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Pittsburgh diocese: ‘Catholic Identity Conference’ not endorsed by Catholic bishop

Does the controversial 'Catholic Identity Conference' have a Catholic identity? The Pittsburgh diocese weighs in.

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh. Credit: alekjds/wikimedia. CC BY SA 3.0

The Diocese of Pittsburgh says it does not encourage Catholics to attend a Pittsburgh conference Saturday, which is slated to urge Catholics to “formal resistance” of Pope Francis.

The Oct. 1 “Catholic Identity Conference” at a Pittsburgh hotel will feature remarks from two Catholic bishops, including former apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, and its schedule includes Mass at a Pittsburgh parish.

But while the conference will take place within its territory, the Pittsburgh diocese said Wednesday it has nothing to do with the event.

“The Diocese of Pittsburgh is in no way affiliated with this event. The diocese does not support, endorse, or encourage people to attend this event,” diocesan spokesperson Jennifer Antkowiak told The Pillar.

The conference - according to media accounts organized by traditionalist newspaper The Remnant - has been held annually in Pittsburgh since at least 2019, and has in years past featured speakers urging Catholics to “recognize and resist” perceived ecclesiastical failings during the pontificate of Pope Francis, or, from some speakers, embedded in the texts of the Second Vatican Council.

This year’s event has drawn social media attention this week, after organizers announced a Saturday press conference at which “three prominent Catholic spokesmen” - as yet unnamed - “will present articles of resistance against the Vatican and to the pontificate of Pope Francis.”

According to a press release, the spokesmen will urge resistance to “Vatican endorsement of … climate change hysteria” and “the worldwide lockdown.”

The spokesmen will also oppose “Francis’s undermining of the Church’s established moral theology on contraception and divorce,” and “religious discrimination against practicing Catholics” expressed in the 2021 papal motu proprio Traditionis custodes.

The conference schedule is mostly focused on incendiary criticism of the Roman Pontiff, who as vicar of Christ is head of the Catholic Church. Talks titles include ‘Francis’s Missionary Genocide,’ ‘Is the Pope Pro-Life?’ and ‘Pope of Surprises: Chaplain to the New World Order.’

It is not clear what precisely conference organizers mean by “formal resistance” of Pope Francis. Catholic doctrine does not prohibit criticism of the pope, but “resisting” the pontiff is likely to prove a provocative idea, even while the Francis pontificate has included considerable theological controversy.

While the notion of “resistance” evokes for some the canonical concept of schism - or refusal of submission to the legitimate governance of the pope - it seems unlikely the conference organizers themselves will consider their “resistance” to be schismatic — and it does not seem likely that ecclesiastical authorities will clarify that question, at least not in Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh diocese did not respond to questions from The Pillar about whether Bishop David Zubik will offer local Catholics guidance on the proposal to “resist” the ministry of the pope, or offer any other message regarding the content of the conference.

Zubik’s apparent reluctance to respond to those issues is not unique. Few U.S. bishops in recent years have chosen to address directly a growing network of conferences and rallies which take as their theme the rhetoric of “resisting” the Bishop of Rome, even those bishops who have seen events take place in their territory.

In addition to questions about content, The Pillar also asked the Pittsburgh diocese whether the conference or its liturgies would fall under the operational oversight of the diocese, or be governed by particular law governing safe environment protocols.

The diocese again emphasized its distance from the conference, explaining that “because [the conference] is not a Diocese of Pittsburgh event, the diocese has no authority over any of its operations, including safe environment policies.”

Along with Vigano, the conference schedule includes remarks by Bishop Athanasius Schneider, an auxiliary bishop in Kazakhstan; conservative media personality Abby Johnson; and John-Henry Westen, editor of LifeSiteNews. The conference will include several priests, including one from the Society of St. Pius X, a religious community in “irregular communion” with the Catholic Church.

The pastor of a local parish will also speak at the event, and Mass will be offered at Most Precious Blood of Jesus, a Pittsburgh personal parish established by Zubik in 2018, which offers the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

It is not clear whether Vigano will actually be in attendance at the conference. While the archbishop is scheduled to be interviewed, his appearance will likely be virtual, as he has remained in seclusion in recent years.

In March, the archbishop referred to Moscow as the “Third Rome,” and appeared to sign himself up to the Russkiy-mir vision of Russia as the legitimate political and religious heir to Rome and Constantinople, cities which the archbishop described as “deserted and silent,” and “hostage to apostates.”

The Catholic Identity Conference has not yet responded to a request for comment.

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