Two associates of Pope Francis accuse right-wing American Christians of practising 'apocalyptic' politics

14 July 2017 | by Daniele Palmer

Church Militant, a conservative Catholic website, is accused of 'using Christian symbols to impose itself' and of exploiting religious language

An article written by two close associates of the Pope has criticised some right-wing American Christian groups accusing them of practicing “apocalyptic” politics.

In an essay published Thursday (13 July), Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ, editor-in-chief of the Jesuit’s theological journal Civiltá Cattolica, and Marcelo Figueroa, a Protestant pastor who worked closely with Francis in Buenos Aires, have criticised what they see as an “apocalyptic geopolitics” that has taken hold of the American right-wing.

Within the essay, Fr Spadaro and Figueroa speak of an “ecumenism of hatred” between right-wing Evangelicals and some conservative Catholics.

However, some of those criticised have hit back, such as the conservative Catholic website Church Militant, saying their accusations are “unclear” and “completely off base.”

In particular, the authors, who are both close friends and aides of Francis, accuse Church Militant, a conservative Catholic website in the US, of “using Christian symbols to impose itself,” which, however, is in reality merely an “exploitation” of religious language.

Speaking to the Tablet, Church Militant’s Catherine Niles said that Fr Spadaro and Figueroa are “wrong in their assessment” and that “we reject it [their claims] utterly.”

Fr Spadaro is one if Italy’s most respected theologians and essayists and Figueroa was chosen to head up the Argentinian section of the Vatican’s newspaper, Osservatore Romano.

In the essay, the authors denounce what they define as a “problematic fusion” of politics, morals and religion within the American right-wing.

A “Manichean language,” the article argues, “”that subdivides reality between absolute Good and absolute Evil” has penetrated the more extreme elements modern conservatism.

They then go on to link this “Manichaeism” with the election of Donald Trump, who has continued to have the backing of many right-wing Evangelicals and some Catholics.

Austen Ivereigh, the Catholic writer and journalist, said that “the article exposes the way part of the Catholic Church in the US has fallen into an ideology which uses Catholic language but has little to so with Catholicism.”

However, a lot of controversy has surrounded the essay’s inclusion of the conservative Catholic website, Church Militant, into this “Manichean camp.”

In the article, Church Militant is described as attributing to Trump some kind of divine significance, citing an article in which the website wondered whether his victory may have been because of the nation’s “prayers.”

Church Militant’s Catherine Niles, who wrote an article yesterday evening defending her website from Fr Spadaro and Figueroa’s claims, told The Tablet that they have been “misunderstood” and that the article’s description of the website is “a caricature.”

“They trying to lump us into a group we don’t belong to,” Niles said, adding that “we need specific evidence.”

During the election campaign Church Militant often published articles attacking and criticising Hilary Clinton, the Democratic candidate. In several headlines, the conservative website accused Clinton of plotting against the Catholic Church.

Part of the ideology that Fr Spadaro and Figueroa describe in the article is a fear of modernity, one that through “decontextualized” interpretations of the Bible has led right-wing Evangelicals and some Catholics to speak of “the conquest and defence of the ‘promised land’” that is America and its “way of life.”

Often, this defence, the article argues, entails a repudiation and demonization of “migrants and Muslims,” making xenophobia and Islamophobia two fundamental dimensions of the new “Manichean” mentality.

When asked whether the right-wing Evangelicals and Catholics the article speaks of truly believe this, Niles, speaking from Church Militant’s offices, said that they merely want to “convert them to the one true faith.”

“This,” she added, “is out of love not hatred.”

President Trump has made a number of controversial references to immigrants and Muslims. During his electoral campaign, he promised to build a wall on the Mexican-American border to keep out people he defined as “rapists” and “murderers.”

He also attempted to impose a travel ban restricting Muslims from entering the US. However, several state courts in the US have blocked it, yet, after the Trump administration appealed to the Supreme Court, a final decision still has to be made.

PICTURE: Church Militant is described as attributing to President Trump some kind of divine significance, citing an article in which the website wondered whether his victory may have been because of the nation’s “prayers.”

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