NPR Hypes Vatican-Approved Article Blasting 'Right-Wing' American Catholics

NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday followed the lead of the New York Times and boosted a recent article published by an ally of Pope Francis that targeted "ultra-conservative" Catholics for forming a so-called "alliance of hate with evangelicals who support President Trump's policies."

Host Lulu Garcia-Navarro turned to Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter for his analysis of the article, but failed to mention his publication's heterodox/left-wing stances on many Church issues. McElwee contended that these "right-wing" Catholics are "operating in the exact opposite way of the Pope — which, for a Catholic, is obviously a very strange thing."

Garcia-Navarro led into the segment with the writer by outlining that "ultra-conservative Catholics in the U.S. are the target of a controversial article penned by two priests in Pope Francis's inner circle." However, one of the authors of the article, Marcelo Figueroa, is actually a Protestant theologian, as well as a longtime friend of the pontiff. After using the "alliance of hate" phrase, the NPR host noted that "some conservative Catholics here are accusing the Vatican of overstepping" with the piece. While Garcia-Navarro and her guest repeatedly identified the targets of the piece as "right-wing" and "ultra-conservative," neither used a corresponding ideological label for Figuero, his co-author, or their allies.

McElwee first summarized the contents of the article: "These two authors are known to be quite close to him. One, [Father] Antonio Spadaro, was the person who interviewed him in 2013...And what they're saying is that they're concerned about ties between fundamental (sic) evangelicals and, kind of, right-wing Catholics in the U.S. that are focused only on very neuralgic issues and, kind of, dividing in politics." Garcia-Navarro pointed out that "the article, I believe, specifically talks about xenophobic and Islamophobic views."

The National Catholic Reporter journalist explained that "Pope Francis has really been trying to create a culture of dialogue encounter...what the two authors in this article are saying is that these right-wing groups in the U.S. have been really doing the opposite....And they're, kind of, operating in the exact opposite way of the Pope — which, for a Catholic, is obviously a very strange thing." He soon added that the article "says that certain groups in the U.S. Catholic Church have, kind of, gone off the track — that all they care about are, kind of, creating political alliances for, kind of, right-wing conservative ends; and not for...wider concerns of the Catholic Church."

Later in the segment, Garcia-Navarro wondered, "What has been the reaction among the Catholic community here in the United States?" McElwee acknowledged that "it's been very divided. Some Catholics thought that it was a very good thing....Other Catholics think that it's very inappropriate for the Vatican to, kind of, get mixed into particular politics in one country when the Church is so global and is all over the world."

The full transcript of the Joshua McElwee segment, which aired on the August 6, 2017 edition of NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday:

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ultra-conservative Catholics in the U.S. are the target of a controversial article penned by two priests in Pope Francis's inner circle. The article appeared in a Vatican-vetted journal last month, and suggests that some American Catholics are forming an alliance of hate with evangelicals who support President Trump's policies. And some conservative Catholics here are accusing the Vatican of overstepping.

Joining us from Rome to talk about the article is Joshua McElwee. He's the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. Joshua, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

JOSHUA McELWEE, NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER: Yeah. Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell us what the article said.

McELWEE: Well, it's very interesting. It's in the Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica. It's a very historic magazine — the Jesuits, of course, being the same order that Pope Francis — an order of priests that Pope Francis is a part of. And what's very interesting is that these two authors are known to be quite close to him. One, Antonio Spadaro, was the person who interviewed him in 2013 and made a big splash. And what they're saying is that they're concerned about ties between fundamental (sic) evangelicals and, kind of, right-wing Catholics in the U.S. that are focused only on very neuralgic issues and, kind of, dividing in politics.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the article, I believe, specifically talks about xenophobic and Islamophobic views.

McELWEE: Yeah. What the authors say is that — you know, Pope Francis has really been trying to create a culture of dialogue encounter — really working with people across all the spectrums. And what the two authors in this article are saying is that these right-wing groups in the U.S. have been really doing the opposite. Where Pope Francis is trying to build bridges, they're trying to build walls; and they're playing up concerns about migration — about refugees. And they're, kind of, operating in the exact opposite way of the Pope — which, for a Catholic, is obviously a very strange thing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. This article also directly mentions President Donald Trump and his adviser, Steve Bannon. What does it say about them?

McELWEE: Beyond Donald Trump or beyond the current presidency, it looks at the past ten or fifteen years of development in right-wing Catholicism. And it says that certain groups in the U.S. Catholic Church have, kind of, gone off the track — that all they care about are, kind of, creating political alliances for, kind of, right-wing conservative ends; and not for — you know, wider concerns of the Catholic Church — particularly, the concerns of creating unity between Christian churches; not just on political issues, but on deeper theological, philosophical, and other issues.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just to get some perspective, how did Catholics vote in this recent election? I mean, are Catholics more Republican-leaning? Are they more likely to support President Donald Trump?

McELWEE: Well, Catholics in the U.S., for the past several election cycles, have been really split down the middle. They're considered kind of a swing constituency. One or two percentage points one way or the other might swing a vote in a certain state. In the last election, the latest numbers are that they voted for Hillary Clinton, but by a very small margin — one or two percentage points — among Catholics in the U.S. But in recent years, what these writers are trying to say is there has been a very strong right-wing presence among the U.S. Catholic Church - particularly around abortion, and in trying to elect Republicans who say that they will appoint judges to overturn Roe v. Wade.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What has been the reaction among the Catholic community here in the United States?

McELWEE: It's been very divided. Some Catholics thought that it was a very good thing. They liked that the Church is identifying what is going on in the U.S. church. Other Catholics think that it's very inappropriate for the Vatican to, kind of, get mixed into particular politics in one country when the Church is so global and is all over the world. They particularly criticized the article for not having an American writer. You know, it was an Italian and an Argentinean writing about the U.S. political situation, and some people have said that that is quite problematic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Joshua McElwee is the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. Thank you very much.

McELWEE: Thank you.


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