The growing populist movement is a direct threat to the Roman Catholic church today. The far right are targeting Pope Francis and also the Catholic church in places such as Europe and the Philippines. The populists known for their autocratic ways are challenging the core mission of the church – helping the poor. From a historical perspective its important to remember that the populists are the new communists.
“It is important that young people should know how populism is born. I think of Hitler last century, who had promised the development of Germany. That we know how populism starts: by sowing hate. You can’t live sowing hate.”
“They are killing our flock. They are killing us shepherds. They are killing our faith. They are cursing our Church. They are killing God again as they did in Calvary.”
Statement to Philippines President Duterte by Catholic leadership in the Philippines.
But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.
Acts 20:24 NRSVCE
St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans
Steve Bannon on going after Pope Francis
We live in the age of the dictator. Plus in the last few years there has been the rise of autocratic, illiberal and governments hostile to democracy. These are some examples of that can be found on different continents. From Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela to Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. In Europe you have Viktor Orban in Hungary, while in nearby Poland the Law and Justice Party reigns and is mostly under the influence of Jaroslaw Kacyynski. In Asia the turbulent reign of Duterte who is known for his harsh leadership. In many of these places the Roman Catholic church is dominant and has an influence over the population. The populists, are the new Communists and indeed a threat to the Roman Catholic church.
Steve Bannon Crusades Against Pope Francis and Calls him the Enemy
In Italy Steve Bannon is supporting efforts to create a populist school in an Italian monastery. The other issue he is focused on is leading a campaign against Pope Francis. According to sources on the far right, Bannon urged the Italian Interior Ministry to attack Pope Francis, and hammer him hard on the issue of migration. This behavior began in 2016 and has been ongoing. The Pope has condemned populists and has drawn comparisons between the current illiberal movement and the powers that brought Hitler to power in Germany in the 1930’s. Bannon has criticized the Pope and the institute associated with him is linked to far right Catholics who believe gays are the source of the Catholic sexual abuse scandal. Some of these far right groups according to the London Guardian have links to Russia. As Bannon tries to whip up hate against the Pope the National Catholic Reporter had an editorial about him recently. In the editorial the Catholic publication states that Bannon is threatening the unity of the church. Here is a sample of the editorial.
Francis may well have a more formidable foe in Steve Bannon, the former Trump campaign aide who recently noted that it was God’s work that generated tens of thousands of votes in Wisconsin and Michigan in the 2016 Republican election triumph and has claimed credit for the “alt right,” an ill-defined phrase usually associated with Confederate memorial supporters and anti-immigrant internet trolls.
Now Bannon is setting his providential magic on the Vatican, taking a shot at the pope, with the help of wealthy American and European friends. He’s even bought a monastery in an Italian village outside Rome, a kind of counter-Vatican, where he is planning seminars in training a new generation of leaders in what he calls populist nationalism. The Italian villagers protesting his plans prefer to call it fascism.
Call it whatever, correspondent Richard Engel of NBC in a report that aired Palm Sunday weekend, reports that Bannon is serious. Engel notes that Bannon and others who are the pope’s enemies see him as “a left-wing liberal and they’re coming for him.”
Philippines President Duterte Creates a Death Culture that Leads to Catholic Clergy Receiving Death Threats
In the Philippines the populist threat comes from Duterte who has taken aim at the Catholic church. In the Philippines 81% of the population is Catholic. Duterte is claiming that Catholic priests are gay. Duterte is best known for carrying on a drug war against addict that has resulted in at least 20,000 Filipino residents being killed since 2016. You can read more about the drug war in the Philippines here and here. The Catholic church in the Philippines has criticized and stood up to Duterte over the incredible loss of life that has taken place. In response Duterte is trying to get Catholics to leave the church. After that Duterte stepped it up and called for Catholic Bishops in the Philippines to be executed. Earlier in 2018 a Catholic priest was killed and the Catholic church blamed Duterte’s tirades against the church. A number of Catholic leaders issued a statement calling out Duterte. The comments Duterte made calling for Catholic Bishops to be killed was as follows. “These bishops that you guys have, kill them. They are useless fools. All they do is criticize.” Many Filipino clergy are receiving death threats and the situation remains tense. While this problem persists Duterte continues his tirade against the Catholic church.
Analysis of the the Problem of Populism on Catholicism
The Catholic church has long been about social justice. It has spoken up over the years about many topics from immigration, refugees, corruption and more. The finest moment in the Roman Catholic church in the 20th century was its resistance to Communist governments in Eastern Europe. That is actually Pope John Paul’s legacy and what he should be remembered for by history. Today the rise of dictators or illiberal autocratic regimes poses a direct threat to the Catholic church. Not only does it threaten Catholic unity but it is threatening to undermine much of what the Catholic church stood for. The Catholic church has long supported and stood with refugees and immigrants. Due to how populists use the word “liberal” I am convinced that they would have attacked and gone after Pope John Paul II for some of his teachings as well. Its important to remember that while the Catholic church deals with the sex abuse crisis, many populist governments are also deeply corrupt. They are full of graft, twisting the court system, abuse of power and much more. While the Catholic church needs to get a resolution to the sex abuse crisis its important to remember that the blind spot that exists for populists is their ignorance of history and their own dogma. The populists have forgotten their history and warped it to fit an agenda. History becomes a means for propaganda. While they play on people’s fears they are also duplicating the mistakes of the communists. Today the populists are the new communists and pose that same direct threat. That is what makes the situation in nations like Poland all the more distressing. Freedom of religion goes along with democracy. When either one is threatened the result is tyranny. The Catholic church needs to continue pushing back against populism, as that is the right course of action to take.