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The Smoke of Satan

, 224 pages
July 1999



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The Smoke of Satan

Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism

"Satan's smoke has made its way into the temple of God through some crack."—Pope Paul VI, 1972

The words of Pope Paul echoed the feelings of many on the Catholic right, who believed that the mainstream Catholic Church had fallen into decline. In The Smoke of Satan, sociologist Michael W. Cuneo explores what these fundamentalists believed that smoke to be and how they planned to halt its spread. From conservatives and their steadfast moral militancy, to separatists and their belief in the need for alternative communities, to Marianists and their tenets of mystical prophecy—Cuneo thoughtfully portrays the motivations of these individuals who have taken as their task the preservation of authentic Catholicism in North America.

A provocative study in contemporary sociology and the first full-scale account of Roman Catholic fundamentalism, The Smoke of Satan offers new insight into the Catholic Church and explores the nature of religion in society.

Michael W. Cuneo is an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Fordham University.

"Cuneo has given us a witty, even hilarious, and sometimes frightening study of the inner workings, the theological convictions, and the major gripes of three different 'factions' of the Catholic right... Sparkling with irony, he provides his readers with a clear picture of the deep divisions occurring in the right-wing of the Church."

"Cuneo uses the Second Vatican Council and the seismic shift it unleashed as a framework for vivid profiles of the Church's unnoticed players—Catholic fundamentalists. His well-researched, eye-opening book shows them to be a fascinating and, at times, bizarre and disturbing subgroup, whom even faithful Catholics would have a hard time embracing. With crisp and concise writing, Cuneo uses colorful anecdotes to shine a light on a mostly unknown part of the church."

"Here are feverish critics who regard the Catholic bishops as milquetoasts on sexual ethics and abortion. Here are poor souls whose distress over changes in traditional doctrine and liturgy has flowered into true night gardens of conspiracy theory... Cuneo is a sympathetic reporter... but he also reports nuttiness as nuttiness."

"A winning ethnography."

" The Smoke of Satan dispels the haze around a world that is unfamiliar to many. Cuneo's book is well worth the time."

" The Smoke of Satan is a fascinating look into a series of subcultures within and adjacent to Roman Catholicism—subcultures which are probably unfamiliar to most sociologists and researchers of religion... Cuneo does an excellent job of distinguishing the fundamental differences that separate the world views of each of these groups, as well as the internal factions into which each is fragmented."

"Cuneo is admirably thorough in his investigation of this [Catholic] netherworld."

"Readers caught by the title of Michael Cuneo's new study of traditional-minded Catholics will not be disappointed. Juicy exposés of strange religious compounds reminiscent of Waco and scholarly inquiries into the cult mentality of modern separatists fill six well-researched chapters... Lurid details of the most bizarre beliefs are recounted, to Cuneo's credit, without sarcasm."

"A Fellini-like religious landscape."

"Cuneo provides a fascinating glimpse not only into these movements and the attraction they hold for a growing number of Catholics, but also into the appeal that apocalyptic thinking can have for the marginalized and disenfranchised."

"Everett Hughes remarked forty years ago that everything, sociologically speaking, has happened in and to Catholicism. Since the Second Vatican Council, it has happened again. Michael Cuneo leaves no doubt about that."