This week a Vatican-sanctioned journal published a controversial article that rebukes American Catholics for entering into an allegiance of “hate” with fundamentalist Evangelicals.
The paper, authored by close allies of Pope Francis, describes Evangelicals – including multiple members of Trump’s cabinet – as “new crusaders” whose holy grail, so to speak, would be to “submit the State to the Bible with a logic that is no different from the one that inspires Islamic fundamentalism.”
Father Antonio Spadaro, who is currently the editor-in-chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, one of the oldest active publications in Italy, co-authored the article with Marcelo Figueroa, a Presbyterian from Argentina.
Apart from the ultra-conservative Catholics of America, one of the primary targets of the piece was President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon. According to Sparado and Figueroa, Bannon is a “supporter of an apocalyptic geopolitics” which has led to an increase in xenophobia in the U.S.
Evangelicals are described as religious fundamentalists who have infiltrated American politics with a language resembling the ancient philosophies of a rudimentary struggle between good and evil. Sparado and Figueroa assert that President Trump has exploited the Bush-era maxim of destroying the “axis of evil.”
Although, in the case of Trump, the language has changed to “bad” and “very bad,” as opposed to explicitly “evil.” Since the start of the 20th Century, evangelicals have gradually become more radicalized, allege the authors, and are today driven by a mandate to impose draconian religious exemplars on all American institutions.
This, they say, is a direct threat to the proper functioning of American democratic processes. Evangelicals have reportedly historically viewed civil liberties as threats to their extremist understanding of the American way of life.
The African-American civil rights movement, feminism, migrations, Islam, abortion, and LGBTQI rights, are viewed, writes Figueroa, as dangerous obstacles that must be eliminated, according to a “decontextualized reading of the Old Testament texts” by evangelicals.
In reading the paper, we are reminded of Pastor Rousas John Rushdoony – who was born in 1916 and died in 2001 – who is the father of so-called “Christian Reconstructionism.”
For Sparado and Figueroa, the Gospels of Jesus, infused with boundless love, are the texts which should be prioritized as the world moves towards more liberated, equal, and tolerant societies.
Pastor Rushdoony believed that it is theocratically essential to insert the Christian religious doctrines into the State. But this, Pope Francis’ allies believe, will submit the American people to a logic “that is no different from the one that inspires Islamic fundamentalism.”
The authors issue a stark warning that by aligning themselves with evangelicals, American Catholics are venturing into the territory of terror organizations like ISIS, who believe, just as Evangelicals do, that an apocalypse could not come sooner for the sake of cleansing the world of sin.
While it’s uncertain whether Pope Francis himself has sanctioned the La Civiltà Cattolica article, it is a profound rebuke from a journal that carries the Vatican’s seal of approval. Moreover, what is significant is that the pope – never hesitating to discipline insubordination – has thus far not displayed any opposition to the content of the article.
According to a feature in the New York Times, American Catholics have not take the article lightly, even going so far as to accuse the authors of having anti-American sentiments. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, a prominent American ecclesiastical dignitary, has reportedly dismissed Sparado and Figueroa as “useful idiots.”
Chaput has a tenuous relationship with the pope, who has refused to promote him to the rank of Cardinal. If elevated to the position, Chaput would be permitted to become a member of the Vatican conclave which is tasked with selecting the next pontiff.
Pope Francis is the antithesis of conservative religious beliefs, espousing rhetoric that is seemingly more liberal than most pontiffs who came before him. Subjects such a same-sex marriage, divorce, abortion, and immigration have been painted with Francis’ progressive brush, much to the ire of American religious conservatives.
Meanwhile, a professor at Villanova University, Massimo Faggioli, has praised the La Civiltà Cattolica article as a document that will “be remembered in church history as one of the most important to understand the Vatican of Francis and the United States and American Catholicism.”
Also on the other end of the spectrum, American Catholic Liberals have celebrated the socio-political beliefs of Pope Francis. When conservative Cardinal Francis George of the Chicago Diocese retired in 2014, Francis replaced him with the liberal Blase J. Cupich, who was swiftly made a Cardinal.
Fear, contends Father Sparado and Figueroa, is the “persuasive temptation for a spurious alliance between politics and religious fundamentalism.” For, in their view, it the “fear of chaos” that drives religious extremists to exaggerate disorder “beyond any realism” to incite anxiety in the souls of the people.
In this way, add the authors, religion becomes the people’s only hope of bringing about the type of order they so desperately seek. And in doing so, “fundamentalism thereby shows itself not to be the product of a religious experience but a poor and abusive perversion of it.”
Pope Francis, on the other hand, is dedicated to a counter-narrative to that of fear. In doing so, the authors believe he is courageous for lending no “theological-political legitimacy to terrorists, avoiding any reduction of Islam to Islamic terrorism.”
Father Sparado says that the response to the article has been both very kind, but also filled with “plenty of hate.”
[Featured Image by L’Osservatore Romano/AP Images]