Cardinal Peter Turkson is a key figure at the top of the Holy See. In the early 21st century, the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace was chosen by Bergoglio to guide the new Pontifical Council for integral human development. So, the words spoken Thursday on the sidelines of a meeting on the 50th anniversary of Populorum Progressio are significant.
To a question about the positions held by the American president, Turkson replied that “there is a bit of concern in Rome” about the U.S. policies on migration, environment and rearmament, “but fortunately in the United States there are also dissenting voices.”
The cardinal cited as a positive fact the second halt to the ban on immigration issued by a Hawaii judge: “It is a sign that there is a part of U.S. society that gradually raises its voice, using another language: There is hope that Trump himself will start to rethink some of his decisions.”
This was not the first time that the Holy See has sent this type of signal — remember the statements in January on the immigration ban issued by Turkson himself and Monsignor Angelo Becciu of the Secretary of State — but this time the complaint is more harsh and, above all, it has a specific reference. In fact, the cardinal said that “several members of the U.S. episcopate have already commented on the president’s positions and may have some influence on them.”
The invitation is therefore to the U.S. Bishops’ Conference and its President Daniel Di Nardo, which must play a lobbying function against Trump’s policy. However, this appeal might collide with the caution, and even the resistance, of a significant part of the episcopate.
The Conference welcomed the president’s decision to cut funding to NGOs that engage in or educate about abortion abroad. Then there are bishops who, in keeping with the pro-life movements, take kindly to Trump’s positions, especially on ethically sensitive issues and civil rights.
There is a greater convergence between the Church’s two shores on military expenditures and on the environmental problem, which is particularly dear to Turkson, who helped draft the encyclical Laudato si’.
The cardinal noted that, while the new administration is dismantling Obama’s Clean Power Plan, “there is another world power like China, which is rethinking its positions, for example, in efforts to control [the global] temperature, a field in which it has promised to allocate $7 million.”
For their part, the bishops issued a statement in which they oppose the measure, but as happened with immigration, it does not look like they will pose a real battle.
It is therefore obvious that this has generated a sort of discrepancy between the image of the Church designed by Pope Francis, that find its most liked political reference in the popular movements (a relationship not accidentally run by Cardinal Turkson himself), and an American Catholicism that was key in electing Trump as president. The majority of American Catholics still consider bioethics and sectarian political interests a priority, but now they seem crossed by different currents.
In an interview with El Pais on Jan. 22, the Pope took a wait-and-see attitude, taking a step back from the stabs of the election campaign, leaving to his closest collaborators the task of expressing the thought of the Holy See.
Given the current trends, however, it is possible that the pontiff will feel called to expose himself in a more explicit way than a Super Bowl message, and at the moment we do not know if he will meet with Trump on the G7 summit in May.
If we take into account that the U.S. administration could be having closer contacts with the American Cardinal Raymond Burke and with the most hard-line opposition to Francis, there are all the elements to assume a clash of international political significance.
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