Two of Pope Francis’s closest collaborators have accused religious leaders close to the administration of President Donald Trump of having a “Manichean vision,” based on a “gradually radicalized” theology growing from the early 20th century fundamentalist movement.
Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor-in-chief of the influential Rome-based Jesuit publication La Civiltà Cattolica, and Marcelo Figueroa, the editor-in-chief of the Argentinean edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, co-wrote an article in the latest edition of La Civiltà Cattolica looking at the relationship between “Evangelical Fundamentalism” and “Catholic Integralism.”
Since the election of Francis, Spadaro has often been seen at his side, and has published interviews with the pope and transcriptions of some of the pontiff’s private encounters with members of religious orders. Figueroa, a Presbyterian pastor, is an old friend of the pope, and was personally chosen by Francis to head up the new Argentinian edition of the L’Osservatore Romano, which began publishing in December 2016.
In the article, the authors directly attack Church Militant, a conservative digital media company covering Catholic issues run by layman Michael Voris.
Spadaro and Figueroa claim the organization favors “shocking rhetoric” and “uses Christian symbols to impose itself.” (Voris and other personnel from Church Militant were recently asked to stop distributing flyers in the hotel hosting the July 1-4 “Convocation of Catholic Leaders” sponsored by the U.S. bishops in Orlando, Florida, after convocation organizers said the activity was being disruptive.)
In the article, the authors give a brief history of American fundamentalism, as well as other conservative evangelical movements such as proponents of the prosperity Gospel and “dominionism,” which seeks to establish government based upon “biblical law.”
The article says these fundamentalist groups see the United States to be a nation blessed by God, and in recent years have “demonized” their enemies.
“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 authors write.
“To maintain conflict levels, their biblical exegeses have evolved toward a decontextualized reading of the Old Testament texts about the conquering and defense of the ‘promised land,’ rather than be guided by the incisive look, full of love, of Jesus in the Gospels.”
The article states this world view is not averse to physical conflicts, and even often compares modern wars to the “heroic conquests” of biblical figures such as Gideon and David.
“In this Manichean vision, belligerence can acquire a theological justification and there are pastors who seek a biblical foundation for it, using the scriptural texts out of context,” the authors state.
Spadaro and Figueroa attribute this view to White House strategist, Steven Bannon – a Catholic – and accuse him of being a “supporter of an apocalyptic geopolitics.”
Trump – despite his many marriages, multiple casinos, and limited understanding of Christian doctrine (he once said he has never asked God for forgiveness) – won 81 percent of the white evangelical vote.
Catholics, on the other hand, gave about half of their votes to Trump (some data suggests Trump won the Catholic vote; others say Hilary Clinton did), but the president received strong support from some conservative Catholic organizations such as Church Militant.
Spadaro and Figueroa argue “a strange form of surprising ecumenism is developing between Evangelical fundamentalists and Catholic Integralists brought together by the same desire for religious influence in the political sphere.”
They suggest the plan is to set up a “kingdom of the divinity” and this generates an “ideology of conquest.”
Spadaro and Figueroa go on to say the religious and political should not be confused, and that this goes against the political philosophy of Francis.
“An evident aspect of Pope Francis’s geopolitics rests in not giving theological room to the power to impose oneself or to find an internal or external enemy to fight,” they write. “There is a need to flee the temptation to project divinity on political power that then uses it for its own ends.”
The article in La Civiltà Cattolica is the latest chapter in the tempestuous relationship between Francis and Trump.
In February 2016, controversy started during the pope’s flight back from Mexico, mere hours after visiting Ciudad Juarez, a city on the northern Mexican border, where he’d lamented the “human tragedy” of immigration.
Journalists traveling with the pope asked him about Trump, and his proposed border wall.
“Building walls instead of bridges is not Christian; this is not in the Gospel,” the pope said.
He added: “I’d just say that this man is not Christian if he said it this way.”
Trump responded to the comments, saying it was “disgraceful” for a religious leader to question another person’s faith.
Trump also accused Francis of being “political,” and said the pontiff doesn’t understand the problems Americans face.
On May 24, the two men met for the first time in Rome, in what was viewed as a successful encounter.
However, when Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement a week later, Argentine Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, head of the Vatican’s Academy of Sciences, called it a “slap in the face” to the Vatican.
Although not an official publication of the Vatican, La Civiltà Cattolica is reviewed by the Vatican’s Secretary of State before publication, and under Spadaro has been considered one of the foremost vehicles for understanding the views of the current pontificate.
Correction: An earlier version of this article implied staff of Church Militant attended the recent Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando. They were distributing flyers in the hotel in which the convocation was taking place.