Confidant of Pope Francis condemns US religious right
A close confidant of Pope Francis, writing Thursday in a Vatican-approved magazine, condemned the way some American evangelicals and their Roman Catholic supporters mix religion and politics, saying their worldview promotes division and hatred.
The Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor of the influential Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, said a shared desire for political influence between “evangelical fundamentalists” and some Catholics has inspired an “ecumenism of conflict” that demonizes opponents and promotes a “theocratic type of state.”
Spadaro also took aim at conservative religious support for President Donald Trump, accusing activists of promoting a “xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls and purifying deportations.” Trump has sought to bar travelers from six Muslim-majority countries and vowed to build a wall on the Mexican border.
The article, “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism,” was co-written by a Presbyterian pastor, the Rev. Marcelo Figueroa, who is editor of the Argentine edition of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, in the pope’s native country.
Articles in La Civilta Cattolica are reviewed and approved by the Vatican Secretariat of State. Under Francis, who is a Jesuit, the publication has become something of an unofficial mouthpiece of the papacy.
The political alliance between Catholics and American Protestants that is at the heart of Spadaro’s article emerged in the late 20th century.
Anti-Catholic bias once split members of the two traditions, both religiously and politically. But in the 1980s and ’90s, some conservative religious leaders built an affiliation over such issues as abortion and marriage, culminating in a 1994 declaration written by the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran who converted to Catholicism, and Chuck Colson, the Watergate felon turned born-again Christian.
Spadaro said this relationship has “gradually radicalized,” dividing the world into only good and evil and providing theological justification for a type of “apocalyptic geopolitics” advocated by such figures as White House adviser Steve Bannon, who is Catholic.
Spadaro specifically criticized the far-right Catholic American media organization ChurchMilitant.com. Spadaro said the media outlet framed the presidential election as a “spiritual war” and Trump’s ascent to the presidency as “a divine election.”
Michael Voris, who founded the outlet, said in an interview that he was shocked by the article.
“Here’s a fellow who is accusing us of trying to use the church to push a political agenda, which is completely absurd,” Voris said, when “they are using a leftist agenda to pursue leftist goals.”
Some political conservatives have accused Francis of promoting socialism or Marxism, a characterization he rejects. The pope has frequently lashed out at the injustices of capitalism and the global economic system, and has urged governments to redistribute wealth to the poor.
Spadaro’s critique also appears aimed in part at America’s Catholic bishops, who have fought for religious exemptions from gay marriage laws and other measures church leaders consider immoral, and have often characterized those with opposing views as wishing to persecute Christians.
Spadaro wrote that “erosion of religious liberty is clearly a grave threat.” But he warned against mounting a defense of religious liberty in “fundamentalist terms.”
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who leads the U.S. bishops’ advocacy on religious liberty, said in an interview that the article doesn’t mention the U.S. bishops and refers only to “a very narrow band of ecumenical relationships.”
American bishops work on a broad range of issues that reflect Catholic social teaching, not any other theology, Lori said.