Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Euteneuer Story: Right-Wing Catholic Websites in Uproar Over Pro-Life Priest's Confession

The story about Fr. Thomas Euteneuer just continues to get stranger and stranger.  And here’s one of the strangest aspects: it seems to have broken—it exploded wide open—on right-wing Catholic websites first of all.  Which is to say, on the websites of those for whom Euteneuer has been a hero until recently.  That in itself is a big story, it seems to me.  When folks of the political and religious right finally turn on one of their own, they almost always do so only after they’ve accumulated incontrovertible evidence of his or her betrayal of their trust.  Unlike their counterparts on the left, folks on the political and religious right are not in the habit of creating circular firing squads to assassinate each other.  They stick together and save their fire for the enemy.  

But when they do finally turn on one of their own, they usually do so with a vengeance.  And so what I’ve been reading on some of the websites of the Catholic right in the past day or so, after having learned of Euteneuer’s confession, is hair-raising.  Euteneuer’s confession about his “violations” of chastity is here, by the way, at Lifesite news.  This link was embedded in yesterday’s article at Right Wing Watch to which my posting last evening links.

I don’t spend a lot of time on the websites of the Catholic right (or the religious right in general) because, to be frank, there’s a lot meanness on them.  Many of them bubble with vitriol and spite.  And frequent encounters with that kind of meanness—the particularly livid kind fueled by unquestioned belief in one’s own religious uprightness—can quickly corrode the soul.  Since I already have reasons aplenty in my own life to ward against corrosion of the soul, I don’t go looking for new ones.

And then there’s the—well, plain stupidity—of some of these websites and their theological prescriptions and proscriptions, which tend to be as devoid of thought as they are of humanity.  And which contain paragraphs like the following (this in a recent posting commenting on Euteneuer’s case):

Unrepentant sin turns your soul into a magnet for diabolical spirits. The Rosary, the Crucifix and a state of grace is the repellent.

Honestly, I don’t know whether the childish, magical theology in that paragraph offends me more, or the subject-verb agreement error.  Best to stay away from these sites and try in that way to keep the demon of snark inside me ill-fed.

It’s important in the case of the Euteneuer story, however, to take a peek at what’s bubbling furiously these days on right-wing Catholic websites, I think.  I recommend this because there are important pieces of the story on these sites that add valuable context to Euteneuer’s published confession yesterday.  Pieces from Euteneuer’s former cronies which suggest that there may well be more to the story than he himself is telling in his confession.

In what follows (and in a subsequent follow-up posting), I want to bring to readers’ attention a sampling of statements about the Euteneuer case from recent reactionary Catholic blogs, where the story appears to have been breaking for some days now.  In fact, it appears that the choice of some blogs maintained by former admirers of Euteneuer to begin breaking his story is precisely what precipitated his published confession yesterday.

As I offer these links to various Catholic blog and news sites, I want to underscore that this is an important story.  The Euteneuer story is important for the following reasons:

1.    Euteneuer has been an important figure in American Catholicism up until recently, a major player in the powerful right-wing sector of the American Catholic church which exercises growing influence over the direction now being taken by the entire Catholic church in the U.S.

Google the terms “Euteneuer” and “EWTN,” and you’ll get 64 pages of hits.  Fr. Euteneuer has been all over that major Catholic network for some years now, a network regarded by many Catholics and non-Catholics as the official voice of the U.S. Catholic church, whose founder Mother Angelica last year received the top honor the pope can offer lay or religious Catholics, the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal.  You name the topic in the past decade, and Euteneuer has been on EWTN talking about it— pontificating about exorcism and peddling his book on that topic; broadcasting homilies about the Terri Schiavo case; celebrating EWTN Masses; chatting with Raymond Arroyo, Life on the Rock team Fr. Mark and Doug Barry, and EWTN radio talk host Barbara McGuigan.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, vis-à-vis Fr. Euteneuer’s media visibility and connections.  As I noted yesterday, he’s been on FOX news to go toe to toe with Sean Hannity, representing himself as the official voice of the Catholic church on issues like whether married Catholics practicing contraception should be denied communion.  He’s had feature articles in the Legionaries of Christ-owned newspaper National Catholic Register (which EWTN has just bought).  In 2005, the Catholic lay group Legatus awarded Euteneuer its distinguished John O’Connor Award for Life.  And as Loma O’Connor notes in a Palm Beach Post article* yesterday, Euteneuer himself says that in the last ten years, he has he traveled more than 1.1 million miles, visited 58 countries, and made thousands of public appearances to spread his version of the Catholic message. 

This is a man of great prominence who has had entrée in the most influential circles of the American Catholic church, and who has been lionized by those circles.  What he is now revealing is a big deal, because it implicates all of those influential circles and not merely himself.  Media superstars are our own creation: Euteneuer is, to certain extent, what we in the American Catholic church have wrought in the past decade, and the mirror he holds up to us now ought to show us who we have become, to a great extent, in the past decade.  The picture is not pretty.

2.    This is a big story, as well, because the group that Euteneuer headed for a decade, Human Life International, is a right-wing Catholic political activist group with strong influence both in American political life and around the world.  As the Reality Check website’s  overview of HLI notes, the organization holds training conferences and sponsors “pro-life missionary trips” around the world.  The HLI website claims it has trained activists in 160 countries, through these missionary trips.  It has 59 satellite offices in 51 nations, and is considered one of the largest anti-family planning organizations in the world.  

For a number of decades now, with strong but not always easily tracked funding sources, this organization has bombarded nations around the world with pamphlets and media materials promoting its peculiar version of Catholic pro-life teaching, which regards contraception as a kind of gateway drug leading to abortion and a "culture of death."  Rather than diminishing abortions, HLI teaches women in nations throughout the world to think, contraception fosters abortion and is in and of itself as anti-life as is abortion itself.  By preventing unwanted pregnancies, we are, in some magical-mystical universe of belief inhabited by these folks, increasing abortions.

3.    Finally, the Euteneuer story is a big story because, as I’ve previously noted, this is a story that has broken first on the websites of individuals and groups formerly strongly allied to Euteneuer and strongly supportive of Human Life International.  When sources like this—friends—begin to speak out about an individual who has formerly been held in almost godlike esteem in their circles, it behooves us to listen.  We need to listen because when former allies and friends begin providing information to fill in a hazy and ambiguous picture about spectacularly unprincipled behavior on the part of someone whose career has been built around preaching principles to others, you can be sure we're hearing accurate information.  And necessary information, if we want a complete picture of what's going on.

Finally, it's important to hear this testimony right now, because it's entirely possible that some of it will now begin to be scrubbed from various websites and publications, as various groups seek now to disguise the strong ties they've had up to now with Euteneuer and HLI.  I've already found one instance in which I think such scrubbing has taken place recently, and will report on that in my next posting.

And that posting will provide readers with a smorgasbord of links to Catholic websites I've read in the past day, commenting on the Euteneuer story and its implications.  As you'll see when I point you to these sites, they've already been discussing this story for some days now, and it's apparent that what Euteneuer chose to reveal in his confession yesterday is a response to what is circulating on these websites--and is rather more damning than what he chose to reveal, if the sources cited on these sites are speaking truthfully.

*H/t to my wonderful e-friend Kathy Hughes, who provided this article.

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