Viganò’s letter to Trump, Conservative Bishops, Priests, and Laypeople, and 2020

In The Tablet, Millennial editor Robert Christian writes:

The letter describes a global battle between “children of light” and “children of darkness”. The children of darkness are an “absolute minority” that has infiltrated the media, economy and governments in order to seize power and maximise their wealth. Viganò explains to Trump that they are on the same side in this cosmic battle. He connects the children of darkness to the idea of a “deep state” that is attempting to undermine President Trump and drive God out of the courts, schools, families, and even churches. Viganò explains that, “Just as there is a deep state there is also a deep church” that is likewise betraying the children of light….

Pope Francis likens today’s populist nationalists to the Fascists of the 1930s, denounces the building of walls, and calls for global solidarity to overturn cultures of indifference and exclusion. This distinctly Catholic globalist vision is completely antithetical to the Trump project. Whether he buys into the “full Viganò” is unlikely, but he might cynically allow conspiracies like those propagated by QAnon to flourish because it will help to get his base out on 3 November….

But while this is a fringe movement, opposition to Pope Francis and support for Trump extends far beyond its boundaries, and many who reject its brazen bigotry nevertheless cooperate with these organisations and spread their narratives. Others refuse to denounce them out of fear that they will draw their ire or because it serves their interests….

A much larger and more powerful group are those who oppose Pope Francis’ message that Catholic Social Teaching is a seamless web of respect for life, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, and who insist on looking away from broader issues of social justice and focusing on the small set of culture war issues that they consider preeminent. This group includes the American Catholics who are mobilised by these fringe alt-Catholic groups, but also wealthy, mainstream organisations such as the powerful Knights of Columbus and influential media outlets such as EWTN that reach millions of viewers. It also includes bishops, including those who heaped praise on Viganò, even after he attempted the papal coup in 2018. Many in this group are openly partisan Republicans and Trump supporters…

Trump’s endorsement of Viganò, the darling of the alt-Catholics, puts them in a very difficult position. It is not yet clear how they will respond, though many may simply pretend that a single tweet does not mean that Trump has signed up to Viganò’s contemptuous rejection of the Pope, many US bishops and the mainstream post-Vatican II Church….

There simply is no road to victory if his support among white Catholics in key swing states drops significantly. Trump, whose political instincts should not be underestimated, is betting that these swing voters will buy into the “deep state” theory and be impressed by Viganò’s support. This is a real gamble.

For it to succeed, it will depend on cynics at places like EWTN and Fox News, which reach many middle-of-the-road voters as well as ultra-conservatives, to treat Viganò’s conspiracy theories as credible….

Even then, Trump’s gamble may backfire because of the respect for the Pope and the sheer implausibility of Viganò’s claims that the Church is controlled by a gay mafia imposing “anti-Christian ideologies” on the ordinary faithful.

In his first report for NCR, Christopher White writes:

While many mainstream Catholics have dismissed the former Vatican diplomat, who has written of Masonic conspiracy theories and fueled suspicions of the deep state, some Catholic observers worry about a normalizing effect when parish priests promote radicalized individuals such as Viganò to everyday Catholics in the pews who are unattuned to inside church baseball.

In many such cases, the priests in question use their homilies and parish resources to promote a fusion of traditionalist theology and conservative political talking points. In the weeks following Viganò’s 2018 attack against Francis, many bishops’ conferences around the globe issued statements specifically denouncing the former nuncio. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not.

In fact, more than two dozen U.S. bishops — Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, and the now-deceased Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, among them — issued statements of support for Viganò at the time, which has only helped legitimize and amplify his continued efforts and those of priests who now pass along such perspectives to their flock.

Cathleen Kaveny, a professor of law and theology at Boston College, told NCR that the intended effect of Viganò’s recent letter to Trump is to continue, in a different language, the culture wars, as evidenced by his use of apocalyptic language.

“For people in the pews, the takeaway is that Trump is opposed to abortion and therefore you have to vote for the Republican,” Kaveny said of those who share the letter. “I don’t think anyone really expects the apocalypse. I just think they’re clearly trying to get people to vote for Trump over [presumptive Democratic nominee Joe] Biden.”