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Pope Benedict XVI and the Tea Party Movement: Soulmates?

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The leader of the Roman Catholic Church doesn't do political endorsements, and Pope Benedict XVI isn't likely to make an exception for the Tea Party movement, no matter how much momentum the populist tax revolt gains as the fall election campaign picks up speed.

But after watching Benedict during his visit to Britain this weekend -- widely considered a success in the face of low expectations -- Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor-at-large of National Review Online, saw both the Tea Party and the pontiff as calling Americans to a spiritual and political battle against big government and on behalf of greater freedom.

"The pope and the tea party [sic] -- these are not unrelated things. They shouldn't be, anyway," Lopez wrote at the website of First Things, the conservative religious and political journal.

Pope Benedict, Tea Party"The tea party movement . . . isn't an explicitly religious movement, by any strength," Lopez continued, expanding her thesis in a column at, a Catholic site sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. "But if you talk to people who show up to the rallies, if you listen to some of the candidates who have showed up to run for office this year -- to serve -- it's hard to escape this is a cultural movement of people who feel called to something greater than themselves. They dare to hope, to believe that we can be better than we have been."

"Of course, they dare to hope that we can be better when it comes to government spending, better when it comes to seriousness about homeland security, better when it comes to making people freer to make choices that are best for their families, and so on," Lopez wrote. "But in reality, it's so much more."

She cited Florida Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio and House GOP Rep. Paul Ryan, both Catholics and both Tea Party favorites, as "among those who give a most compelling voice to people's fears about the future of the American idea, the experiment that Pope Benedict spoke with respect and admiration of when he came here to visit" in April 2008.

Lopez said the Tea Party movement implicitly reflects the Catholic Church's longstanding teaching on what is called subsidiarity -- the principle that the state or larger authority should not usurp functions that can be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.

"Subsidiarity" has become a rallying cry for many conservative Catholics, though they arguably stretch its meaning and intent to fit current agendas and concerns.

For example, the Catholic Church teaches that subsidiarity also means "a community of a higher order" should support a local or "lower order" community "in case of need and [to] help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."

That means balancing competing goods to promote social justice, a consistent teaching by popes and bishops but one that is often associated with liberal goals and as such was recently derided as un-Christian by Glenn Beck.

Kathryn Jean Lopez doesn't read the teaching the way the hierarchy does, however.

Tea Party supporters, she says, "might not use the word subsidiarity, but there is a newfound appreciation for freeing our supporting, private service organizations to do what they do best. As the federal government flirts with the unsustainable, reaching into areas of American life where it does not need to be or belong, Americans increasingly see threats to individual liberty -- including religious liberty -- here and on the horizon."

Lopez's linking of papal teaching and the Tea Party Movement also seems to reflect efforts by social conservatives to argue that the economic populism of the Tea Party is in fact friendly to "values voters" on the right, in contrast to those who see a perilous divide between conservatism's libertarian and moral values wings.

Whether she is correct and the Tea Party and the religious right are on "parallel tracks" to the same destination is a debate that may only be settled by the results on Election Day.

Less convincing is Lopez's argument that Benedict XVI would support the agenda of the Tea Party -- or that Tea Partiers would embrace the economic ideas of a pope who is easily to the left of Barack Obama.

Benedict has in the past suggested that the generous social welfare policies of many European countries reflect church teaching on the common good, and his encyclical on social justice, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), featured a relentless denunciation of unbridled capitalism that called for greater regulation of the markets and "a true world political authority" that can put "real teeth" into international governance -- the kind of thing that sent some conservative Catholics running for their red editing pencils.

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The answer to the basic question as to whether the Tea Party and the pope are soulmates is a simple "yes." It may not be that they always believe in the same thing but that they both believe in one thing, that they cannot be wrong; i.e. that they are infallible. The other thing they have in common is that they are both removed from the world of reality. The Church is removed from it because it has removed itself from it, while Tea Party members are removed because they can't face it.

November 20 2010 at 11:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

An excellent article; thank you! I had a real problem putting my Catholic faith into action on election day. One party had candidates who were talking about social justice; the other was in favor of protecting innocent life. Those times I was forced to vote for the lesser evil (the Tea Party), I was still voting for evil. Mr. Gibson is correct: the Holy Father's writings do not suggest there will be a Tea Party bumpersticker on the Popemobile any time soon.

November 13 2010 at 8:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If he pope endorses he tea party, I will no longer be a Catholic. I don't believe this story. Jesus said, "The rich have as much chance of getting to heaven as a camel passing through the eye of a needle". But the rich are worried about having to pay more taxes that might help the the poor. The only reason they give to charity is for tax exemptions which they don't need. But they are greedy and always want more. They will find out when they meet St. Peter what is going to happen to them. Trust me.

September 22 2010 at 2:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The papacy of Rome throurgh speaking at the United Nations has contiously called for a one world Government, Their interpretation of helping the lower class is a one world authority which think the people of the world are to stupid to think for themselves. Weve already seen the begining of this here in the U.S. with our government running everything from the automobile industry, the Banking industry, the insurance industry and for that matter our education system, so to say the tea party movement and the papacy of Rome have something in common is insane.

September 22 2010 at 1:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As a Catholic, this atricle is so much b.s. Aspire to a higher order - yes - personal gain at the expense of others. These "tea party" politicians are just trying to get into position to get their "share". Include the pope as a politician also. What did he know, when did he knoe it? We'll never knoe. Just like our politicians.

September 21 2010 at 10:59 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

I would like a definitive answer from those who think we are less safe about why they think so. Also, isn't the Catholic church pro-health care? The article seems to be trying to stuff facts into a theory, but they don't quite fit.

September 21 2010 at 10:29 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

Subsidiarity according to the "Compendium" Catechism states that a community of a higher order should not assume the task belonging to a community of a lower order and deprive it of its authority.It should rather support in case of need. In other words responsibility remains with the individual, then to the family, then to a local community. The dignity of the individual, as a person, comes first. The responsibilities of a family come before that of a government, to help those in need of guidance, teaching ,or assistance. Thanks for bringing the issue up.

September 21 2010 at 7:53 AM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply

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