The end of the Trumpian captivity of the American Church

The fact that United States was unable to know the name of its new president for several days after the polls closed was like a sort of corporal punishment for a country being forced to atone in a painful way.

Nov 14, 2020

By Prof Massimo Faggioli
The fact that United States was unable to know the name of its new president for several days after the polls closed was like a sort of corporal punishment for a country being forced to atone in a painful way.

Now we know that it will be up to Joseph R. Biden Jr, a Catholic, to begin the process of healing the moral and corporal wounds Donald J. Trump has inflicted on the country by the way he’s handled the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing crisis of globalisation.

The American presidency is not just a political office. It is also an office with moral and religious aspects. And Joe Biden will assume that office at a time when political identities in his country have assumed theological and dogmatic intensity.

A realignment of the political relationship between Washington and the Vatican
US Catholicism is not detached from the global world. On the contrary, it is at the centre of the convulsions in the body of the Church, one of the consequences of the crisis of globalisation and world order.

In a Biden presidency one can expect a realignment of relations between the United States, even if there are some important unknowns on certain international issues.

But this realignment will have to deal with a deeply divided Church on US soil, as well as a global Catholicism that is also divided.

One of the fruits of globalism has been an opposition to Pope Francis.

The Latin American Jesuit Pope expresses his message on the most relevant issues at the public level (such as women, homosexuality, environment…) in ways and through channels different from those used by his predecessors. That message is received in contrasting ways in various parts of the world.

There has been unprecedented confrontation between the Trump administration and the current pontificate, beginning early on with the issue of immigration and on full view just last month when US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, publicly chastised the Holy See for its 2018 agreement with China (which has since been renewed).

It’s not clear how much this open hostility impacted the results of the US presidential election, but it has had a very evident effect on the Church.

It has helped deepen the internal rift within American Catholicism, evidenced by the number of bishops and priests who continue to back Donald Trump till the bitter end – some via the new ecosystem of independent Catholic media and social media.

Trump’s attempt to divide and conquer US Catholics
Over the past four years the White House (through officials like Bannon and Pompeo) has directed a political attempt to divide the Church in two – for and against Pope Francis.

A handful of American bishops and a number of high-profile lay Catholics have given their blessing to this attempt. But the effort at division has failed.

Nonetheless, the ecclesial attempt remains, in a Church in the United States that is divided like never before. The “culture wars” have taken the form of intra-ecclesial theological wars and have exposed American Catholicism to the risk of a soft schism.

The Trump presidency and the 2020 elections have shown the extent to which the two Catholic ecclesial parties have identified with the platform of the opposing political parties.

While there is some of this among that group of Catholics that support Biden, it is much more obvious among the Catholic faction backing Trump. It has blended a proclaimed theological orthodoxy with a political orthodoxy, thus leaving very little room for argued dissent.

The moral failure of institutional Catholicism in the United States can be seen in the desperate attempts to stop the LGBTQ agenda and in the inability of the Church here to speak with a unified voice on the issue of racism.

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