Father Moloney vs. the Cult of Woke

Progressivism is not an ideology, but a political religion. Black Lives Matter is not a political movement: it’s a secular cult.

I’m sure Crisis readers need no convincing on either point. But, should any doubts remain, consider the case of the Reverend Daniel Patrick Moloney.

Until June 9, Father Moloney served as Catholic chaplain for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. According to recent news reports, he came under fire for an email he sent to his flock on June 7 regarding the death of George Floyd while in police custody.

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In the most frequently-quoted passage, Father Moloney pointed out that Mr. Floyd “had not lived a virtuous life,” and that cops “deal with dangerous and bad people all the time, and that often hardens them.” He also remarked that, “In the wake of George Floyd’s death, most people in the country have framed this as an act of racism. I don’t think we know that. Many people have claimed that racism is a major problem in police forces. I don’t think we know that.”

Of course, activists at M.I.T. promptly called for the priest to be fired. They began circulating a form letter to the administration, urging “MIT leadership to take action against the Chaplain and his dangerous message.” Within two days, the Archdiocese of Boston released a statement announcing that it had asked Father Moloney to resign.

Responding to Father Moloney’s resignation in a statement, M.I.T.’s dean for student life, Dr. Suzy M. Nelson, called the priest’s email “deeply disturbing.” “By devaluing and disparaging George Floyd’s character,” she wrote, the priest “failed to acknowledge the dignity of each human being and the devastating impact of systemic racism—especially within the criminal justice system—on African Americans, people of African descent, and communities of color.”

In fact, Father Moloney did no such thing. But let’s take a look at the relevant paragraphs of his email, which are only now beginning to circulate, and which deserve to be quoted in full.

Here is the passage where Dr. Nelson claims that Father “disparages” the late Mr. Floyd:

It pains me not to be able to preach at a time like this. The Gospel says one thing, and everyone else is saying partial truths, at most. George Floyd was killed by a police officer, and shouldn’t have been. Yes, as some commentators have pointed out, he had not lived a virtuous life. He was convicted of several crimes, including armed robbery, which he seems to have committed to feed his drug habit. And according to two autopsies, he was high on drugs at the time of his arrest. But we do not kill such people. He committed sins, but as Christians we root for sinners to change their lives and convert to the Gospel. Catholics want all life protected from conception until natural death. The police officer who knelt on his neck until he died acted wrongly. Watching the video, I wondered, what he was thinking?! The charges filed against him allege dangerous negligence, but say nothing about his state of mind. He might have killed George Floyd intentionally, or not. He hasn’t told us. But he showed disregard for his life, and we cannot accept that in our law enforcement officers. It is right that he has been arrested and will be prosecuted. [emphasis added]

In other words, Father Moloney was pointing out that Mr. Floyd’s past conduct was dubious, only to emphasize the point that it doesn’t matter—that, whatever our misdeeds, we’re still made in the image and likeness of God, and that our life is prescious in His sight.

One never hears of a chaplain being yanked from his post for denying that Our Lady remained unstained by sin throughout her life, though I’ve encountered such chaplains firsthand. Yet, apparently, for a priest to say the same about George Floyd is enough for the Archdiocese of Boston to ask for his resignation.

Now, here’s the bit on police racism that M.I.T.’s grievance-mongers found to be so “dangerous”:

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, most people in the country have framed this as an act of racism. I don’t think we know that. Many people have claimed that racism is a major problem in police forces. I don’t think we know that. Police officers deal with dangerous and bad people all the time, and that often hardens them. They do this so that the rest of us can live in peace, but sometimes at a cost to their souls. Some of them certainly develop attitudes towards the people they investigate and arrest that are unjust and sinful. We should pray that never happens, but we can see how it does. Many parts of our country have been experiencing a five-year crime wave, providing some context for why the police are trained in aggressive tactics. In 2019, 150 police officers were killed in the line of duty by the violent men they were trying to arrest. That [that] number should be zero, we can all agree. But that context does not justify being overly aggressive—their public trust requires that they exercise great restraint. Criminals have human dignity, too. [emphasis added]

And that’s it. Those are the words that lost Father Moloney his post at M.I.T.

I remember when Candace Owens began her campaign to publicize Mr. Floyd’s (shall we say) moral shortcomings. “The fact that he has been held up as a martyr sickens me,” she said in an interview with Glenn Beck. “Was he really going to change things around? It’s just not true.” All of a sudden, ten thousand left-wing voices cried out together: That’s not the point!

For instance, Dahleen Glanton fired back at Ms. Owens by quoting Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As Ms. Glanton explains in her June 9 column for The Chicago Tribune,

King did not say injustice to any “perfect” person anywhere, because he knew that the most flawed among us often are the most vulnerable to social injustices.

He understood that perfection is illusive. He knew that those who opposed equality would use it as a standard for determining who is worthy of equal rights and who is not. King was certain that black people would always be held to a higher standard than whites, and that in the end, they always would be deemed undeserving…

This movement is about changing an imbalanced system that too often allows police to kill imperfect people like Floyd on a whim. And it is about ensuring that it does not continue to happen.

Now, I wonder: would anyone claim that Ms. Glanton was “disparaging” Mr. Floyd by acknowledging that he was “imperfect”? Of course not.

But why not? What’s the difference between Ms. Glanton’s column and Father Moloney’s email?

The difference is that Ms. Glanton was advancing The Narrative, while Father Moloney was not. \

Ms. Glanton is content to say that, regardless of any faults or failings (and we’ve all got them!), George Floyd deserved to be treated with fairness and compassion. He should be judged, not by any past misdeeds, but by the basic humanity he shares with all mankind. Father Moloney made the exact same point, only he had the audacity to suggest that the same fairness—the same basic humanity—be extended to America’s police officers, even those who err in the line of duty. He questioned whether America’s cops are so saturated in racial animus that they kill innocent black people like George Floyd “on a whim,” as Ms. Glanton put it.

Clearly, this debate is not about the facts. It’s not about consistency. It’s about The Narrative: that Mr. Floyd is a victim of systemic racism in the law enforcement profession. And so your words will be judged by that one single criterion: Does it advance The Narrative?

If not, then your voice must be silenced. It doesn’t matter if your claims are factual. It doesn’t matter if your arguments are logical. Facts are merely rhetorical devices, which are sometimes useful but often florid or decadent. And logic, of course, is a Western construct, as postmodernists have been arguing for half a century.

There are no facts. There is no logic. There is only The Narrative. And anything that contradicts The Narrative must be suppressed. That’s Cult Logic 101.

As for the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s nothing more than a front group for Marxism: the original secular cult, the ultimate political religion.

If you don’t believe me, ask their founders. A video recently resurfaced from 2015 of Patrisse Cullors explaining that BLM’s activities “actually do have an ideological frame. Myself and Alicia [Garza], in particular, we’re trained organizers. We are trained Marxists. We are super versed on ideological theories.” Ms. Cullors and Ms. Garza founded the Black Lives Matter movement together with Opal Tometi in 2013.

That the Black Lives Matter movement is a communist organization has long been obvious to anyone with eyes to see. The mission statement on BLM’s website proclaims: “We engage comrades with the intent to learn about and connect with their contexts.” It also vows to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.”

That’s how they’re able to assert so matter-of-factly that Officer Chauvin was motivated by racial animus, and that Mr. Floyd’s death was merely one example of “systemic racism” in law enforcement. What evidence do they have that Officer Chauvin is a racist? Should he not be presumed innocent until proven guilty? And shouldn’t that go for every police officer? Not from BLM’s perspective, no. Like all Marxists, they would dismiss the Anglo-American legal tradition—with its presumption of innocence, evidence-based reasoning, and right to a fair trial—as “bourgeois justice.” For, to Marxists, justice is whatever advances the Revolution, while an injustice is anything that retards it. Or, as Maurice Merleau-Ponty put it: “Bourgeois justice adopts the past as its precedent; revolutionary justice adopts the future.” So, America’s police officers are guilty of racism if it will help to bring about the Heaven-on-Earth of “social justice” that Black Lives Matter and their allies, Antifa, so fervently desire.

The Great and Powerful Woke is a jealous god, too. It forbids all rival deities and creeds. That’s why Black Lives Matter activists like Shaun King are now calling for the destruction of all images of Our Lord that depict Him as “white.” It’s why Hispanic activists are destroying images of Saint Junipero Serra, the patron saint of Hispanic Americans. In the pursuit of social justice, nothing is sacred. Everything is disposable.

I wonder: When Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso appeared at an anti-police demonstration on June 1 holding a handwritten sign that read, “Black Lives Matter,” did he know he was endorsing a cadre of disciplined far-left ideologues? When Bishops Roy Campbell and Mario Dorsonville of Washington, D.C., took part in a Black Lives Matter protest outside the White House on June 8, did they know they were joining calls for the abolition of marriage and parental rights? Do they know that their new “comrades” seek to destroy images of Catholic saints and heroes—even Christ and His Mother?

Are they fellow-travelers or just useful idiots?

“Racism is a sin, and Jesus conquers sin,” Father Moloney wrote in a post for his blog, Spiritual Directions. “It’s a sad fact that most of our thinking about race takes place in a left-wing, Marxist, atheistic context, in which a desire for power and an awareness of otherness crowd out Christian reflections on meekness and solidarity.” This was on June 6, one day before he became the focus of a concerted effort by Marxian atheists to destroy his ministry.

Father Moloney refused to stand by and watch as the One True Faith is supplanted by the Cult of Wokeness in the hearts of his students. I can’t imagine any good pastor doing otherwise.

That’s why I was greatly saddened to hear that Father Moloney’s ouster was requested by my home diocese of Boston. I admire our Archbishop, Seán Cardinal O’Malley, more than just about any man alive. While I can see him disagreeing with Father Moloney’s statement, that he would demand one of his priest’s resignation over a difference of opinion is incredibly disheartening.

I wonder which specific claim in Father Moloney’s email Cardinal O’Malley objected to. In its statement, the Archdiocese of Boston said: “While Father Moloney’s comments should not reflect on his entire priestly ministry, they nonetheless were wrong and by his resignation he accepts the hurt they have caused.” What exactly was wrong about what he said? Does the Archdiocese agree with M.I.T. that acknowledging the “devastating impact of systemic racism—especially within the criminal justice system” ought to be a precondition for exercising public ministry? Is that now to be taken as a matter of faith in Boston? Is “disparaging” George Floyd by pointing out that he was not without sin now such a grave offense that priests can be removed from their assignments?

I wrote to Cardinal O’Malley’s spokesman and put these questions to him. He emphasized that Father Moloney was not removed, but rather “resigned following a request by the Archdiocese,” and said that Father is now “between assignments.” The spokesman then referred me back to the Archdiocese’s original statement. Needless to say, that’s not the answer faithful Catholics expect from their prelates.

I can’t imagine it brings much comfort to ordinary priests, either. Even as the best of them are fighting to reverse the spread of error within the Church and the de-Christianization of the West, they must now also do their best not to violate the new orthodoxies of the Woke Left. Evidently, when its self-appointed inquisitors (Black Lives Matter, Antifa, etc.) come sniffing for heretics like Father Moloney, such priests will receive no help from their bishops. If they’re lucky, they’ll incur no harsher penalty than being dismissed—sorry, asked to resign—from their assignments and swept from the public eye.

Our bishops are slowly becoming instruments of revolutionary justice, sacrificing their own priests and stifling their own witness in a vain effort to placate the mob. The Church is surrendering her own liberties.

Just when we need her most, too. For “bourgeois justice” is really an epithet for Christian justice: the belief that all men and women are lovingly made in the image and likeness of God, and so must be treated as precious in the eyes of our Creator.

At the heart of Christian justice is forgiveness. God deals mercifully with us, even to death on the cross, to atone for our sins. So, too, we’re called to deal mercifully with our fellow men.

As it happens, Father Moloney is the author of a book called Mercy: What Every Catholic Should Know, which was published by Ignatius Press just three months ago. Mercy is what Father Moloney asked for George Floyd and America’s law enforcement officers. And yet mercy is one thing he’s not likely to receive—at least, not this side of paradise.

Photo credit: YouTube/MIT Tech Catholic Community


  • Michael Warren Davis

    Michael Warren Davis is a contributing editor of The American Conservative and the author of The Reactionary Mind (Regnery, 2021). He previously served as editor of Crisis Magazine and U.S. editor of the Catholic Herald of London. His next book, After Christendom, will be published by Sophia Institute Press. Follow his Substack newsletter, The Common Man.

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