Real Catholic Rebels

I was somewhat disturbed by a recent column in The Catholic Thing by H.W. Crocker III, “We Need Kids to Be Real Rebels.” The premise didn’t trouble me.  I, too, think we need “rebel” kids who fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil.  We need young people who take on the liberal agenda, and who stand up for the Catholic faith – to be Catholic rebels in a culture that despises Christianity and the Church.  What I found objectionable is Crocker’s putting forth Robert E. Lee “as the perfect antidote to the anomie and alienation of today’s young people.”

Yes, I, too, remember watching the Dukes of Hazzard.  Their exploits were good fun as they tried to outwit Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane and Judge Buford Potts.  I also remember seeing rebel flags in Virginia and in the South, flags that still may fly harmlessly today.  I admired the statues of Lee and Stonewall – these men are part of our common American heritage.  I watched Ken Burns’s documentary history of the Civil War three times and enjoyed Shelby Foote’s mellifluous comments so much that I read his huge three-volume narrative history of the Civil War.

In the end, however, I had to agree with President U.S. Grant’s judgment: “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of the foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought.”

Crocker rightly speaks of Lee’s and the Confederacy’s noble valor and their long suffering.  He accurately speaks of them as Christian men who prayed and wished to preserve their ancestral way of life.  They fought for what they believed was in accord with the Constitution of the United States, though I do not think the Constitution addresses the issue of seceding from the Union.

That, however, is of little matter.  The reason that the South seceded and attempted to establish a new “nation” was to preserve the institution of slavery.  If slavery could have been preserved in a peaceable manner, the South would never have seceded, and the Civil War would never have been fought.

Crocker inexplicably never mentions slavery – in a column where he lauds Lee as the exemplar of leadership and notes the Christian virtues of the South.  Although Lee may have been a rebel and a leader, is he the type of rebel and leader that we want our children to mirror in their rebellion against the evils of the world?


Pope Francis has often exhorted young people “to make a mess,”  though he never defines the kind of “mess” he wants them to make. He himself has made a rebellious mess, but a mess that has inflicted deep wounds on the body of Christ, and thus upon the body’s head – Jesus Christ. The German Synodal Way has made a mess, but at the cost of the Catholic faith.  Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J. of Luxembourg and Fr. James Martin, S.J. have made messes within the Church with their promotion and approval of homosexual behavior.  Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego and Cardinal Cupich of Chicago have also muddled the teaching of the Church concerning homosexuality and ordaining women to the priesthood.

All these men – and many others – may be considered rebels, but do they espouse causes that our rebel Catholic youth should be encouraged to join?  No, they are simply Catholic versions of Robert E. Lee – rebels and leaders who embody sinful and dubious positions.  We all may be sinners, but it is not our sins that are to be copied and encouraged.

The question arises: How, of all the men and women to choose from, did Crocker choose Lee as his archetype that Catholic youth are to follow?  The short answer is that he wrote a book on Lee’s leadership qualities.  But why not choose Saint Athanasius, who, as a defender of the faith, rebelled against the heterodoxy of the emperors and the bishops?  Why not follow Saint Thomas More, who rebelliously refused to obey the king and became God’s good servant instead?  Then, there is Saint Joan of Arc, a great woman rebel, who, with sword in hand, fought to cast England out of France.

There are, also, and maybe more relevant, recent young men who have become Blesseds.  For example, the Italian Blessed Carlo Acutis, who was a computer whiz, and died at the age of 15.  There is also Blessed Pier Georgio Frassati of Turin, who was a great Catholic evangelist and activist – who also smoked, a very rebellious thing to do within our woke culture of today.  General Lee may have been an honorable and valiant man, but he does not hold a candle to these Catholic rebels.

When Crocker suggests the raising of the Confederate flag as a sign of rebellion, he simply demonstrates a lack of imagination.  There is nothing courageous or plucky in doing so.  More importantly, while the showing of the Confederate flag may represent the desire, in a good sense, to be rebellious, yet one wonders.  Within the threads with which that flag is woven there may be knitted the specter, if not of slavery, of racism.  Would it not be better to display, proudly, the Stars and Stripes – the flag that designates us all as simply Americans?

To fly the American flag today, in many instances, can be one of the most rebellious acts one can perform.  Moreover, to be an ardent Catholic, particularly, a young devoted Catholic, is even more rebellious – it is contrary to the intellectual, social, and media elite culture of our day – a rebel cause worth dying for.

Crocker’s Lee, while valiant and honorable, fought for a cause that was not worth dying for.  And for Crocker to offer him as an exemplar for our Catholic youth to follow is to demean them and their Catholic faith.  Our Catholic youth deserve someone better than Robert E. Lee.  Maybe taking up their crosses and following the rebellious Jesus would be sufficient.


*Image: Portrait Carlo Acutis unveiled at his beatification Mass in Assisi, Italy Oct. 10, 2020. (Daniel Ibanez/CNA)

You may also enjoy:

Elizabeth A. Mitchell’s Christ Was Cancelled First

David G. Bonagura Jr.’s Forming ‘Warriors and Adventurers’ in Christ’s Army

Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, a prolific writer and one of the most prominent living theologians, is a former member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission. His newest book is the third volume of Jesus Becoming Jesus: A Theological Interpretation of the Gospel of John: The Book of Glory and the Passion and Resurrection Narratives.