Pope Francis meets U.S. President Donald Trump during a private audience at the Vatican, May 24, 2017.
Two of Pope Francis’ close confidantes have published a scathing rebuke of how a certain strand of what they call religious “fundamentalism” has become fused with politics in America.
The Vatican-vetted article, published in the Rome-based Jesuit publication La Civiltà Cattolica, calls out “evangelical fundamentalists” and explicitly mentions President Donald Trump, who identifies as a Presbyterian, and his adviser Steve Bannon, who identifies as Catholic.
The authors of the article are the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, the editor-in-chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, and Rev. Marcelo Figueroa, a Presbyterian pastor who serves as editor-in-chief of an edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published for Francis’ home country of Argentina.
The article attacks the decades-old partnership between two strands of American Christianity ― fundamentalist evangelicals and Catholics who are brought together by the “same desire for religious influence in the political sphere.” Although these two groups differ on a number of theological issues, they have come together since the 1980s and 1990s over issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, according to the AP.
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Spadaro and Figueroa accused this group of misinterpreting verses in the Bible to fit their own political stances on a wide range of topics ― from war-mongering to climate change to the idea of America as a “promised land” that is to be defended against all odds.
The authors wrote that these evangelicals and Catholics “condemn traditional ecumenism and yet promote an ecumenism of conflict that unites them in the nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state.”
One of the most worrisome aspects of this alliance for the pair is how it encourages hatred of different ethnicities and conflates Islam with terrorism. This view of the world stands in stark contrast to Pope Francis’ interfaith outreach and his repeated calls to build bridges, not walls.
“The most dangerous prospect for this strange ecumenism is attributable to its xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls and purifying deportations,” the authors wrote.
At one point, Spadaro and Figueroa compared Bannon’s worldview to that of the so-called Islamic State, calling Bannon a “supporter of an apocalyptic geopolitics.” They claim this vision of the world reduces everything to a battle between good and evil, between God and Satan.
White House chief strategist Steve Bannon in Washington, DC on Monday, April 10, 2017.
Spadaro and Figueroa wrote that the desire of these Christian fundamentalists is to “submit the state to the Bible with a logic that is no different from the one that inspires Islamic fundamentalism.”
“We must not forget that the theopolitics spread by Isis is based on the same cult of an apocalypse that needs to be brought about as soon as possible,” they wrote.
Figueroa is a longtime friend of the pope and at one point, co-hosted a TV show with Francis for a Catholic channel in Buenos Aires. Figueroa was personally chosen by Francis last year to run the Argentine edition of L’Osservatore Romano.
Spadaro, who like Francis is a Jesuit, has maintained close communication with the pope since Francis’ election. Under his watch, La Civiltà Cattolica has become “one of the foremost vehicles for understanding the views of the current pontificate,” according to the Catholic news organization Crux. The AP reports that the publication has become an “unofficial mouthpiece of the papacy.”
La Civiltà Cattolica isn’t an official Vatican news source, but it is reviewed by the Vatican’s Secretary of State before it is published, according to Crux.
In contrast to this “apocalyptic” view of politics and religion, the two authors claim that Francis seeks another path. The pope, they say “radically rejects” the idea of creating an actual Kingdom of God here on earth through politics, including at the level of a political “party.”
“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,” the pair wrote.