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Vatican Addresses Catholic Trump Supporters


Ultraconservative Catholics in the U.S. are the target of a controversial article penned by two priests in Pope Francis' inner circle. The article appeared in a Vatican-vetted journal last month and suggests that some American Catholics are forming an alliance of hate with evangelicals who support President Trump's policies. And some conservative Catholics here are accusing the Vatican of overstepping. Joining us from Rome to talk about the article is Joshua McElwee. He's the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.

Joshua, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

JOSHUA MCELWEE: Yeah, thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell us what the article said.

MCELWEE: Well, it's very interesting. It's in the Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica. It's a very historic magazine, the Jesuits, of course, being the same order that Pope Francis - an order of priest that Pope Francis is a part of. And what's very interesting is that these two authors are known to be quite close to him. One, Antonio Spadaro, was the person who interviewed him in 2013 and made a big splash. And what they're saying is that they're concerned about ties between fundamental evangelicals and, kind of, right-wing Catholics in the U.S. that are focused only on very neuralgic issues and kind of dividing in politics.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the article, I believe, specifically talks about xenophobic and Islamophobic views.

MCELWEE: Yeah. What the authors say is that, you know, Pope Francis has really been trying to create a culture of dialogue encounter, really working with people across all the spectrums. And what the two authors in this article are saying is that these right-wing groups in the U.S. have been really doing the opposite. Where Pope Francis is trying to build bridges, they're trying to build walls. And they're playing up concerns about migration, about refugees. And they're kind of operating in the exact opposite way of the pope which, for a Catholic, is obviously a very strange thing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, this article also directly mentions President Donald Trump and his adviser Steve Bannon. What does it say about them?

MCELWEE: Beyond Donald Trump or beyond the current presidency, it looks at the past 10 or 15 years of development in right-wing Catholicism. And it says that certain groups in the U.S. Catholic Church have kind of gone off the track, that all they care about are kind of creating political alliances for kind of right-wing conservative ends and not for, you know, wider concerns of the Catholic Church, particularly the concerns of creating unity between Christian churches, not just on political issues but on deeper theological, philosophical and other issues.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just to get some perspective, how did Catholics vote in this recent election? I mean, are Catholics more Republican-leaning? Are they more likely to support President Donald Trump?

MCELWEE: Well, Catholics in the U.S., for the past several election cycles, have been really split down the middle. They're considered kind of a swing constituency, 1 or 2 percentage points one way or the other might swing a vote in a certain state. In the last election, the latest numbers are that they voted for Hillary Clinton but by a very small margin, 1 or 2 percentage points, among Catholics in the U.S.

But in recent years, what these writers are trying to say is there has been a very strong right-wing presence among the U.S. Catholic Church, particularly around abortion and in trying to elect Republicans who say that they will appoint judges to overturn Roe v. Wade.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What has been the reaction among the Catholic community here in the United States?

MCELWEE: It's been very divided. Some Catholics thought that it was a very good thing. They liked that the church is identifying what is going on in the U.S. church. Other Catholics think that it's very inappropriate for the Vatican to kind of get mixed into particular politics in one country when the church is so global and is all over the world. They particularly criticized the article for not having an American writer. You know, it was an Italian and an Argentinean writing about the U.S. political situation, and some people have said that that is quite problematic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Joshua McElwee is the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. Thank you very much.

MCELWEE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOGO PENGUIN'S "KAMALOKA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.