Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Admit it: the Rosary IS a threat

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 16, 2022

“Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day. This [taking a rosary out of his pocket] is a Rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative.”

Thus spoke Hillaire Belloc, answering an anti-Catholic heckler, while campaigning for a seat in Parliament in 1906.

After the publication of a rabble-rousing article in The Atlantic entitled “How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol,” some timid Catholics may be inclined to hide away their Rosary beads (assuming they can find them), to avoid being associated with extremism. Others are ready to scold The Atlantic for publishing such a bare-faced attack on Catholic devotion, and to assure the world that the Rosary is harmless. Both those approaches are wrong.

The intent of the article by Daniel Panneton is, quite obviously, to introduce the notion that a traditional Catholic prayer is a sign of extremism, with the corollary that people who pray the Rosary should be viewed with suspicion. Panneton hopes to alarm readers by reporting that many traditional Catholics, in addition to praying the Rosary, also use military metaphors to describe the struggle against evil, and some of them also own guns. Which more or less proves, he hints, that these people are a danger to society:

On this extremist fringe, rosary beads have been woven into a conspiratorial politics and absolutist gun culture. These armed radical traditionalists have taken up a spiritual notion that the rosary can be a weapon in the fight against evil and turned it into something dangerously literal.

Unpack those two sentences, and you notice that Panneton is first stapling together the Rosary culture and the “absolutist gun culture,” and then drawing the conclusion that the Rosary culture is dangerous. Non sequitur. How, I wonder, could a prayer pose a threat to society?

To answer that question, Panneton invokes the ubiquitous Massimo Faggioli, who complains about a “Catholic cyber-militia that actively campaigns against LGBTQ acceptance in the Church.” Aha! So the grave threat to society is posed by a cyber-militia, which presumably uses such dangerous weapons as Tweets and Instagram posts, rather than AR-15s and firebombs. And notice that the campaign is not aimed against anyone’s life or property; it is aimed against efforts to change the teaching of the Church. Thus the “rad-trad” Catholics portrayed by Panneton (in very vague terms; the article does not name names) are not a threat to anyone’s security; they are a threat to an ideology.

And yet that is enough. The custodians of liberal ideology cannot tolerate resistance, and so the rad-trads must be defeated, banished, isolated. And Panneton is not alone is taking this stand; the editors of The Atlantic must have been sympathetic; otherwise they would not have allowed the appearance of such an ignorant and illogical article.

The Atlantic has apparently felt some blowback since th article appeared, as shown by the gradual softening of the headline under which it has appeared. The original headline it was:

How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol

Then it became:

How Extremist Gun Culture Co-Opted the Rosary

And then:

How Extremist Gun Culture is Trying to Co-opt the Rosary

So now, with that latest headline, the suggestion is that the gun culture is the real threat, and here the threat takes the form of suggesting that the Rosary, too, can be used as a weapon. But now we are back to that blatant non sequitur. If you were genuinely worried about people who carried both guns and Rosary beads, wouldn’t you rather have them focus on the use of the Rosary? Sorry, folks; you can’t wriggle out of responsibility for this attack on Catholicism by tweaking the headline.

Panneton artfully encourages fears that soon rad-trad Catholics will be firebombing…something. The article would be more persuasive if he could cite examples of such violent behavior, but the people who actually do encourage firebombers are calling for the destruction of…Catholic churches.

Well, the Devil knows his enemies, even if Daniel Panneton doesn’t. (The author seems to think that the Rosary is a Sacrament.) A reading of Psalm 2 will do more to advance the understanding of “rad-trad” Catholicism, and the threat that it poses to the reigning liberal ideology, than this Atlantic article. But Panneton is right about one thing: in the battle that really matters, the Rosary is more powerful—and therefore more dangerous to the liberal hegemony—than an AR-15.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Fr Eric Lepanto - Aug. 17, 2022 2:04 PM ET USA

    Has Panneton ever driven through an Hispanic neighborhood. From grandmas to cholos to the parish priest. They all have rosaries. There is a spiritual battle and the evil one plays Panneton for a sucker.

  • Posted by: feedback - Aug. 17, 2022 7:30 AM ET USA

    Thank you for the great comment! Now I am expecting the shepherds: US cardinals and bishops to respond to this attack on a Catholic prayer. I have not heard about communist regimes in Cuba, China, or the former Soviet Block specifically attacking the prayer of the Rosary like that.

  • Posted by: DanS - Aug. 16, 2022 10:05 PM ET USA

    BTW, thank you for the Belloc quote. Were any of us as brave…

  • Posted by: DanS - Aug. 16, 2022 10:04 PM ET USA

    Clearly the leftists intuit the threat of the rosary but since the reject/cannot understand the premises on which it stands (God, Church, faith and all that) they cannot admit it. They know full well, in their hearts, they violate the natural order, and again they intuit the consequences even though they outwardly reject the Christian construct. They can’t ignore it because their intuition tells them there is something true about it. It’s the first step to conversion.

  • Posted by: ewaughok - Aug. 16, 2022 6:11 PM ET USA

    Very true, Mr. Lawler! The Rosary can be more powerful than any human weapon because it invokes Christ, Mary, the Angels, and many of the Saints as companions and divine protectors. Yet without the right intentionality, even the Rosary can go astray. I know a congregation of religious sisters originally founded under the name of the Holy Rosary, who these days corporately support the Nuns on the Bus movement. This despite most of them saying the whole Rosary at least once a day.