Rafael Cruz More Catholic Than the Pope?

It’s not usually that newsworthy when the Rev. Rafael Cruz says something outrageous while out there operating as a surrogate for or warm-up-act to his son. But given the timing, this little tirade (as reported by TPM’s Caitlin MacNeal) from Cruz the Elder is interesting:

Rafael Cruz, Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father, on Saturday said that northeastern Jews and Catholics put their allegiance to the Democratic Party ahead of their religion.

“Unfortunately, in the northeast, the Jews are Democrats first and Jews second,” he said at an event on Saturday held by the Palm Beach County Tea Party. “This is what has happened to a great many in the Catholic church. They are Democrats first and Catholics second.”

Rafael Cruz said that Americans “need to put principle above tradition.”

“There are people voting Democrat because, ‘My grandfather or my father voted Democrat.’ Let me tell you something. The Democratic party today is not the Democratic party of John Kennedy. John Kennedy would be a Republican today,” he said.

He made the comments in response to a remark from an audience member lamenting that leaders in the Catholic church have not helped the Republican cause. The comments were flagged by the Democratic group American Bridge.

“Too many pastors and priests have not been shepherds. They’ve been too scared hiding behind their pulpit,” Rafael said in response, adding that during the Holocaust, the Church turned a blind eye to Hitler’s actions.

“The Church, which was a very potent force in Germany at the time, was responsible for crossing their hands and doing nothing,” he said.

Yeah, yeah, right, legalized abortion, American Holocaust, we know that song and dance. But Cruz needs to keep up. Just last week the Pope released an encyclical that pretty clearly demanded action on a man-made climate change problem that Cruz’s wing of the GOP (Rafael Cruz was an oil industry consultant before he took to preaching) denies and even demonizes regularly. But beyond that, if you actually read Laudato Si’ (as I did over the weekend), it’s pretty clear the Vatican is taking a position on economic inequality that’s a few notches to the left of Bernie Sanders–you know, one of those Jews who cares more about being an independent than being Jewish. And this isn’t entirely new: Francis’ encyclical was loaded with anti-capitalist papal precedents dating back to Paul VI, and he could have gone back to Leo XIII.

Now the conventional wisdom already is that Francis’ words won’t have any impact on American Catholics because (a) they are already polarized on partisan grounds just like everybody else and (b) the American laity are already in the habit of ignoring instructions from the hierarchy on subjects ranging from contraception to the Middle East.

I dunno. The most observant American Catholics and those most likely to defer to the Vatican lean Republican, so they are the Catholics most likely to be troubled by being told in a papal encyclical that their views on climate change and economic policy aren’t just wrong but represent an intrinsically sinful rebellion against the divine plan for the Creation. And on the second point, Francis language in Laudato Si’ is probably too radical to vanish without a trace, particularly when thousands of pulpits are under orders to draw attention to it:

Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals. Romano Guardini had already foreseen this: “The gadgets and technics forced upon him by the patterns of machine production and of abstract planning mass man accepts quite simply; they are the forms of life itself. To either a greater or lesser degree mass man is convinced that his conformity is both reasonable and just”. This paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume. But those really free are the minority who wield economic and financial power.

If nothing else, Francis’ encyclical, with its relentless hostility to unregulated capitalism and “technocracy,” should counter-balance the pressure emanating from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to align Catholics with the GOP on culture-war grounds. And it should also make it even more absurd than before for a conservative evangelical minister like Ted Cruz to chastise American Catholics for not aligning themselves with the party of unregulated capitalism and climate-change denial–and to claim JFK for the party of Richard Nixon.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.