The Popes, the White House and the World War of Crosses
Relations between the United States and the Vatican have never been easy and, indeed, they have no reason or way of being so. More enemies than friends, or rather frienemies, an inescapable fate seems to condemn the two empires to a warlike confrontation wherever their lines intersect, in each of the emerged lands and in any era.
The United States and the Vatican are and always will be frienemies. They can only be this. They can only aspire to negotiated antagonism, or rather to competitive cooperation whenever collaboration is necessary – as in the presence of a common and potentially deadly enemy – and to confrontation whenever history allows it. A perpetuum bellum, theirs. And it cannot be otherwise: the United States is the City upon the hill in the image and likeness of the Pilgrim Fathers, and the beacon of a unique Luther-shaped Protestant Christianity imbued with messianic contents and full of millenarian expectations; the Vatican is what remains of the Heritage of St. Peter and the Res publica christiana.
Ideological differences aside, there is a reason behind the animosity between these two powers whose kings swear by the Bible and have historically sought to proclaim the Gospel to every creature. That reason is Latin America, or rather hegemony over it, and it has served as a casus belli of a conflict that, over time, has assumed a world-scale dimension. As a result, today, the United States and the Holy See are at war: the World War of Crosses.
Roosevelt’s prophecy, Rockefeller’s shadow
The story between the United States and the Church is one of love-hate – more hate than love, actually – whose origins can be traced back primarily to the thought of the Pilgrim Fathers and the Founding Fathers, secondly to the historically WASP-centred structure of North American society and in tertiis to America’s imperial mindset. The latter, for a long time, led ordinary people and the ruling class to associate with danger, or rather with enmity, everything that WASP was not: from African Americans to Catholics, with the latter suspected of double loyalty – an accusation that, in 1960, would also be made against John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Catholics, as long as they exist, will be a problem for the American Empire. Theodore Roosevelt, the author of the homonymous corollary to the Monroe doctrine, was strongly convinced of this. He was the one who, in 1912, identified in the Catholic-majority of the subcontinent the main obstacle to its assimilation to the American sphere. Nelson Rockefeller was also convinced of this, and, in 1969, he warned the White House against the Liberation theology-driven turn to the Left of the Church.
The United States, in the end, would come to terms with the Catholic question in the simplest of ways: investments in proselytism, that is, the establishment of programs and foundations, such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy, having as their sole focus the conversion of the three Latin Americas – Mesoamerica, the Caribbean and the Southern Cone – to an American-friendly, WASP-shaped Protestantism.
History, as is well known, proved Roosevelt and Rockefeller right: the Americanization of the subcontinent went hand in hand with its Protestantization. This is demonstrated by the incontestable and undeniable fact that the more Protestant a nation is, the more it supports the White House’s foreign agenda, whether it is moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – as Guatemala and Honduras did – or slavishly accepting every line adopted by the United States.
From Latin America to the world
The success experienced in Latin America – where one in five people is now Evangelical, while in Brazil one in three is – encouraged the United States to export the strategy elsewhere, in each of the emerged lands, in the hope-expectation of a profitable harvest in terms of soft power, cultural influence and diplomatic fallout.
Today, what arose during the Cold War as a confrontation between two empires for the hegemony of Latin America, against the background of the anti-Soviet containment, is a world-scale conflict. There is no theater, in fact, where the followers of Peter and Luther do not fight each other by means of evangelization campaigns, humanitarian activities, charity and development cooperation, competing to see who attracts more souls. Their wars are being fought in the People’s Republic of China – where there are twenty Evangelicals for every Catholic –, in Africa – where Evangelicals have surpassed Catholics, who represent respectively 30% and 21% of the total population –, in Oceania, in Asia and within Europe itself.
In Europe, where Catholicism increasingly resembles a faded postcard in an ever-growing list of countries – from Germany to Portugal, passing through Italy, France and the Netherlands –, American-style Protestantism grows, thrives and spreads. In France, today, there are almost one million evangelicals, in Spain they have come to constitute 2% of the population and in Portugal nine out of ten new churches belong to Evangelicals.
The Popes against the White House
History seems (in part) to agree with the United States, which has historically seen the Catholic Church as more of a natural-born adversary than a potential collaborator. The two empires, not surprisingly, have put aside this genetic rivalry only in the presence of force majeure, such as Nazism and Communism, or dossiers requiring joint efforts in light of common interests, such as the Cristero War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and climate change.
In the absence of threats to world peace, and in the absence of contingent convergences, between the United States and the Church has always been war, although a covert one. It is history that Pius XII and Hirohito inaugurated diplomatic relations a few months after Pearl Harbor, to the dismay of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is history that Pius XII tried until the last moment to prevent the nuclear attacks on Japan. And it is history, or rather Vatican conspiracy theory, that the United States saved Kyoto by preferring Nagasaki – the beating heart of Japanese Catholicism since 1580 – to punish the Pope.
Not even the entry of the humankind into the Cold War era would have had a decisively long-lasting impact on the quality of relations between the two biblical empires. They cooperated in anti-Communist activities across Central and Eastern Europe, but in the same years both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan would give extraordinary impetus to the previously non-existent Protestantization campaign of Latin America.
Perhaps, because of the awareness of having been deceived, added to a strong opposition to any form of totalitarianism, John Paul II became a major detractor of the Unipolar moment and of the West’s post-Cold War value system. It is history that he fought veemently against the rise of what he dubbed the culture of death, while also opposing the excesses of capitalism. And it is history that he unsuccessfully attempted to convince the Bush administration not to invade Iraq and that he tried to make peace with Russia.
Today, a Cold War ended, but a new one begun. As in the past, between the two empires is collaboration whenever they have to, but it is competition, if not confrontation, whenever they can. Unlike the past, however, due to historical awareness and geopolitical foresight, the Church seems to have chosen the other field, as shown by Pope Francis‘ sympathy for the Multipolar transition, emblematized by the iron pact with the two Russias – the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate – and by the Pivot to China.
Today, although not much is written about it, one of the most important fragments of the so-called piecemeal Third World War, mainly starred by the United States, Russia and China, is the World War of Crosses. Therefore, all eyes on the Washington-Rome line.