Catholic Church Leaders In America Have Been Astoundingly Silent On Trump

After a year of Donald Trump rallies, the public has almost built up a resistance to his antics, despite them growing more and more excessive. The Republican presidential candidate crossed yet another line during one of his televised rallies earlier this month, when he suggested that "second amendment people" could act against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

During the initial phases of Trump's campaign, many Americans compared him to Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi. However, a year on, it's become clear that Trump is of an entirely different breed.

His views carry latent racism, calls to violence, and the belief in the doctrine of American exceptionalism. At the same time, his persona falls outside the norms of American politics, as signified by the marginal role religion and the pro-life debate have played in his campaign.

The debate over Trump (regardless of the results of the November election) is actually a debate over America. There could be two explanations for this political phenomenon: Trump could be regarded as a deviation from the American political (as well as cultural and moral) tradition, or as the natural evolution of U.S. politics.

  Among the leaders paralyzed in the face of the Trump phenomenon are the leaders of the Catholic Church.

The first proposition -- that Trump is but a deviation from the norm -- is reassuring. It suggests that Trump's extreme views will ultimately be balanced and toned down within the political structure of the United States. This is a very American argument -- in the sense that it is based on the idea that throughout its unique history, the United States has been able to overcome internal contradictions.

The second proposition -- that Trump is an integral part of the "nation's autobiography," to quote Italian journalist Piero Gobetti -- suggests that the candidate represents an extreme version of conservatism, born as a reaction to the country's growing multiculturalism. This conservatism appeals to proponents of white America, and those who have suffered in the transition to economic globalization.

But today's America faces many challenges besides growing conservatism, including: A political class that is enslaved to lobbies and special interest groups, mass incarceration of African-Americans, political policies that systematically penalize ethnic minorities, an economic system that has greatly exacerbated the gap between the rich and the poor, and foreign policies that are increasingly authoritarian and fail to respect international laws and conventions.

If all of the above is true, then Trump is indeed an extreme case, but not necessarily a deviation; he is but the result of the trajectory that the United States has been following over the past three decades.

Many Americans have not been able to distance themselves from an electoral platform based on provocation and calls to violence.

Among the leaders paralyzed in the face of the Trump phenomenon are the leaders of the Catholic Church, which is currently the largest and most prominent Christian church in the United States.

Pope Francis has very clearly and publicly distanced himself from Trump's platform last February. Meanwhile, a few people within the Catholic Church have raised their voices in protest of the authoritarianism Trump envisions for America's future.

  The American bishops who have spent the last few years battling with the Obama administration over religious freedom...have not had the same enthusiasm to fight for the religious freedom of Muslims.

Among these few dissident voices is an organization of "progressive" nuns, a group of neo-conservative and anti-Francis intellectuals and academics who supported Ted Cruz, as well as the editors of a few Catholic publications. Some bishops have individually expressed their opinions, but the Episcopal Conference has been too divided and too distracted to make a joint official declaration.

One of the most important bishops in the United States, Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, recently wrote a letter in which he essentially judged the two presidential candidates to be of equal character, and euphemistically described Trump as "an eccentric businessman of defective ethics whose bombast and buffoonery make him inconceivable as president." The letter does not bring up the racist, sexist and violent language that has become the hallmark of Trump's campaign.

The Trump phenomenon has revealed that the Catholic Church in America is endowed with a strange notion of civic duty: The American bishops who have spent the last few years battling with the Obama administration over religious freedom (which for American Catholics, means guarantees regarding the requirements for health insurance to pay for practices including abortion and contraception) have not had the same enthusiasm to fight for the religious freedom of Muslims (who are a specific target of Trump's). It is as if the question of Muslims' religious freedom does not touch everyone's freedom, including that of Catholics.

Nearly a year ago, in September 2015, Pope Francis came to the United States for a visit that was an undisputed success. At the time, Trump's campaign had only just begun. Over the course of the past 12 months, it has gained the consistent support of conservatives, as well as significant support among religious voters.

Pope Francis's American campaign has had less support from Catholic conservatives, which reveals a lot about the complications of being the global leader of the Catholic Church today.

After the November elections, there will time to analyze the politics of the Trump phenomenon. It is not, however, too early to examine the impact Pope Francis's visit has had on Catholicism in the United States; a pope who represents everything Donald Trump is opposed to.

As always, the debate over the United States is a religious one.

This post first appeared on HuffPost Italy. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.