by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
This week these lines take up three separate and contending crises all too familiar to anyone reading the daily newspapers. They are the deep and threatening divide in U.S. body politic; the harmful role which Christian nationalism is playing in it; and a similar rupture in the Catholic Church. Having read that, the tendency might understandably be to turn the page and look for a more congenial read, as so many seem to be doing today in our country.
Yet these issues beg for attention on the part of U.S. Catholics. We are seeing a remarkable and heretofore successful democratic experiment being ripped apart, the blasphemous misuse of religious symbols, and, in our own Church, a rejection of Pope Francis’ pastoral ministry. If we are not part of the solution, we may well be part of the problem.
Polls show that fully 66 percent of Republican voters consider the 2022 election to be fraudulent. These are not all “crazies” but Republicans of every stripe. Add to this the influence of MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) Republicans with their own agenda for a violent takeover of government, and we have a national crisis not seen since the Civil War.
On another connected front and of extreme concern for level-headed citizens is the xenophobic national populism that aims to defend a supposed national culture from “replacement,” a conspiracy theory holding that non-white individuals are being brought into the United States to “replace” white voters.
What is equally ominous for people of faith is the participation of fundamentalist Christians in this mix. Columnist Michael Gerson recently wrote a lengthy and devastating essay in The New York Times on this question. His topic sentence pointed to the problem: “The discontent, prejudices and delusions of the religious conservatives helped swell the populist wave that lapped up on the steps of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Christian banners mixed with the iconography of white supremacy.”
Pope Francis is being treated despicably despite or because of his remarkable role in the world and Church. The examples are many and well-known. One of the latest and glaring is an interview with George Weigel published in the October 5 edition of the National Catholic Register in which he celebrates Popes John Paul and Benedict XVI as “one continuous arc of authoritative interpretation of Vatican II.” He never mentions Pope Francis by name and references his quintessential Vatican II ministerial approach in negative terms. Such misinterpretation can only tear down.
In light of all this, where do we stand, as Pax Christi, as members of the People of God in the institutional Church and as U.S. citizens? It has to be in the surety of Catholic Social Teaching. For the past 125 years, CST has intelligently and faithfully found Gospel-based interpretations and actions for an entire range of human problems. It is a guidepost for healing a broken world and a broken Church.
But we have a huge problem here. In its report on Synodal consultations in this country, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops say: “… [T]here were very few explicit mentions of Catholic Social Doctrine or even the issues of justice…” We have an enormous task to make explicit reference to Catholic Social Teaching in all our programs and activities – its teaching and its spirituality.
Above all, our guiding star in such confusing times has to be the life and message of Jesus the Christ. A review of a new book on Catholicism ends saying: “Why are so many generations in so many corners of the globe drawn to a man whose time on earth was so short and seemingly inconsequential? The answer has less to do with directives from Rome and more to do with a story told over and over, in many languages.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.