US bishops who pandered to Trump have failed to guide Catholics to be a discerning, peaceful, loving community.
The legendary Faust’s desire for power led him into a pact with Mephistopheles, the agent of Satan. The deal was straightforward. In exchange for the fulfillment of all his desires in this life, hell would get Faust’s soul after death.
There are variations on the story. Goethe’s version differs from the tradition in having Faust saved in the end.
An American variation, Stephen Vincent Benét’s The Devil and Daniel Webster, has the devil bested in a trial over the contract. The devil is a better loser than Donald Trump.
But overall, those who contract with the devil are eventually told, “Go to hell!”
The attack by Trump’s partisans upon the verification of the American presidential election was no surprise to those who had paid attention to that man’s actions, the manipulation of his followers and the enabling by the Republican Party over four years. The only surprise for me was that the mob did not burn down the Capitol building.
This is the fruition of a pact with the devil that the Republican Party made in the 1960s. As civil rights legislation empowered Black Americans and threatened the political supremacy of Whites, especially in the South, the Republicans played upon the prejudices of those people to wean them from the Democratic Party. It was called the Southern Strategy.
Had that strategy included plans for guiding new supporters to openness toward other races and ethnic groups, it might have been good for the party and the nation. Instead, prejudices were nurtured and encouraged. In 2005, the chairman of the Republican National Committee finally apologized to Blacks in a de facto admission of his party’s use of racism as a means to draw voters.
But it was too late. Increasingly, the racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic stream that had been channeled into the Republican Party took control. The presidency of Donald Trump is the result. His rallies are festivals of racism and anti-Semitism with Confederate flags, swastikas and sweatshirts emblazoned with anti-Semitic slogans like 6MWNE (six million was not enough) or Camp Auschwitz.
The attack on the Capitol and democracy may mark the beginning of a “Go to hell!” period for Republicans as their pact with evil bears fruit.
The Republican Party must repent, reform and recover from that pact. But that is not the only institution that succumbed to the Faustian allure of power.
What of the American Catholic Church?
Traditionally, Catholics tended to support the Democratic Party. They were often city dwellers, immigrants and industrial workers. Their concerns differed from those of the business-oriented Republicans. However, their children and grandchildren prospered and began to find the Republicans attractive, overlooking the Faustian bargain the party had made.
But there is more to the Catholic story than a semi-natural migration to the Republicans. There has been a Faustian bargain on the part of some in the Church who for their own ends have allied themselves within the larger bargain with racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, though they might not admit that they have become fellows of those attitudes.
Their situation is like that of Germans who did not like what the Nazis were doing but went along for the sake of what that party might do for them. However, guilt by association is real and saying one does not like the way a ship is going does not change the fact that one has booked passage or even become a crew member.
Can we see that in the US Catholic Church? Yes.
Half of Catholics who voted in the November presidential election voted for Trump even after four years of blatant lies, hypocrisy, racism, nepotism, corruption, narcissism, bullying, boorishness, sexual abuse, defiance of the law, divisiveness, pettiness, general incompetence and childish petulance. Is there nothing in that list that repels those Catholics? Why not?
One reason may be that men who are supposed to guide Catholics in their lives as Christians told them to overlook those failings. Bishop Joseph Strickland said, “As the bishop of Tyler [Texas] I endorse” a priest’s message that said, “Repent of your support of that [Democratic] party and its platform or face the fires of hell.”
Bishop Strickland later took part virtually in one of the “Stop the Steal” rallies that denied Trump’s loss and was a precursor to the invasion of the Capitol. After that terrorist attack, he spoke of “a sad day” and that “we have to turn to God.” He did not say that the turn to God would include repentance for his part in laying the groundwork, nor anything about hell for terrorists.
He is only one of several bishops and priests who pandered to Trump and Trumpism. The question is, where are the US bishops who disagree? The episcopal code of omertà that allowed the scandal of Theodore McCarrick to fester remains an indictment of the whole pack.
The bishops and their clerical underlings have failed to guide America’s Catholics to be a discerning, peaceful, loving community shaped by the Gospel. But that’s their job!
They are failures who have decided to rely upon the political system to do what they failed to do, for example, regarding abortion. If they had done their job and led society to a vision of life that would make abortion as unthinkable as public hanging, drawing and quartering, they might not have resorted to supporting a fascist movement marked by racism, anti-Semitism and injustice.
Calling the bishops and not a few pastors of the Catholic Church in the United States “leaders” is a violation of truth and language. And so, to the managers of the United States Catholic Church: “Go to hell!”
(Father William Grimm is the publisher of UCA News based in Tokyo, Japan. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.)
(picture courtesy: Tulsa World)