Priest-Professor: Populism Is a ‘Serious Disease of Walls and Closure’

populism
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A priest-professor of the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome blasted populism as a “perversion” in a hard-hitting interview published Saturday.

Father Rocco D’ambrosio, who holds the Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland chair in Catholic Social Teaching at the Gregorian University, said that “populism is an ancient malady” and must be forcefully resisted, in an interview with Claire Giangravè of Crux, an online Catholic news outlet.

“The populist uses the people, he makes a generic reference to ‘the people’ but in the end wants to bring forward his politics, his vision,” he said.

Father D’ambrosio spoke this week at a conference at his university titled ‘Power and Populisms’ in opposition to Italy’s populist government and especially interior minister Matteo Salvini, who has made curbing illegal immigration the cornerstone of his mandate.

Today’s populist leaders, or “new Caesars,” according to D’Ambrosio, “are immature, corrupt, with monolithic institutions at their back and are weary of measures of control.”

And while populists generally “don’t tolerate genuine and authentic power relations,” he claimed, “they are eager to self-replicate and expand their model in every direction.”

The priest is especially critical of U.S. Catholics who have embraced political populism and support a conservative agenda.

“I think it’s a Christian cultural deficit,” he said of a Catholic opening to populist politics, adding that America is a ground zero of the “great marriage between the political right and right-wing Catholics.”

In his harsh evaluation of conservative American Catholics, Father D’Ambrosio echoed a 2017 article by two close advisers of Pope Francis criticizing relations between evangelicals and Catholics in the United States and labelling their collaboration as an “ecumenism of hate.”

In an article in the Jesuit-run Italian journal La Civiltà Cattolica, Father Antonio Spadaro and Rev. Marcelo Figueroa decried those “who profess themselves to be Catholic” but express themselves in ways “much closer to Evangelicals.”

The authors found particularly upsetting that evangelicals and Catholics should work together on moral issues that they hold in common.

“They are defined as value voters as far as attracting electoral mass support is concerned,” the authors wrote, and engage in a dangerous “ecumenical convergence” over shared objectives “around such themes as abortion, same-sex marriage, religious education in schools, and other matters generally considered moral or tied to values.”

Father D’Ambrosio seems to share this vision of U.S. Catholicism, claiming that American Catholics stress “certain principles such as bioethics, sexual morality and family morality” while neglecting “peace, justice, commitment toward immigrants, solidarity, fighting poverty and corruption.”

“I am convinced that the DNA of the U.S. is welcoming, integration and multiculturalism, and that [populism] is a serious disease, of walls and closure,” he continued, adding: “Let’s hope that the DNA has the strength to beat the malady, that the malady is not chronic but transitory.”

Nonetheless, the problem is not unique to the United States, the priest said, because conservative Catholics elsewhere also “take a part of the Christian teaching, exclude another and, on a practical level, tie themselves to those who have a populist vision of politics.”

Father D’Ambrosio believes that in the end, opposition to populism will triumph.

“If populism is a perversion, then we must recover humanity,” the priest said. “We must not despair. History teaches that whenever there have been forms of perversion of politics they also generated, quietly, forms of resistance to this perversion.”

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