A close ally of Pope Francis has attacked Stephen Bannon, the senior White House strategist, for being a “supporter of apocalyptic geopolitics” in a paper lamenting a drift towards fundamentalism among some US conservative Catholics who backed Donald Trump as president.
Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest and editor of Civilta’ Cattolica, a widely-read publication in the Vatican, wrote in a 2,700-word paper released this week that there was a “surprising” meeting of minds between some Catholic voters in the US and the evangelical Christian right.
“Those who profess themselves to be Catholic express themselves in ways that until recently were unknown in their tradition and using tones much closer to Evangelicals,” Mr Spadaro wrote. He said their “shared objectives” were focused on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage and they harboured 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,” he added.
The article has attracted attention because Fr Spadaro is very close to Pope Francis and the Vatican would have approved the paper’s publication. The piece was co-authored by Marcelo Figueroa, a Presbyterian pastor who is editor-in-chief of the Argentine edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, and is also considered close to Francis.
The tone of the piece suggests an even deeper concern than expected within the Vatican about the direction of the US under Mr Trump. Pope Francis and Mr Trump held a private meeting at the Vatican in late May, in an attempt to establish a positive dialogue after some indirect — and direct — clashes in recent years over climate change and immigration.
But even beyond specific policies, the essay exposes the unease within the top ranks of the Catholic Church over the president’s worldview, which is described as “Manichean” in its division between the good and the 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 said.
Mr Bannon, who is Catholic, is singled out as a member of the Trump administration who is pushing this fundamentalist agenda within the White House, saying the former Breitbart News chairman was inspired by the late New York-born Calvinist pastor Rousas John Rushdoony, who is considered the father of “Christian reconstructionism”.
“This is the doctrine that feeds political organisations and networks such as the Council for National Policy and the thoughts of their exponents such as Steve Bannon, currently chief strategist at the White House and supporter of an apocalyptic geopolitics,” the article said, adding that this doctrine was ““no different than the one that inspires Islamic fundamentalism”.
In the 2016 election, exit polls showed that Catholic voters supported Mr Trump over Hillary Clinton by a margin of 52 to 48 per cent. Although the Catholic Church’s views on abortion, same-sex marriage and religious freedom are closer to the Republican party platform, Pope Francis’ emphasis on the rights of migrants and the need for action to tackle climate change put him at odds with Mr Trump.
But what seemed to trouble Fr Spadaro and Fr Figueroa even more was the embrace by many Catholics of the “stigmatisation of enemies who are often demonised”.
“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 said, adding that they were putting the “conquering and defence of the promised land” above the “incisive look, full of love, of Jesus in the Gospel”.
“The political strategy for success becomes that of raising the tones of the conflictual, exaggerating disorder, agitating the souls of the people by painting worrying scenarios beyond any realism,” it added. On the other hand, Pope Francis was “carrying forward a systematic counter-narration with respect to the narrative of fear” due to the “need to fight the manipulation of this season of anxiety and insecurity”.
Some conservative Catholics were outraged by the piece. “Due to its unprecedented nature, and the direct attack it makes on the United States, its current administration, American Evangelicals, Conservative Catholics in the United States (and Europe and Africa, concerned with the rise of Islamism) . . . the article's over-reach is nothing if not breathtaking,” wrote Rorate Caeli, a conservative Catholic blog.
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