I was away for the past two weeks, some of that time with only intermittent access to the Internet. I was, however, able to follow the reaction to this article in La Civilta Cattolica by Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa.
The article is a fascinating pastiche of stereotypes one usually finds from left-wing sources, such as claims that conservative Christians—both Catholic and Protestant—are “theocrats” who want to impose some kind of fascist, church-dominated government. But given the journal is vetted by the Vatican Secretariat of State and both men are deemed confidants of Pope Francis, one needs to pay attention, as John Allen Jr writes at Crux.
First, the authors – Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, one of Francis’s closest collaborators, and Marcelo Figueroa, a longtime Protestant friend hand-picked by Francis to edit the Argentinian version of L’Osservatore Romano – clearly reflect the kind of views held by the pontiff. The Secretariat of State would not have signed off if the presumption wasn’t that Francis would approve.
If you want to know what Francis himself makes of the Trump phenomenon, in other words, this is probably the best place to go.
Here’s a selection from the piece that might have some kernel of truth in it to ponder about power, but ruins it with claims that those who believe Scripture (or the Catechism for that matter) about the Apocalypse are trying their darndest to bring it about through fomenting war, kind of like ISIS.
The religious element should never be confused with the political one. Confusing spiritual power with temporal power means subjecting one to the other. An evident aspect of Pope Francis’ geopolitics rests in not giving theological room to the power to impose oneself or to find an internal or external enemy to fight. There is a need to flee the temptation to project divinity on political power that then uses it for its own ends. Francis empties from within the narrative of sectarian millenarianism and dominionism that is preparing the apocalypse and the “final clash.” Underlining mercy as a fundamental attribute of God expresses this radically Christian need.
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. Yet it is this very dynamic with a spurious theological flavor that tries to impose its own law and logic in the political sphere.
Having been a journalist for a long time, first as an evangelical, then as a Catholic, I have had much exposure to different types and expressions of the Christian faith in multiple communities, from mainline and more modernist to charismatic to traditional.
When Christians pray “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven,” and long for Christ’s return, and for His peace to reign on earth, are they guilty of being integralists and theocrats? There is a huge difference between spiritually preparing for the Apocalypse–such as being like the wise virgins with our lamps trimmed since we are told we do not know when Jesus will return– and “preparing the Apocalypse.” I have *never* in 30 years met a Christian who is actively preparing to bring about Armageddon.
I have also encountered the cynical partisan use of anti-Christian stereotypes in politics to demonize, discredit and dismiss politicians who are serious about their Christian faith and Christians who argue in the public square (seldom using anything but reasonable, natural law-based arguments, never Bible-thumping) on issues such as euthanasia.
Anyway, the responses to this article have been most interesting. Here are some:
Carl Olsen at Catholic World Report
Robert Royal at The Catholic Thing
Samuel Gregg at Catholic World Report
Fr. Raymond J. de Souza at Crux
Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter
Tim Stanley in the Catholic Herald
Fr. Dwight Longenecker at Patheos
At the same time, I’m puzzled by the fact that early in his pontificate, Pope Francis reached out to the very kinds of evangelical Christians his confidantes are disparaging in their article.
Remember this video that Pope Francis sent to a big meeting of American televangelists in 2013, brought by his friend Bishop Tony Palmer of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, a Anglican-style body. You can find Pope Francis’ video made on Palmer’s iPhone at about the 32:00 mark, but you might also find Palmer’s introduction to the video most interesting.
I was possibly the last journalist to interview Palmer via Skype only three weeks before he died in a motorcycle crash.
I also had the first published story about a private lunch Pope Francis hosted that included big televangelists such as Kenneth Copeland and James Robison.
I happened to find out about the lunch because of my wide number of contacts in the evangelical world. One of them was Canadian Brian Stiller, global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance. He posted a picture of the meeting on Facebook, I asked for an interview and contact info for Palmer.
Another Canadian present was John Arnott, who pastored the former Airport Christian Fellowship in Toronto, home of the “Toronto Blessing.”
All this to say this Pope is defies easy-pigeonholing even by his alleged confidants.