My friend, the journalist Christopher Altieri, says his least favorite form of writing is what he calls “ink on ink”. That is, a form of writing where one publication comments critically on something in a rival publication. I think Altieri’s instincts are sound but I am going to make an exception. Because every once in a while you read an opinion piece from a well-known public intellectual in a major publication that is so reckless you have to pause for a moment and ask yourself if what you are reading is satire.

Such was the case when I read a recent essay by Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, in Commonweal entitled “Will Trumpism Spare Catholicism?” Normally, I would not comment on such a poorly written essay, but this is in Commonweal, one of the oldest and most influential Catholic journals of opinion out there (and one I generally like). And the author has become one of the leading media voices in the American Church these days. There are also, as we shall see, issues at play that transcend the particular problems with this piece, which is why it is important to dissect its faults.

Faggioli is apparently concerned history is repeating itself with the current support Donald Trump seems to have from many conservative Catholics. But what historical parallel are we discussing here? in a nutshell, Faggioli is claiming just as there emerged in 1964 a growing connection between Goldwater conservatism and conservative Catholicism (which Faggioli calls the “Goldwater/McIntyre axis” after the Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles who was alleged to be pro-Goldwater and a racist), so too today do we see a new political alliance emerging, only this time it is what Faggioli calls a “Trump-Bishop Strickland axis”. Faggioli’s claims are feverish, to put it mildly:

“But the ‘Trump-Strickland’ axis isn’t just political. It mixes ahistorical, magisterial fundamentalism in militant Catholicism with nationalistic impulses masquerading as concern for the “forgotten” common American (white) man. … The current axis poses greater danger because Strickland apes Trump in promoting a more strident, even violent, representation of conservative/populist concerns. Both basically ignore any authority but their own.”

In the original essay, which was later edited, Faggioli alleges Bishop Robert Barron and his Word on Fire ministry are also a part of this new political axis of evil. More on that in a bit. But the deeper import is clear. Faggioli wants readers to fear self-described “orthodox” Catholics because they are part of an alleged movement which he loosely calls “Trumpism”. He worries out loud that American Catholicism will not be spared the ravages of this ill-defined thing which, though he never defines it, is held to be of decisive importance.

But the mask comes off early in the essay when Faggioli frets over this new alliance since it portends very bad things ahead for the Church and America once the benign alliance between Biden and Pope Francis goes away. He asks, with a clear tone of anxiety, “what will happen when Biden and Francis are gone?…”

From Larry Chapp in Catholic World Report