On that strange, disturbing, and anti-American “Civiltà Cattolica” article

It’s curious that whoever signed off on this article (assuming it was properly vetted) at the Secretariat of State didn’t pick up on the authors’ conflation of tangentially related matters, or raise questions about the article’s emotivist tone, or alert Father Spadaro and Rev. Figueroa to their distinctly amateur grasp of American religious history and the finer points of American politics.

Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civilta Cattolica, talks to Pope Francis aboard the flight from Rome to Krakow, Poland, July 27, 2016. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Anti-Americanism is as old (if not older) as the American Revolution itself. Like all nations, America has its flaws. But these defects attract disproportionate attention from the rest of the world. This is partly because of the size and worldwide reach of America’s media as well as the United States’ superpower status. On a global scale, the choices made by, say, Argentina and Italy just aren’t as important for international affairs as decisions made by the United States.

Some of the most insightful analyses of America have been written by non-Americans. The exemplar is Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1835/1840). Yet despite the scale and intensity of the attention given to the United States, it’s not hard to find articles written by intelligent non-Americans which reflect serious misunderstandings and occasional outright ignorance of the political, economic and cultural currents shaping America.

This brings me to a very odd article that recently appeared in La Civiltà Cattolica: the Italian Jesuit periodical published twice a month and which enjoys a quasi-official status inasmuch as the Vatican’s Secretariat of State exercises oversight over the articles it publishes. Entitled “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism,” its authors Father Antonio Spadaro SJ (Civiltà Cattolica’s Editor-in-chief) and Rev. Marcelo Figueroa (a Presbyterian pastor who is Editor-in-chief of L’Osservatore Romano’s Argentinean edition), make various assertions about specific political and religious trends in the United States: claims which are, at best, tenuous and certainly badly informed.

Consider, for instance, the authors’ analogy between the theological outlook of particular strands of American Evangelicalism and ISIS. As far as I am aware, American self-described fundamentalists are not destroying 2000 year-old architectural treasures, decapitating Muslims, crucifying Middle Eastern Christians, promoting vile anti-Semitic literature, or slaughtering octogenarian French priests. Another questionable contention made in the article is that the Holy Roman Empire was constituted as an effort to realize the Kingdom of God on earth. This particular analysis will come as news to serious historians of that complicated political entity which became, as the saying goes, neither Holy nor Roman nor an Empire.

Various links are also made between climate change skepticism, the faith of white southern Christians (comments which, if applied to other racial groups, would be denounced by some as verging on bigotry), and apocalyptic thinking among some American Evangelicals. Taken together, it is claimed, these things reflect and help fuel a Manichean view of the world on the United States’ part. Then there is the article’s peculiar association of the heresy of the Prosperity Gospel with recent efforts to protect religious liberty in America.

No doubt, Evangelical scholars and others will highlight the many problems characterizing the article’s grasp of the history of Evangelical Christianity and fundamentalism in America. One agnostic friend of mine who happens to be a leading historian of American Evangelicalism at a prestigious secular university described the article’s take on this subject to me as “laughably ignorant.” I also suspect Rev. Figueroa and Father Spadaro are oblivious, for instance, to many Evangelicals’ embrace of natural law thinking in recent decades: something that, by definition, immunizes any serious Christian from fideist tendencies. But two particular claims made by the authors require a more detailed response.

Who’s a Manichean?

As noted, the authors assert that Evangelical Fundamentalism has contributed to America adopting a Manichean understanding of international affairs. They argue, however, that Pope Francis rejects any outlook which sees the world in terms of forces of light and forces of darkness. Instead, they maintain, the pope wisely recognizes that at the root of conflicts between nations “there is always a fight for power.”

No doubt, the desire for power motivates some international actors. But it is also important to acknowledge that certain ideas—such as Marxism-Leninism, Islamist jihadism, or National Socialism—have driven transnational movements and nation-states to act in ways that are evil because the ideas themselves are evil. For Americans (and anyone else) to recognize this and call these things by their name is not to buy into Manichaeism. It is simply recognition that some ideas are indeed wicked and lead to many people, even nations, engaging in gravely evil acts.

You can’t understand, for example, the left-populist regime that’s presently destroying Venezuela unless you grasp that its leadership and many of its supporters are partly motivated by a deeply conflictual view of the world. Much of this comes straight from Marx and Lenin (as anyone who has listened to any of the late Hugo Chávez’s short three-hour television rants will tell you). It’s worth recalling that when President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union “the evil empire” in 1983, millions of people behind the Iron Curtain instantly understood what he was talking about. They knew that the systems under which they lived were grounded upon evil ideas about the nature of man and society.

Furthermore, the fact that some Americans describe (often accurately) particular regimes as evil doesn’t mean that they view America as an embryonic Kingdom of God on earth. Plenty of American Evangelicals today are deeply distressed, for example, by the state of elite and popular culture in the United States. Nor are they slow to point out these failings, including when these weaknesses manifest themselves in their own ranks. That should make any Western European or Latin American pause before they start attributing Manichaean views of the world to millions of American Christians.

Ecumenism, Evangelicals, and Catholics

A second problematic thesis characterizing the Spadaro-Figueroa article which requires more attention is its characterization of the relationship between many Catholics and Evangelicals in America: a rapport which the priest and the minister plainly have great reservations about.

Father Spadaro and Rev. Figueroa correctly observe that many Catholics and Evangelicals have found common cause in recent decades around issues such as “abortion, same-sex marriage, religious education in schools and other matters generally considered moral or tied to values.” They then add that “Both Evangelical and Catholic Integralists condemn traditional ecumenism and yet promote an ecumenism of conflict that unites them in the nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state.”

By “Catholic Integralists,” we can safely presume that the authors mean the many American Catholics (routinely labeled as “conservative”) who have chosen to ally themselves with Evangelicals to defend things such as the culture of life and religious freedom from the type of doctrinaire secularism which ran rampant under the Obama Administration. But the vast majority of these Catholics aren’t “integralists,” let alone theocrats-in-waiting. Quite the contrary. Nor are the vast majority of Evangelicals in America pushing theocratic agendas.

If one looks, for example, at statements put together by various scholars and intellectuals involved in movements such as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” they contain not a shred of theocratic aspiration. The ecumenical discussion between those involved in these endeavors have led over time to genuine fruit in terms of clarification of points in common, removing misconceptions, identifying real doctrinal road-blocks, and identifying areas where practical work to promote the common good can be pursued together. This stands in stark contrast to the bromides and non-sequiturs that characterize ecumenical discussion with the rapidly declining liberal mainstream Protestant confessions who long ago abandoned very basic Christian orthodoxies on faith and morals which most Evangelicals continue to rigorously affirm.

Moreover, when it comes to Evangelical and Catholic Christians in America making the argument that, for example, unborn human beings are entitled to the same protections from the unjust use of lethal force as any other human being, or that religious liberty is more than just freedom of worship, or that parents are entitled to insist that their children not be subjected to the nonsense of “gender theory’ at school, these arguments have increasingly been presented in terms of public reason. Catholics have a long tradition of doing this. Yet it is also an approach that many Evangelicals have started embracing in recent years.

This does not add up to the imposition of theocracy or the claiming of special privileges, let alone trying to facilitate quasi-Throne-and-Altar arrangements or some type of Evangelical/Catholic American Nationalism. Contrary to the claims of Father Spadaro and Rev. Figueroa, this is not “a direct virtual challenge to the secularity of the state.” It’s about maintaining that the truths knowable by all people via their natural reason may be legitimately reflected in the public square of pluralist societies like the United States. Furthermore, the assertion of these truths in this way not only helps facilitate freedom and genuine pluralism (as opposed to the ideology of “diversity”) in America; they also help protect non-Christians and non-believers from unjust coercion as much as any other American.

A Credibility Problem

If the Civiltà Cattolica article simply reflected the views of a random Western European Catholic priest and an Argentine Presbyterian minister, few would be concerned about its content. But Civiltà Cattolica articles are subject to scrutiny from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. Hence, it’s curious that whoever signed off on this article (assuming it was properly vetted) at the Secretariat of State didn’t pick up on the authors’ conflation of tangentially related matters, or raise questions about the article’s emotivist tone, or alert Father Spadaro and Rev. Figueroa to their distinctly amateur grasp of American religious history and the finer points of American politics. If it is the case that red flags were not raised—or were ignored—then all Catholics, American or otherwise, have reason for concern. It is simply not in the universal Church’s interests to develop or encourage substantially false understandings of the United States or the Anglosphere more generally.

People—including the pope and his advisors—are free to form views of different nations and the conduct of international affairs. No one expects the bishop of Rome to be uncritical of the United States, or any other country. There is plenty to criticize about America, just as there is to criticize about Argentina (such the economic delusions, systematic envy, and personality-cults encouraged by the poison of Peronism) or Italy (such as the corruption and rampant clientelism in its political and economic culture to which Vatican officials and Italian clerics have not, sadly, proved immune).

Nevertheless, the development of such views should be informed by careful reflection, a command of detail, and an accurate understanding of the history and development of a country. Regrettably, these are lacking in the Spadaro-Figueroa article—and it shows. The greatest damage, however, is to the Holy See’s credibility as a serious contributor to international affairs. And that benefits no one, least of all Pope Francis.

About Dr. Samuel Gregg 23 Articles

Dr. Samuel Gregg is Research Director at the Acton Institute. He has written and spoken extensively on questions of political economy, economic history, ethics in finance, and natural law theory. He is the author of many books, including Becoming Europe (2013) and For God and Profit: How Banking and Finance Can Serve the Common Good (2016).

107 Comments

  1. More than anything else, this article shows that Pope Francis has brought into the Vatican a group of ideologues who knows virtually nothing about anything. They constantly make crazy statements about so many things, and they demonstrate they have almost no understanding of history, politics, religion or science. This is the goofiest bunch of Vatican people we have had since Alexander VI. When Sorondo made his ridiculous statement that anyone opposing global warming was being paid off by big oil companies and was part of the Tea Party, we were informed that pure nutcases have taken over in the Vatican.

  2. So, what have we learned? That the pope doesn’t believe that religion or the true Faith should get in the way of culture and governments? Didn’t we already know that? Isn’t that the basis of DH anyway? “If you don’t believe in abortion then don’t have one, but don’t interfere with someone else’s right to believe in it and have one,” right?

  3. Excellent riposte from Dr Gregg
    The quality of this article from the Vatican is frankly embarrassing and show the intellectual vacuum at the heart of this papacy.
    Tocqueville observed a flourishing America and underlined the absolute need for VIRTUE for any institution to flourish.
    These two small minded clerics need to reflect on that and reshape their ideological thinking accordingly

  4. A weak attempt to stop the Holy Spirit’s work in the US and deflect from the recent Vatican sex orgies and Pope Francis’s poor response to continued killings of Christians in the Mideast—timed after Trump’s strong Warsaw speech on Western Civilization (“We want God!”) and the associated docking of a LNG tanker to a Polish port.
    Perhaps, the PF cohort should try to clean up the 100-acre Vatican City first?

  5. As any observer on the international scene can attest, superficial, unfounded, and erroneous observations about the US are one of the most common things that can be found. No surprise there. The problem is that this ignorance has entered a place that during the last two pontificates was especially a source of insightful and intelligent ideas and texts, full of subtleties and brilliant. It is a great pity to go back to the use of clichés, coarseness, exaggerations and falsehoods.

  6. Yea…the level of ignorance in the Spadaro-Figueroa article really makes your head spin. The idea that the people they mean when they say “conservative Catholics” fit at all into the “Catholic integralism” category is astounding and irresponsible.

    Personally, as a Catholic, I am no fan of America OR Evangelicals. Both represent deep misconceptions about the nature of God, man, the state, freedom, and a million other things. Nevertheless I am no fan of Pope Francis either! If we are going to gripe about folks blurring the lines between the Church and political sphere who is a worse offender than the Holy Father? Spadaro has continually hinted at Francis’ ultimate vision of Church governance and world affairs as coming directly from a Peronist/Hegelian model of political conflict giving rise to new realities and agreements. In the Vatican itself we have seen the total eclipse of the doctrinal element of the Church (AKA the CDF is irrelevant to Francis) and the total empowerment of the Secretariats of State and Economy, primarily the former. Not that these aren’t important but in Franics-world they seem like the only things that matter.

    • Absolutely right.

      Here is the Hegel part – from the Supreme Pontiff Francis’ favorite theologian:

      “The God who sits enthroned over the world and history as a changeless being is an offense to Man.” (Walter Kasper, God in History, 1967)

      Arrogance as the new theology – with Jez replacing Jesus.

  7. It would be a disservice to the papacy to call the pf papacy a fraud. I’ll take what would have been my collection money elsewhere.

  8. I see I am too late to make an original observation. Others have already pointed out how the Bergoglio circle has embarrassed itself in this display of risible ignorance and naked bigotry. This can only have happened because that circle inhabits an undisturbed and very small bubble. They are writing for themselves alone, as if no one else exists. It’s only because souls are at stake that they cannot be dismissed as a ridiculous talking shop.

  9. Sadly, it seems that the occurrence of bizarre things emanating from the Vatican’s sphere are becoming a frequent event. The Church will never be destroyed – but some entities seem quite bent on shaking the foundation in hopes of a collapse.

    • I must disagree regarding the assertion that “[t]he Church will never be destroyed…”. I believe the current pope WILL, in fact, be the last pope of Rome. He appears hell-bent upon creating a schism between liberals/socialists and conservatives within the Church. I believe he will finish his reign as head of the Socialist Church of Rome rather than pope of the Roman Catholic Church and that conservative Catholics will either join the Eastern Orthodox Church, Coptic Church or another closely associated Church deriving from the original Christian Church.

      • Why go Eastern Orthodox? There are quite a few Eastern-rite Catholic Churches, in full communion with Rome, to choose from.

        In the greater Chicago metropolitan area, where I live, we have Byzantine Catholic Churches (Ukrainian, Ruthenian, and Rumanian), as well as Melkite, Maronite, Syro-Malabar, and Syro-Malankara Churches – and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

  10. Let’s be honest. This is a sign that Christianity no longer exists in the institutions in question, there is only leftism.

  11. It could be that Spadaro was not referring to mainstream “conservative Catholics” but to those Catholics who actually call themselves Integralists and promote the Social Kingship of Christ. They are a small but firm group that only in the past few years openly took on the mantle “Integralists” (a term of derision used half a century ago against certain of the intransigent Thomists). A systematic collection of their writings can be found at http://www.thejosias.com

    • Why would the people in the Vatican publish an article about an obscure, tiny nutcase group? Do they not have better things to do? No, I think this was a bizarre attempt to conflate the nutcase groups with larger, more widespread groups like conservative Catholics in general as a means to discredit them. Much in the same way that those pushing the alt right label seek to pretend that all conservatives are some sort of Nazis.

    • Oh, and Father Z provides insight into what they mean by Integralists:

      “Integralism” is perhaps not used as much in these USA as it is in Europe. This term is a dog whistle. In somewhat broad terms, it can be used generically for the position that one’s religious beliefs should dictate their politics and social involvement. However, “integralism” developed in a specific context of conflict between Catholicism and modernity in Europe. In France and Italy, the haters of Catholic tradition often refer to anyone who wants traditional worship as being “intégriste”. It is flung like an insult. For a quick and fascinating lesson on “integralism”, and what Spadaro is calling conservative Americans, head over to the Wikipedia article. HERE Wiki is perfect as a source, but it gives you a rapid entry point.

      • Thanks for that link! Interesting set of ideas, especially the Brazilian version advanced by Pinio Salgado. It’s obvious that real Integralist ideas have exactly ZERO influence on modern US politics.

    • During the Second Vatican Council the great American Theologian, Father Fenton, observed that to be an integralist was to be Catholic and that “…integralism was nothing else than the contradiction of heretical modernism. It was thus basically only the exposition of Catholic truth.”

      P. 63-64 “The Second Vatican Council (an unwritten story)” Roberto de Matei

    • And it could be that Spadaro is trying to alert the world to the lunacy now infecting the entire Vatican, but that’s about as likely as what you posit here. I’ll settle for Occam’s razor instead and conclude that Spadaro is just another flunky Francis has promoted to power in Rome. It’s only fitting that one of the worst popes in Catholic history (yes, I know about Benedict IX, John XII, Sergius III, Leo X, etc.) have some of the worst spokesmen men in history.

    • Your theory founders on the fact that Spadaro makes clear he is talking about the very large movement of Christians who supported Trump.

  12. “Laughably ignorant”–sadly, this perfectly describes the CC article and other weird things coming from the Vatican these days.

  13. Thank you Dr. Gregg for meticilously dismantling the Civiltà Cattolica article which is as hateful as it is ignorant and idiotic.

  14. Fr S. and Rev F. seem to be Manichean to me, with their lofty ideas and their own vision of the light. America is merely a straw man for their arguments, and a convenient dark force. There is good and evil, but there is also a Son of God, named Jesus, who was good, suffered, died, was buried and rose again on the third day to save us from the evil of the world.

  15. Someone has remarked repeatedly in recent months about something that I agree with: that what emanates from SJs such as Rev. Spadaro and the current pontiff don’t really live up to the marketing from the SJ about how smart they are.

    I think of Jez-Kirk more like a kind of “Psy-Ops” campaign we’ve heard about that has been waged against wholesome men in “new-age” seminaries – run for the lavender Mafia by feminist nuns-on-the-bus.

    Now Jez-Kirk is treating us all the way they treat their own seminarians.

    Right now we have to suffer with a bunch of petulant teenagers that took over the campus and are trying to change the curriculum so that it conforms to them.

    Not gonna happen…

  16. Someone has remarked repeatedly in recent months about something that I agree with: that what emanates from SJs such as Rev. Spadaro and the current pontiff don’t really live up to the marketing from the SJ about how smart they are.

    I think of Jez-Kirk more like a kind of “Psy-Ops” campaign we’ve heard about that has been waged against wholesome men in “new-age” seminaries – run for the lavender Mafia by feminist nuns-on-the-bus.

    Now Jez-Kirk is treating us all the way they treat their own seminarians.

    Right now we have to suffer with a bunch of petulant teenagers that took over the campus and are trying to change the curriculum so that it conforms to them.

    No…

  17. This outburst from Francis’ wing men was provoked by one overriding issue; Trump’s outstanding speech in Warsaw last week. It was a stunner, a speech for the ages, as many Catholic commentators have observed, since it so clearly highlighted Europe’s most pressing problems and their necessary solutions.

    It was a speech which a truly Catholic Pope should have given but Francis never could nor would and therefore it highlighted Francis’ spiritual, moral and political bankruptcy with regard to Europe’s current problems. It showed up and embarrassed the Francis. It also pointed a way forward for the Europe which Francis seeks to completely destroy with his insistence on unrestrained Muslim immigration. It was the philosophical antidote to Francis-ism and hence, there was always going to be blowback from Francis and his acolytes.

    Trumps speech was received deliriously by the Poles in a way that Francis’ recent trip to Poland never was and that enraged the “humble” one. This miserable, spiteful tirade from Spadaro is Francis talking. Count on it.

  18. When Christians are assaulted they band together. Historically it was external. Today orthodox Catholics are under verbal assault [frequently insulting abusive language], political assault [Cardinals loyal to the faith removed, accused of the very abuse many of the accusers in Rome and elsewhere are guilty of] within the Catholic Church. Bush 43 coined Axis of Evil. It seems to fit the parties persecuting loyal Catholics, now Evangelicals and America. The latter likely because of Pres Trump and policies that oppose the disintegration of the West by open immigration of Muslims coupled with doctrinal contradiction of faith and practice. Focus on green issues and a secular humanist agenda. The irony is Evangelicals are more Catholic than their accusers. Catholics should indeed band with Evangelicals many who strongly support us. As matters continue to worsen as it seems they will, perhaps stark persecution many Protestants may realize the centrality of Catholic doctrine in living the life of Christ.

  19. “But the vast majority of these Catholics aren’t “integralists,” let alone theocrats-in-waiting. Quite the contrary. Nor are the vast majority of Evangelicals in America pushing theocratic agendas.”
    This statement is blatantly false. The Spadaro article specifically referenced Catholuc advisors close to the POTUS. Fact: One reason Cruz lost to Trump is Daddy promotes dominionism. Dominionism is strong in the Protestant world. A second point of act is one of the closest advisors to Trump-Steve Bannon- has peddled his heaven on earth views not only in the U.S but immediately in the Vatican, most likely where it came under Spadaro’s view for the first time. Whether one is speaking of Rep. King’s or Bannon’s “Save Western (white) Civilization” propaganda or Cruz’s dominionism, the point of act is Catholics are joining with Protestants in forming such a bizarre blend of theocracy as we speak. And it is partisan based. There is no need to indulge in the false view of American exceptionalism as the author does to
    justify it. It is, from a Catholic point of view, unjustifiable.

    • You have a selective and idiosyncratic way of seeing the world, one that I’m sure allows you to sleep soundly at night. Most of us, though, are simply too alert to what’s really going on in the world to share your tranquility. Interesting to see how you think Cruz is a force to be concerned about in American Protestant circles. By your own admission, he lost in part because of “dominionism.” Many of us would see that as a sign his POV isn’t all that important. But, of course, we don’t enjoy petulant and ignorant rants like Spadaro’s either.

    • The only people I have ever heard use the term “Dominionist” are whacked out leftists trying desperately to paint Christians as some sort of evil beasts from outer space. Your bizarre comments about Cruz and Bannon are just blatantly misrepresentations. They are silly perversions of the truth, much like what Spadaro dishes out:

      http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/april-web-only/stop-calling-ted-cruz-dominionist.html

      You seem to object to the idea that we live in a time when Western Civilization must be saved. Well you may not believe it, but Bannon’s entire speech to that conference is available and nowhere does he advocate for theocracy in any sense. So you are just making up allegations. The only thing not justifiable from a Catholic point of view are your unfounded and slanderous allegations.

    • I’m sorry, Mary. Your fantasy about the influence of “Dominionism” (a term no one outside the political left-wing uses; those on the inside use “Christian Reconstruction”) is just that. Christian Reconstruction is a tiny, esoteric movement whose influence was at its height–and then not much–in the early to mid 1980s. Since then, it has slid into obscurity, nothing more than a curiosity among the hyper-Calvinist fringe (and I say this as one who is not Catholic, but Calvinist, myself). Connecting this inconsequential movement to Trump, Bannon, or Cruz is nothing more than the paranoia of the far left, or the ignorance of Vatican know-nothings.

  20. I was trained by Pentecostal Evangelicals and spent a couple decades as a Presbyterian pastor in the company of dominion theology and the Rushdoony-influenced reconstructionism named in the La Civilta Cattolica piece. All that rings quite true to my up-close experience of those twin movements and their political aspirations. Likewise, the comparison made between these movements and ISIS is one of kind, not degree. And that comparison is both accurate and illuminating. That the United States still benefits from the successes of the Civil Rights Movement on one hand, and a less-happy drift toward secular materialism on the other, is important for the ways that it has restrained the more aspirational will-to-power and violence at their heart. Interested parties need only engage in cursory internet research of the so-called kinism movement and the voluminous materials produced by the League of the South. Jim Crow, George Wallace, Bull Connor, and James Earl Ray well-demonstrated the realization of those impulses mid-way through the last century and, as with Arianism in the fourth century, they didn’t simply disappear after their formal condemnation. Indeed, they have emerged smarter, more determined, and quite successfully in the state houses, governor’s mansions, and in Washington D.C.

    His Holiness is, I think, rightly reading the signs of the times.

    • Your comment is about as silly as they get. NO ONE has ever heard of Rushdoony. No one has heard of “Dominionism” and it is not prevalent anywhere. No one has ever heard of “kinism” nor have they heard of “The League of the South”

      The fact that tiny nutcase groups exist somewhere is not remarkable. The idea that Spadaro tried to put across, that these tiny, irrelevant groups no one has ever heard of are important – in any way – is ludicrous. The idea that a few fringe groups are now achieving mainstream status is the thought of a looney man, not any thing any educated man would even consider. The fact that Spadaro and friends are so desperate and ridiculous to attempt to make these connections is laughable at best. At worst, it indicates that the Vatican has been taken over by crackpots par excellance.

      • The fact that you’ve never heard of these movements doesn’t say anything one way or another about their importance. Most Catholics haven’t heard of Neo-ultramontanism (much less, ultramontanism), Neo-Thomism, La nouvelle théologie, or the French Benedicines Solesmes, but their day-to-day lived experience of the Catholic Church is dominated by all of them. On the other hand, the President just gave an extended public interview to Pat Robertson, a leader in the Dominionism movement that once ran for president himself. Presumably you’ve heard of him. The President is closely advised by Steve Bannon, a lapsed-Catholic deeply enmeshed in Reconstructionism and the kinists that travel among them. The list of politicians–local, state-wide, and national–with ties to the League of the South and like organizations is long both presently and historically. Put simply, your life is directly affected by these latter movements as much as they are by the former, assuming that you’re Roman Catholic. Blow it off if you want, but it’s still the truth.

        • Complete nonsense. So, we are all being influenced and controlled by movements we have never heard of, by strange impersonal forces no one knows about, etc. Complete nonsense. All of this is simply a made up, fantastic theory of the left to demonize various people. It is unbeleivably creepy that a title invented by a leftist professor (Dominionism) whose only purpose was to try to demonize Christians that they did not like, is then applied to people as if it were a real movement. It is not. It is purely an invention of the left. Whoop de do, Trump gave an interview to Pat Robertson. My oh, my that proves everything! Pat Robertson is a prominent Evangelical Christian, period. He is not leader of some fake “Dominionist” movement. This “Dominionist” nonsense is pure political propaganda, nothing else. It is laughable. Your attempt to pretend that extremely small, nutcase groups are in charge of American Christianity is simply laughable.

          • I don’t think that “movements that you’ve never heard of” necessarily equals anything strange or impersonal. I have no idea how fluoride works to prevent my teeth from decaying and I have no idea who originally innovated its use in drinking water, but having fewer cavities after accessing fluoridated water than I did with well water as a child, I guess I’m cool with the limitations of my knowledge. Neo-ultramontanism led to the definition of papal infallibility in 1870. Reactions by theologians of the La nouvelle théologie (including then, Joseph Ratzinger) against the predominant neo-Thomistic theology of the early twentieth century gave you the manifold reforms of Vatican II that are part of modern Catholic self-understanding. Liturgical inquiry and experimentation by the French Benedicines at Solesmes gave us the liturgical movement, which is why you have Sacrosanctum Concilium and celebrate the mass in English.

            Similarly, you may not know about Dominion Theology, but I guarantee that the clergy surrounding the President and tons of Evangelical-Charismatic Christians in Washington do. There probably a great many more who, like the President, don’t care about God or the details of Christian thought, but they’re sure ready to pretend in exchange for votes.

        • MJGP+, you may have “spent a couple decades as a Presbyterian pastor in the company of dominion theology and the Rushdoony-influenced reconstructionism…” That only says that you spent a lot of time among a splinter group of fringy people. Rushdoony has no influence among any of the larger Presbyterian denominations (PCUSA, PCA, EPC, ECO), and hasn’t for over thirty years. Bringing in Pat Robertson demonstrates how little you seem to understand about the movement’s limitations–Robertson, quite frankly, isn’t and has never been theologically astute enough to understand a single paragraph out of Rushdooney’s writings, and has managed to stumble into his own particular form of political lunacy all by himself. Both you and the authors of the Civilta Cattolica articles sound like paranoid conspiracy theorists, and do a disservice to the Catholic Church as well as to ecumenical relations between Catholics and Evangelicals.

          • I was in the PCA and hung out with lots of folks in the CRC, OPC. and the RPCNA. There’s far more neo-Puritanism in the southern churches of the PCA, but there are still a great number of quasi-Theonomists in the north. I’m a TEDS grad and my ordination exams in around the turn of the millennium were made particularly difficult on the floor of then Great Lakes Pres by guys who were caught up in issues surrounding the application of biblical law al la Rushdoony, David Chilton, Gary North, and especially Greg Bahnsen. Of course, that movement was stronger still in the OPC which is why the predominantly OPC faculty at Westminster acted to publish a book confronting the issue. Yes, that book was published in 1990 and the movement lost significant steam after Bahnsen died in ’95, but he was certainly a more formidable intellect than Rushdoony and his take on Cornelius Van Til — something that entails and fueled his reconstructionism — still exercises influence. Many of those guys ended up in Doug Wilson’s CREC crowd. He’s a self-confessed “general equity Theonomist” and continues to exercise a great influence in and around the Reformed world in the U.S.

            True, the Dominion Theology or “Kingdom Now” theology in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles has only a little overlap with the Theonomy/Reconstructionism theology of the Reformed Churches, but the cross-pollination has been there and it’s been named as such by guys like Hal Lindsey and Dave Hunt. It’s been near to the heart of Pentecostalism since bits of the Welsh revival from 1904-05 (Jesse Penn-Lewis, etc) filtered into the movement and, by way of that, into the Charismatic movement of the 1960s. Earl Pauck is usually named as a central “kingdom now” teacher, but Pat Robertson, Kenneth Copeland, Lester Sumrall, Rod Parsley, and Oral Roberts all have manifested streams in this more diffuse movement. More recently, Joseph Mattera and Rodney Howard-Browne have circulated in this crowd. Mattera gives a nice summary of the commonplaces here:

            http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/35264-why-kingdom-leadership-is-in-and-church-leadership-is-out

            Rodney Howard-Browne was one of the guys in the prayer huddle with the President a couple days ago.

            Finally, I’m a historical theologian and I do have some remote idea of what I’m speaking of, so the “paranoid conspiracy theorists” bit is wide of the mark.

    • MHGP, Interesting background. Typically Rushdoony fans have zero tolerance for Pentecostals, and evangelical Presbyterians of the last three decades in the US have frequently supported the socially active liberal politics of John Perkins and Carl Ellis in many quarters. My experience was thus quite different from yours. Where did you go to seminary?

      • See my response to David just above, but I left the PCA after starting doctoral studies and ordained as an Anglican priest entering the church. As I wrote, I’m a TEDS grad and studied primarily with Willem Van Gemeren during my MA in Hebrew Bible and then with Kevin Vanhoozer for my M.Div. My Ph.D. in historical theology is from Saint Louis University, so I’ve got a lot of friends and colleagues from Covenant. Prior to becoming president of Covenant, Mark was the chair of the candidates and credentials committee that shepherded me through ordination.

        • And the fact remains that NONE of these people you have dredged up has any effect on American Christianity. They only people naive enough to believe this stuff are academics. The point stands, no matter how many cute analogies and theological movements you throw around to obscure reality.

  21. Quoted fron the text: “It is simply not in the universal Church’s interests to develop or encourage substantially false understandings of the United States or the Anglosphere more generally.” It is good to realize that there is a misunderstanding on the way to be Christian believers, Catholic belivers in the world and in the United States. I wish that the Spadaro-Figueroa article will be the first of many other articles that follow, so that we need to establish a dialogue on what means to be Catholics on the today World, Catholics in US, in Central and South Anmerica, in Asia and Africa, in Europe and Oceania. We cannot be proud to have the excvlusive privilege, the best understanding of it for ourselves. We have a Social Doctrine of the Church. None of us can boast of being so ahead, on a frontier, so that the rest of the Church and the world can not understand us. No one can boast of having such a complicated history that the rest of the world can not understand us. We need to compare ourselves with more articles, like the one written by Spadaro-Figueroa.

    • Guido, the Spadaro article reveals one thing: that Spadaro knows very little about the United States. We don’t need any more articles from him.

  22. A perspective on commentators here who find value in Spadaro Figueroa Bergoglio. Experience taught me much of what they say is true [the commentators not the three]. Regarding theocratic tendencies even one critique compared Evangelicals with ISIS but only in kind not degree. Like another irked commentator I discovered a new word. Dominionism. Okay: “Dominion Theology (also known as Dominionism) is a group of Christian political ideologies that seek to institute a nation governed by Christians based on their personal understandings of biblical law” (Wikipedia). One chaplain on my staff actually fit both critiques. He was Evangelical. Then there are Evangelicals and there are Evangelicals. Then we Catholics have a plethora of ‘dominionalists’ commenting on websites. The point I wish to make, First let me say Trump’s Warsaw speech was excellent motivational and likely triggered Spadaro Figueroa Begoglo’s retort is what do they, the triumvirate offer as an alternative to flawed but orthodox Christians except more green issues, expanding immigration, dissolving European, and by direct bombast rather than subtle inference American culture, and dismantling orthodox Catholicism beyond the West to the four corners of the Globe.

    • Father, FYI the whole “Dominionist” thing is a made up word invented by a leftist professor in 1989, the whole purpose of which was to demonize Evangelical Christians. As we all know, Evangelical Christians come in thousands of flavors, and they discovered a few tiny sects that actually wanted a theocracy. But few of them ever influenced anyone else, and as we all know there are always a few bizarre Evangelical sects. So these politically motivated Evangelical haters decided to pretend that “Dominionism” was some threat to Democracy, and that All Evangelicals were in favor of a theocracy whereby they would take over the country and drive all non Christians out. This is the type of fear mongering widespread on the left. We see this nonsense again in Spadaro’s nutty belief that Michael Voris is in the drivers seat in American Catholicism and he and Steve Bannon are major figures! As you note, from time to time in the comments section of some Catholic sites, the Sedevacantists and some whacked out people who believe in Catholic Monarchy rather than Democracy appear, but this is just weirdos using the comments section. Never in my life have I head anyone ever express those views in public before, and all it illustrates is that comments sections are open to literally everyone.

  23. “Like all nations, America has its flaws. But these defects attract disproportionate attention from the rest of the world.” Perhaps, but not UNIQUELY disproportionate. I can think of a few other countries that are likewise singled out for the role of villain by the governing classes of many other nations.

  24. Maybe it was just that one Vortex from Church Militant that got Spadaro’s goat, but it’s a bit ironic since CM is vociferously anti-SSPX as are Modernists in the Vatican like Spadaro. Also, CM proudly avoids criticism of Pope Francis and assiduously monitors all comments which could even remotely touch on a criticism.

    • You know, I wondered why they settled on Voris when they have quite a few kooky organizations to choose from. I think they wanted to go after Voris because Voris is very strong in going after the homosexual infiltration of the church in New York. We know that Father James Martin is in New York, and we know that he and Spadaro seem to share an interest in the homosexual side of things. (Spadaro put up a web page in homage to a famou homosexual Italian writer). Perhaps that is what got them focused on Voris.

  25. The author gets it spot-on.
    This is actually an embarrassing display of amateur-hour knowledge of the United States by people who should know much better.
    Nevertheless, could it be any more clear? The pope and his lieutenants have nothing but contempt for America and Americans. This contempt is second only to the Vatican’s contempt for tradition and traditionalists.
    Since I fit into both categories, my confidence and trust in this bishop of Rome is nil. Sad.
    God Bless Holy Benedict.

  26. Spadaro-Figueroa (speaking for Bergoglio) cite abortion in their list of concerns that bind Catholics and Evangelicals in “an ecumenism of hate” and dreams of a “theocracy.”

    Thus, Bergoglio is fully out of the closet: NARAL, Robert Drinan, Nancy Pelosi, Geraldine Ferraro, et al., were and are correct–making abortion illegal is to institute a “theocracy.” And the pro-life movement is fueled by hate.

  27. Bravo! Dr. Gregg … you so presciently articulated what in my heart I felt was the truth. As a Soldier-Cop, I would have just given these two Modernists’s a wood shampoo. But, you filleted them intellectually, which may not be as viscerally satisfying, but certainly longer lasting and more effective.

  28. Wow, methinks a lot of Trumpsters have their panties in a wad! While I thoroughly disliked all Smericans being lumped together, this past election made many people from other countries think we all
    Must be crazy to jave ekectrd such a controversial (to put it mildly) person as President.

    • “Other nations” are far more hopeless than America, far deeper into the cesspool of depraved secularism than we are here in America, so if they feel that way about us, it’s just because of their own screwed up cultures.

    • The only ones with their undies in a wad are the people in the Vatican. They do not see themselves as religious figures, they see themselves as political figures. So, when someone wins an election somewhere, they feel they have to “Resist”. If these political figures that have taken over the Vatican had something remotely intelligent to say, then we might be inclined to listen. But what they say is idiotic, the confused ramblings of people who seem not to have the slightest interest in reality. It has nothing to do with Trump, at least from the Catholic side of things. The Pope and his people decided to slander and defame whole swaths of American culture. And that does not bother you? And quite frankly, no one cares what these other countries think. They can think what they want. Their society is crumbling so I suppose they have to laugh at something.

  29. One of Saint J P ll Pilgrimages abroad was connected to Communism. At the time the Church in Latin America was in danger of breaking up as liberation theology was enjoying great success. Saint JP II appealed to the Latin American Bishops to teach the truth about Christ. He shattered the image of Christ as a revolutionary and told them that Christ was not a political activist who faught against Roman domination or class struggle. He warned against institutionalizing religion and use of force showing that the battle was primarily a spiritual one Christ with a Cross on his shoulder not a gun. The Vatican’s political activism needs to listen to our Saint’s words.

  30. Excellent Dr Gregg. As I read that the Civ Cat article I had a sense of deja vu. It had the same intellectual rigour as another recent Vatican production – Amoris Laetitia. Both are woefully undergraduate efforts, even apart from substantive errors.

  31. Spadaro and Figueroa’s article provides a convincing and compassionate rationale for rejecting militancy and theocratic government, and it’s consistent with the Church’s mission of social and economic justice, its humanistic concern for the dignity of all people, as well as its opposition to all forms of violence. Bigotry, fear, and simplistic false morality are fundamentally opposed to its values.

    It can only be interpreted as being anti-American if one conflates the current fearmongering government with the people it’s supposed to serve.

    • Well, then, the article is against itself, because all the article is, is an attempt to spread fear of certain people, it is simplistic, and it resembles Nazi propaganda against the Jews than any sort of reasoned discourse.

      It would be nice if the article, in pushing against “theocratic government”, actually could point to any sort of push for theocratic government. There isn’t anything remotely like it. So its kind of silly to publish an article against “Bigfoots domination of North America”, for example, when there is no Bigfoot.

      You may enjoy articles about fantasies.I don’t.

    • Having read the Spadaro article, this piece written in reply and many of the comments above, I must say that Spadaro certainly seems to have struck a raw nerve! Yes, there is a propensity to stereotype American approaches to religion without really delving into the fundamental motivations of the vast majority of Christians in our country. Yes, his rhetoric has a rather “leftist” tinge. But his comments on “Manicheanisim” seems to me to be right on the mark. The comments here of so many attacking the article, the pope, “leftists,” etc. drive home Spadaro’s point better than anything he could have written.

  32. Online Pushback for the Spadaro “Ecumenism of Hate” article at Civiltà Cattolica:

    Tim Stanley:
    “Why is Civiltà Cattolica attacking American Christians? I have a theory”
    http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2017/07/16/why-is-civilta-cattolica-attacking-american-christians-i-have-a-theory/

    Fr. John Zuhlsdorf:
    “Jesuit @AntonioSpadaro, Jesuit-run Civiltà Cattolica attacks Americans”
    http://wdtprs.com/blog/2017/07/jesuit-antoniospadaro-jesuit-run-civilta-cattolica-attacks-americans/

    Fr. Dwight Longenecker:
    “On European Ignorance and Arrogance”
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2017/07/european-ignorance-arrogance.html?ref_widget=trending&ref_blog=markshea&ref_post=world-war-z-begins

    Rod Dreher:
    “Top Papal Adviser Denounces ‘Ecumenism Of Hate’”
    https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/top-papal-adviser-ecumenism-of-hate-benedict-option/

    Phil Lawler:
    “An ignorant, intemperate Vatican assault on American conservatism>
    https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otn.cfm?id=1228

    Thomas Williams:
    “Papal Advisers Bash American Christians in Bigoted Screed”
    http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/07/14/papal-adviser-bashes-american-christians-in-bigoted-screed/

  33. Robert Royal made an interesting, pointed observation on American theocracy. “There is something like an emerging theocracy in the United States, with a Manichean vision. But it’s the theocracy of sexual absolutism that cannot tolerate pluralism or dissent. The Little Sisters of the Poor, Hobby Lobby, evangelical bakers, anyone who stands up to the contraception-abortion-‘gay-marriage’ (and now) “transgender” juggernaut risks legal jeopardy and accusations of being a ‘hate group.’ (Spadaro and Figueroa echo this claim, saying the Evangelical-Catholic alliance represents a xenophobic, Islamophobic, purist vision that is really an ‘ecumenism of hate.’)”. Royal has a well read intellectual’s inside track on world affairs and expresses well what many of us are concerned with. He also mentioned the Pontiff’s strange call for European federation when he seems to lack interest in a viable Catholic future in Europe. Besides he notes Europe is already confederated with the EU. The Germans were pushing this. Of course the dominant power on the Continent financially and politically would be the master of confederation raising the question of money, the German Bishops Conference strong backing of the Pontiff’s policy of dissolution of Catholicism as bearer of the Apostolic Tradition into something progressively [better said regressively] more in line with a secular humanist world order. It’s all part of the bearing of the Cross folks. I do feel at times the need of a Simon of Cyrene. Or better an Athanasius of Alexandria.

    • There is an official religion taking on as strong a hold as anyone ever accused Christianity was ever said to have had. With it’s new Theological virtues – diversity, tolerance and inclusion, and cardinal virtues – ecology, socialism, relativism and subjectivism.

  34. To many in the Catholic Church, the United States is a mostly Protestant colonial backwater, full of bizarre “Christian” cults. English is a fifth or sixth language.

    To most Americans, the world revolves around the United States and there is no reason to speak any other language than (American) English.

    Thus misunderstandings are, and always have been, common.

    Pope Francis strikes me as faithful, but very provincial. He assumes all the world is like Argentina. For example, abortion is illegal in Argentina, therefore, there is little need to talk about legalized abortion anywher else. Annulments are difficult to get in Argentina, even with clear grounds, therefore, they should be easier to get in the Church as a whole. Conservative Catholicism is closely tied to military dictatorships in Argentina, therefore, it is something the Church must be concerned about in the United States.

  35. I find it strange that Rev. Figueroa, a Presbyterian minister has such power within the Church. Presbyterians have been very active in undermining the precepts and beliefs of Christianity in favor of a kind of spiritual secularism.

    Moreover, Father Antonio Spadaro is a Jesuit. I know very little about him, but the Jesuits in this country have been very active in destroying Catholic education in Catholic colleges and universities.

  36. Jesus Christ came not to establish a religion, but a relationship. A religion is a man-made system of doctrines and worship practices. A relationship with Jesus Christ is reliance on His death and resurrection as THE means for our salvation.

    Where a person chooses to hang their denominational hat is not nearly as significant as being born again by a genuine acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior and by living a life that attests to that heartfelt conviction.

    For Pope Francis/the Vatican to condone the belittling conservative Catholics/Christians is to espouse a flawed philosophical understanding of Christ as the linchpin for our salvation and the motivation behind our actions.

  37. Havinng lived in America my entire life (Almost six decades), one of the first things I learned as a child was that Americans cannot take criticism, particularly from abroad; that America is above criticism.

    I was well into adulthood when I joined the Roman Catholic Church, having grown up in a Christian fundamentalist environment. What drew me to Roman Catholicism was that, on paper, the Catholic ethos was second to none in it’s comprehensiveness and beauty. Note that I said “on paper” becuase, in practice, I have since come to learn that American Catholics difffer very little from American Protestants; that Christianity comes a distant third from being, first, an American and, second, a capitalist. For conservative Catholics, Christianity comes a distant fourth as conservatism trumps everything. And the total lack of civility in America society reflects those priorities. I cannot remember a time when hatred, on both sides of the political aisle, was so prevalent.

    While there were very few areas in the article in question that I feel warrants research for accuracy (I emphasize very few), I chose to view the article, as a whole, as an invitation to reflect upon my priorities to see if my life reflects what I profess, and, I am ashamed to say that there is a lot of room for improvement. Rather than shoot the messenger (The default American response to criticism), I would think that those who profess to be Christians, Catholic or Protestant, would see this as an invitation to reflect upon their lives because there were a large number of points in the article in question that were an accurate reflection of America today. As it is, there is a reason that, viewed from abroad, Americans are reputed to be quite arrogant. Greatness is measured by deeds, not bravado. Christians are measured by how much they love, not by who they hate.

    • All Americans? No criticism? Really?

      “For conservative Catholics, Christianity comes a distant fourth as conservatism trumps everything.” A very sweeping and unfair statement.

      The Civiltà Cattolica article is not bad because it goes after “conservative Catholics” but because so little of it is factually accurate or analytically coherent. It is full of errors, not to mention slander.

      As for arrogance, my experience is that the problem of pride goes beyond the American border; it is part and parcel of the human condition. But perhaps Solomon had only Americans in mind when he stated that pride goes before destruction?

      • I do not think my statement regarding conservatives overly unfair except that perhaps I should have included liberals as well. Political affiliation has become the beginning and end of all things in America. One cannot go anywhere, including church, without having somebody put politics in your face. Consequently, I rarely attend Church now and, even then, I avoid parishes that are predominantly white because my wife is from Mexico, and I just know somebody will say something hateful in her presence.

        No, I think my comments that Christianity comes a distant fourth for conservatives, AND LIBERALS, is probably pretty accurate given the current political environment.

        Do I think arrogance stops at the American border? No. But does the fact that others are arrogant make our arrogance okay? And that does not erase the fact that Americans feel America is above criticism.

  38. Depending where in the US you live, Antonio Spadaro has some very valid points. The hypocrisy of fundamentalists is appalling. There is so much opposition to diversity. If you don’t believe as the fundamentalist believe ‘you are wrong and you should go live in another country’ I see and hear it daily.

    • “Depending where in the US you live, Antonio Spadaro has some very valid points. The hypocrisy of fundamentalists is appalling.”

      You resort to the same sort of vague, broad-stroked smearing that Spadaro employs, so it’s little surprise you are amenable to his approach. I was raised in a Fundamentalist home and small church, and attended a Bible college that had many features that could fairly be called Fundamentalist. And while the limits and flaws of American Fundamentalism–fairly and accurately understood–are certainly many, Spadaro’s understanding of the same is woefully lacking. Worse, he uses caricatures and stereotypes to score political points–and does so while lamenting the politicization of Christianity. So, yes, he is certainly familiar with hypocrisy.

29 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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  20. Samuel Gregg: ‘On that strange, disturbing, and anti-American Civiltà Cattolica article’ – Acton Institute PowerBlog
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  24. An Invitation to an Encounter – Acton Institute PowerBlog
  25. Un Extraño Artículo Católico | Contrapeso
  26. Vatican hostility against faithful Catholics deepens our internal schism |
  27. No Pensar es Cómodo | Contrapeso
  28. When some Christians affirm traditional moral teaching, other Christians freak out – Catholic World Report
  29. Los tres mosqueteros de la corte del Papa Francisco – DOMINUS EST

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