My Up-Close and Personal Experience with Fascism

We are talking about cures for fascism.  Fascism is born of fear and the compulsion to control.  I have experienced Fascism up close and personal from that wing in the Roman Catholic church that was fascist in the first half of the twentieth century and has returned in our time to attack Pope Francis and others.    

Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger embrace, October 22, 1978. Public Domain image by Levan Ramashvili on Flickr.

The two popes drawn to “institutional violence” (Susan Sontag’s definition of fascism), called my book Original Blessing “dangerous and deviant.”  They were also at the time overseeing a dangerous and deviant dismantling of the prophetic Second Vatican Council and of two of its finest birthings: base communities and Liberation Theology in South America.

I was honored to be excoriated by them.  In yesterday’s DM, I shared the story of how I called them out in a public letter posted in the New York Times the evening before I went silent for a year as they demanded of me. 

Another response of mine was to publish a public letter to Cardinal Ratzinger called “Is the Catholic Church Today a Dysfunctional Family?” which the National Catholic Reporter immediately posted as a front-page article.  Later they told me that it received the largest and most positive response of any article in their history.  I reproduce it in my book, The Pope’s War.

One section of my Letter asks: “Is the Catholic Church Reverting to Fascism in Our Time?”  I name four examples of fascism that were alive and well in the church at that time.

Three years later I was expelled from the Dominican Order after 34 years of being in good standing.  That expulsion proved to be a blessing in disguise, insofar as it allowed me to pursue my vocation as a spiritual theologian and writer unhindered. 

The Cosmic Mass reinvigorates Western ritual by deconstructing inherited modern forms of worship and going back to the most primal form of worship: dance.

It also allowed me to commit as a priest to re-create Western Liturgy with young people from the rave community and others.  Since then, our Cosmic Mass has reached thousands of people in North America. 

More recently, my expulsion allowed me to launch a new kind of religious order working with two young people—a spiritual and ecumenical one called Order of the Sacred Earth.  We take the following vow: “I promise to be the best lover of Mother Earth and the best defender of Mother Earth that I can be.”

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved, pp. 91-102.

See also: Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, Jen Listug, Order of the Sacred Earth: An Intergenerational Vision of Love and Action.

And Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest.

Banner Image: High Traditional Latin (Tridentine) Mass in St. John of Nepomuk Catholic church in Prostějov, Czech Republic, 16th April 2023. Encouraged by Pope Benedict and conservative factions of the Roman Catholic Church, restricted by Pope Francis, the Latin Mass has been a point of division since Vatican II. Photo by Novis-M on Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you see some instances in these stories of imagination and birthing that can assist you in your efforts to bring spirituality alive while resisting institutional violence or fascism?

Recommended Reading

The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved

The Pope’s War offers a provocative look at three decades of corruption in the Catholic Church, focusing on Josef Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. The final section in the book focuses on birthing a truly catholic Christianity.
“This book should be read by everybody, not only for its ferocious courage, but also for its vision for what needs to be saved from the destructive forces that threaten authentic Christianity.” ~ Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope.
“In the gripping The Pope’s War, Matthew Fox takes an unwavering look at the layers of corruption in the Catholic Church, holding moral truth against power.”   — Jason Berry, author of Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II

Order of the Sacred Earth: An Intergenerational Vision of Love and Action
By Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, and Jen Listug

In the midst of global fire, earthquake and flood – as species are going extinct every day and national and global economies totter – the planet doesn’t need another church or religion. What it needs is a new Order, grounded in the Wisdom traditions of both East and West, including science and indigenous. An Order of the Sacred Earth united in one sacred vow: “I promise to be the best lover and defender of the Earth that I can be.”
Co-authored by Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, and Jennifer Berit Listug, with a forward by David Korten, this collection of essays by 21 spiritual visionaries including Brian Swimme, Mirabai Starr, Theodore Richards, and Kristal Parks marks the founding of the diverse and inclusive Order of the Sacred Earth, a community now evolving around the world.
“The Order of the Sacred Earth not only calls us home to our true nature as Earth, but also offers us invaluable guidance and company on the way.”  ~~ Joanna Macy, environmental activist and author of Active Hope.

Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
“The unfolding story of this irrepressible spiritual revolutionary enlivens the mind and emboldens the heart — must reading for anyone interested in courage, creativity, and the future of religion.”
—Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self

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5 thoughts on “My Up-Close and Personal Experience with Fascism”

  1. Avatar

    Glad to see somebody calling it out by its correct name. I’ve been watching Rachel Maddow since 2015, and for several years, she would have to speak in code, probably on orders from her higher-ups, to not use the word. She would say things like “we’re here, right? this is what we’ve been warning you about,” and expect the viewers to fill in the blank. Only after the Dobbs decision, was she allowed more latitude.

  2. Avatar

    Loved the enclosed video of the Cosmic Mass in today’s DM. Wish we had one in our community. It incorporates the values of faith, worship, ritual, and community together with one another, Sacred Mother Earth, and our sacred connection to the COSMOS….

  3. Avatar
    Martina Nicholson

    Thank you seems completely inadequate, as a response. I vividly recall these years, and having been in the Peace Corps in Paraguay, I was very interested in the Liberation theology and the base camps, which were lighting up South America from within. I was also very worried about the Opus Dei people, and sexual predators in their midst. Piety and other-worldliness have been exposed over the past 40 years as being a cover-up for sexual abuse and pedophilia. The only way to help people learn what healthy love is, is to show them the modeling. The power differential is even greater in the developing world. Slowly, the legal penalties which have cost the church so much have forced administrative safeguards and attention to the needs of the children, and it is bearing fruit, even in the places where these people tend to hide. It is a boon that we have a structure and system which helps to identify and hold accountable. SO many other religious groups do not. This issue is the true bogeyman problem which cripples children, leading to prostitution and lifelong crippled psyches. WE need to work at learning and teaching healthy sexuality, and healthy family lives. The well-being of women is also affected by this problem, not just boys and men. Again, thank you! God bless you!

  4. Avatar

    Hello, Matt — Your referencing of your Cosmic Mass and dancing as a primal form of prayer reminded me of the hymn “Lord of the Dance.” I share with you my “Homily.”

    may you dance a long, long time —

    Homily for the Sunday of Jazz Fest

    Come to these fair grounds of music
    holy to the Lord of the Dance
    flying a rainbow
    with the Sun & the Earth
    spanned by the wings
    of peace.
    Come dancing —
    music is prayer;
    to dance is to pray.
    Thus saith the good Lord:
    If your butt don’t feel like wriggling,
    you ain’t listening to the music.

    © Rafael Jesús González 2024

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