Michael Voris: Trapped and Exposed
Why do conservatives keep falling for cult leaders with double lives?
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Please forgive me for putting on my old Church-commentator hat for a moment. This is a story that for me represents both an old professional rivalry and a connection to some of my own long-held misgivings about the state of affairs in Catholic commentary, which was for so many years my bread and butter.
Michael Voris, the founder and face of St. Michael’s Media and its “apostolate” known as Church Militant (CM), has resigned his position in the wake of unspecified violation(s) of the organization’s morality policy.
I have long been a critic of Voris and CM, as I had many run-ins with them and the guardians of their weird little fiefdom during my time at the helm of OnePeterFive. The recent developments concerning Voris are a vindication of my long-held suspicions about the man and his “apostolate” — suspicions I tried to share with my audience, usually only to receive admonishments in return. “We’re all on the same team,” they’d say, or, “We just need to stop all this Catholic infighting.” As nasty as the Church Militant staff was to any who dared criticize them or even take a different viewpoint on key issues like the destructive nature of the current papacy, it was an organization that nevertheless somehow managed to garner quite a number of truly zealous admirers.
The official Church Militant statement concerning Voris’s misdeeds is about as vague as could be, despite paying lip service to “transparency”:
Church Militant/St. Michael's Media was founded as a bastion of Catholic truth and a light to the faithful in hard times. This is why we are being fully transparent with you all.
Michael Voris has been asked to resign for breaching the Church Militant morality clause. The board has accepted his resignation.
We understand this is a shock to you all, but our founder and former CEO is stepping aside and focusing on his personal health.
The Board of Directors has chosen not to disclose Michael's private matters to the public. The apostolate will be praying for him, and we kindly ask you to do the same.
Church Militant/St. Michael's Media is just as positioned to save souls as it ever has been. There are more than 40 full-time employees on the cutting edge of Catholic truth moving forward with renewed fervor.
The apostolate will remain unwavering in its reporting and its commentary — defending Holy Mother Church from errors both inside and out.
Voris himself took to video — harkening back to his “coming out” video in 2016 — to offer a long, rambling statement in a pseudo-apologetic tone while saying nothing specific and taking no actual ownership of…whatever it is that he did. It was a performative display of self-pity and obfuscation disguised as a public apology, and all but the self-pity aspect (which got Voris a little verklempt) came across as insincere to the point of bordering on apathetic.
Whatever it was, it was not an apology. No, Voris did not “repent.” Let’s not be coy about dismissing such foolishness. And frankly, the calls not to “kick a man when he’s down” certainly weren’t something I saw in circulation any time Voris himself smelled blood in the water when it came to the moral failings of other Catholic public figures.
It is important to remember that Church Militant — “Catholic TMZ,” as I like to call them — built their entire business model on ruthlessly exposing ecclesiastical (and adjacent) scandals, and it made them very successful for a media organization their size.
There have been different takes on the Voris story, as one would expect with such a polarizing figure. Peter Smith and Matt Sedensky at the Associated Press offered the MSM view with its attendant biases against conservative Catholic media. Still, they zeroed in on the vacuity of his video quite astutely:
Voris declined to specify what happened in a repetitive, nearly 14-minute video statement on X, formerly Twitter.
“There are things I have to go away and address and work on, horrible, ugly things,” he said. “Not going to share them, nobody else’s business but mine. The consequences of me not dealing with those obviously are some people’s business.”
“I need to conquer these demons,” he said, adding that they are “like spiritual terror” to him. He asked people to continue supporting the organization he founded.
Which demons and how they terrorized him are, of course, anyone’s guess.
Well, they were anyone’s guess, until a group of disgruntled former CM employees led by Dave Gordon decided at the 11th hour to strike back against the employer that was allegedly pushing them out right before Christmas. Damien Fisher offers some reporting on what has been alleged to have been happening behind the scenes:
Church Militant’s board covered up for founder Michael Voris as he allegedly groomed male staffers while openly living a double life and paying staffers “poverty wages” while giving himself raises, according to several ex-employees who say they were fired for speaking out this week.
“The very cover-up tactics that Church Militant has railed against for 15 years are now being used against faithful former employees,” the group said in a fundraising statement.
Voris, who resigned just before Thanksgiving, is still a board member and is already planning a comeback, they said. Voris’ return to being in front of the camera was always part of the plan when he resigned for violating Church Militant’s morality clause, they said.
The group of eight Church Militant employees led by Dave Gordon say they were forced out of the organization’s Ferndale, Michigan offices on Friday, seven with police escorts. The group is now trying to raise $255,000 to “save the apostolate.”
As of Saturday morning they had raised $50.
Voris, who claims to have been cured of homosexuality, was allegedly actively pursuing homosexual encounters, including with employees, they said. Voris’ lifestyle was known to board members.
“Our band of brothers was formed in light of the recent revelations that our former CEO Michael Voris had re-embraced the homosexual lifestyle while the Board of Directors attempted to cover it up,” they said.
The group said they protested the layoff of one employee during a board meeting, and called for the board to step down. Their statement lays out their reasons as follows:
Entertaining allowing Michael Voris, who seemingly groomed a former employee and lived a homosexual double life while posturing as a beacon of Christian virtue, to resume employment at Church Militant after he completes a 12-step program
Delaying naming a CEO beyond what is necessary to responsibly vet and appoint a successor
Advocating to deceive donors by putting out an official statement that Voris resigned due to health concerns
Turning on an employee for vigorously objecting to renewed Church Militant employment for Voris and to a deceptively worded statement explaining Voris’ resignation.
Failing to come up with a content plan that would ensure Church Militant’s future success.
Keeping Michael Voris on the board of directors as a nonvoting member.
Gordon released a video on the situation, took it down, then put it back up again. I have not watched it at the time of this writing. Of the video, Fisher says:
Viewers who watched the video while it was still public say Gordon alleges Voris was sending semi-nude photos to staffers, sent one such photo to a potential donor, invited an employee to his house while gay porn was playing on his computer, and groomed at least one male staffer. At least one such photo has been circulated on Twitter.
Gordon and the employees also accuse Voris of financial mismanagement. Gordon reportedly said they were paid poverty wages while Voris gave himself raises.
In the GiveSendGo appeal, the ex-employees say, “We have little doubt that St. Michaels Media / Church Militant will come at us with legal action. Two group members have already been contacted by Church Militant’s lawyer Kate Klaus.” Klaus is one of the attorneys who quit the legal case attempting to defend Church Militant against defamation, after Niles was caught hiding evidence during her deposition.
Milo Yiannopoulos, the formerly flamboyantly-gay-but-politically-conservative provocateur who worked at Church Militant for a time after attempting to leave the homosexual lifestyle behind, offered his own commentary on the matter on his Telegram channel. It appears to corroborate what the ex-employees are saying:
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I’ve a number of run-ins with CM over the years. It’s certainly earned its reputation for bellicosity. Over the period of time when I was actively running a Catholic publication of my own, I occasionally posted observations, criticisms, and concerns about their conduct. In one Facebook exchange, written 4 years ago, I said: “I've questioned openly the wisdom of Voris being in the position he's in with the past he had -- particularly his mentorship of young men. It's not a good idea. … There is a cult of personality around Voris that is concerning to me…”
The “Jones piece” I was referring to was an expose on Voris written by E. Michael Jones that I had just read at the time. Jones is a controversial figure notorious for his deeply anti-Semitic views, whose personal biases, sloppy writing, and poor, arguably unethical sourcing methods leaves me unwilling to trust his work. Church Militant issued a rebuttal to his Voris expose, making specific refutations and saying that his primary source was a priest advisor and spiritual director to Voris who “broke the confessional seal, and was excommunicated by the Church after a canonical trial.” (Surprisingly, considering that CM is an organization known for its litigiousness, I never heard about a defamation lawsuit or settlement against Jones for this report. It’s still for sale, and available on the Internet Archive as linked above) Whatever the truth of the matter is, from the view of recent revelations, Jones’s allegations that Voris was an unstable child sex-abuse victim and actively gay seminarian whose narcissism caused power struggles within the “apostolate” that threatened to destroy it suddenly seem much more plausible.
Fool Me Once…
When Voris came out in 2016, admitting his gay past, I respected the courage it took to make such a public confession, but struggled, because of his character in general, to respond in a charitable way. On the counsel of friends, I did so anyway, removing any criticism or question I had in what I recall to have been a much longer original version of this post (I no longer have the original drafts) and keeping it focused on commending him for taking ownership of his sins. After all, as he said at the time, it was all in his past:
I will now reveal that for most of my years in my thirties, confused about my own sexuality, I lived a life of live-in relationships with homosexual men. From the outside, I lived the lifestyle and contributed to scandal in addition to the sexual sins. On the inside, I was deeply conflicted about all of it. In a large portion of my twenties, I also had frequent sexual liaisons with both adult men and adult women.
These are the sins of my past life in this area which are all now publicly admitted and owned by me. That was before my reversion to the Faith.
Since my reversion, I abhor all these sins, especially in the world of the many many other sins I have committed having nothing to do with sexuality. I gave in to deep pains from my youth by seeking solace in lust, and in the process, surrendered my masculinity.
In public, I praised him. But my gut kept twisting over it. In an email I wrote to a colleague at the time, I said:
I do think there's more to this Voris story than meets the eye. I've been trying to write something on it all day. Something keeps nagging at me...not least is the fact that Voris has his own little mini-cult going, and I'm reminded far too much of situations like the Legionaries or Fr. McGuire. I think his statement was admirable, but there's more going on. They're still culling comments, even on that post, that are even a little bit critical.
A man with that past does not need an army of sycophants and comment boxes full of flattery as he surrounds himself with impressionable young people. It's not healthy.
In an exchange with friends in a private Facebook group, I was talked out of making a comparison to the Legion and Maciel. I told them I said I was concerned that the Voris situation could become similar if something didn’t change. Nevertheless, I decided circumspection was probably the right move, and held my tongue in public.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? Not gonna happen.
Over the weekend, my friend Kale fromtexted me. We’d been discussing the story on and off for a couple of days. “Here’s what I’m chewing on, and what no one seems to really be talking about or focused on,” he wrote. “Rather than look at the obvious hypocrisy, I’m more interested in why this particular confidence game is so prevalent.”
It’s a fair question: why does it keep happening? From Marcial Maciel to Donald McGuire to Dennis Hastert to Josh Duggar to John Corapi to Jeremy Leatherby to everyone in between, why are men who are living a lie — some of them terrifyingly predatory, some more generically scandalous — heading up religious groups, apostolates, or conservative political organizations that preach moral righteousness to people who have values diametrically opposed to the secret lives of these leaders?
My own family has some history with this. I was born in Upstate New York. We moved around a lot, because my dad worked in retail sales management and was constantly being transferred. But then, one day, right around my 5th birthday, my parents told me we were moving to Connecticut. I knew that I had family that lived out there. I didn’t know why they lived there.
To make a long story short, my extended family had gotten involved with a place called “The Apostolic Center,” located in Somers, Connecticut, where retreats were held and around which a Catholic community was built, with like-minded families moving to the area. My dad had recently quit a particularly abusive work environment, and having found a job in northern Connecticut, we moved to be near family.
The Apostolic Center, led by a layman and self-professed visionary named J. Roy Legere, turned out to be a cult, and perverse practices were at the heart of its implosion.
My family didn’t talk about what happened. My parents only told me about it as a young adult, after I finished up my association with the Legionaries of Christ, which I also came into contact with through extended family connections. Several of my cousins were also involved in the Legion. (I’ve written about my experiences with the Legion fairly extensively here and here, so I won’t rehash them now.)
In a news story I found long after the fact — written by one of the journalists who also exposed the perversity within the Legion, whose US headquarters are also in Connecticut — some of what went on at the Apostolic Center came into sharper focus:
Homosexual acts were practiced ritually by an elect group within the leadership of a Catholic lay organization in Somers in its worship of Jesus Christ, despite the church’s prohibitions against such behavior.
Two former members, including one who says he participated in the homosexual acts, say they went to Norwich Catholic Bishop Daniel P. Reilly two years ago, warned him about the practices of the organization, the Apostolic Formation Center, and begged him to denounce it. But the bishop did not take any action.
The two former members who went to the bishop ask not to be identified publicly for fear of retribution. They and other former members say the homosexual acts came to be known as the “Divine Intimacy of the Holy Seed,” apparently a perversion of the Catholic belief that a Christian can attain “divine intimacy” with his savior.
The former member who acknowledges participating says the organization’s founder, J. Roy Legere, convinced members that engaging in such acts was the ultimate sacrifice in submitting to God.
Read the rest for yourself if you want. It’s pretty sordid stuff. But as I said, as long as I can remember, some variation of this theme has been happening over and over on repeat. It’s maddening. And it seems to disproportionately affect conservative Catholics.
Which brings me back to Voris. Yesterday morning, I also came across this:
So I decided to write something up to try to make sense of it. I originally posted it in response to Lafferty’s comments, above, but I would like to present the argument again here. I think it’s important to understand this if we want to guard against it.
Why Does This Keep Happening?
Voris was ALWAYS on a personal crusade, which was apparent to anyone who understands anything about human nature. He was never an objective journalist. He was personally invested in digging up dirt on men in the Church who either aped the sort of abuse he was subjected to as a child or were involved in the kinds immorality that he was into as a seminarian and of which he is also ashamed. Voris was ALWAYS waging a battle against his own personal demons, it was always going to end badly, and this is something I struggled to get others to understand. Even when he was making clearly unhinged statements like these, during an investigation into abuse allegations at the SSPX:
So why did so many uncritically follow him, and why does this continue to be a problem over and over with different figures? Three reasons:
1) There’s no gentle way to say it: most human beings really do fit the “sheep” metaphor used in the scriptures. They struggle to make sense of/articulate many complex issues on their own, so they find a tribe that has charismatic, confident leaders, and delegate much of their problem solving to them. Being in a tribe gives them a sense of belonging — a primal human need — and a tribal/cult leader who is smart and forceful in his articulation of issues gives them a banner to follow/ideologue to parrot through uncertainty and conflict. (Much of the excessive zeal for Trump and the whole MAGA-cult phenom also stems from this. Serious indications of moral defects/significant personal indiscretions do not dissuade followers as long as those issues appear to be in the past and leadership on issues that matter to them seems strong and reliable.)
2) There is a colossal leadership vacuum in both society and especially the Church. Men like Voris, whether consciously or subconsciously, target this paucity and step in to fill the void. The sheep, who feel as though they are being battered in the storm, are lost without direction, and have no one to help them make sense of the chaos, are DESPERATE for leaders who can light the way. Being a sheep means needing a shepherd. When fewer shepherds exist to choose from, they will look for the best available option, no matter how compromised.
3) Many human beings lose all capacity for discernment when encountering someone online. They lose the kind of sense they get when dealing with someone face to face.
Everyone lives a double life, to a certain extent. But not all double lives are the same. Whether you believe in the concept of sin or merely just moral failing, you know exactly what it feels like to fail to live up to your own moral standards, because we ALL fail. But there are the every day temptations that are “low hanging fruit” and then the bigger “I’m saying one thing by day and doing another by night” stuff. They aren’t the same. The devout man who occasionally succumbs, say, to the temptation to look at porn on his phone but then confesses it & really tries to do better is not in the same category as a hypothetical guy who is out cruising gay bars after a hard day at “The apostolate,” texting inappropriate pictures of himself to others/uploading them to the company Dropbox, grooming staffers through programs that are designed to bring in young men under his mentorship, etc. These are very different categories of the same sin/virtue hypocrisy we’re all familiar with. Both are wrong, but one is much more brazen, direct, openly scandalous, and intentionally involves others in the sin.
Predators & groomers, we know from the testimony of their targets and victims, are often very charismatic and convincing people who ape virtue with uncanny proficiency. They’re like an anglerfish who lures people in, keeping some as reputational human shields who defend them out of ignorance of their true nature, all while carefully selecting their prey from among the most vulnerable.
If someone like that begins running an organization dedicated to protecting the values they secretly sabotage, or investigating others like them for their scandalous behavior, they have a distinct advantage. It’s predator vs. predator. They think the same way. Think of the fictional Dexter Morgan, a police blood spatter analyst by day who is exceptional at his job because he’s a serial killer by night. Maybe their own self-loathing fuels their quest for vengeance? I’m not a psychiatrist, so I can only guess. It’s important to remember, too, that most predators were also victims of predation. Not surprising when they take on a kind of dual personality that forks between victim and perpetrator.
This kind of person is particularly dangerous to conservatives and trads because they exist in a defensive posture at all times, believe (justifiably) that qualified leadership on the issues they care about is exceedingly rare and faces a battle against all odds, and they are therefore much more prone to falling for charismatic, confident leaders who need merely to say what these beleaguered folks are longing to hear.
Their marginalization in the current political/social/ecclesiastical context makes conservatives ripe for exploitation by garden variety panderers who just want their money and adulation, but also by much worse actors.
I think of guys like Fr. Donald McGuire, who was billed wherever he went in reverent tones as “spiritual director to Mother Teresa.” He traveled around the country giving retreats to big conservative Catholic families, building a sterling reputation among those who didn’t fit the profile he was looking for while carefully selecting their most vulnerable sons as victims. You see this same kind of pattern with every Catholic predator who targets conservatives. If they’re a cleric, they also know that these families tend to idolize priests, and often this creates a fear of revealing or disbelief in accepting the awful things they’ve done.
If they’re a layman, they can fall back on platitudes about charity and rash judgment and the prohibitions against gossip, etc., to hide themselves when suspicion arises. If they get caught, they play on ideas like the nobility of “repentance” and the importance of forgiveness.
Shed a few crocodile tears in front of the camera, go on a retreat, lay low for 6 months, and depending on whether what they did was with other “consenting adults” or not, go right back to their old job doing what they were doing.
My arguments here in no way seek to establish that Voris is a predator, or that he never did anything true or useful in his work. It is my opinion, though, that he always carried out his mission with ulterior motives in play.
In my view, he’s been in a fight with himself the whole time. Everyone else is just an extra in that performance.
In that sense, and barring anything more serious coming out, Voris at least appears not to be a full-blown villain here. He seems to have tried to turn his battle with himself into a battle against corruption, even if he eventually succumbed to those demons himself. Despite my misgivings, and lacking evidence of criminal behavior, I have to concede that there is a certain nobility in that.
But there were so many red flags along the way. To bring up one particularly glaring example, does anyone remember The Pause Program, hosted by Church Militant? Here’s a refresher:
[W]e want to share our apostolic work with young men (18–25 years of age, with minimum of a high school degree) still discerning how they might best serve Christ and His Church, as they seek to respond to the call of the Holy Spirit in their lives (emphasis on, but not limited to, former seminarians and those currently discerning).
So we are continuing with our effort we call PAUSE: a 12-month program structured roughly around a traditional academic calendar in which candidates learn deeply about the Catholic faith by taking a "pause" from their current life circumstances and come to pray/discern/study/work/live with other likeminded individuals who desire to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, and discern how best to serve the Church.
Because the work of discernment is accomplished both privately and in community, all candidates will live in the same house, which will be provided in exchange for their commitment to work. All other expenses incurred during the year are the responsibility of the candidate.
Young men, ages 18-25, all living together in one house, being mentored by, you guessed it, one Michael Voris. The same Michael Voris who is now alleged to have engaged in “grooming.” How was this NOT a red flag for more people??
The current Church Militant URL for the Pause Program only says “We are not running the PAUSE program at this time.”
I wonder when they finally realized it was a bad idea?
Before 2016, do you think any of the young men who did this live-in program knew about Voris’s past? Shouldn’t they and their families have had an opportunity to know the potential danger?
And with Milo and Gordon and others apparently operating on the assumption that Voris is already planning a return, what does the future hold for his bizarre, combative, self-aggrandizing “apostolate”? Have enough dominos fallen that it’s finally done? Or will the hordes of eager followers with little discernment and a fiery desire for the corruption in the Church to be exposed continue to support Church Militant, no matter what, because they feel that “nobody else will do it”?
I don’t have the answers. What I do know is that it’s past time for conservatives to start being more discriminating about those they look to as leaders of their cause.