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.
"The tea party movement . . . isn't an explicitly religious movement, by any strength," Lopez continued, expanding her thesis in a column at HeadlineBistro.com
, 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