Volume > Issue > On Selling One’s Soul to Catholic Inc.

On Selling One’s Soul to Catholic Inc.

CATHOLIC PROFESSIONALS VS. PROFESSIONAL CATHOLICS

By Kennedy Hall | June 2024
Kennedy Hall is the author of Terror of Demons: Reclaiming Traditional Catholic Masculinity and the novel Lockdown with the Devil. He is a freelance author, audiobook narrator, and host of The Kennedy Report podcast and Mere Tradition Substack. He is married with six children and lives in Ontario, Canada. He can be contacted through, and his work found at, www.kennedyhall.ca.

As much as I disagree with his ideas and beliefs, I highly respect Doug Wilson. A Protestant pastor from Idaho, Wilson is known for being a bit of a wild man in the safe and winsome Evangelical world. He calls it as he sees it, no matter the consequences. Given that he is an Evangelical, he has the freedom to do as he pleases — what else would we expect from a Protestant? — so he has amplified his views and those of his likeminded coreligionists by establishing his own publishing house and growing a media empire. If you ask him, Wilson will tell you he did so in order to make sure he wouldn’t be at the mercy of “Big Eva,” short for “Big Evangelical,” which is to say, the commercial wing of acceptable, mainstream, centrist Christian thought. To be welcomed by Big Eva, you must be photogenic, likeable, and able to deliver a message that is conservative — but not too conservative! — and doesn’t offend those curious about Evangelicalism with rabble-rousing claims. If the powers that run Big Eva want him to tone it down at conferences or in his books, Wilson is under no obligation to do so because he is his own boss.

Naturally, things are a bit different in the Catholic world. Most importantly, we have a hierarchical Church, and for good reason. We have structures of authority that ideally govern right belief (orthodoxy) and right practice (orthopraxy). Therefore, in the Catholic Church, a man cannot establish a “Catholic” institution without approval from the proper ecclesial authorities. To be sure, authority is, by nature, a good thing, and all men must live under some kind of authority. Even Satan is under authority: He does his nefarious work at the service of God, who permits him to tempt us — for our sanctification. Furthermore, Satan exists in his own sort of “lowerarchy,” as C.S. Lewis called it in The Screwtape Letters. The point being that in the Catholic Church there is no escaping authority and the order of hierarchy, nor should there be.

But, in the current era of Church history, when things are, shall we say, less than ideal, difficulties arise from this. We will focus here on the challenges facing those of us who try to make a living as Catholic professionals.

I say Catholic professional, as opposed to professional Catholic, as this is a distinction that is not without a difference. A Catholic professional is, simply put, someone who makes a living working for the Church or for the good of the Church. He may be a layman who works at a Catholic school or for a diocese in some administrative role. In addition, there are plenty of Catholic authors — myself included — who have not been called upon by the Church officially to write on Catholic topics but who choose to do so out of a sense of duty and for the salvation of souls.

There have always been laymen who have earned their living this way, and they come in all forms. St. Thomas More (1478-1535) was such a man in an age when church and state were not arbitrarily separated, until his treasonous king had a psychosexual temper tantrum. Although More was a lawyer and intellectual by trade and worked largely in the civil sphere, he was also a respected Catholic thinker who wrote — and likely sold — a number of books and pamphlets on matters ecclesial in both English and Latin.

We can likewise think of Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton as Catholic professionals who made their living as writers and historians with the express purpose of defending and promoting the Church. Many such men exist today, whether they work in literature, education, or the media.

However, a line is crossed when you go from being a Catholic professional to a professional Catholic and, thereby, working for what I call “Catholic Inc.,” the Roman counterpart to Big Eva. The difference between a Catholic professional and a professional Catholic is slight but significant. Much like the old adage about the difference between a pornographic image and a tasteful rendition of the human body, a line has been crossed in a qualitative sense that we all recognize when we see it.

Now, I do not mean to throw stones at anyone, nor do I write with any particular person in mind. Rather, I am talking about a general milieu that has arisen in our time in which many Catholics labor. You see, in our day of scant orthodoxy and orthopraxy, the lane of socially acceptable Catholic thought has become narrower and narrower. So, if a man hopes to make a living as a Catholic professional, he may be backed into a corner where the only option is to become a professional Catholic. What I mean is that he may be forced to swallow his true Catholic opinions — or at least temper their articulation — if he wants to continue to make a living.

For example, a man with expertise in sexual morality who gives conferences on the subject may be strongly encouraged to tone down his rhetoric about sin and repentance if he wants to be invited to and remain on the Catholic college speaking circuit. Sure, he wants to tell fornicating youths that a single mortal sin is enough to damn their souls, but telling that to kids who are taught in their “theology” classes that mortal sin isn’t a big deal — or doesn’t even exist — isn’t going to sell tickets, and, more importantly, it isn’t going to go over well in the chancery offices or university boardrooms that are committed more to Fiducia Supplicans and “smelling like the sheep” than to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and not being a goat separated from said sheep. What bishop or school president is going to continue supporting a Catholic speaker who says to a congregation or conference audience that “the liturgies here are substandard, the catechesis is poor, and St. Augustine has a lot to say about not dressing like a lady of the night”?

What will a man do in this situation? He has two options: He can say “to heck with it” and tell the truth as he sees it and make a lot less money, or he can tell some of the truth, be very winsome and engaging, and ensure he will be invited back. Furthermore, given that we live in the blasted “age of the laity” — which is a nice way of saying an age of laicism, which used to be condemned as an erroneous proposition — it is not uncommon for dioceses to rely on the continually produced material of laymen to do their catechizing.

And so, the work of the principled Catholic professional who has reconciled his modest exposure (and, therefore, his income) with his conscience gets largely overlooked in favor of that of the professional Catholic who has sold his soul to Catholic Inc. and is producing ever more — and ever more innocuous — material for an evolving Catholic media and apologetics landscape. In this age of hustling, we must remember that maintaining progress is like riding a bicycle: If you stop pedaling — or, in this case, peddling — you’ll fall over and won’t go any further. That is to say, there is no money to be made in Catholic Inc. if you fail to keep on rolling.

Catholic Inc. is not much different from other corporate settings. It is a business and, therefore, profit-driven. This presents a problem because Catholicism is not profit-driven. Moreover, it is unchanging — or is supposed to be — and, therefore, doesn’t “keep up with the times.” It may be that the man who was a Catholic professional but became a professional Catholic started with the right intentions. Perhaps he realized he had something to offer in, say, the realm of biblical theology and could explain interesting concepts in a new way. But soon he finds himself beholden to the dictates of Catholic Inc., and his foremost authority is now consumer demand. Eventually, he will get to the point where there are no “new ways” left to explain his particular understanding of biblical theology, and he will run out of material if he does things the way he always did. What will he do then? Well, he better find a way to reformulate his Catholic stage-shtick lest he fall behind on his mortgage payments. Eventually, he’ll find that he has compromised his Catholic principles in order to continue commanding payments.

With Catholic Inc. the temptation to pursue profitability over principle isn’t limited to speakers and writers. It is ever present. Think of Hallow, the popular Catholic prayer app. Hallow came under fire for its partnership with Liam Neeson, the Irish actor. Neeson is well known to movie buffs for voicing Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia series and kicking the tar out of human traffickers in Taken. But he is also known in Ireland as the celebrity voice who narrated a video in favor of abortion in the lead-up to the national referendum that saw Ireland vote for the legalization of child-killing. It has been said that soon after this vote, the snakes St. Patrick had driven out came back to Ireland. This is true at least in a symbolic sense, as the Serpent is now having his hour in the Emerald Isle.

The CEO of Hallow — a professed Catholic — responded to the scandal with the type of corporate-speak you would expect from a Nike functionary but would hope never to hear from a supposedly Catholic professional. CEO Alex Jones (no, not that one) said it wasn’t a big deal because Hallow doesn’t endorse “the personal views, past actions, or political opinions of any of the narrators on the app.” How convenient. Hallow can hire a pro-abort with a rich timbre to voice Advent meditations because, well, Hallow isn’t responsible for the anti-life views of those it pays to voice its Catholic views.

To make matters worse, Hallow’s social-media team said on X (formerly Twitter) that hiring Neeson was something that was “discerned intensely.” I myself endeavor to be a Catholic professional, and as luck would have it, I work in voiceover, having narrated several Catholic books for both independent writers and publishers such as TAN Books. I know how much I am paid for my services, and I imagine Neeson was paid exponentially more.

Why would Hallow choose to pay Neeson so much money — likely an astronomical sum, given his international profile — when they could find someone else with an equally pleasing voice to narrate the same meditations? We all know why: Neeson is a massive draw, and the for-profit enterprises of Catholic Inc. cannot pass up such star power.

Now, there is nothing wrong with Catholics doing something in the name of Catholicism that turns a profit, and that may include marketing. But when a line has been crossed, we must acknowledge it.

Neeson is a moneymaker par excellence, and clearly Hallow threw a massive amount of money at him in order to make even more money. That’s how corporate capitalism works. Hallow is no different from any other Big Tech app; it requires millions to operate — again, not intrinsically wrong — so you can bet that the decision-makers at Hallow were and are willing to make a deal with the Devil to ensure that their investors get a return.

Hallow can deflect all it wants with talk of “discernment,” but the fact is that the businesses of Catholic Inc. sell spirituality. The only real question is how much money did Hallow drop on a pro-abort celebrity so he could read some Advent meditations to Catholics on an app that Catholics must pay to use?

Hallow is just one example of a larger problem. Ultimately, what is at play here is a materialism that confuses earthly with eternal goals. How else to explain Hallow’s brushing off a blatant contradiction of principle with an appeal to “discernment”?

In the heart of a professional Catholic it is inevitable that the creature — and the creature comforts money can buy — will supplant the Creator, even if the professional Catholic can’t bring himself to admit it. When he first made the decision to put on a show and not talk about the things of God in a way that might offend his audience, he decided he wanted the respect of men — the men who pay him to perform — more than he wanted to respect God. This sort of reversal is only possible when we forget that Christ qualifies our understanding with the maxim, “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33).

Is profiting from Catholic spirituality the same as seeking “the kingdom of God”? Is caring more about the respect of men than respecting God the same as seeking “his justice”? I think we all know the answer to these questions.

In the end, we must understand that as long as Catholicism is perceived as a for-profit enterprise — as it sadly is in so many instances — the mark of success of a professional Catholic will be the respect of men, which is not dissimilar to the respect of a chancery office that promotes a professional Catholic’s stage-shtick as long as it doesn’t rock the boat.

 

“It is sad that there are what you might call professional Catholics who make a living on their Catholicism, but in whom the spring of faith flows only faintly, in a few scattered drops.” — Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World

 

©2024 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved.

 

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