An explosive article written by two close associates of Pope Francis has accused Steve Bannon, the chief White House strategist, of espousing an “apocalyptic geopolitics” whose roots are “not too far apart” from that of Islamist extremism.
The article in La Civiltà Cattolica, which is vetted by the Vatican before publication, lays out a scathing critique of “evangelical fundamentalism” in the US, arguing that, on issues ranging from climate change to “migrants and Muslims”, proponents of the ideology have adopted a twisted reading of scripture and the Old Testament that promotes conflict and war above all else.
The piece was published just days after evangelical leaders met US president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House and “laid hands” on him in prayer following discussions about religious freedom, support for Israel and healthcare reform.
Trump has never convincingly spoken of having religious faith but won the overwhelming support of white evangelical Christians in the 2016 election.
Vatican experts said the article would have had the explicit backing of the church and Pope Francis.
Its authors, Antonio Spadaro, the editor-in-chief of the publication, and Marcelo Figueroa, the editor-in-chief of the Argentinian edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, are known as confidantes of the Argentinian pope.
Bannon, the former editor of the Breitbart news website, is Catholic, and while he is only briefly mentioned in the article, the piece undoubtedly takes aim at the Trump White House.
It claims that fake religious arguments are being used to demonize segments of the population – particularly when it comes to migrants and Muslims – and to promote the US as a nation that is blessed by God, without ever taking into account the “bond between capital and profits and arms sales”.
“In this Manichaean vision [where the world is divided between good and evil], belligerence can acquire a theological justification and there are pastors who seek a biblical foundation for it, using scriptural texts out of context,” the authors write.
The article refers to the controversial evangelical theologist John Rushdoony as the father of today’s American Christian fundamentalism and calls Bannon an exponent of this philosophy.“
Rushdoony’s doctrine maintains a theocratic necessity: submit the state to the Bible with a logic that is no different from the one that inspires Islamic fundamentalism.
At heart, the narrative of terror shapes the worldviews of jihadists and the new crusaders and is imbibed from wells that are not too far apart,” the authors state.
“We must not forget that the geopolitics spread by Isis is based on the same cult of an apocalypse that needs to be brought about as soon as possible.”
In contrast, Pope Francis – with his emphasis on the need to build bridges, not walls, and his adamant refusal to conflate Islam and Islamic terrorism – is attempting to counter this narrative of “fear”, the article says.
One Catholic publication, Crux, called the article the “latest chapter in the tempestuous relationship between Francis and Trump”.
While the two leaders were seen as having a generally cordial – though somewhat joyless – meeting in May at the Vatican, the relationship suffered a significant setback following Trump’s decision to back out of the Paris climate accord just a week later.
Argentinian Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, the head of the Vatican’s Academy of Sciences, called it a “slap in the face” to the Vatican.
Crux noted that La Civiltà Cattolica is reviewed by the Vatican’s secretary of state before publication and that Spadaro has been “considered one of the foremost vehicles for understanding the views of the current pontificate”.
The article says that Christian fundamentalism and Old Testament appeals to the apocalypse have shown themselves “not to be the product of a religious experience but a poor and abusive perversion of it”.
“This is why Francis is carrying forward a systematic counter-narration with respect to the narrative of fear.
There is a need to fight against the manipulation of this season of anxiety and fear.
”It also criticizes conservative American Catholics who have aligned themselves with fundamentalist Protestants on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, saying that what really united the groups was a “nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state”.