Close allies of Pope Francis have attacked the role of religion in American politics, taking aim at both ultra-conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants.
Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa condemned 'Manichaean language that divides reality between absolute Good and absolute Evil' in an article they wrote together on the 'surprising ecumenism' between the two groups.
Spadaro is a Jesuit priest who edits La Civiltà Cattolica and Marcelo Figueroa is a Presbyterian pastor who is editor-in-chief of the Argentinian edition of L'Osservatore Romano. Spadaro's paper is considered the official voice of the Vatican and its contents are approved before publication by the Vatican secretary of state.
Fundamentalists, they say, 'do not hesitate to base the economic growth of the country on a literal adherence to the Bible. Over more recent years this current of thought has been fed by the stigmatization of enemies who are often "demonized".'
This is epitomised in the rhetoric of President Trump, they say, and is reflected in the targeting of migrants and refugees. They also refer to the indifference of evangelical fundamentalists to the environment and issues of climate change: 'Theirs is a prophetic formula: fight the threats to American Christian values and prepare for the imminent justice of an Armageddon, a final showdown between Good and Evil, between God and Satan... Such a unidirectional reading of the biblical texts can anesthetize consciences or actively support the most atrocious and dramatic portrayals of a world that is living beyond the frontiers of its own "promised land".'
In their critique of evangelical fundamentalist politics they take aim at President Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon, a 'supporter of an apocalyptic geopolitics', as well as prosperity theology and the warped understanding of religious liberty.
Furthermore, they say, evangelicals and 'Catholic Integralists' are being brought together by 'the same desire for religious influence in the political sphere'. This is 'an ecumenism of conflict that unites them in the nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state', say Spadaro and Figuerao.
They add that 'the most dangerous prospect for this strange ecumenism is attributable to its xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls and purifying deportations. The word "ecumenism" transforms into a paradox, into an "ecumenism of hate".'
This approach stands in sharp contrast to Pope Francis' emphasis on mercy, they stress.
The two single out ultra-conservative US Catholic website Church Militant for particular criticism, noting its support for President Trump and comparison of him with the Emperor Constantine: 'This is a very direct message that then wants to condition the presidency by framing it as a divine election.'
They say: 'The fundamentalist theopolitical plan is to set up a kingdom of the divinity here and now. And that divinity is obviously the projection of the power that has been built. This vision generates the ideology of conquest.' Pope Francis, they say, is fighting against the manipulation of 'this season of anxiety and insecurity'.
Michael Voris, founder of Church Militant, responded: 'The hypocrisy of Fr. Spadaro is shocking. He accuses Church Militant of using theology to advance a political agenda – which isn't true – while he spends every waking hour using the Vatican and the Church to publicly advance a left-wing agenda.'
The article reflects alarm at President Trump's agenda – Pope Francis listed the US among the countries with a 'distorted view of the world' in an interview during the G20 conference and he has implicitly criticised him for his views on migrants and climate change. However, it also reveals concern at the influence of conservative Catholic pressure groups which make common cause with evangelicals over issues such as abortion, gay marriage and what they believe is the waning Christian influence over American politics.