On/File: A Continuing Record of Groups, Movements, People, and Events Impacting Religion

1. The Church Militant has become one of the largest and most influential conservative Catholic media organizations through its use of Internet technology and its frequent attacks on the church hierarchy during a period when the pope, bishops, and other church leaders are in the spotlight for their role in the sex abuse crisis in Catholicism. Said to have a base of three million supporters, the Church Militant runs daily newscasts and other commentaries seeking to defend Catholic orthodoxy over the Internet for a $10 monthly fee. Founder Michael Voris, a former television news reporter, transformed the company from a producer of catechetical videos into a polemical tool that has particularly targeted Pope Francis as being a weak leader encouraging heterodoxy and uncertainty among Catholics. The network has been sidelined in Catholic dioceses, including its own in Detroit, which demanded that it drop the Catholic label from its original name, Real Catholic TV. Much of the focus of the Church Militant is on criticizing church leaders who support greater inclusion of gays in the church, most recently arguing that much of the sex abuse crisis is mainly a phenomenon of homosexual priests allowed to harass teenagers and young men. (Source: National Catholic Reporter, December 28–January 10)

2. It has been described by its organizers as “the largest international gathering of Orthodox scholars in modern history”—with some 300 scholars from 40 countries, not all of them theologians, presenting at 75 panels in what some described as a “Who’s Who” of global Orthodoxy. The event is planned to be repeated every four years at different locations around the world. Supported by the Orthodox Archdiocese of Iaşi as well as by several American and European Orthodox institutions and associations, the first conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) convened in Iaşi, Romania, on January 9–12. IOTA is a U.S. non-profit association, which also makes clear the input from the Orthodox “diaspora” in such an initiative. It is striking that it occurs at the very time the Orthodox churches are going through serious tensions and potential lasting divisions over the issue of Ukraine.

But the organization of the conference started months before Constantinople decided to grant autocephaly to Ukraine. Moreover, it was the result of longer trends, such as the emergence of new generations of Orthodox scholars and attempts to promote Orthodox unity, despite the current developments threatening it. It was also a direct outcome of the Pan-Orthodox synod (minus Russia and three other churches) held in Crete in 2016, where the idea first emerged. IOTA intends to be a place for intellectual exchange and to cultivate constructive relations with all Orthodox churches, without supporting one or another. One should note that the initiative came from academics, not from the hierarchs of Orthodox churches. At the same time, the event was supported by the Church of Romania, whose international role among Orthodox churches might increase in the context of the current tensions between Constantinople and Moscow, depending on how cleverly it can navigate inter-Orthodox relations. (Source: IOTA website: https://iota-web.org. The website provides access to video recordings of some of the conference sessions, including the keynote speech by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware in which he attempted to make a balanced and critical assessment of the current situation of Orthodox churches, especially in relation to the 2016 gathering in Crete and the crisis over Ukraine.)