On July 13, Antonio Spadaro, SJ, the editor-in-chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, together with Marcelo Figueroa, a Presbyterian pastor, editor-in-chief of the Argentinian edition of L’Osservatore Romano, penned a strongly worded attack against what they believe to be an unholy alliance in the United States between Evangelical Fundamentalists and Catholic ultra-conservatives.
By mere coincidence, just two days before the publication of this article, some 200 people protested in Valletta – as is their right – against the formalisation of the legalisation of gay marriage in Malta. Among the group there were a few very well respected people who have nothing to do with the vast majority of those attending, made up of evangelical fundamentalists, far right politicians and Catholic ultra-conservatives many of whom are staunchly critical of Pope Francis.
Does Spadaro’s and Figueroa’s piece has any light to shed on Valletta?
These authors, who are very close to Pope Francis, argue that the Protestant Evangelical Right, or theo-conservatives, as they are called, and right-wing American Integralists want to bolster and promote a sort of ‘Christian America’ that defends traditional moral standards and right-wing economic principles. They accuse this alliance of using “Manichaean language that divides reality between absolute Good and absolute Evil”, and of defending all this by using scriptural texts out of context.
They note that the Catholics in this alliance express themselves in a way usually characteristic of Evangelicals more than Catholics. The meeting point between the two groups is the shared dream of a theocratic state. Their common objectives centre on xenophobia, Islamophobia, abortion, same-sex marriage, religious education in schools and other matters generally considered moral or tied to values.
An editorial in The Tablet (July 19) says that the article in question missed one important aspect: the position of the “Integralist Catholics” points towards a bigger division within the American Church and which affects bishops as well as parishes. “The two sides”, says The Tablet “could be typified as ‘pro-life’ on the one hand and ‘pro-social justice’ on the other.” This division became manifest during the 2008 US presidential election when some bishops said that it was a sin to vote for Obama and others said that it was not.
I do not believe that the Catholic Right has the right solutions. Undoubtedly their solutions are not those being proposed by Pope Francis
I think it is very obvious that what Spadaro and Figueroa write of the United States has reverberations in Malta. The rise of the Catholic right is evident in the Church and, to a lesser extent, in the political arena. Outdated models of being a Church and of the Church’s positioning in society are becoming popular particularly with the younger clergy. Nostalgia for a past golden age which, in actual fact, has never existed, is an ever-increasing emotion.
Archbishop Emeritus Paul Cremona had referred to this nostalgia as a very big pastoral problem. There is anger at socio-cultural and legislative changes happening around us. The feeling of “Save us Lord for we are drowning” is becoming dominant in several ecclesiastical circles not as a rare cry for help but as the everyday lament. An old-fashioned militancy is proposed by others as the way forward to face the problems confronting us. Some float the idea of a political party for Catholics as a way for our ‘salvation’. The connections between our local brand of Catholic right with those in the US are obvious.
Quite naturally the Catholic Right (which, truth be said, is not a monolith) have every right to exist. Theological pluralism is part of the DNA of being Catholic. More so is political pluralism. I, however, do not believe that the Catholic Right has the right solutions. Undoubtedly their solutions are not those being proposed by Pope Francis.
According to Spadaro and Figueroa, Francis’s strategy is based on the urge of inclusion, peace, encounter and building bridges. The Pope resists the idea of a religious war as for him the religious element should never be confused with the political one. Confusing spiritual power with temporal power means subjecting one to the other. Besides, they add, Francis wants to break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church.
The Right’s dualistic doctrine and belief in the need for a religious war made Church Militant, a bulwark of the Catholic conservatives, compare Trump to Emperor Constantine (the ‘saviour’ – sic), and Clinton to Diocletian (the persecutor). I don’t know whether our Catholic Right is or is not going down this route. Suffice it to say that such comparisons are historically misplaced, politically naïve and ecclesiologically damaging. We should not dub as a Diocletian anyone whose values are partially different from ours. Dialogue should be made of sterner stuff if we want to behave as a Church and not as a sect.
On the other hand, we don’t need any latter day pseudo-saviour called Constantine or by any other name. Salvation comes only from Christ crucified and resurrected.
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