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Positioning the Church in the world

HONG KONG (SE): An surprising article appeared in the semi-official Vatican newspaper, Civilta Cattolica, in mid-July attacking what it called a group of right wing Catholics in the United States of America (US) for betraying Church social teaching though political alliances they have made with fundamentalist evangelical groups, especially in the area of bioethics.
Written by its editor-in-chief, Father Anthony Spadaro SJ, and Reverend Marcelo Figueroa, the editor-in-chief of the Argentinian edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the article may well have been published without the knowledge of Pope Francis, but since Father Spadaro is close to the pope and Reverend Figueroa is the pope’s personal choice for the job in Argentina, it is unlikely that he would disagree with its content.
The article lists fundamentalist interpretation of scripture depicting the world as a Manichaean struggle between good and evil and a final showdown ushering in a new heaven and a new earth, as well as demonising opponents of the holy war, particularly in relation to Islamist terrorism, as areas of betrayal.
It then takes direct aim at Steve Bannon, the chief strategist in the White House, calling him a supporter of apocalyptic geopolitics.
Bannon is a Catholic and former editor of what is regarded as a right wing website, Breitbart.
Australian journalist and historian, Father Bruce Duncan, comments that as the article lacks the professional care and scholarship that we have come to expect from Pope Francis, the only really significant thing about it is that it was published in a Vatican newspaper.
However, it would have had the approval of the secretariat of state and it is clearly a direct criticism of Catholics who support policies of the administration of the current president of the US, Donald Trump, that are opposed to views expressed in Church documents, in particular Praise Be: On care for our common home (Laudato Si’).
Father Duncan points out that criticism of the article notes it is a misreading of Protestantism and Evangelicalism in the US and neglects to mention their strong social justice currents.
However, Michael Winters praises it in the National Catholic Reporter for finally calling out what he terms the shocking rhetoric of EWTN and The National Catholic Register that whip up fear and distort religion for political ends, which he calls a betrayal of the gospel.
Winters describes it as a contribution to healing what he terms an ecumenism of hate.
Father Duncan describes it as reflecting an increasing frustration in the Vatican over populism among Catholics in the US, half of whom he points out voted for Trump.
But while the article entitled, Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: a surprising ecumenism, may be a surprisingly different type of communication coming out of the Vatican, it does reflect the manner in which Pope Francis is positioning the Church in a world that is now truly global.
In Catholicism and Citizenship, Massimo Faggioli argues that now that rapid globalisation is breaking down cultures and identities, the Church is seeing itself as being called to be prophetic in the cause of human wellbeing, despite the political risks involved.
Father Duncan points out that despite some critics declaring him a Marxist or socialist, Pope Francis repeatedly rejects extreme free-market versions of economics that favour rich elite groups.
He says that the pope is buying into a fight against extremely powerful economic and political interests, but he believes that we cannot tolerate such extraordinary inequality, poverty and marginalisation of whole populations.
“He is trying to mobilise public opinion behind economists, scientists and politicians working for social reform and to add his voice to global movements for greater equity and social justice,” Father Duncan argues.
He then cites some of the pope’s punchy one-liners like, “This economy kills,” which look like gross overstatement, but maybe are not from the point of view of the Argentinian pope.
Father Duncan points out, “He lived through the devastating financial collapse in Argentina from 2001 and witnessed the even more appalling Global Financial Crisis from 2007, from which many countries have still not recovered.”
He then adds that a visit to the slums and shanty towns of any major third world city is evidence of the failure of economies, which in turn is the cause of needless deaths.
Father Duncan describes the inequality that Pope Francis talks about as resulting from an exaggerated role that the free market claims for itself and its resistance to any regulation or sense of social responsibility.
“In a recent message to Margaret Archer, the president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Pope Francis rejected the libertarian individualism which minimises the notion of the common good and exalts individual autonomy resulting in exclusion and marginalisation of the most vulnerable majority,” Father Duncan notes.
Although the article has prompted a backlash from some elements of the media in the US, calling Pope Francis ill-informed and accusing him of making shallow comments, he chooses his advisers carefully and they form an impressive list of academic and scientific pedigrees.
But although the article in Civilta Cattolica is clumsy and lacks knowledge of the US Church and politics, Father Duncan says it does highlight the influence of right-wing political ideologies and the need for US Catholics, in collaboration with others, to promote social justice concerns more convincingly through the democratic processes.

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