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Pope Francis endorses claim that US Christians are engaged in ‘ecumenism of hatred’

Dorothy Cummings McLean Dorothy Cummings McLean Follow Dorothy

VATICAN CITY, September 26, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) ― In an address to Jesuits in Mozambique, Pope Francis recommended an infamous 2017 article that characterized the cooperation between U.S. Catholic and Evangelical social conservatives as an “ecumenism of hatred.” 

In the same address, the Pope criticized a woman who professed joy that two young people had converted to Catholicism. And he suggested young priests who wear cassocks are expressing a form of “rigid clericalism” that conceals “moral problems.”

The Pope’s September 5 speech was published today, September 26, in La Civiltà Cattolica by Antonio Spadaro, SJ, one of the two co-authors of the 2017 article. 

Responding to a question about Protestant sects that recommend their faith to Africans as a way to become rich, Francis said:

… We must distinguish carefully between the different groups who are identified as ‘Protestants.’ There are many with whom we can work very well, and who care about serious, open and positive ecumenism. But there are others who only try to proselytize and use a theological vision of prosperity ....

Two important articles in Civiltà Cattolica have been published in this regard. I recommend them to you. They were written by Father Spadaro and the Argentinean Presbyterian pastor, Marcelo Figueroa. The first article spoke of the “ecumenism of hatred.”

This article, “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A surprising Ecumenism”, first appeared in July 2017. It argues that American conservatives, including many Catholics, have been influenced by Protestant fundamentalism, and that Catholic and Evangelical voters who work together on social issues like the right to life and traditional marriage have transformed ecumenism into “an ecumenism of hatred.”

Spadaro and Figueroa wrote: 

Appealing to the values of fundamentalism, a strange form of surprising ecumenism is developing between Evangelical fundamentalists and Catholic Integralists brought together by the same desire for religious influence in the political sphere.

Some who profess themselves to be Catholic express themselves in ways that until recently were unknown in their tradition and using tones much closer to Evangelicals. They are defined as value voters as far as attracting electoral mass support is concerned. There is a well-defined world of ecumenical convergence between sectors that are paradoxically competitors when it comes to confessional belonging. This meeting over shared objectives happens around such themes as abortion, same-sex marriage, religious education in schools and other matters generally considered moral or tied to values. Both Evangelical and Catholic Integralists condemn traditional ecumenism and yet promote an ecumenism of conflict that unites them in the nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state.

However, the most dangerous prospect for this strange ecumenism is attributable to its xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls and purifying deportations. The word “ecumenism” transforms into a paradox, into an “ecumenism of hate.” Intolerance is a celestial mark of purism. Reductionism is the exegetical methodology. Ultra-literalism is its hermeneutical key.

American conservatives who noted that articles published in Civiltà Cattolica are vetted by the Holy See worried that these thoughts reflected the mind of Pope Francis and condemned the authors’ ignorance of the United States. 

Phil Lawler of the Catholic Culture website called the essay “ignorant” and “intemperate.”

“The authors of the essay claim to embrace ecumenism, but they have nothing but disdain for the coalition formed by Catholics and Evangelical Protestants in the United States,” Lawler wrote. 

“They scold American conservatives for seeing world events as a struggle of good against evil, yet they clearly convey the impression that they see American conservatism as an evil influence that must be defeated.”

Rod Dreher of American Conservative magazine wrote that the essay “reads like deaf men criticizing a chamber music performance.”

“They have very little idea what they’re talking about,” he continued.  

“Many American watchers of the Vatican know that Father Spadaro is very close to Francis, but many others — including me — did not know who Marcelo Figueroa, the co-author, is. Turns out he’s an Argentine Presbyterian and personal friend of Pope Francis hand-picked by the pontiff to launch an Argentine edition of the official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.”

In his speech to the African Jesuits, Francis next condemned both the prosperity gospel and proselytism:  

The second (article in Civiltà Cattolica)  was on the “theology of prosperity.” Reading them you will see that there are sects that cannot really be defined as Christian. They preach Christ, yes, but their message is not Christian. It has nothing to do with the preaching of a Lutheran or any other serious evangelical Christianity. These so-called “evangelicals” preach prosperity. They promise a Gospel that does not know poverty, but simply seeks to make proselytes. This is exactly what Jesus condemns in the Pharisees of his time. I’ve said it many times: proselytism is not Christian.

The pontiff revealed that he was feeling bitter after meeting a woman who had introduced him to two young converts to Catholicism. One had been Hindu, the other Anglican. Francis said he had reproved the woman. 

Pope Francis also took aim at clericalism, which he felt was embodied by young priests who wear traditional clerical garb.

“Clericalism has a direct consequence in rigidity,” he said. 

“Have you never seen young priests all stiff in black cassocks and hats in the shape of the planet Saturn (the saturno) on their heads? Behind all the rigid clericalism there are serious problems.” he continued.  

“I had to intervene recently in three dioceses with problems that expressed themselves in these forms of rigidity that concealed moral problems and imbalances.”

The pontiff also said an “exclusive moral fixation on the sixth commandment” (God’s prohibition against adultery, fornication and other sexual sins) was another dimension of clericalism.  

“We focus on sex and then we do not give weight to social injustice, slander, gossip and lies,” he said. 

“The Church today needs a profound conversion in this area.”

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