Pope Francis Endorses Attack on Conservative Christians

By John Zmirak Published on September 28, 2019

You’ve probably already heard. Pope Francis is prone to harsh remarks aimed at conservative American Catholics. “For me, it’s an honor that Americans are attacking me,” Francis told La Croix’s Nicolas Seneze, author of How America Wanted to Change the Pope.

The “Ecumenism of Hate”

Well, that same warmth and apostolic outreach continues to flow from Rome. Breitbart reports:

Pope Francis has publicly endorsed an essay that appeared in 2017 criticizing relations between Evangelicals and Catholics in the United States as an “ecumenism of hate.”

On Thursday, La Civiltà Cattolica journal released the transcript … in which the pope suggested that certain Evangelical Protestants in the United States “cannot really be defined as Christian. … [T]here are sects that cannot really be defined as Christian. They preach Christ, yes, but their message is not Christian,” the pope said. “It has nothing to do with the preaching of a Lutheran or any other serious evangelical Christianity.”

Smearing Pro-Lifers as Racists

Pope Francis recommended the article by Rev. Antonio Spadoro, S.J. and (liberal Protestant) Rev. Marcelo Figueroa. (Go read it yourself.) The Stream reported on the article when it came out. As I wrote in 2017, the essay targeted many:

  • The worldwide pro-life movement (the authors sneer at “values voters”).
  • Conservative U.S. Protestants.
  • Patriotic citizens worried about Islamic colonization, terrorism, and sharia.
  • Catholics who voted for Donald Trump.
  • Catholics and Protestants who work together defend innocent life, the natural law, and religious liberty.

The column lumps in all theologically conservative Protestants with hard line “fundamentalists.” It claims that the whole Christian Right is beholden to the views of a few obscure Calvinists. To people who wish to enshrine Old Testament law in the U.S. (That includes the death penalty for adulterers and disobedient children.) So the next pro-choice or anti-marriage politician can thank a high ranking Jesuit writing in an official venue for support.

The authors smoosh together resistance to “the black civil rights movement” with conservative Christians’ objections to a long list of other things. For instance, to theological Modernism, which hollows out the Bible. Also to “the hippy movement, communism, feminist movements.” Then the authors jump to the present day, and claim that the same bigotry now animates American Christians who are obsessed with “the migrants and the Muslims.”

The Free Market is Just a “Prosperity Gospel”

Continuing from that column:

[T]he authors attack any defense of a basically free market economy. How? Again, through the crassest sort of guilt-by-association. They show contempt for any Christian who holds (as Pope Leo XIII and most of his successors held) that private property is “sacred” and that the economy shouldn’t be crushed by bureaucracy or smothered by redistribution. … Or who thinks that America is uniquely blessed by God with freedom. … According to Spadaro and Figueroa, they are fans of the “Prosperity Gospel.”

The authors denounce Catholics who cooperate with Protestants to fight abortion, radical Islam, gay activism, or Marxism. We are examples, they say, of an “ecumenism of hate.” I am proud to say that the specific line denounced in this piece, comparing the Trump/Clinton race to the contrast between Constantine and Diocletian, first appeared in one of my columns here at The Stream. I was disappointed, however, not to be condemned by name.

Integralists Claim Credit

Weirdly, Matthew Schmitz of First Things magazine is claiming that the 2017 article is an attack on Catholic integralists, who favor a Catholic state that censors or prosecutes “heretics.” Or gives bishops such power over every baptized Christian. (So for instance, Cardinal Cupich of Chicago in theory could arrest Rev. Franklin Graham for heresy, if he visited Chicago.)

Er, no. The 2017 article never mentioned Catholics who want the state to punish non-Catholic Christians. Or restrict their religious freedom. In fact, it joined integralists. Like them, it attacks Catholics who work together with Protestants to defend the natural law and the U.S. First Amendment. That’s the Amendment which integralists condemn. Why? Because it protects Protestants’ and others’ free exercise of religion.

The best we can do is burrow into tiny subcultures, as Rod Dreher advocates. And wait for the whole American system to collapse. Then rebuild, from among the ruins, a Catholic Utopia where Protestant evangelism is illegal, as it was in Franco’s Spain.

Integralists want the state, or bishops wielding its coercive powers, to control, silence, or punish “heretics.” Don’t believe such folks exist? Alas, they do. I unpack and dismantle their ideas here. I provide plenty of links to their own writings. (In case you still think I’m making this up.) Apparently some Catholics misread the satirical novel A Confederacy of Dunces. They took it for a political manifesto.

Spadaro and Figueroa probably don’t even realize that integralists exist. This movement has only gained traction among a vocal splinter group. It’s a shard of the already small minority of orthodox Catholics. No bishop anywhere has endorsed their position. The Catholic Catechism rejects it. The Church endorses religious freedom for all. It endorses no restrictions except on abuses like human sacrifice. Or anything else that violates the natural law.PIG-Catholicism

A Weird Little Conspiracy

It’s true. Integralists have worked their way into the pages of major journals, like First Things. Some of them pretend that the populist, pro-family patriotic governments of countries like Poland and Hungary are examples of integralism in action. Which is absurd. No such countries are restricting religious freedom. (Hungary’s Viktor Orban is a Calvinist, by the way.)

The closest thing to an integralist policy in any developed country? Russia’s arrests of Jehovah’s Witness evangelists. Oh yes, and China’s demolition of “unauthorized” churches.

Alarmingly, some integralists have gotten on to the faculty of small, faithful Catholic colleges recommended in books like The Newman Guide.

So what of the students who buy their ideas? They’ll decide that there is no point in joining the pro-life movement. Or in fighting leftist attacks on the (evil!) First Amendment. Because the U.S. was “badly founded.” The best we can do is burrow into tiny subcultures. And wait for the whole American system to collapse. Then rebuild, from among the ruins, a Catholic utopia where Protestant evangelism is illegal, as it was in Franco’s Spain. They will climb from their mothers’ basements, blinking in the light, to a brave new world of opportunities.

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Till then, they’re of no use to anyone.

Rather than join them, I’ll stick with my fellow Americans, thanks very much. You know, if you’d told me in 2013 that soon I’d counting on the former host of Celebrity Apprentice to protect our country from the destructive ideas of the pope? I probably wouldn’t have believed you.


John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream, and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism.

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