A chief flaw of the piece is its suggestion that religion and politics should be separated, Bruenig added. While distinctions should be made between the eternal, spiritual realm and the temporal one, the piece is “ahistorical and very un-Catholic” in how it approaches the relationship between religion and politics, she said.
Fr. Spadaro and Figueroa wrote that “the religious element should never be confused with the political one. Confusing spiritual power with temporal power means subjecting one to the other.”
The article also says that “[Pope] Francis wants to break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church. Spirituality cannot tie itself to governments or military pacts for it is at the service of all men and women.”
This compartmentalization of faith and politics is part of flawed Enlightenment thinking, Bruenig said.
“The notion that politics and religion should basically function in separate domains is one of the original liberal Enlightenment positions on politics, and there’s a reason that most of the leading thinkers of the liberal Enlightenment were severely anti-Catholic,” she stated.
“There’s nothing special about the realm of governance that would cut it off from moral considerations, or give it its own special brand of irreligious moral consideration,” she continued, saying that politicians “are still beholden to the same moral precepts that they are in every other decision they make in their lives.”
Such a claim flies in the face of centuries of Church teaching, Bruenig continued.
P.J. Smith, who writes at the website Semiduplex.com, agreed that the article contradicted Church teaching on the relationship between faith and politics which was put forth by Bl. Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Pius XI, and Ven. Pius XII, who wrote that the Church has the authority to speak on matters of economics and politics.
“More to the point, Spadaro and Figueroa set themselves against Pope Francis himself when they articulate a bizarre liberal atomization of man,” he wrote. “According to Spadaro and Figueroa, in church, man is a believer; in the council hall, he is a politician, at the movie theater, he is a critic; and he is apparently supposed to keep all of these roles separate.”
Smith cited Pope Francis who, at an April conference on Bl. Paul VI's 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio, said that no system, whether it be the family, economy, or work, “can be an absolute, and none can be excluded from the concept of integral human development which, in other words, takes into account that human life is like an orchestra that performs well if the various instruments are in harmony and follow a score shared by all.”
Furthermore, valid critiques can be made of the current administration and the political order “from a Christian position,” Bruenig said, exploring the policies of the administration that do not conform to Church teaching. This would have been “a much stronger argument,” she said.
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However, “instead of saying that those are not Christian activities to be undertaking and they’re governing badly,” the authors “said they have confused a religious element with the political one.”
Furthermore, some of the claims made in the piece about U.S. Christianity are inaccurate, Pecknold and Bruenig said.
For instance, as an example of what’s wrong with the Catholic-Evangelical ecumenism, the piece cites the website ChurchMilitant.com cheering the election of President Donald Trump as an answer to the prayers of Americans, comparing him to the Roman Emperor Constantine whose military victory enabled the legal acceptance of Christianity throughout the empire.
This is an example of the flawed understanding of religion and politics, the authors said.
However, this is “a fringe publication” that the authors cited, Pecknold said, and not one that is representative of Catholics in the U.S.
The article warned about a “mingling of politics and religion” that is expressed, at times, in a Manichean rhetoric of good versus evil to justify political policies. Trump, for instance, acts in such a way by decrying the “very bad.”