The Church v. the United States

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

There was a piece by Fr Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa in the unofficial papal organ La Civiltà Cattolica. It was an attack piece, not so much on America per se, as on the American Catholic Church especially how it has so often become allied to US Evangelicals. I noted that it was published and let it go – I don’t know enough to comment intelligently, and so try not to. But Matthew Schmitz writing in The Catholic Herald, goes where I fear to tread, and very ably, too.

The men surrounding Francis see him as an indispensable support of a uniquely just political system. In a series of speeches on Europe, Francis has embraced that role, arguing that with the formation of the European Union, Europe finally “found its true self”. Europe had always had “a dynamic and multicultural identity”, but only since World War II has that identity been embodied in societies “free of ideological conflicts, with equal room for the native and the immigrant, for believers and non-believers”.

Francis stresses diversity over identity, dialogue over agreement. (“If there is one word that we should never tire of repeating, it is this: dialogue.”) For all else the men share, this is a view opposed to that of Benedict XVI, who called on Europeans to “embrace our own heritage of the sacred” and warned that “multiculturalism, which is so passionately promoted, can sometimes amount to an abandonment and denial, a flight from one’s own things”. Benedict XVI saw the Church and the liberal order standing in a deeply ambivalent relationship. If Francis is more optimistic that they can partner, it is perhaps because he desires both a liberal Church and a liberal politics – each ratifying the other in a kind of inverted integralism.

I (and many others) have noted that the Church sounds like an entirely different institution under Francis than it did Benedict. Nor does it seem to many of us one that promotes either the Kingdom of God or the good of the average man. After a needed explanation of integralism, the author continues.

It is in this context that one must understand the Vatican’s recent sally against America in the unofficial papal organ La Civiltà Cattolica. Written by Fr Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa, another papal confidant, the article is not merely an expression of anti-American spite or an attack on ecclesial enemies. It is an attempt to defend the liberal order against what is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an existential threat.

Spadaro and Figueroa believe that American Catholics and Evangelicals resemble ISIS, in that they have formed a “cult of the apocalypse” in which the “community of believers (faith) becomes a community of combatants (fight)”. Underlying this cult of the apocalypse is a “political Manichaeism”, a desire to identify “what is good and what is bad”, which ultimately “divides reality between absolute Good and absolute Evil”. Spadaro and Figueroa single out for censure a fringe website called Church Militant – perhaps less for its influence (which is minor) than for its martial name.

If an indigenous tribesman interrupted in his affairs by a Columbus or Pizarro had read the accounts those explorers sent home, he would have marvelled as I did while reading this document. Error and exaggeration bloom, as the authors survey an unfamiliar landscape. American deserts and wastes were once expected to disclose glittering El Dorados; today, obscure websites and forgotten thinkers are accorded capital significance.

It’s sort of funny, really, about five years ago, a friend, an English Catholic living in Spain, asked me what I made of Michael Voris the force behind The Church Militant. After watching some of his videos, I told her that while much of his message resonated with me, some quite strongly, I found him too narrowly Roman Catholic to have any valid solutions, at least in America. I suspect that sort of thing happens fairly often, with both Catholic and Evangelical sources, we all have our separate axes that need grinding, but we also have quite a few common interests. That is part of the genius that seems to be mostly American, to cooperate and yet fight (mostly bloodlessly) like the very devil amongst ourselves. I’ve often compared us to a family, we fight and quarrel amongst ourselves, but let an outsider get involved, and we’re pretty much all on side.

It is no coincidence that America is more comfortable with both religion and violence – in some strange way, the two go hand in hand. Only if public moral judgments are potentially legitimate can public violence be justified. Manent believes that Europe’s leaders have come to doubt this possibility, and so “the secular state is itself becoming secularised”. No authority has the right to say who is worthy of receiving Communion and who is not, who may live and who must die. Church and state alike are stripped of the authority to command and punish.

Americans are less confident that they can dispense with such judgments. “Since the risk of violent death at the hands of others never completely disappears, the right to self-defence cannot completely disappear” – thus capital punishment and the Second Amendment. Spadaro and Figueroa decry this as a barbaric version of the old integralism. For Manent, it is an acknowledgment of inevitable fact.

America’s savagery is all the more baffling to Europeans because the US is richer and less haunted by the past than are the nations of Europe. At once more advanced and more primitive, America is an unsettling sign that no amount of progress will reverse the effects of the Fall.

This American, at least, is convinced that we cannot dispense with moral judgement. If we do, we enter Hobbes world, “A war of all against all”. And yes, it strikes as entirely appropriate that Americans exhibit the fact that no amount of progress will reverse the effects of the Fall. After all, the very design of American constitutionalism and all that flows from it is a recognition of, and an attempt to control the effects of, the Fall itself. It has worked remarkably well, so far, both for America, and the world. Perhaps something there for Rome itself to consider.

 

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6 Responses to The Church v. the United States

  1. the unit says:

    So I might say were seeing just a similar action, maybe attack, as we hear about another evil privilege to be eliminated. Call this one religious, mainly Christian privilege. Might I say?

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      One could, I would say.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As the Romans say “after a fat Pope a thin Pope, after a thin Pope a fat Pope.” The institution under Francis is substantially the same as the one under Benedct. The battles and arguments of the day are important, of course they are, but they are not all important and should not be all absorbing. That which has endured in the Church will continue to endure however the Pope of the day is configured.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      I agree, and in truth, part of the reason I rarely mention it, is just that. The emphasis is different, but the barque floats on, usually missing the rocks. But I’m not sure the Vatican has ever really understood the US, they often seem to be talking right past each other. (Or maybe vice versa, for that matter.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Of course in my opinion, the Vatican has simply but profoundly lost the ball here! And it really all starts with a ideological liberal papacy! Francis is the first real ideologue here, at least in so-called modern time. His is again just another cosmological argument at best! This “ain’t” the Gospel! As Luther and the Reformers knew!

    Liked by 1 person

    • But sadly too, so-called modern Evangelicalism has also lost wheels! The issue is always Jesus Christ and His Good News: i.e. always HIS Person & Work! Again, the true Gospel is NOT rocket science, but fidelity to GOD’s Spirit & Truth! (John 4: 9-26)

      Liked by 1 person

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