NY Times Fires ‘Warning Shot for Hard-Line,’ ‘Ultraconservative’ Catholics

August 3rd, 2017 5:20 PM

Jason Horowitz, the New York Times’ most showily left-wing political reporter, made common cause with a piece making the rounds of Catholic intellectual circles singling out “ultraconservative” Trump-supporting conservatives as dangerous, in Thursday’s “From the Vatican, a Warning Shot for Hard-Line Catholics in the U.S.” The text box relayed: “An official journal says the U.S. church is too political.”

Horowitz uses that same “ultraconservative” terminology but loses the quotes:

Two close associates of Pope Francis have accused American Catholic ultraconservatives of making an alliance of “hate” with evangelical Christians to back President Trump, further alienating a group already out of the Vatican’s good graces.

The authors, writing in a Vatican-vetted journal, singled out Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, as a “supporter of an apocalyptic geopolitics” that has stymied action against climate change and exploited fears of migrants and Muslims with calls for “walls and purifying deportations.”

The article warns that conservative American Catholics have strayed dangerously into the deepening political polarization in the United States. The writers even declare that the worldview of American evangelical and hard-line Catholics, which is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, is “not too far apart’’ from jihadists.

Horowitz tilted toward support of that paranoid political premise, and provided an unbalanced selection of quotes

The article and the backlash to it -- accusations of anti-Americanism have been rife, and one prominent American prelate likened the authors to “useful idiots” -- have highlighted the widening distance between Francis and American Catholic conservatives.

Since the 2013 election of Pope Francis, conservatives have worried that he has given short shrift to the social issues that have animated them, among them abortion and same-sex marriage. They have sat through his warnings to steer clear of politics. They have watched warily as Francis has installed pastors in his image while sidelining conservative leaders.


Fans of the article said it made clear that the conservatives who ran the American church for decades were out of step with the new Catholic mainstream under Francis.


The authors of the article argue that American evangelical and ultraconservative Catholics risk corrupting the Roman Catholic faith with an ideology intended to inject “religious influence in the political sphere.” They suggest that so-called values voters are using the banners of religious liberty and opposition to abortion to try to supplant secularism with a “theocratic type of state.”


Benjamin Harnwell, a Catholic traditionalist in Rome, fan of Mr. Bannon and confidant of Cardinal Burke’s, said the article’s authors were doing little more than “trolling Steve Bannon.” Mr. Bannon, a former altar boy who once articulated his worldview to a Vatican conference, wrote in a brief email that the pope’s associates “lit me up.”

For Horowitz as well as the authors of the article in La Civilta Cattolica, being inclusive meant shedding conservatives.

Personnel decisions in the Catholic hierarchy are crucial to Francis’ effort to make the church more inclusive, particularly in the United States.

American Catholic conservatives once unacquainted with being out of papal favor have stewed privately and expressed horror publicly on numerous right-wing Catholic blogs. They accuse Francis of wrecking the church and diluting its doctrine.

Liberal American Catholics, bruised by crackdowns under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, are less than sympathetic to conservative complaints and have felt emboldened by Francis. They are delighted with the pope’s promotion of figures like Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, who has started a program against gun violence and opposed Republican health care proposals on the ground that they would strip coverage for the weak and poor....

Horowitz let in a little progressive contempt of outlying, enthusiastic newcomers to the faith.

Some progressive Catholics have even begun expressing a previously tacit resentment of the hard-right zeal of evangelical, Calvinist and Protestant converts to Catholicism, among them Newt Gingrich, the husband of Callista Gingrich, the new American ambassador to the Holy See.

“I am so tired of converts telling us that the pope is not Catholic,” Michael Sean Winters wrote last week in the newspaper National Catholic Reporter.

That deep suspicion of evangelical fundamentalism and the fear of politicization corroding the conservative hierarchy of the American Catholic church was laid bare by the article in La Civiltà Cattolica. The authors were the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, the journal’s editor, who is a confidant of Francis’; and Marcelo Figueroa, an Argentine Presbyterian minister who is a friend and longtime collaborator of the pope’s.

Horowitz quoted the essay’s use of “ultraconservatism,” a characterization that the reporter evidently approves of, while letting Spadaro’s left-wing reign:

Father Spadaro cited, by way of example, the fringe Catholic website Church Militant, which the essay described as openly in favor of political “ultraconservatism.” (A related site responded under the headline “Evil Editor of La Civiltà Cattolica Attacks Church Militant.”)

Father Spadaro also said it was important to explore the “apocalyptic narrative which inspires” Mr. Bannon, who has digested the works of often anti-Christian right-wing writers such as Julius Evola, who contend that people had drifted away from a primordial, heroic truth.

Times columnist Ross Douthat read the article and was not impressed:

Their essay is bad but important. Its seems to intend, reasonably enough, to warn against Catholic support for the darker tendencies in Trumpism -- the xenophobia and identity politics, the “stigmatization of enemies,” the crude view of Islam and a wider “panorama of threats,” the prosperity-gospel inflected worship of success.

But the authors’ understanding of American religion seems to start and end with Google searches and anti-evangelical tracts, and their intended attack on Trumpery expands and expands, conflating very different political and religious tendencies, indulging in paranoia about obscure theocratic Protestants and fringe Catholic websites, and ultimately critiquing every kind of American religious conservatism -- including the largely anti-political Benedict Option and the pro-life activism fulsomely supported by Francis’ papal predecessors -- as dangerously illiberal, “theopolitical,” Islamic State-esque, “Manichaean,” a return to the old integralism that the church no longer supports.

Douthat also saw hypocrisy in calling out only one side for politicization.

....the other bizarre thing about Spadaro and Figueroa’s broad brush: As the American Catholic writer Patrick Smith points out, by warning against a Catholicism that takes political sides or indulges in moralistic rhetoric or otherwise declaims on “who is right and who is wrong” in contemporary debates, the pope’s men are effectively condemning not only American conservative Catholics but also the pope’s own writings on poverty and environmentalism, his support for grass-roots “popular movements” in the developing world and his stress on the organic link between family, society, religion and the state.