Recently I ran into an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in a few years. Although we live in the same city, we originally “met” 20 years ago in a formerly-prominent Catholic blogger’s combox. Seeing him reminded me how long I’ve been active in the online Catholic world, and it also reminded me how toxic this world can be.
Now, it’s not my friend who inspired me to recall the potential for toxicity in online Catholicism; it was that “formerly-prominent Catholic blogger” I mentioned: Mark Shea. A former Crisis writer, Shea has in recent years become perhaps the King of toxic online Catholics. It seems his mission is to attack viciously anyone who doesn’t subscribe to his exact vision of Catholicism, often with a series of mostly-childish invectives.
But sadly Shea isn’t an aberration. Any Catholic who’s been online for even a small amount of time quickly encounters the darker side of the Catholic internet. The Catholic subgroup with the biggest reputation for toxicity is the “trads” (traditional Catholics), and while that reputation isn’t wholly undeserved, it’s not any more unique to them than it is to Shea and his ilk. Unfortunately, every subgroup within Catholicism has its toxic supporters, ready to attack anyone who doesn’t pass the chosen purity test.