Thursday, July 13, 2017

Vatican Journal Criticizes the American Religious Right UPDATED

One ultraconservative blog describes this article as

two of Francis' closest confidantes attack US,
American conservatives in Pope's own journal 

Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A surprising ecumenism appears in the current issue of La Civiltà Cattolica, a journal whose subtitle “Reflecting the mind of the Vatican since 1850” indicates its control by the Vatican.  The article is by Antonio Spadaro S.J., its  Editor-in-chief who is regarded as very close to Francis, and by Marcelo Figueroa, Presbyterian pastor, Editor-in-chief of the Argentinean edition of L’Osservatore Romano. Remember Francis had extremely good relationships with evangelicals in Argentina.

At times this mingling of politics, morals and religion has taken on a Manichaean language that divides reality between absolute Good and absolute Evil. President George W. Bush spoke in his day about challenging the “axis of evil” and stated it was the USA’s duty to “free the world from evil” Today President Trump steers the fight against a wider, generic collective entity of the “bad” or even the “very bad.” Sometimes the tones used by his supporters in some campaigns take on meanings that we could define as “epic.”

The article traces the “evangelical right” or “theoconservatism” to the years 1910-1915, a South Californian millionaire, Lyman Stewart, and the 12-volume work The Fundamentals

The panorama of threats to their understanding of the American way of life have included modernist spirits, the black civil rights movement, the hippy movement, communism, feminist movements and so on. And now in our day there are the migrants and the Muslims.
The article criticizes Pastor Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001) the father of so-called “Christian reconstructionism” (or “dominionist theology”), the theopolitical vision of Christian fundamentalism, the Council for National Policy and Steve Bannon, currently chief strategist at the White House and supporter of an apocalyptic geopolitics.

Both Evangelical and Catholic Integralists condemn traditional ecumenism and yet promote an ecumenism of conflict that unites them in the 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. The word “ecumenism” transforms into a paradox, into an “ecumenism of hate.”
  The article see Francis as the antidote to all the above:
The religious element should never be confused with the political one. Confusing spiritual power with temporal power means subjecting one to the other. An evident aspect of Pope Francis’ geopolitics rests in not giving theological room to the power to impose oneself or to find an internal or external enemy to fight. There is a need to flee the temptation to project divinity on political power that then uses it for its own ends. Francis empties from within the narrative of sectarian millenarianism and dominionism that is preparing the apocalypse and the “final clash.”[2] Underlining mercy as a fundamental attribute of God expresses this radically Christian need.
Francis wants to break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church. Spirituality cannot tie itself to governments or military pacts for it is at the service of all men and women. Religions cannot consider some people as sworn enemies nor others as eternal friends. Religion should not become the guarantor of the dominant classes. Yet it is this very dynamic with a spurious theological flavor that tries to impose its own law and logic in the political sphere.

I think this critique of some trends in Evangelical Protestantism is long overdue. It is good that two of Francis close aides are writing it. I hope it will embolden the progressives in the American Bishops conference. The Religious Right has been the driving force behind the exit of the Nones from institutional religion. It has done far more damage to religion than any secular movement.

ADDENDUM: Michael Sean Winters over at NCR had the same reaction The Civilta Article: FINALLY!

UPDATE John Allen gives his perspectives on the article:
The Secretariat of State would not have signed off if the presumption wasn’t that Francis would approve. If you want to know what Francis himself makes of the Trump phenomenon, in other words, this is probably the best place to go.
this is not just business as usual. It’s rare for a Vatican media outlet, even one that’s only semi-official, to comment directly on the politics of another nation, especially in a fashion that can’t help but be seen as fairly partisan.
Over the years, a classic view of the U.S. in the Vatican, especially among Italians but more widespread, is that historically we’re a Calvinist culture, not a Catholic one, and somewhere deep in our DNA is the tendency to think in terms of the “elect” and the “reprobate.”
Suspicion of a latent “Manichean” streak is a time-honored Vatican take on America, which neither Pope Francis nor Spadaro and Figueroa invented, and which will still be there long after they’re gone.
Two the last two comments I would add. The Vatican is Catholic, the big tent Church! And anything that speaks of a spiritual elite superior to that big tent or of seeing the world as evil isn't Catholic.  American Catholics who don't understand that, are culturally Protestant.  


  1. I've taken notice of Antonio Spadaro for some years. since he proposed a Jesuit presence in the virtual world of Second Life ... I had a post about that in 2007: The Jesuits and Second Life .

    The Spiritual Exercises are all about using the imagination to place yourself in a virtual situation (like at the sermon on the mount with Jesus), so the idea of the Exercises and the virtual world go together. He wrote more about this in 2014 .... Pope's interviewer tells Vatican congress to reevaluate spiritual quest... by which time he had become close to the pope.

    I can understand why the pope's buddies would attack the conservatives ... they don't like Francis. But sadly that doesn't mean that the pope and Spadaro and the others like them are willing to stand up for liberal causes such as women's ordination or a recognition of gay relationships or making celibacy optional of accepting contraception.

  2. I have always expected the Catholics and Episcopalians to fight the pernicious effects of fundie-gelicalism. I am glad to see them taking this up.

    But I think Crystal has a point that the Church's intransigence on pelvic issues has driven out a lot of the Nones. I don't expect those teachings to change, though I think that they could be emphasized less harshly than they have been. That "smaller, purer church" idea is just as pernicious as anything in fundie-gelicalism..

    As the mother of a None, I would also say that some parishes/dioceses are not supportive of parents trying to raise a child in the faith. There were a lot of Catholic Grammas in our parish who were critical, backseat drivers when it came to parenting, who are now shocked that The Boy Et Ux don't want anything to do with the Church.

    And, let's face it: kids meet the Church in the parish, not in Rome.

    1. Catholicism is almost by definition the big tent Church which rejects sectarianism, any attempt to break off a pure Church.

      There have always been sectarian tendencies within the church to reform it; these have usually taken the form of religious orders that enable religious to lead a stricter form of Christian life, and others to aspire to those forms.

      During the immigrant era, American Catholicism became very sectarian, setting up schools, healthcare, etc. that separated itself from the "Protestant" culture. That declined after Vatican II with the broadening of the definition of American "civic religion."

      European Catholicism went through a sectarian phase in response to the Enlightenment call Catholic Integralism which emphasized the superiority of Catholicism and the Papacy to nationalism and looked backwards toward a medieval integration of Church and State.

    2. Jean, I agree with you that " meet the Church in the parish, not in Rome." What are some of the things you feel a parish can do to make kids feel more connected to it? Actually that would make a good post sometime. Some things that come to mind, are, don't be too judgey about stuff like tattoos and piercings, that's all superficial. Another thing is to get them involved in ministry, to others and to the parish. Quite a few teens have been involved in our choir over the years. They don't have to be stellar musicians. They just have to like music and want to participate.

  3. I wonder which Americans did the research for that piece. Rushdoody and 12 volumes of "The Fundamentals" are not exactly bedtime reading, or even seminar reading, for Europeans and Argentinians.

    1. Winters suggests that the article should have had an American co-author. I suspect the Argentinian Presbyterian likely has had to deal often with fundamentalists.

      An interview with Spadaro over at America asks "Is it usual for La Civiltà Cattolica to express its opinion on the Catholic Church in a particular country to such an extent?" The answer appears to be that they often focus on a particular country to illustrate a general problem.

      By both focusing upon America and not having an American co-author they have left themselves vulnerable.

  4. BBC America last night had a piece on the Catholic Chaldeans being ejected and returned to death in the Middle East under Trump's racial cleansing immigration policy. One of the interviewees said "our priest" told them to vote for Trump, and they did. Why did he tell them that? LGBT? Contraception? Or religious-sounding noises from the likes of Rev. Franklin Graham, who prays for the unity of Trump and Putin?

    1. I think it was the whole culture wars thing, rather than one particular issue. The whole "God and Country" phenomenon has been gathering steam for decades now. About time someone called it out. In a way it's good that the authors weren't American. Maybe that will get some people's attention; that, hey, this toxic mess is visible from space and other people think we're crazy.

  5. Ross Douthat wonders what Francis will do next?

    Four of his primary opponents (Muller, Pell, Meisner, and Scola) have been removed. However Douthat sees France friends and allies wanting to move forward more quickly that Frances.

    "We know that Francis is a liberal pope, but apart from the remarriage debate we don’t know what priority he places on any given liberal-Catholic goal."

    Douthat makes the mistake of placing too much emphasis upon ideology. One of Francis heroes is Pius X who was extremely conservative ideologically but caused a revolution in Catholic practice by lowering the age of first communion and advocating frequent even daily communion.

    The resignation of B16, another conservative, has set the stage for another revolution in the practice of the papacy.

    Francis has begun a revolution in the college of cardinals by appointing cardinals from minor dioceses, nations with few Catholics, an apostolic nuncio, and an auxiliary bishop.

    If Frances imposes a five year term limit on curial offices, and moves people to lesser offices afterwards that would be revolution in the way the curia operates.

    Frances could end up stepping down as Pope at an optimal time when all his friends and allies are in place and when all his enemies have been displaced.

    1. Francis has appointed the #3 person at CDF to the #2 position after promoting the #2 person to the top position.

      Sounds like a very traditional bureaucratic way to insure continuity while getting rid of media stars at the top. Everyone gets limited to 5 years. Everyone gets focused on the task of their department, since they may be promoted in 5 years.