they learned of these tenets. Even Rabbi Drach, of the 19th Century, said that certain Talmudic passages made him ‘blush with shame’. Thus I am not trying to incite hostility against the average Jew on the street, nor would it be fair to do so. But I do have a quarrel with the Jewish leaders of the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith who are certainly not ignorant of these anti-Christ, Talmudic teachings. Yet all the while, these same Jewish leaders accuse Catholics of a ‘teaching of contempt’, and muscle in to tell us what we may or may not say when depicting the Passion and Death of Our Lord; and what we may or may not say within our own Catholic liturgy, and in Catholic classrooms.”
Thus, the SPLC purposely uses pot-boiler rhetoric to denigrate its enemies, and studiously omit quotations that disprove its claim.
5) Never present an honest depiction of those whom you wish to smear.
A former Communist who converted to Catholicism once told Bishop Fulton J. Sheen that the most accurate definition he ever read of Communism was contained in Pope Pius XI’s 1937 Encyclical against Communism. Likewise Modernists of the early 20th century would tell their initiates that if they wanted to fully understand the Modernist system, read Pope Saint Pius X’s encyclical against Modernism.
The Catholic Church always presented in its teaching a clear and accurate exposition of the doctrine that it set out to condemn. The Church did this without emotional and pot-boiler rhetoric, but with fairness and precision. This is the opposite approach from that of SPLC hucksters who construct a false image of whomever they wish to smear, and never present his full system of beliefs or try to understand his motives for action.
It is not hard to explain the thinking and actions of traditional Catholics. For example, an honest critic would explain that traditional Catholics oppose today’s interreligious ecumenism, because it contradicts the defined doctrine, “no salvation outside the Church”, and because today’s form of ecumenism was explicitly condemned by the perennial magisterium of the Church, summarized in Pope Pius XI’s encyclical, Mortalium Animos.
An honest critic could also explain with ease the reason traditional Catholics resist change in doctrine. It is a perennial Catholic truth that doctrine cannot change, no more than the formula “two plus two equals four” can change. Objective truth is immutable.
Aside from this, there is the infallible definition of Vatican I that Catholics must always believe everything that the Church always taught “in the same meaning and in the same explanation”, that no updating or change of doctrine can be made “in the name of a deeper understanding”, and that not even the Pope has the power to change Catholic doctrine. This is all laid out infallibly in Vatican I’s Dei Filius and Aeterni Patris. Yet the SPLC does not even try to explain why the traditional Catholic thinks and acts the way he does. Rather, Heidi Beirich, Mark Potok and those at the SPLC ignore the basic decencies justice demands. Rather, they smear, smear, smear. In truth, it is they who are the real hate-mongers.
6) Raise millions by claiming you are saving the world from hate groups.
The SPLC was founded in 1971 by millionaire and direct-marketing whiz Morris Dees. Neither he nor the SPLC enjoys an unsullied reputation.
• USA Today (8/3/96) quoted Stephen Bright of Atlanta’s Southern Center for Human Rights who said Dees “is a fraud who has milked a lot of very wonderful, well-intentioned people. If it’s got headlines, Dees is there.”
• Morris Dees’ yearly salary is colossal. For the year that ended October 2005, SPLC paid Dees $297,559 in salary and pension plan contributions. (Organization Trends)
• Organization Trends (11/2006) summarized the SPLC as follows: “Obsessed with fundraising, the fabulously wealthy Southern Poverty Law Center exaggerates the scope of racism in the United States to frighten donors into opening their wallets. SPLC is nominally a public interest law firm, but it spends little on actual litigation. Instead, it uses politically skewed definitions of racism to indoctrinate children while smearing conservatives who question racial preference programs.”
• Harpers Magazine (11/2000) reported the statement of Millard Farmer, a leading anti-death penalty lawyer and former partner of Dees. Farmer said Dees “is the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker of the Civil Rights Movement, though I don’t mean to malign Jim and Tammy Faye.”
• The Washington Times (2/9/01) said, “The Southern Poverty Law Center, which sounds like the hide-out of a noble band of warriors against hate crimes and other racial wrongs, is actually a fund-raising scheme that could teach televangelists a thing or two.”
7) Trample underfoot the Eighth Commandment.
The SPLC is allegedly out to defend Jews, yet most people readily associate Jews with the first Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, Moses and the Ten Commandments. The Eighth Commandment states clearly, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center tramples this holy Commandment into dust through its publication of falsehoods, half-truths, and odious rhetoric against those whom it wishes to demonize. This disdain for the Eighth Commandment is a mortal sin that sends the soul to hell. It appears that those at the SPLC do not believe in mortal sin, and think themselves above a Biblical injunction in force since the days of Moses.
Much more could be said about the SPLC report, but what is written suffices to demonstrate the SPLC as a dishonest critic that seeks to malign its opponents, and will employ hate-monger tactics to achieve its ends.
Shortly after Our Lord’s Resurrection, Saul of Taursus persecuted the early Christians. The Christians prayed fervently for someone to answer Saul, and Our Lord responded by sending Ananias to answer Saul. Heaven did not condemn him, but converted him into the most zealous proponent of Our Lord’s sacred teaching.
By some miracle, may those at the Southern Poverty Law Center be touched with an extraordinary grace to convert that organization from an opponent of the doctrine of Christ to its defender. Some may consider this a preposterous prayer, since indeed it takes a miracle to convert those of ill will. At the birth of Christ, the Angels did not say, “Peace on earth, good will to men,” but “Peace to men of good will.” Nonetheless, we may still pray that the Immaculate Heart of Mary converts the hearts of those who calumniate us and defame Catholicism.
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