I Am Personally Coming To Take Your Rosary Away
I, Tony Ginocchio, am going to literally drive to your house and physically remove all rosaries from it.
"Maybe you'll make it/
To the far side of the hill/
Maybe you will see me coming/
But I don't think you will."
-The Mountain Goats
"Gonna jab you in the eye with a foreign object/
I personally will stab you in the eye with a foreign object."
-This is also The Mountain Goats
Based on what I write about and who it resonates with, I think it's a safe bet that every person who reads this newsletter has, at some point, felt uncomfortable in the Catholic church, felt that their church did not want them in it, felt that they weren’t even clear what the hell they were still doing in the church anyways. I've only experienced this at simplest, easiest level: I have felt like I don't belong in the Catholic church because of what I believe about who deserves dignity and respect, and what my moral obligations are to those people. For example, maybe you marched with Black Lives Matter and then saw the president of the bishops' conference openly denounce Black Lives Matter as an enemy of the church, and you wondered what the hell you were even doing in the Catholic church. Maybe you felt that you needed to revisit the history of how black and brown people have been treated in this country, but then saw a very prominent bishop denounce that thinking as "vile" or "repugnant", and you wondered what the hell you were even doing in the Catholic church. Maybe you gave money to the Trevor Project to help protect queer kids, only to see bishops rewrite their own policies based on the assumptions that queer kids were made wrong, and you wondered what the hell you were even doing in the Catholic church. Maybe you thought the election wasn't stolen because you had a basic capacity to tell fantasy and reality apart, and then you saw bishops openly support the Stop The Steal movement, and you wondered what the hell you were even doing in the Catholic church. You wondered what the hell you were even doing in the Catholic church, in a church that disagreed with you, pretty loudly, on multiple issues that struck you as pretty important, morally speaking, and you wondered if there was any reason you were still sticking around and calling yourself Catholic other than spite.
Still, I have experienced the easiest, simplest, most stripped-down version of this feeling. Yes, I have felt like my church didn't want me to be a member, but that was only because of the things I thought, not who I was. I'm still a guy, still white, still straight, which means that the Catholic church may disagree with me on a lot of stuff, but they never told me I was made wrong, or existed on a lower tier from other people. But all of those actions by the bishops that I just described targeted plenty of people who are also in the church. If you're a woman, or a person of color, or not straight, or not cis, you probably have felt the message "you do not matter to us", coming directly at you, from the leadership of the church.
Here's an illustrative example. Take this guy:
That radish-shaped man is Mike Braun, he's a practicing Catholic and current Republican US Senator representing Indiana. Earlier this year, Braun expressed his view that the Supreme Court Loving v Virginia decision should be overturned, and states should be able to ban interracial marriage. He's been asked clarifying questions on his view multiple times since, and every time he has confirmed that, yes, he thinks the legality of interracial marriage is something that should be decided at the state level, and that states should in fact have the power to pass laws banning interracial marriage if they see fit. The least charitable reading of Braun's comments is "I am a racist and I don't think the bloodlines should mix and dilute the purity of the white race". The most charitable reading of Braun's comments is "I need votes from people who are racist and don't think the bloodlines should mix and dilute the purity of the white race" which is, morally, not really any better and, materially, identical.
"Braun is a Catholic. Yet, unlike in 2020 when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — another Catholic — criticized Saint Damien of Molokai, no emergency response videos to Braun’s comments were forthcoming this month from prominent bishops like Robert Barron. Indeed, no statements were made by any Catholic clergy with a national profile or office. But here I was—a Black Catholic, the product of an interracial marriage, now in my own interracial marriage—targeted by a “pro-life” champion. (Braun has an A+ rating from the Susan B Anthony List.)...in the name of overturning Roe, a White Catholic US Senator is implying it is not possible to overturn Roe and preserve Loving v. Virginia (the case ruling that said interracial marriage bans are unconstitutional). At what point will the Catholic Church realize that its current political posture is demanding that Black people co-sign their self-destruction in order to be considered orthodox members of the community? In what world can they expect us to stay for that?...what spiritual nourishment is left for us to eat in a Church that counts Braun as a member in good standing? To cheer me up, some have pointed out that people like Braun are not “real Catholics”, but we will not be able to move forward until we as a Church accept that the Brauns in the Church are the ones with the power to shape it and its national politics. Pretending otherwise doesn’t help.”
Gundersen, understandably, felt as though the church didn't want him as a member, because a prominent Catholic senator suggested that interracial marriage shouldn't be a right, and absolutely nobody in the Catholic hierarchy, who loves pushing back against Catholic politicians, pushed back against that senator. The Catholic church is telling Gundersen, through their silence, that he's just not very important to them. Gundersen writes for a Black Catholic media outfit and is a member of the Knights of Peter Claver, a lay fraternal organization for Black Catholics - he's done way more for Catholicism than I have - and he doesn't always feel at home in his own church, because his church doesn't see any value in his race or his marriage, and thinks that Gundersen is perfectly acceptable cannon fodder if they can get more politicians who support legislative restrictions on abortion. There are plenty of Catholics who feel the same way that Gundersen does, and it is a huge problem that the church is fine with them feeling this way.
And here's another huge problem: Braun - who said these things, went to Mass that weekend, and probably told himself he was totally crushing the Catholic politician thing - has never felt like this. Steve Bannon has never felt like this. Michael Flynn has never felt like this. Kellyanne Conway has never felt like this. Abby Johnson has never felt like this. Steve King, who got kicked off of Congressional committees because he was too openly racist even for the Republican party, has never felt like this. The institutional Catholic church, through their public statements, policies, and political advocacy, is great at making large groups of people feel unwelcome. They do it all of the time. But one group of people that they do not make feel unwelcome are white nationalists and white supremacists. In fact, it seems like the institutional church takes great pains to ensure that white nationalists and white supremacists never feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in the church.
This is not a new observation, I wrote about it a lot two years ago. One of the recent events that illustrated this reality very vividly was when, in response to a 2019 mass shooting by a white supremacist, the bishops got together to draft a pastoral letter on racial justice titled “Open Wide Our Hearts”. During the process of drafting and publishing the letter, they basically made every imaginable misstep and then several additional missteps that nobody imagined. They couldn’t agree, while writing the letter, whether Confederate flags might be a symbol of hate. After publishing the letter, the large majority of bishops did nothing to follow up on it or implement it in their diocese, as if to say “got the letter out, guess that fixed racism”. And of course - this one really isn’t great - the communications director for the bishops’ conference, at the time the letter was being written, was an open white supremacist that the bishops eventually had to fire because she kept posting “I’m an open white supremacist” on Twitter. All of that happened before the massive protests against racial injustice in summer 2020, when we got to see just how quickly the bishops were willing to condemn property damage and mean words said about cops while still making clear that the Black Lives Matter movement was fundamentally opposed to Catholicism.
If you are Catholic and you believe that queer people should have rights, or that black people shouldn’t be surprise-executed by the state, or that anyone other than Donald Trump should be in charge of running the world, you have to navigate this tension every day. You have to answer with “I’m Catholic, but to be clear…” if your religion ever comes up in conversation. You have to hear these terrible bishops say terrible things and, best-case scenario, roll your eyes five times a day. You have to wrestle with whether you really belong here, or if there’s some sort of easier option for you, one run by people who value what you think and who you are as a human, and don’t think your extermination is a good price to pay for overturning Roe v Wade. That navigation is easier to do on some days than it is on others, but the tension is always there.
But if you are a Catholic and you believe that you should take your AR-15 and massacre a bunch of people because they don’t look like you and you need to preserve the purity of the white race, you do not have this tension in your relationship with the church. The institutional church, in the decisions it makes, clearly communicates every day that it thinks there are people out there far worse than you, and that the last thing that the institutional church wants to do is make you feel uncomfortable. As Eric Martin very memorably put it in August 2020:
“The Catholic Church, once persecuted by the Ku Klux Klan, today has a visible white-power faction. As long as the bishops actively refuse to condemn its banners, they give white supremacists space to embrace their anti-Black and anti-Semitic work free of religious dissonance…The threat is that the Catholic Church harbors a culture sufficiently friendly to white nationalism that people can comfortably embrace both the faith and the most extreme forms of racial hatred. As long as Catholics can be found in neo-Nazi groups, as long as Atomwaffen members can dub themselves Catholicwaffen or receive Communion after murdering Jewish people, something in the church itself poses a concrete danger to Jews and people of color…neo-Nazis have more leeway to believe their white supremacist actions are done not in spite of Catholicism but in harmony with it.”
There are probably multiple reasons why the bishops act like this - the bishops’ current media diet, the church’s history as an institutional slaveholder and segregationist, Robert Barron trying to impress a YouTube bodybuilder he likes - and I obviously can’t say for sure what’s in the bishops’ heads, but there’s no reason or set of reasons for this I can imagine that would be “acceptable”. The bishops will circle the wagons, pool resources, donate millions of dollars, draft big national letters, to oppose “gay people getting rights” or “Democrats getting elected”. There is no meaningful material pressure from the bishops, on a fraction of the scale that we see on these other issues, to oppose white nationalism and white supremacy, and that is a choice. As long as the bishops continue to make that choice, white supremacists will continue to find a welcoming, comfortable, enriching community in the American Catholic church.
So I’ve come up with something.
I guess we can start here: There was a piece in The Atlantic last week on the extremely weird phenomenon of right-wing Catholic psychopaths talking about the rosary in the context of "combat" and "warfare" and putting rosaries in their AR-15 memes. Amateur militias, three-percenters, neo-Nazis, they love their rosary imagery, and they tie it very closely to their feelings about their guns that they’re planning to use to kill large groups of people.
Look, if you’ve read G.O.T.H.S. before, you know that we already did this. Rick Heilman has been selling rosaries in ammo cans for, I think, seven years now. Rugged Rosaries has been selling combat rosaries for a full decade. I'm not going to detail more “combat rosary” merch or memes here. The ties between traditionalist-Catholic branding and white nationalism have also been documented in other relatively mainstream publications before, and I'm not going to detail those ties more here.
Nor am I going to really detail the Twitter fallout when Fox News picked up the Atlantic piece and ran with “Atlantic op-ed claims Catholic rosary has become ‘an extremist symbol’”. But it played out how you would expect: every right-wing Catholic Twitter idiot and media outlet aggressively confirmed the thesis of the Atlantic piece by posting about how powerful their rosary-based prayer lives were and how that power was going to help them crush their enemies and how they kept their rosaries with their assault weapons and nobody was going to come take them away, and how we had to protect our rosaries from the regime because the regime knew it was our best weapon against evil, that there was a Catholic pogrom looming if we weren't vigilant1. If you want to see screenshots of these tweets, you can read this piece by Mark P. Shea where he documented a whole bunch of them.
This whole kerfuffle from last week is the kind of thing I try to write about a little less often than I used to. Op-ed columns don’t people’s really matter to people’s lives, fights on Twitter don’t really matter to people’s lives. One thing that I've tried to do in recent months, really for myself, is try to re-focus some of the conversations around people and issues in Catholicism, especially the bishops who run the church, in very material terms. In other words, it's not just about how bishops talk about abortion, it's about how they spend their actual money, and how that spending affects the health and lives of people seeking medical care. It's not just about the bishops spending too much time on social media, it's about how they actually treat their employees, what they pay them, what benefits they offer, and what they do to ensure their workplaces are safe. It's not just about a bishop using hateful rhetoric directed at queer people, it's about that bishop employing that rhetoric in his negotiations with his teachers' union to gut their benefits and protections, and what power that union has to stop him from doing that. The rhetorical and theological issues are important, but once I start talking about things you can see and touch, and people who can bleed and starve and die because of decisions that the church makes, it becomes easier for me to understand what the stakes really are for the church, and help me think through meaningful material responses besides saying "gee that's not very pro-life of you" again.
Twitter fights over “they’re coming for our rosaries” are not material issues, and they’re not coming from people who are in any way sincere; they’re coming from people like Taylor Marshall or Michael Voris or John-Henry Westen whose main job is not protecting your rosary, it’s getting old people to set up recurring payments. What is a material issue is the growing group of white nationalists who feel at home in the Catholic church as they constantly talk about shooting people, and this stupid Twitter fight has inspired me to come up with a small-scale material solution to start addressing the problem: to actually come for their rosaries. I just said the guys who were drumming up hysteria about that weren’t sincere, and they’re not, but that is a severe miscalculation on their part. They don't really believe that anyone is coming to take away your rosary, but somebody actually is. I am. Me. Tony Ginocchio. I am personally coming to take your rosary away. This will be my next big project to fix the Catholic church in America.
My plan is to identify everyone who is a violent little Catholic freak online, and then get in my Chevy Malibu that recently needed significant brake repairs, and then drive across the country to each of these people's houses, knock on their doors, and say "Hi, I'm Tony Ginocchio, I'm here as an official representative of the Catholic church, to take your rosary or rosaries away", and then walk into those homes and take them. That I won’t actually be acting “as an official representative of the Catholic church” seems like something they can realize after I’m gone. But I'm checking every dresser drawer, every jewelry box, every cabinet where tiny things are kept, and I'm going to get every single rosary that these guys own. I haven't decided what I'm going to do with them yet, I'll probably end up donating them somewhere, except the $159 bullet rosary which I'll likely put under my tire and back over repeatedly.
As I said, white nationalists feel comfortable in the Catholic church; they do not feel opposed or challenged or even mildly questioned by the people in the church with any meaningful power, they do not feel like they need to explain themselves, they do not wrestle with whether Catholicism is really the right home for them. We need to start by making them feel uncomfortable, by making them start to think “wait a second, it doesn’t seem like the church actually wants me here, if they’re sending this Tony guy to take away my rosary.” And they need to feel materially uncomfortable, there needs to be more than just rhetoric here, there needs to be a loss of something you can see and touch. In other words, they need to have their toys taken away. Specifically, taken away by me. By Tony Ginocchio, showing up at their homes to take them. And the "sorry, you made it weird, you can't have your toys anymore" approach seems to be a good and authentically Catholic solution since it is, obviously, modeled on Pope Francis' approach to the pre-Vatican-II Latin Mass.
To be clear, my plan - the plan where I am going to personally drive to these guys' houses and take their rosaries away - is to be polite about this. I'm not busting down the door going "GUESS WHAT ASSHOLE". I'm going to knock, introduce myself, explain what's happening, apologetically offer "hey, look, I'm sorry, but this has to be done, it's for your own good", and then politely but firmly make my way in to remove any and all rosaries in the house. I do the same thing when my toddler has to have a toy taken away because she's not being safe with it, and many of the men and women affected by my comprehensive Rosary Confiscation Program are almost as sharp as my toddler is, so there's a good chance they'll understand where I'm coming from.
Can I actually do this? Yeah sure, whatever. I can figure out how to take a sabbatical from work for a few weeks and ask my wife if I can borrow the car for a while. Twitter fights don’t change anything, but neither do Substack posts, so this is a chance for me to start doing something that more directly serves the church. I have enough authentic Catholic music to keep me busy on the drive: My Chemical Romance is back together and the new Mountain Goats album just dropped. I know what a rosary looks like so I can grab them quickly as I walk through everyone's houses. Gas is starting to get cheaper. And hey: as completely absurd as this all sounds, it’s still more than anything the actual church is doing.
Without checking, I’m guessing at least five people tweeted the gif of Theodin in Lord Of The Rings saying “so it begins…”