Even if you didn't read our cover story on the division within the Catholic Church earlier this month, you may have seen the advertisements that Stephen Brady, of the Roman Catholic Faithful, has run in the Inlander.
Brady has been going to the former dioceses that Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, formerly led. He's already been to Rapid City. He is coming to Spokane, where Cupich served as Bishop until 2014, this Saturday.
By design, the Inlander's advertising department is separated from the newsroom. Reporters don't get a say in which ads run.
In reporting our story on the Catholic Church, however, we did interview Brady, who is part of a far-right contingent trying to use the sex abuse scandal to unseat Cupich, who they believe is far too liberal.
Tellingly, Brady's advertisement doesn't mention anything about Cupich's handling of the sex abuse crisis, instead focusing on Cupich's alleged heresies, including locking Rapid City Latin-mass participants out of an Easter church service, expressing openness to gays and remarried Catholics getting Communion, and removing a priest who burned a rainbow flag from his parish.
But Brady's mission of unseating Cupich hasn't necessarily been welcomed by local Catholics. While Spokane's Bishop Thomas Daly represents a more conservative wing of Catholicism than Cupich, he put out a statement in church bulletins Sunday stressing he was not supportive of Brady's efforts:
Recent news periodicals have carried advertisements about an upcoming event seeking to uncover negative information about Cardinal Cupich. The group is not from the Diocese of Spokane. My intention was not to call attention to this, but many of you have raised questions about the event. For the record, I am not supportive. I do not believe such an endeavor reflects an authentic attempt at renewal in our Church. As I have in the past, I invite you again to offer prayers through the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes, patroness of our diocese, for growth in holiness throughout the Church.
Former City Council President Joe Shogan was one of the local Catholics raising concern with local church leaders.
“You can’t ignore it. If you ignore it, you affirm it, really," Shogan says. "These people don’t belong here. It’s gutter politics,
In an interview with the Inlander last month, Brady predicted he'd have Cupich out of office by the end of the year.
"It’s not an act of charity to allow one’s cardinal to run headlong into hell," Brady says. "When he’s promoting mortal sin, the guy’s putting his own soul into danger."
So is the Illinois-based Roman Catholic Faithful a genuine watchdog group trying to expose abusive priests or merely a group of far-right anti-gay activists trying to punish bishops who are too tolerant for their tastes?
It's difficult to find much reporting on the group that doesn't come from right-wing Catholic outlets, but the record suggests it's a little bit of both.
Brady says he started the Roman Catholic Faithful back in the early '90s, after objecting to a sex-ed film that was being promoted at the public high school his children attended. Brady says he took the position the Catholic board members of the school district weren't following Catholic
He formed the Roman Catholic Faithful group, which began publicly accusing Ryan of having gay encounters with priests and prostitutes. Ryan repeatedly denied the allegations. When he resigned in 1999, he claimed the allegations had no influence on his decision.
However, a 2006 investigation concluded that Ryan had, in fact, "engaged in sexual misconduct with adults and used his authority to conceal this misconduct."
The Roman Catholic Faithful's serious allegations have often been tangled up with their fiery opposition to gay priests, such as their 2000 exposé on a gay porn site frequented by Catholic priests.
Brady disbanded the Roman Catholic Faithful group in 2009, but restarted it after the string of abuse revelations last summer. And Cupich was their new target.
Like Daly, the bishop in Rapid City used much harsher language, going so far as to suggest that Brady was being guided by Satan.
"The question on my mind: 'Is their true goal to rid the Catholic Church of clerical
corruption or is it an attempt to destroy the reputation of Cardinal Cupich with whom they disagree regarding his approach to certain Church teachings? Based upon what I have read in their materials, their goal is to attempt to destroy the reputation of Cardinal Cupich," Bishop Robert Gruss wrote in a statement read from the pulpits across the Rapid City diocese. "Therefore, their mission is evil and guided by the evil one. Any group that seeks to divide the church by sharing false information is doing the work of Satan."
A follow-up statement from Gruss elaborates further on his position.
"The purpose of my letter was to challenge the motives of people whom I believe are not seeking the truth in charity," Gruss wrote. "Their websites speak of other motives."
Some conservative Catholics, like Daly, have been wary of the Roman Catholic Faithful's aggressive tactics. But others, like right-wing Catholic Rod Dreher, have defended the RCF, arguing that despite their rhetoric they were "an invaluable source of information."
Zach Hiner, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told the Inlander that he hadn't looked much into the Roman Catholic Faithful. But he criticized one of the group's strongest boosters, the Church Militant, for their motives.
“They co-opt the survivor movement to push an anti-gay agenda,” Hiner says. “This happens to be a helpful cudgel."