Populist surge continues in Europe: Was Pope Francis a big loser in these complex results?

Populist surge continues in Europe: Was Pope Francis a big loser in these complex results?

After elections gave right-wing populists sweeping victories in the Catholic nations of Italy, Poland and France in the European elections, it seemed clear that the biggest loser wasn’t the political left or moderate political parties.

The side that suffered the biggest defeat was Pope Francis.

In Italy, The League party snagged 33 percent of the vote, a remarkable achievement given the country’s fragmented political system. The pro-European Democratic Party could only muster 22 percent of the vote, while the left-wing populist Five Star Movement finished third at 18 percent. The League victory highlighted the divisions within Roman Catholicism. Party leader Matteo Salvini — known for his nationalistic and anti-immigration rhetoric — didn’t shy away from his faith. On the contrary, he used church symbols to win seats.

It isn’t the first time in European history that the Catholic church, and the papacy, has been viewed with disdain. Over the past few years, the political populism that has enveloped Europe has sought to blame much of its social and economic misfortune on elites. While many of these elites traditionally hail from the political left, the doctrinal left — and with it the current Vatican hierarchy headed by Pope Francis — has also become a target in recent elections.

The election results capped off a bad week for the pontiff. While having to deal with populism undercutting Catholic social teaching, Pope Francis denied he knew about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s history of sexual misconduct with seminarians in an interview with Mexican TV network Televisa. The scandal has plagued the papacy since last summer.

The European election, contested every five years, firmly places populism among the continent’s most powerful political forces. Never shy about brandishing a rosary or invoking God’s help, Salvini has provided Italians with an alternative to the pro-migrant stance and the church’s traditional social teachings put forth by the pope.

“I thank the man up there — with no exploitations,” Salvini told reporters, while kissing a rosary he was clutching in his hand, as results came in on May 26.

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Journalists: Religious lessons you (could have) learned from Trump win can help explain Putin

Journalists: Religious lessons you (could have) learned from Trump win can help explain Putin

Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia.

Everywhere you look in the news right now, journalists are trying to get a handle on Vladimir Putin and Russia. This post is about Russia -- consider it a sequel to the earlier "Dear editors at The New York Times: Vladimir Putin is a Russian, but Putin is not Russia" -- but that is not where I want to start. Please be patient, because I want to start with an American parable.

Surely, some journalists have learned by now that our recent presidential race was more complex than Hillary Rodham Clinton vs. Citizen Donald Trump. There were, fore example, Democrats who wanted to vote for Clinton. However, there were others -- #feelthebern -- who did so reluctantly, but felt they had to vote against Trump.

On the Trump side, there were people who sincerely backed his campaign (including a large number, perhaps even a majority, of white evangelicals). Then there were millions of people (including blue-collar Democrats) who didn't like Trump at all, but supported some elements of his alleged platform, so they voted for Trump. Then there others who actively opposed Trump, but felt they had to vote for him -- think U.S. Supreme Court -- to oppose Clinton. It will be interesting to learn how many people (like me) voted for an alternative candidate.

What does this have to do with Putin? Well, lots of elite journalists (hello, New York Times) have been trying to figure out why so many American conservatives are fond of Putin or think it's important to improve U.S. relations with Putin and Russia. In Times speak, anyone who sees anything positive in Putin's actions and worldview is automatically an "extremist." Thus that recent headline: "Extremists Turn to a Leader to Protect Western Values: Vladimir Putin."

Everyone pretty much goes into that "extremist," pro-Putin bag, including the alt-right, lots of Trump voters, racists, extreme nationalists everywhere, anti-Semites and, ultimately, the Russian Orthodox Church. Was Brexit in there too?

But think of that Trump parable. The problem is that there are lots of people who either loathe or totally distrust Putin (they see him for what he is), but they do not reject everything that he stands for in his warped version of a pro-Russian agenda. Thus, they are sort of "voting" for Putin, or they want America to deal with him more realistically, because the alternative, to be blunt, is the postmodern worldview of the European elites.

The religion angle? The press needs to grasp that, often, Orthodox leaders are not backing Putin when they support elements of Putin's policies that just happen to run parallel with centuries of Orthodox teachings. Oh, and they would really like to prevent the massacre of millions of Christians in Syria and what remains of the church in the Middle East.

This brings me to a recent, and typical, Associated Press report related to all of this. Here is the overture, care of Crux

MOSCOW, Russia -- The Russian Orthodox Church is expanding its influence in what was once an officially godless state -- and President Vladimir Putin appears eager to harness that resurgent power of faith to promote his own agenda.

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Your weekend think piece: Doing the math (think demographics) in post-Christian Europe

Your weekend think piece: Doing the math (think demographics) in post-Christian Europe

Just when you thought it was impossible to find another new layer of meaning in the brutal murder of Father Jacques Hamel, who was slaughtered at the altar of a French church dedicated to the memory of the first New Testament martyr St. Stephen, columnist Ross Douthat of The New York Times dug a bit deeper.

This Sunday piece ran under this headline: "The Meaning of a Martyrdom." In it, Douthat -- a pro-Catechism Catholic, to one of my own pushy labels -- reflects on the current debates about whether Hamel was or was not a martyr for the Catholic faith. This also happened to be the topic of my Universal syndicate column this past week. Click here to check that out.

But in the midst of that discussion, Douthat made this blunt observation, noting that Europe, and our world today in general:

... is not actually quite what 1960s-era Catholicism imagined. The come-of-age church is, in the West, literally a dying church: As the French philosopher Pierre Manent noted, the scene of Father Hamel’s murder -- “an almost empty church, two parishioners, three nuns, a very old priest” -- vividly illustrates the condition of the faith in Western Europe.
The broader liberal order is also showing signs of strain. The European Union, a great dream when Father Hamel was ordained a priest in 1958, is now a creaking and unpopular bureaucracy, threatened by nationalism from within and struggling to assimilate immigrants from cultures that never made the liberal leap.

This reminded me of a sobering Catholic News Agency piece that ran recently at Crux about a blast of statistics from Catholic pews, pulpits and altars in postmodern Germany. To be blunt about it, Catholicism in Germany is not producing new babies or new believers, according to findings released by the German bishops' conference.

Check this out:

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Weekend think piece: Pope John Paul II and his fight to save Polish culture and even Europe

Weekend think piece: Pope John Paul II and his fight to save Polish culture and even Europe

Let's make this a Polish think piece weekend, shall we?

How many more lives lived in the darkness of the 20th Century were more amazing than that of the late St. Pope John Paul II? How many other names go at the very top of the list, especially if you are looking for women and men who were warriors for peace, dignity and true tolerance?

When looking at the fall of the materialistic world of Communist Eastern Europe and, even, the Soviet Union, the question I have always asked has been this: What did John Paul II and when did he do it?

Obviously, we know quite a bit about the dramas that took place out in the open, in front of -- literally -- millions of people. But do we really know what took place behind the scenes? If Poland started the dominos falling, what role did this great son of Poland play behind the scenes? Every few years, if seems, we learn more amazing details.

Another question: How did John Paul II fail to win the Nobel Peace Prize at some point during that era? Can you think -- in this weekend after Brexit -- of better symbol of the values of the post-Christian Europe than that strange fact?

So that brings me to this weekend think piece, via The Catholic Exchange. The headline: "Pope John Paul II & the Secret History of Europe." This short piece focuses on the contents of a new film, "Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism." Here is the trailer for that documentary:

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Polexit? Looking for news about tensions between EU and Poland's Catholic culture

Polexit? Looking for news about tensions between EU and Poland's Catholic culture

There is a circle of GetReligion readers who have, from time to time, been known to lose it at the sight of a URL pointing toward material from, an advocacy journalism site that focuses, as the name implies, on issues linked to abortion, euthanasia, etc.

As I just stated, is an advocacy site that, basically, covers one side of hot-button stories on these topics. If you are looking for fair coverage of liberal views on this topic, this is not the site for you.

However, if you are looking for clues and information about stories that are not receiving coverage in the mainstream press, this is a place to find tips about documents, events and sources that could lead to balanced mainstream coverage. In other words, has the same approach to journalism as, let's say, Rolling Stone or, on moral and religious issues, the Kellerism-era New York Times. You go there to read about one side of an argument.

Some culturally liberal readers believe, in a strange echo of conservatives who write off the Times, that this means that all events or information reported at should be ignored. I don't believe that about the Times and I don't believe that about the much smaller and less important I take what I see in advocacy publications with a grain of salt and look for links to valid information about views on the right and left.

That brings me, in this post-Brexit world, to this new report, which ran with the headline, "Poland Defends Its Pro-Life Laws, Blasts EU Leaders Telling It to Legalize Abortion."

(CFAM) -- The Polish government snapped back at European bureaucrats in a scathing response to a report published last week by the Council of Europe that criticized Poland’s restrictive abortion law and its treatment of women.

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Is there a religion ghost in Brexit victory for angry old Brits who keep clinging to the past?

Is there a religion ghost in Brexit victory for angry old Brits who keep clinging to the past?

Is there a religion ghost in the shocking, to many, Brexit vote?

Of course there is. Any issue this, well, HUGE is going to have links to religious beliefs and institutions, on both sides of the debate. However, it will take a while for that shoe to drop, methinks, as secular journalists begin their work -- of course -- with waves of news about the political and economic fallout.

That is to be expected. However, we can begin our search for the religion ghost in this story by asking two rather basic questions: In terms of media and cultural elites, who is upset about the Brexit victory? And these grieving people in the mainstream media (looking at you, Christiane Amanpour), who are they blaming for this defeat for rational thought and the world's glowing future?

For example, I have no idea who this young journalist is -- Rebecca Pinnington -- but I would imagine that there were plenty of professionals in major newsrooms thinking this exact same thought in the wee hours of this morning. What does it say that CNN has this quote on its front page, as I write this?

"When Donald Trump congratulates you on a political decision, that’s how you know you’ve made a mistake #EUref"

So who is to blame for this attack on the European Union and its supporters? It would appear, based on my early reading, that the chattering classes see this as a victory for old people who yearn for the values of the past and fear the wide open, evolving future. The word of the day appears to be "xenophobia."

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