The Vatican’s American Problem
A controversial article about hate in this country has raised eyebrows — and it's been insufficiently condemned in secular circles
A recent article in La Civilta Cattolica (Catholic Civilization) — a Vatican Jesuit publication whose contents are to some extent approved by the senior entourage of the pope — is accusing the United States of being influenced by an unholy alliance between Roman Catholic reactionaries and evangelicals. It is also tossing off a number of other flippant and outrageous reflections on the political course of the West — and it’s been insufficiently condemned in American secular circles.
The article in question was co-authored by the editor, Antonio Spadaro, S.J., and by Presbyterian pastor Marcelo Figueroa, whom the pope installed as the Argentinian editor of Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper. It claimed to find an “ecumenism of hate” in the United States based on the solidarity of reactionaries in the Roman Catholic Church and various evangelical churches — and imputed to this axis a great and almost satanic influence.
It was a scandalous misrepresentation of contemporary and historic facts, starting with the spurious allegation that the obscure website Church Militant and a couple of clerical outliers are driving the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. into an alliance with Protestant heirs to the Ku Klux Klan (though the Klan, mercifully, is not mentioned).
The burden of the article is that the pan-Christian far right of America, which supposedly influenced Ronald Reagan, led the George W. Bush administration, and now has sired the Trump phenomenon, champions a Manichean view of the world that is little better than the perspective of the jihadis this Catholic-evangelical alliance opposes.
Eminent Catholic theologian George Weigel wrote that this article would get “a thumping ‘F’ as a freshman essay,” while Canadian priest and writer Raymond de Souza wrote that it “does not even rise to the level of mediocrity.”
Spadaro and Figueroa confect from whole cloth a history of American Catholic and evangelical fundamentalists championing a theology not unlike Osama bin Laden’s — one that opposes dialogue and reconciliation, identifies enemies arbitrarily, and promotes “apocalyptic war” with these elements, inside the U.S. and throughout the world. This misalliance of Catholic “integralists” and “evangelical fundamentalists” in the past opposed “black civil rights, the hippy movement, communism, feminism, and now Muslims and migrants.”
This is not only a bit rich, given some of the stances the Roman Church has taken within living memory, including a distaste for communism so ardent Pius XII had trouble unconditionally and publicly favoring the Allies over the Nazi-Fascist-Japanese Axis. It is also malicious and defamatory of the current president of the U.S., whom Pope Francis welcomed to the Vatican a couple of months ago (and blessed a rosary for Melania Trump, a co-religionist).
This extensive hallucinatory screed claims that the Catholic and evangelical factions are united in a “nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state. However, the most dangerous prospect for this strange ecumenism is attributable to its xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls and purifying deportations.” Hence the “ecumenism of hate: Intolerance is a celestial mark of purism.”
It is very distressing that the Holy See could legitimize such drivel. It has descended beneath CNN, MSNBC, and the most scurrilous of the Never-Trumpers. (Not even the most rabid of them would claim that the president seeks to govern a theocracy.)
The U.S. government wishes to keep terrorists out of the United States and ensure that all immigration is documented — and not just a flood of unskilled aliens. To represent this as racism, xenophobia, jihadism, and tantamount to terrorism is an unimaginable disgrace from any publication known to have a semi-official status as an outlet for the pope.
The authors claim Church Militant is a “successful digital platform,” but its leader, Michael Voris, has been virtually expelled from the official American church and has only a very small following; the authors of this article seem to be the only people of any stature who are aware that Voris is likening Trump to the Emperor Constantine and Hillary Clinton to Diocletian. (Anyone who knows America at all would know that any such obscure and nonsensical claim is unlikely to find much fertile ground in any religious zone of the U.S. population.)
This is outright anti-Americanism, and the sort of ecclesiastical misrule that can lead to schism.
Dialogue has its limits, and it is not the business of the church to take the place of politicians in sophisticated democracies, as the pope remarked in his reasonably inoffensive environmental encyclical, “Laudato Si.”
If it is not the purpose of the Catholic Church to make supreme determinations of right from wrong, this pope and his spokesmen should clarify what they think its role is. Jesus Christ did not tell St. Peter to found a speakers’ forum or a conciliation service — especially not reconciliation with the anti-Christ.
Conrad Black, chairman of the London Daily Telegraph and many other newspapers for 15 years, is a financier, historian and biographer of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. He comments widely and is a member of the British House of Lords.