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‘The Atlantic’ publishes article on the rosary as symbol of far-right, violent extremism

Zelda Caldwell   By Zelda Caldwell for CNA

A woman holding a rosary prays Oct. 1, 2018, at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Beijing. (CNS photo/Isaac Brekken, EPA)

Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2022 / 16:06 pm (CNA).

An article published Sunday in The Atlantic magazine suggests the rosary has become a symbol of violent, right-wing extremism in the United States.

The article set off a frenzy of reactions among Catholics, ranging from amusement to grave concern over what some see as anti-Catholic sentiment.

The magazine later changed the article’s headline from “How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol” to “How Extremist Gun Culture is Trying to Co-Opt the Rosary.” Among other edits to the text, an image of bullet holes forming the shape of rosary was replaced with a picture of a rosary.

The graphic shows changes made to the article by editors of 'The Atlantic' after publication.
The graphic shows changes made to the article by editors of ‘The Atlantic’ after publication.

These editorial changes, nonetheless, left the article’s thesis that there is a connection between the rosary and extremism intact. The author’s contention was based, in part, on his observations about the use of the rosary on social media and rosaries sold online.

“The rosary has acquired a militaristic meaning for radical-traditional (or “rad trad”) Catholics,” writes Daniel Panneton of the sacramental used in prayer by Catholics for centuries.

“Militia culture, a fetishism of Western civilization, and masculinist anxieties have become mainstays of the far right in the U.S.—and rad-trad Catholics have now taken up residence in this company,” writes Panneton, whose article includes three links to Roman Catholic Gear, an online shop that sells rosaries.

He describes photos of rosary beads “made of cartridge casings, and complete with gun-metal-finish crucifixes,” along with warrior-themed memes and content catering to 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 looks to me like the guy who is politicizing the rosary and treating it as a weapon in the culture war is … Daniel Panneton. I know nothing about the guy other than what he says in the article. I hadn’t heard of him before. Although it’s hard to miss the classic anti-Catholic tropes in the piece, perhaps he isn’t actually a bigot. Maybe he just overwrought and needs to take an aspirin or two and lie down for a while.”

Chad Pecknold, theology professor at Catholic University of America, told CNA the publication of the article points to a “theo-political” conflict in the culture.

“The politically elite core in left-liberal media hate Western civilization and they mean to topple every natural and supernatural sign of it. That’s why it’s not sufficient to simply run a piece on right-wing gun cultures, but they must tie it to something which is theologically central to the civilization they feel most threatens their progressive ziggurat. It’s a sign of the theo-political conflict which now grips us; even still, they severely underestimate the power of Our Lady to reign victorious over evil,” Pecknold said.

Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, OP, a Dominican priest of the Province of St. Joseph, told CNA, “The article is a long-running stream of inaccuracies, logical fallacies, and distortions.”

The author, he said, fails to understand that “the notion of ‘spiritual combat’ has been with the Church from time immemorial.  Recall that a traditional view of Confirmation is that it made one a ‘soldier for Christ.'”

“The problem is that The Atlantic does not seem to understand what metaphor means.  In no wise, does the notion of rosary as ‘combat’ imply physical violence,” Pietrzyk added.

On Twitter, Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, OP, responded to the article with a photo of white-robed two friars wearing their traditional rosary beads around their waists. “ WARNING: The image below contains rosaries,” read the caption.

Novelist and essayist Walter Kirn commented that The Atlantic article itself serves as an example of “extremism.”

Eduard Habsburg, Hungary’s Ambassador to the Holy See, responded by conceding the rosary is indeed a weapon —  used for centuries against evil:

Catholic beliefs seen as extreme

Panneton makes it clear in his article that it’s not just about the rosary.

In the course of his argument, he refers to Catholic beliefs as evidence of “extremism.”

He sees extreme views on masculinity in the Catholic faith. He writes: “The militarism also glorifies a warrior mentality and notions of manliness and male strength. This conflation of the masculine and the military is rooted in wider anxieties about Catholic manhood.”

“But among radical-traditional Catholic men, such concerns take an extremist turn, rooted in fantasies of violently defending one’s family and church from marauders,” he continues.

The Church’s defense of the right to life of the unborn is also evidence of ties to right-wing extremists, according to Panneton.

“The 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 what are basic Catholic positions on the nature of the Church, Christian morality, and the like, and posit 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 by the 16th century, is a form of prayer based on meditations on the life of Christ. The beads are a tool to help keep track of prayers that are recited before and the meditations.

Since 1571, popes have urged Catholics to pray the rosary. In doing so they have often employed military terms for these prayer “weapons.”  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 pray it in hopes that “the enemies of the divine name (…) may be finally bent and led to penance and return to the straight path, trusting to the care and protection of Mary.”

More recently, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have recommended the rosary as a powerful spiritual tool.


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39 Comments

  1. FYI – I wear a Rosary around my neck made of paracord and have for a few years. Prior to that I wore a replica of the Rosary issued to troops in WW1 – Google ‘Rugged Rosaries’.

    Just when I dare to hope that people CAN’T get ANY dumber, someone like this comes along and – effortlessly – proves me wrong.

    Again

    Sigh

    • Addendum – To my c.v. I can now add the title “extremist” to stand proudly next to the original title of “deplorable”.

      The honors just keep adding up, and originally I thought that “old coot” was as high as I could go.

      Life is good

  2. Let’s face it, Christ was an extremist. The truth is that if you’re a traditional, orthodox Catholic, you’re extremist. Attending Mass, praying the rosary, going to Eucharistic adoration, serving the poor and the homeless and preaching Christ crucified for our sins are all the actions of extremists.

    By the way, I’m not going to play your game, Satan.

    • Attendees at TRADITIONAL CATHOLIC LATIN MASS on the feast day of the Assumption heard the first reading from the 1962 Roman Missal the “Lesson” of Judith, 13:22-25; 15:10. The OT Judith mystically prefigures the Blessed Virgin Mary.

      Mary most assuredly strikes and will continue to strike at satan’s head while all he can do is aim at the heel of her seed. Praying the Rosary is like putting holy water on a fire, and satan’s friends in the liberal unGodly secular world despise it because it hurts them while it helps Mary and her friends.

      No matter how worrisome, frightening, or desperate worldly events appear to the unaided human eye (without fullness of faith or grace or trust in Him and Mary), those who trust in Him and in her Immaculate Heart will see the glory of God and its reflection in her. Without fear, worry or desperation and no matter the apparent chaos.

  3. The ‘left’ is spoiling for a fight. My weapon is the Rosary; I’m ready for them.
    Bring it on!

    Jesus I Trust In You

    • Well said! Our Blessed Mother’s Rosary has won many battles launched against her Son throughout history.It is our decisive answer to the “War of Wokeness” now being waged against her Son today.

  4. Of course Catholic beliefs are seen as extreme by the immoral wing of our society. Imagine believing that a child is a human being at conception? Imagine believing that treating other humans as less is acceptable? Imagine believing that the individual can determine his/her own sex/gender? Imagine being proud of taking God’s place (PRIDE)? The list is endless in our culture. But, wait, Joe Biden touts his “devout Catholicism” by bringing the rosary out of his pocket when the situation warrants, especially when defending the murder of babies in the womb. Imagine being a hypocrite . . .

  5. Nothing could be a better putdown of The Atlantic piece than Fr. Aquinas’s photo quip warning viewers about images of rosaries. If the rosary is being abused, aggressive marketing for profit by sellers would be the prime cause.
    Perhaps The Atlantic should follow this piece up with an expose on how bad it is for anyone to walk the now popular El Camino de Santiago de Compestela pilgrimage route in Spain because in medieval times St. James was turned into the patron saint of bloodthirsty warriors against the infidel Moors. Even as late as the 1700s,the standard battle cry for Spanish soldiers and mercenaries was simply called “the Santigo.”

  6. Atlantic Mag represents, ideologically, the direction of the Church, apparent in Vat policy of secularization. Any identification with Apostolic tradition and the permanence of moral precepts, traditional forms of devotion fall under radical right wing Catholicism resistant to change.
    This is exactly parallel to the present political Administration and its policy of identifying any criticism of its policies, election results as radical and dangerous threat to democracy deserving of investigation and prosecution by the Justice Dept.
    That the Vatican seems content with the current Administration and its leadership, particularly approval of faux Catholicism practiced by Catholic politicians spells, persecution of faithful Catholics. With persecution our sincere faith will be strengthened, our witness rewarded by Christ at judgment. Keep praying those rosaries and stand fast in witness to the Christ of Apostolic tradition.

  7. This article (The Atlantic’s article) strikes me as very strange. The rosary is in the headline but it takes a back seat to plain right wing bashing. It’s basically a long string of assertions with no links to actual examples, only links to other spurious news articles. And who is this author?? He has no credentials whatsoever. This was either a ploy to boost The Atlantic’s media presence, or it’s a trash piece from some nobody with a grudge against the Church.

    • “This was either a ploy to boost The Atlantic’s media presence, or it’s a trash piece from some nobody with a grudge against the Church.”

      Yes. My reading is that it is both. The Atlantic, not many years ago, was a decent and often good source of news and commentary. Not so much anymore.

    • Publications like The Atlantic are trying to attract attention & remain relevant in an increasingly online world. So, they feature this sort of drive by article. It’s a shame.

  8. When we think that the radical left wing press, it continually strains to plumb the depths. The Atlantic collapses (a shameless sheet) as a servant to cultural Marxism and the politically correct.

    Prayer never is amiss.

  9. Just when you think the left cannot spew any worse unhinged hatred based on NOTHING, you get something like this. The pure lies and fantasy presented as fact is so typical of Marxist group-think. Very sad to find it growing in acceptance in the US. This is in fact why they want to control and expunge REAL American history, control the schools,and detach parent’s legal rights over their kids.( FBI investigating those “threatening” parents, anyone??) That they were able, with the help of hapless higher clergy, to shutter our churches for months due to covid, must have whet their appetite to do this more frequently, or even permanently. What better way to suppress moral teaching? Whether the accusation is based on spread of disease, “Racism ” or “sexism”,or the supposed suppression of womens’ “reproductive care”, they are working like busy vermin to find a way to devalue the church and make it look subversive and violent. . Articles like this one in the Atlantic helps to normalize the bogus accusations of potential church violence among the ill-educated left (of which we have too many) until it reaches general societal acceptance as a “fact”. You know, the “big lie”. Just keep repeating the same garbage over and over until people accept it as fact. Disgusting.

  10. Why react violently to the article in The Atlantic as if it referred to all Catholics? It’s clear when get to read the article itself that it simply referred to a tiny minority of Catholics who are whites, Christian nationalists, gun-loving, war freaks, and Rosary (as charm) carrying, and who believe in the fear, hate, and grievances fed to them by Trump. If you belong to this demographic group understandably you react as being offended in being handed a mirror for you to look on and be told the truth about who you are. If you are not in this demographic, then you should be grateful in being informed about how some fringe Catholics have become violently inclined extremists and sacrilegiously use the Rosary like an amulet. Pray for their conversion. You could even be like them in another sense when you dangle a rosary in your car’s center rear view mirror!

    • One problem (among many) with the piece is that uses an age-old tactic: it takes a small subset of folks and then, through repetition and insinuation, casts shade on any and all Catholics who take the Rosary, our Lady, and many other beliefs (especially morals) seriously. The author’s disdain for Catholicism is fairly obvious to me, but (again) he pretends to be doing readers a service by highlighting a vocal and hyperbolic fringe. It’s a typical form of pseudo-sophisticated elitism that clutches its precious secular pearls while the dominant secular culture is burning down and collapsing in so many obvious ways. Finally, there is this: “The theologian and historian Massimo Faggioli has described …” Anyone familiar at all with Faggioli knows that he is hyper-partisan, sloppy, and incredibly clueless about Catholicism in the U.S. The author could have found countless better commentators on this topic, who would have presented actual context and perspective.

      • The Rosary is the one piece of Catholicism that the Freemasonic Infiltrates didn’t get to corrupt. Bugnini had plans, of course, because the 1958 coupe d’état was spiritually and not merely politically motivated. Readers need directing to Fr Charles Theodore Murr’s wonderful book on the Gagnon Report years: Murder in the 33rd Degree.

    • Why be offended by the article? For the same reason I am offended by this comment, though it also doesn’t apply to me. It’s a fever dream straw man, made up for people to hate.

    • If as your signature implies, you are a priest, you are in the wrong profession, given the heated and unfounded accusations in your post. “Whites, Christian nationalists, gun-loving, war freaks…” etc.REALLY?? Not very Christian in sentiment, and totally untrue. I am not familiar with any “violently inclined extremists” attending daily Mass with me.Quite the contrary. I am however, very familiar with the fact that numerous churches are burned and otherwise vandalized and attacked each year, to the general shrug of the secular authorities. I am not concerned about “fringe” Catholics. I am concerned about the folks holding power on the left who appear to think its ok to rob people of their civil rights and then pretend they are not.As one conservative famously said, ” Dont pee on my shoe and tell me it’s raining.” Trump never fed his followers hate and fear and grievances. His enemies, including the media, did so constantly. If anything, he is a man who loved his country as many of us do, and made no bones about it.I have zero respect for those who riot, topple statues of our historical figures, erase our national history or distort the truth. That, of course, is a specialty of the Left. Trump supporters do not qualify. Finally Father, it was not Trump who closed our churches at EASTER and months thereafter, in a spasm of cowardly and unfounded fear. It was the left, most egregiously in blue states, who gleefully and dishonestly separated the people from their ability to worship. Exactly WHO is the bearer of hate here?? May be time for an honest examination of conscience.

  11. The author of the screed condemns Catholic men for being prepared to “violently” defend their families from attackers. Let that sink in for a minute. Resistance is not just futile, but also damnable.

  12. Amidst all of the (justifiable) rage at such a piece, methinks that one rather obvious truth must be stated – this dude is a SERIOUS MORON. He sets new standards for the word, one which I hope will never be exceeded, but, unfortunately, I’m probably wrong – somewhere out there I fear there lurks one who has in hsnd a freshly written degree in ‘What’s Happenin’ Studies from ‘Everything Is Groovy” University who aspires to the title ‘Moron +’ and he/she/it will stop at nothing to reach that plateau.

  13. A casual Internet search of the young man’s background reveals that he is described as a Canadian Toronto-based writer, a public historian, a museum worker and an online hate researcher. He is on the staff of the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre. The Atlantic’s editor in chief is Jeffrey Goldberg.

    • Oh dear. Comment sections never fail to disappoint.
      🙁
      It’s not just disappointing to read this but it casts CWR readers in a poor light. We can do better than this.

      • To be sure it is all quite disappointing, but is anything in my post untrue? I only reported what I turned up with an Internet search engine. But, of course, they’re hate facts, so self-appointed gatekeepers must take it upon themselves to squelch all discussion about them. Next time I go to confession, I’ll repent for the sin of noticing things. To round out the story on the Atlantic article since I gave the background of the author and named the editor, I’ll mention that the webzine is now owned by the very deep-pocketed widow of Steve Jobs, Laurene Powell Jobs. It is helpful to know who your enemies are, even if you would rather not.

        Imagine if a Christian editor of a respectable political journal commissioned a Christian writer to pen a similarly outrageous essay concerning Jews or Judaism. The former’s head would be on the chopping block immediately and the latter’s career as a writer, or even an online hate researcher, would be over just as fast. There is a double standard that everyone prefers to ignore but that eventually must be faced head-on while we still have any freedom left in the West.

  14. Since the day I was invested with the habit, I, like most religious who still wear the habit, have worn a rosary hanging from the cincture on the left side. Why the left side? Because that’s where knights and warriors wear their sword. The Rosary is the most powerful weapon. Only a fool isn’t in awe of its power. The enemies of Christ are right to fear it. And anyone who disparages the Rosary is an enemy of Christ.

  15. Growing up, my best friend was Jewish. I saw the horrible tattoo on her aunt and when I found out about the Holocaust I asked my dad (a Marine Colonel) to teach me to shoot. I took to heart, “NEVER AGAIN.” As an adult I converted to Catholicism and now I have my shooting skills and MORE POWERFULLY, MY ROSARY!! Yes, I AM an extremist and proud to be one. I am. SOLDIER of God.

    • Thirty years ago, a dear friend of ours was assaulted & strangled just outside her parish church. She was a small lady with no way to defend herself. Like you, I took that to heart & vowed I’d not become a victim. I carry a firearm for self-defense. Along with my rosary.
      I’m much more of a pacifist than anything else but self-defense & the defense of our families is an important right under the 2nd Amendment.

  16. Thank you Mr. Duplantier. The criminal who took our friend’s life I suppose deserved both of those weapons but they never caught him.
    Knowing there are people like that wandering around at large makes me more determined to protect myself and my family.

  17. “But I say to you: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. And pray for those who persecute and slander you.” Matthew 5:44

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