Left-wing Italian theologian and journalist Massimo Faggioli has placed the blame for the Charlottesville tragedy firmly on the shoulders of President Donald Trump, whom he declares to be “theologically and morally” bankrupt.
The Trump presidency, Faggioli states in his article in the Huffington Post, is “a heresy concerning America as a religious idea,” especially regarding what America “believes and aspires to be.”
While Faggioli’s article could easily be dismissed as the work of a minor league Italian academic opining on a cultural reality with which he has only tangential familiarity, it causes concern because of its ideological affinity with numerous other efforts aimed at destabilizing American culture and undermining the democratic process.
Oddly, Mr. Faggioli claims that the beginning of the end for Trump came in May with the new president’s visit to Pope Francis in the Vatican, which—according to those personally involved on both sides of the meeting—was in fact a resounding success.
Pope Francis sought “to send a disturbing message” to Trump, Faggioli alleges, by slipping the President a copy of his encyclical letter on the care of creation titled “Laudato Si.” What Faggioli fails to mention, either out of ignorance or ill-will, is that Francis actually gave Trump a copy of all his writings as Pope, not singling out his letter on respect for the environment. The only “disturbing message” here was the one that disingenuous journalists like Faggioli sought to impose upon the meeting.
Faggioli approvingly cites a July 13 article that appeared in the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, which condemned American conservative Catholics as well as evangelicals, accusing them of engaging in an “ecumenism of hate.” The essay, signed by Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro and the Argentinian Presbyterian minister Marcelo Figueroa, earned harsh criticism from multiple fronts for its insulting tone, tendentious partisan politics and deep historical ignorance.
Rather than stepping back from the academically unsustainable article, Faggioli doubles down, going so far as to assert that conservative Catholics and white evangelical Protestants were in fact guilty of “a perverse ecumenism” that opposed Hillary Clinton in last November’s election and was instrumental in getting Donald Trump elected as President.
Among important demographic groups, Catholics—while not comprising a voting “bloc” per se—were indeed an important force in the elections. According to the Pew Research Center, Catholics nationwide favored Trump by a margin of 7 percentage points, with 52 percent voting for him as opposed to only 45 percent voting for Hillary Clinton. This was the largest pro-Republican margin among Catholics in the last five Presidential elections.
Many of those who wound up voting for Trump did so as an exercise in realpolitik, acknowledging that there were only two candidates effectively running for the highest office in the land, and that one of the two was an anti-Catholic whose platform was built around an aggressive pro-abortion activism and opposition to religious freedom, odious to serious Christians.
Without adducing any facts, Faggioli goes on to accuse Trump of “normalizing” extreme right political violence in the United States, which he then bizarrely links to the fictional “ecumenism of hate” between Catholics and Evangelical Protestants. Trump, he claims, has somehow legitimized “xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism,” presumably with the tacit approval of conservative Christians.
In his article, Faggioli omits the fact that conservative Christians—both Catholic and Evangelical—have roundly denounced the Charlottesville attack and the neo-Nazi, white supremacist ideology behind it, calling it out for what it is: a lunatic fringe with no relation to mainstream conservatives or their faith communities.
Faggioli instead insists that all Christian churches should renounce whatever support they may have for the sitting American President, presumably for his alleged complicity in the Charlottesville tragedy—something, once again, he makes no effort to demonstrate but simply asserts.
Moreover, while conceding that Trump was “legally elected,” the author goes on to assert that “theologically and morally the American presidency is a sede vacante since last January,” a Catholic expression referring to a period with no legitimate reigning pope.
As silly as this statement may seem to unbiased readers, it further fuels the hysterical rhetoric of those who would desperately like to see the American project fail.
With tensions running high in U.S. society, such attempts to pour gasoline on the fire must be opposed by those who actually have America’s best interests at heart, particularly those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome