Is the work of the National Catholic Register, and its parent apostolate, EWTN, advancing an “ecumenism of hate” in which “Catholic integralists” and “evangelical fundamentalists” seek to subordinate the Gospel to a right-wing political agenda?
That’s the remarkable charge made by some thinkers close to Pope Francis and their most enthusiastic supporters. Such people, in Christian charity, should be ignored; and, if the quality of their analysis alone were the only relevant criterion, its manifest mediocrity would mandate just that. But when such figures are such prominent interpreters of the current pontificate, they cannot be ignored.
Last month, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, confidant of the Holy Father, and Marcelo Figueroa, a Protestant pastor personally chosen by Pope Francis to be the editor in chief of the new Argentinean edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, authored an essay arguing that what they consider to be the hate-filled politics of the Trump administration has its roots in an unholy alliance between “Evangelical Fundamentalism” and “Catholic Integralism.”
The essay appeared in La Civiltà Cattolica, the Jesuit journal published in Rome that warrants attention because its pages are reviewed in advance by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. Father Spadaro is the journal’s editor.
The essay has produced a great number of critical responses, including from R.R. Reno of First Things, writing in these pages.
Other commentators also weighed in, including George Weigel and Robert Royal.
Those responses have argued that the analysis provided by Father Spadaro and Pastor Figueroa is not an accurate reading of America’s religious history over the past century. The essay was particularly weak in selecting as the Catholic example of this “ecumenism of hate” the website “Church Militant,” which by any account represents a tiny minority in the United States.
Father Spadaro and Figueroa, having made an outrageous claim using an incendiary and inaccurate example, were then supported by liberal American commentators claiming that the “ecumenism of hate” problem had actually infected this newspaper.
Michael Sean Winters, writing at the National Catholic Reporter, began with Church Militant and ended up with us:
That kind of militaristic, and profane, language is not uncommon at right-wing Catholic websites, all of which feed into the mainstream through less outrageous, but decidedly conservative, media outlets like EWTN and the National Catholic Register. EWTN is a kind of gateway drug for conservative Catholics: You may start by watching Raymond Arroyo interview Sebastian Gorka for the umpteenth time or reading Father de Souza explain how Trump’s speech in Poland was “faith-filled” and go no further, just as some people smoke weed and that is enough. But for others, EWTN or the Register lead you into the snake pit of truly whacky conservative Catholic media.
Writing at Crux, another commentator, Steven Krueger — president of Catholic Democrats, a partisan organization that grew out of the “Catholics for Obama” project in the 2008 and 2012 elections — claimed that the unholy alliance began under the auspices of the late Father Richard John Neuhaus and the late Charles Colson:
There’s an evangelical/Catholic alliance that has evolved over time and was first codified in 1994 with the signing of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” In 2004, The New York Times reported that “Catholic and evangelical leaders who forged relationships in the anti-abortion movement … are now working side by side in campaigns on other culture-war issues, and for Republican candidates.”