How Populism is a Threat to Roman Catholicism

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.” 

Pope Francis 

“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.  

12 thoughts on “How Populism is a Threat to Roman Catholicism

  1. What we are seeing in so many areas of the world, including America, is the result of so many people within religious faiths allowing their political views to dictate and shape their view and understanding of their religious faith, rather than vice versa.

    For these people, they believe the faith should exist to further their preferred political agenda, and to the extent that it doesn’t, they seek to remake the faith in their preferred image.

    There are plenty of things in my Christian faith that come into conflict with my own personal preferences, but when this happens, my course of action should be to (1) first make sure I am, as best as I can, correctly understanding my faith and its teachings, and then to (2) subject my personal preferences to my faith, not the other way round.


  2. 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.

    Italy is where Fascism originated in the 1920s after a government collapse.
    Ever heard of the phrase “SALUTO IL DUCE!”?
    (Delivered with an old Roman salute, which now has a German name.)

    “First they came for the Catholics, and I cheered them on, because they were just Romanist False-Church Apostates…”


  3. 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.

    Westboro Baptists with Rosaries and Tridentine Latin Masses.

    Some of these far right groups according to the London Guardian have links to Russia.

    Christian Culture Warrior Putin Fanboys with Rosaries and Marian Devotions.
    (Unfortunately, Russia already has a State Church at Court — Russian Orthodoxy — and they do NOT share power or position at the Tsar’s Court.)

    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.

    Some of those 20,000 killed personally by Duterte, finger on trigger.
    (At least in Duterte’s public bragging.)
    Isn’t Trump one of Duterte’s biggest fanboys?
    (Which would fit with the hypothesis that the TA mind Game of “Tough Guy” is in play, where a weaker individual is drawn to fanboy and imitate Real Tough Guys. The usual type example is a Gangster Wanna-be.)


  4. JPII was a populist, as is Francis. The majority of Bible believing Catholics (which are rare) are completely anti Vatican 2. Catholics have gone the way of populism and that will be their downfall. What you and others seem to fail to comprehend is that rejecting those hard Biblical lessons and conservative values hurts the faith. Propping up a “pope” that thrives with social justice and rejecting the obvious truth that gay men infiltrated a religion and gave them carte blanche access to victims is blindly infuriating to people like myself, who then read your shallow thought out posts and ask “what is up with this guy”. I’m so close to just removing this blog from my feeds. It’s just mining pigs for gold at this point.


    • I think you and Eagle are working off of two very different understandings/definitions of “populism.” The political populism movements we see at work in America and Europe today, and characterized by individuals like Trump and Bannon and Le Pen and Salvini, are heavily driven by nationalism, and more specifically ethnic nationalism. When you state that JPII and Francis are populists, you have to be using that term in a very different fashion than is commonly understood in today’s political environment. In fact, Francis has repeatedly warned and spoken out against the current brand of populism.

      On a separate note, as a politically moderate Protestant evangelical (yes, that seems to be a shrinking group), I am obviously on the outside looking in on the Catholic church and I can’t speak to all of the debates and discussions internal to the church. But as an outsider, what I have always appreciated about the Catholic church is its history of combining Biblical truth and teaching with a sense of social mission, in other words teaching the Scriptures but also working to meet the needs of people. In my experiences in evangelicalism, we are entirely about the former and virtually ignore and dismiss the latter, and I find this utterly inconsistent with the gospel of Christ. Increasingly, it seems to me that conservatives of all flavors have gotten so contemptuously dismissive of terms like “social justice” that they tend to rail against anything that seeks to meet the needs of people, somehow equating doing so with some nefarious liberal conspiracy. I see this attitude all the time within evangelicalism. I fear your words are reflecting some of this same thinking within parts of Catholicism, which to me would really tear down one of the strongest positive distinctives of the Catholic church.

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      • Catholics, at least the ones I’ve encountered, are either solid moral-wise, or totally off the rails social justice-wise. You (and eagle) seem to take the easy route of “Its the EvAnGeLiCAls!”, but the crux of the issue is a sliding morality scale where you either adhere to principals of free will or hide behind legislative oppression. Not all Christians feel like we need to force laws upon people to get food to the needy. But because we push back on the side that wants laws to tax us to make that happen, people like you tag us as out of touch evangelicals. Catholic populism is on the rise in the sense of them wanting that feel good orange county housewife thrill. It has been since Vatican II. ALL “denominations”, including evangelicals, suffer from the folks in the group that just want the good feels. Again, I say, this article is lazy and pointed at evangelicals just to get a rise out of whatever group you guys adhere to and feel good about knocking evangelicals about. Whatever.


      • To be clear, as I did mention, I am an evangelical, so when I say anything critical of evangelicalism it is a matter of trying to address concerns regarding one’s own house.

        Separately, I will simply observe that in my experience many of the evangelicals and churches who are the most vocal about opposition to any kind of government-originated social “safety nets” (typically protesting that this is the church’s job) are also often the ones that do the least in terms of meeting material needs, sometimes scoffing that this is what “liberal churches” do. This tells me that the issue goes far beyond just one of tax policy disagreements and reflects to some degree an indifference to the needs of people. The encroach of the “health and wealth” prosperity gospel has had some influence on this mindset, but there are certainly other factors in play as well, including automatically categorizing the needy as lazy and somehow deserving of their neediness.


      • I think that’s backwards though. I think most people have a view of government formed from life experiences, not their church. Those views are reconciled with their views on faith – on both sides. I think its disingenuous to say evangelicals are less likely to want welfare programs because they’re evangelicals. Maybe more conservatives are turned off by non-conservative churches and are drawn to ones that aren’t so liberal. Their views on social programs and taxes having been shaped beyond that church. In other words, it’s not an evangelical problem, you guys have a problem with the right/conservative views on things. And that’s perfectly fine, but I just keep seeing this blog try to tie political viewpoints to religious institutions and while sometimes that can be true, there are a lot of blanket statements around here that just make me roll my eyes more often than not.


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