Is Donald Trump Embracing Nazi-like Policies?

There is a rich tradition of dumb comparisons to Adolf Hitler, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. This leads some to set aside these comparisons entirely. But there are certain circumstances where such comparisons are quite clearly useful for illustrating the gravity of the situation at hand: when mass atrocities are occurring, genocide or ethnic cleansing is being carried out, or vicious anti-Semitic tropes are being recycled, for instance. Republican presidential candidate (and frontrunner) Donald Trump is now toying with and openly embracing policies that naturally conjure up comparisons with the Nazis:

In an interview with Yahoo News, the Republican presidential candidate said the U.S. would have to “do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago,” and refused to rule out warrantless searches, registering Muslims in a national database, or even requiring them to carry a special form of identification.

In that interview, Trump didn’t explicitly say he favored such policies, but later in the day he doubled down, clarifying to NBC News that he would “certainly implement” a database system to track Muslims in the U.S., and more. “There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases,” he said.

When NBC repeatedly asked him to explain the difference between his proposal and the registration of Jews in Nazi Germany, Trump’s only answer was: “You tell me.” Read More

Why American Christians Should Support Welcoming Syrian Refugees

Would Jesus take in refugees? Perhaps it is more helpful to flip that question: would you take Jesus in as a refugee? The relevance of that question lies in the fact that Jesus was a refugee, as he and his family were forced to flee to Egypt to escape violence. Jesus tells us that whatever we do for the least of these—the poor, the vulnerable, the abandoned, the persecuted—we do to Christ himself. When we remember the absence of generosity and hospitality that led Jesus to be born in the most humble of circumstances and we recall that Jesus was a refugee, the Christian’s responsibilities should be crystal clear: welcome the stranger, give shelter to those fleeing violence.

And surely the refugees we welcome should not just be members of our faith. Christianity is a universal religion. It is integral to Christian belief that every person has worth and dignity and that each person, regardless of their religious background, has the same fundamental human rights, including the right to be free from unjust violence and fear. Christians are not called to accept refugees because they are Christians, but because we are.

Yet presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz have called for a sectarian policy that would allow for Christian refugees, while denying Muslims the ability to seek asylum here in the United States. This clashes not only with Christian principles, but also our highest ideals as Americans. The United States has long served as a beacon of freedom for those fleeing tyranny, oppression, violence, and death. Our nation was built on the foundation of those who boldly left home to seek American freedom.

But the rich tradition of welcoming “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore” is paralleled by a sad history of American xenophobia and fear. Ishaan Tharoor has highlighted our nation’s pathetic response to Jewish and other refugees fleeing the Nazis.

And fear has taken hold once again in this country, as scores of governors have indicated their opposition to receiving a single Syrian refugee. Then, as now, there was a reluctance to even take in children—a fear of toddlers. Presidential candidate Chris Christie explicitly ruled out taking in orphaned children.

ISIS presents a real and grave threat to international and American security, in addition to the genocidal violence and totalitarianism they inflict on the people of Syria and Iraq. And they will try to infiltrate Western countries, including the United States, and engage in terrorism. But the right response is not to abandon Christian and American ideals. The right response is not to surrender to Islamophobia and treat all Muslims as likely terrorists, including toddlers.

This fearmongering may please xenophobic voters. Politicians might find greater support by stirring up fear. But real leaders do not play politics with national security or games with the lives of the most vulnerable. The United States has an extremely rigorous process for admitting refugees. The track record on those who have been admitted is stellar. Turning our backs on legitimate refugees is not a sensible way to protect Americans from terrorism.

In fact, this reactionary approach would almost certainly benefit ISIS. When the West welcomes refugees, it undercuts key narratives put forward by ISIS. When normal Muslims who are fleeing violence are grouped together with sociopathic killers who are driven by a hateful ideology, it affirms ISIS’s false claim that there is a clash of civilizations between the Islamic world and the West. Hillary Clinton was right to praise George W. Bush for making one thing perfectly clear: neither the United States nor the West is at war with Islam. Welcoming Muslim refugees sends the clear message that this is not a clash of civilizations, but a fight for the security and flourishing of all people.

Over 250,000 Syrians have been killed since Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad began murdering peaceful protesters. The Assad regime is responsible for a majority of the deaths—gassing its own people, bombing bread lines and funerals, and terrorizing people in their own homes with deadly barrel bombs. The international community had a responsibility to protect these people. It is true that Russia protected its murderous ally at the United Nations. But the United States, as the world’s preeminent power, could have done more to carve out safe zones, halt the destruction inflicted by the Syrian air force, or engaged in other measures to alleviate some of the suffering.

Instead, the United States took a non-interventionist approach while the deaths piled up and a refugee crisis developed. Assad meanwhile fostered the growth of ISIS as part of a strategy to try to make the international community feel compelled to choose between his continued rule and the reign of totalitarian extremists. Subsequent American actions, limited in their aims, have done little to upend this, leaving millions of Syrians exposed to the mass murder of Assad or ISIS and millions more unable to return to their homes.

Christians meanwhile have a record on Syria that is far from pristine. Many, including Christian bishops and other leaders, have supported Assad’s regime as it commits crimes against humanity. They have affirmed Assad’s false narratives and embraced an entirely sectarian mindset. Even Pope Francis has not called for Assad to step aside, something that is necessary to achieve a sustainable peace, and affirmed the fundamental rights of the Syrian people.

In short, as Christians and Americans, we could have done more. We should have done more to prevent this hell on earth from developing. But we did not. And this only intensifies our responsibility to welcome those fleeing from Assad’s barrel bombs and ISIS’s beheadings. We cannot rewrite history, but we can live out our ideals going forward.


Will the Bishops Embrace or Ignore Pope Francis’ Agenda?

John Gehring and Richard Wood have explained what is on the line in this week’s deliberations at the USCCB:

Nearly two months after Pope Francis made his first visit to the United States, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops will set its strategic plans for the years ahead and refine a presidential election-year message to Catholic voters. The Francis era presents an unprecedented opportunity bishops should not pass up if they want to reclaim a more effective voice in the public square. The pope’s focus on inequality and exclusion — in tandem with his desire to disentangle the Church from culture wars — should be the roadmap for an American hierarchy trying to navigate through bumpy terrain.

Catholic bishops meet at a critical moment.

But as Michael Sean Winters explains, the initial Faithful Citizenship draft seems to take a step in the wrong direction:

If you thought the bishops of the U.S. would heed the pope’s call to steer clear of the culture wars and focus on the poor and the immigrant, you would be wrong.

The drafting committee said that they were only making minor changes but they actually reconfigured the text’s entire treatment of Catholic Social Teaching. Where there were once seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching, now there are four principles. This has the effect of demoting the preferential option for the poor and workers’ rights from the fuller and more prominent treatment they received in earlier texts. Care for creation, which the drafters might have noticed was the subject of a recent papal encyclical, is also relegated to the second tier of concerns. I am sure it is just a coincidence that these are issues that cause Republicans to squirm. The section on intrinsic evil, which causes Democrats to squirm, has been retained and expanded. The former attempt at balance, the desire to avoid appearing too partisan, is now abandoned.  Even within the section on intrinsic evil, it is shocking that same sex marriage now gets more ink than abortion.

Finally, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego discusses with Kevin Clarke the types of revisions that are necessary for the Bishops to exercise real leadership, embrace Francis’ agenda, and connect with the millennial generation:

Hopefully the Bishops will find a way to address these flaws, set aside the failed culture war approach, and provide American Catholics with a better understanding of the issues at stake in upcoming elections and their gravity.


The Climate Cardinal: Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez


Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, a key advisor to Pope Francis and chair of his Council of Cardinals, recently spoke at Pope Francis’ Environmental Encyclical: Protecting the Planet and the Poor, an event cosponsored by the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, Georgetown Law Center’s Environmental Law Program and Climate Change Center, and the Global Futures Initiative. He also sat down with journalists for an hour before the event to talk about Pope Francis, Laudato Si, and protecting creation. Here are a dozen interesting points the ‘Climate Cardinal’ made on climate change, protecting creation, Laudato Si, Pope Francis, and politics:

  1. You can see California in flames—without water. All around the world we have these problems nowadays.
  2. Cop21 in Paris (the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference) can be a turning point for putting Laudato Si into practice. It has to be a success!
  3. There are countries in the Pacific that will disappear if we fail to address climate change.
  4. This is not just a scientific issue. It’s about life. It’s about being just with creation. It is about the human person.
  5. We need a revolution in ecology.
  6. Each of us has to take on our co-responsibility for our common home. We cannot be closed down within our own borders. We are all citizens of earth.
  7. The market is not a god! When you adore different gods (idols), you become blind to reality.
  8. Politics is about serving the common good, not a party or narrow interests. And it can’t just be about the next election.
  9. Laudato Si may be the new Rerum Novarum.
  10. We pastors see the reality of poverty that those looking at statistics do not; we see it in the concrete faces of the poor.
  11. We are called to: see, judge, and act.
  12. Is Pope Francis pessimistic? Reality is what it is. But there remains hope rooted in faith…we are headed to the full realization in Christ.

You can read more about the event, which also featured Edith Brown Weiss, Francis Cabell Brown Professor of International Law, and John Podesta, former Counselor to President Barack Obama on climate change and energy policy, here.

Will There Be Civil War in the Church?


Is civil war coming to the Catholic Church over the possible creation of a penitential path back to communion for divorced and remarried Catholics? On its face, this claim seems preposterous, a half-baked fantasy cooked up by a small group of Catholic traditionalists and reactionaries whose enmity toward Pope Francis has reached new heights. I asked Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, perhaps the most influential cardinal in Francis’ papacy, if he thought this was a realistic possibility. He responded, “This is a lack of faith.”

This may seem harsh. But it is important to remember that faith is about trust, not just belief. Those raising the specter of civil war quite clearly do not trust the Holy Father and the Church (and implicitly the Holy Spirit, as well). They have more faith in their own judgement.

At the same time, let’s not forget that Francis has called for a revolution. Ideally that would only lead to conflict between Christian principles and the false idols of the world that tear down human dignity and obstruct the flourishing of persons. But realistically, it was always bound to incite intra-Church conflict. Legalism was present in Jesus’ time, and it remains so today. This mentality will always conflict with the radicalism of Christ’s teaching, even for those aiming to uphold Christ’s teachings. And given the depth and richness of Church teaching, along with our imperfect human nature, virtually all Catholics are capable of slipping into a legalistic mindset. So legalistic opposition to Francis’ revolution of mercy was always likely. And given the importance of tradition for the Church, many were likely to favor the status quo rather than wanting the Church to become a field hospital of people who go forth to the peripheries.

But Cardinal Rodriguez also talked about seeing the visible presence of the Holy Spirit at the Synod. There was disagreement, but it most often led to dialogue, not threats of war or schism. Even those Church leaders who believe that altering the Church’s approach to those who are divorced and remarried would do more harm than good by undermining the clarity of Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage certainly understand why this is up for discussion. They understand what the Church is asking if it requires an abandoned spouse to be celibate for 60 years while raising kids on her own in order to receive communion and how difficult that road is. Since they are orthodox Catholics, they understand the need to comprehend the context of Christ’s words (both as a response to a question about divorce for any reason and within the larger context of the Gospel), rather than endorsing a narrow, literalist reading of just one or two passages. These Church leaders know that our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters are not just a bunch of liberal heretics with no regard for the words of Christ and no commitment to one flesh marriage. Cardinal Rodriguez may be right: the biggest difference may be that these leaders have faith that the Spirit will guide the Church to the right response on this difficult matter.

Pope Francis is bringing a revolution. We need one. We are too distant from the radical commitment to love demanded by Christ. And there will be opposition, even threats of civil war. But it seems most likely that it will be limited to a small group of Americans who are caught up in their own social media world of like-minded hysteria than among the broader Church and its hierarchy. Hopefully some of these will break away from their bubble, clear their minds from the cacophony of bitterness and hyperbole, and choose to trust the Church rather than plot a civil war that seems unlikely to ever materialize.

The Whole Life Pope: Francis Has the Right Approach to Abortion

In his historic speech to a joint session of the US Congress, Pope Francis said that the Golden Rule “reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” This statement was clearly meant to include the lives of unborn children yet a number of conservatives in the pro-life movement expressed disappointment that the pope did not take a more confrontational approach.

Personally, I would have been fine with the pope taking Congress to task for its unwillingness to defend unborn life, its inaction on climate change, and its indifference to the poor. Given Congress’ deep unpopularity, most Americans probably would not have minded either if Francis mentioned some of Congress’ many shortcomings. But the pope chose a different approach, a more generous approach that reminded the members of Congress and the American people of our highest aspirations and encouraged us to fulfill those, advancing the cause of justice for all. The speech was not as radical and challenging as his brilliant speech at the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Bolivia this summer, but it reflected his approach of dialogue and encounter. Read More

A Church for the Broken

After Mass last Sunday, I saw a young man praying on his knees with his hands clasped tightly and his eyes closed. Even the presence of a typically loud toddler did nothing to break his intense focus. There is an otherworldliness to this type of prayer. And it is not uncommon. I’ve seen it at masses across the country.

In these pews, people are pleading with God to give them hope, bring them comfort, or help them to repair the brokenness in their lives. Some are praying for a sick child, parent, spouse, or grandparent. Others are praying that the hole in their heart might heal just a little bit after the death of a loved one. Some are praying to escape the loneliness and despair of being abandoned by those they love; others are dealing with the guilt and grief that comes from afflicting that pain on others or other decisions they have made that were marred by selfishness and indifference. Some are praying for a glimmer of light as they walk through a dark night of the soul, hobbled by a sense of spiritual emptiness and detachment from the divine. Others are immersed in peace, a brief respite from an otherwise chaotic life. Some are looking for direction in lives that feel lost or even meaningless, disappointed by unrealized dreams or material success that has delivered neither peace nor joy. These broken people are God’s people.

It is not a surprise that this type of intense prayer so often takes place shortly after the person has received the Eucharist. The divine presence sweeps away the ephemeral. It tears down impediments to God’s love. It draws us away from the emptiness of individualism to the wholeness of communion. It is God’s gift to the broken people of the world. If we suffer, Christ suffered first. If we seek to walk the right path, Christ walks with us. And at no time is that more deeply felt than when we received the Eucharist.

Pope Francis has said that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. It is essential, transformative, and lifesaving.

Through this prism, to politicize the Eucharist is scandalous. To treat the Eucharist as a tool for partisan or ideological gambits is disgraceful.

If you are not worthy to receive the Eucharist, then you are human. This is the nature of this gift and God’s grace. We recognize this together at each mass.

When we consider our own brokenness and the impact of the Eucharist on the lives of real people, we recognize the gravity of denying a seat at the table of the Lord to any member of the Church who has sought forgiveness for past sins and is desperate for the Eucharist. This is why bishops are currently engaged in serious discussions about whether or not there should be a penitential path back to communion for some divorced and remarried Catholics who wish to receive the Eucharist once again, as is the case in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The seriousness of these discussions by responsible figures at the Synod stands in stark contrast to the irresponsible, self-righteous rhetoric of those who enthusiastically support the denial of communion to others, while relying on the type of legalism and selective literalism that Christ denounces over and over again in the gospels.

Any regulations on receiving the Eucharist should start from a recognition of the universal brokenness that exists in the Church, from our best understanding of Christ’s intentions (rather than a selectively literalist reading of one or two passages of the Bible), from a holy reverence for the transformative power of the Eucharist, and from a firm commitment to the law of love.

As Cardinal Wuerl recently stated, “It’s God’s love that saves, not the Code of Canon Law.” Law that does not reflect love is unjust. The Church’s law, more than any other form of law, should reflect the mercy of God, and its pastoral practices should be based on drawing in all of the broken people of God—welcoming them, accompanying them, and helping them to experience the limitless love of God.

This approach does not preclude disagreements on difficult pastoral challenges, as prudence is needed to find the best path for being merciful while still bearing witness to the truth, such as the nature of one-flesh marriage and its relationship to God’s will and human flourishing. But it would end talk of a special elect group of pure, faithful Catholics (those presumed not to be committing any sexual sins). It would stop the demonization of those bishops who favor revisions in these pastoral practices. And it would lead to the complete rejection of paranoid, hyperbolic claims that discussing these topics threatens the unity of the Church or integrity of its teachings.