In response to Trump, Vatican official says church should be prophetic

This story appears in the Transition to Trump feature series. View the full series.

by Thomas Reese

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In response to the election of Donald Trump, the pope’s representative in the United States believes that the church needs "to assume a prophetic role." Speaking at a luncheon at Georgetown University discussing nuclear disarmament, Archbishop Christophe Pierre acknowledged that "the pope is more prophetic than the Catholic bishops here today."

For example, on refugees, he said, "we have not done much, to be honest with you, on the issue of refugees in the United States.  And we could do much more."

"We [the Vatican] can send some ideas, and these ideas have to be thought about in the bishops’ conference," he said. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops "is the place to express the vision of the Catholic bishops."

The USCCB begins its annual fall meeting on Monday, Nov. 14 in Baltimore, where the nuncio, Archbishop Pierre will address the bishops.   

The "worst aspect" of Trump is his "unpredictability," said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, former Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva from 2003-2015 and now secretary of the new Vatican office for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Nor did Hillary Clinton lack for criticism. "Pope Francis is fighting against ideology," noted Pierre. "I was amazed to listen to the last speech of Mrs. Clinton on television — this is complete ideology. The lady has not understood a thing. It is terrible. This is why she failed. She is enclosed in ideology."

He recalled that for Pope Francis, reality is more important than ideas. "But you know, our politicians here remain at the level of ideas. It is frightening. She has not, they have not listened."

The invitation only luncheon for about a dozen academics and activists working on nuclear disarmament was hosted by the office of the president of Georgetown in a room with oil paintings of old Jesuit cardinals looking down on the participants.

The keynote address by Tomasi was a depressing report on the continued presence of nuclear weapons, the danger of their use, and the lack of progress on disarmament negotiations.

"At present, there are nine nuclear states that possess an estimated 17,000 nuclear weapons," he reported. Rather than moving toward disarmament, "The United States has a comprehensive program for the next three decades which will cost around $3 billion." Meanwhile, "Russia has deployed tactical missiles in Kaliningrad."

He noted that President-elect Trump supported the option of a nuclear South Korea. The consequences of nuclear proliferation in the region "could be catastrophic," he said.

Tomasi said that risks and dangers of nuclear weapons are imminent if the path of disarmament is not taken today. He agrees with William J. Perry who in My Journey at the Nuclear Brink wrote, "A nuclear nightmare such as I have dramatized could become a tragic reality if we do not take the necessary preventative actions now."

The former nuncio complained that "the United Nations Conference on Disarmament has been in a deadlock for over 20 years," and is not even able to adopt an agenda.

He quoted Pope Francis who said that "Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis of an ethic of solidarity and peaceful coexistence between peoples and states." Continuing to quote Pope Francis, the archbishop said, "Peace must be built on justice, socio-economic development, freedom, respect for fundamental human rights, the participation of all in public affairs and the building of trust between peoples."

Catholic University Professor Maryann Cusimano Love, a self-professed optimist, wondered whether the Trump presidency might provide a unique opportunity for further reductions in nuclear weapons. "It’s a very scary nuclear world," she told The New York Times. "Biggest problem, to me, in the world, is nuclear, and proliferation."

Love noted that it is reported that his uncle, John Trump, a nuclear physicist, many years ago explained to a young Trump the dangers of nuclear weapons. Trump himself has asked why we are making them if we will never use them. Plus, a nuclear deal with Russian president Vladimir Putin would provide a foreign policy success that would confound his opponents by proving himself to be the great negotiator that he claims to be.

Pierre agreed that the Catholic church in America should push nuclear issues with the new administration as part of its prophetic role. Others at the luncheon were not as optimistic as Love that a breakthrough on nuclear disarmament might be possible under a President Trump but they agreed that they must continue to push for it.

Related, U.S. bishops meeting in Baltimore:

US bishops' conference to vote on new leadership

In response to Trump, Vatican official says church should be prophetic

Previewing the USCCB meeting: the good the conference achieves By Michael Sean Winters

A Francis agenda for the US bishops By Fr. Tom Reese

Trump's election: What it means for the USCCB and the Church By Michael Sean Winters

Previewing the USCCB meeting: Will there be a new direction? By Michael Sean Winters

Read all of NCR reporting about the Fall 2016 meeting here.

[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR. His email address is]


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