I thought of the Christian Crusades recently when reading about Russian Patriarch Kirill I giving a fulsome benediction to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Back in the 12th and 13th centuries, various popes offered all kinds of spiritual benefits, including the forgiveness of sin, to men who agreed to participate in one of the many armies marching east to defeat the Muslim forces occupying Jerusalem.

These crusading wars represent a shameful part of the Christian story, generated by a basic misunderstanding of the core gospel message. Leaders wearing cassocks and miters urging their followers to slaughter members of a different faith convey Roman leadership at its worst. 

In March of this year, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill consulted, thanks to the power of Zoom. It did not go well!

Kirill read a 20-minute diatribe against the West, justifying the Russian mayhem in his neighboring country. He called Putin’s long leadership tenure “a miracle of God,” praising his strong defense against the liberal conspiracies that allegedly promote “gay parades” in Kyiv and other cities. 

Francis attempted to advise him that as leading churchmen, they should not be acting as deacons for any belligerent government, certainly not in support of a country attacking a neighbor. Kirill was not impressed and left Francis questioning why his counterpart in Moscow was acting like “Putin’s altar boy.”

A patriarch providing a blessing for the Russian planes strafing the villages and towns in the Donbas region is only one of a host of events and happenings that remind us what a topsy-turvy world we inhabit. Our systems are in disarray, lacking any rhyme or coherent reason. 

Doug Mastriano easily won the Republican nomination for governor in Pennsylvania, a swing state that has alternated between the two parties in presidential elections over the last half-century. 

Mastriano is still promoting the Big Lie, that somehow Donald Trump won Pennsylvania and the 2020 presidential election. He expects Trump to be the Republican candidate again in 2024 and, with a clear glint in his eye, he assured a recent audience that, irrespective of the popular vote, as governor, he will appoint the secretary of state who in turn names the presidential electors, so there will be no repeat of the 2020 “steal.”

Keep in mind that there is no subterfuge here. Mastriano is giving public notice of his intentions to disregard the legal result if the need arises.

This approach is not without precedent. In the months leading up to the November 2020 election, Trump, who was behind Joe Biden by a few points in most polls, declared that only could he win the November showdown, but any other result would be fraudulent.

More recently, Trump urged Dr. Mehmet Oz to claim victory in the close Republican senatorial primary in Pennsylvania before all the votes are tabulated. 

Mastriano is not an isolated voice. The New York Times published a review of legislative votes, records, and official statements of Republican leaders in the battleground states. The results of this study found that 357 party leaders have used the power of their office to seek to overturn or, at least, discredit the results of the 2020 presidential contest.

In Arizona, this applies to 81 percent of these top Republicans; in Pennsylvania just a little less at 78 percent. Wisconsin scored at 73 percent and Michigan just under half at 48 percent of local lawmakers, all of whom favor overturning the official results. 

Just more than 18 months ago, Trump and his docile vice president, Mike Pence, were campaigning for re-election. They lost.  

The vice president did his ceremonial job in certifying the results. Trump urged him not to fulfill his important legal obligation but, instead, to send the results back to be re-assessed by state legislators.

Pence correctly disregarded his boss’s pleas and Joe Biden’s victory was affirmed. The January 6 rioters turned on their vice president, hanging his effigy. 

Today, the former president and vice president no longer engage in civil conversation, and in fact, each campaigned for different Republicans vying to become governor of Georgia. Pence supported the current governor, Brian Kemp, who defied Trump’s urging to invalidate the election, while former Senator David Perdue, at Trump’s behest, spent millions promoting the coup to override the real results. 

Kemp won by over 50 percent while Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state who more than anyone drew Trump’s anger by refusing to “find” the 11,780 votes he wanted for victory, also hammered his Trump-backed opponent, Congressman Jody Hice.

American Catholic leaders also seem to have lost their way. The dictum pronounced in every seminary, Roma locuta est, Causa finita est (Rome has spoken; their decision is final) no longer holds.

Pope Francis strongly advised against using the Eucharist as a disciplinary tool. He stressed that Communion should not be seen as a reward for saints but as a sacred food for sinners.

He welcomed President Biden in the Vatican calling him a good Catholic, despite his approval of the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion. He recognized that the policies Biden espouses on dealing with poverty and caring for the environment are far closer to his teaching as set down in two encyclicals than Republican ideas. 

Archbishop John Cordileone decided to politicize the abortion issue by banning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from the altar rails in the archdiocese of San Francisco. This extreme and unprecedented punitive act, based on her support for a woman’s right to choose, was acclaimed by some church hardliners, but most Catholics stand with Francis who would have no problem affirming Pelosi, a woman who defines herself as a devout Catholic who always attends to her weekly Mass obligation. 

The most damning contradiction between a sane society and its opposite is again on display after 19 children and two teachers were mowed down by a frustrated and angry 18-year-old in Uvalde, Texas. This horrific incident was a sequel to another young man of the same age who executed 10 Black people in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York days before. Both killers had easy access to deadly weapons.

Repeated opinion polls reveal that close to 90 percent of Americans support a mandatory background check on any applicant for a firearm, with ownership of automatic guns confined to law-enforcement personnel. Other sensible and popular requirements require some minimum training in firearm use followed by a basic test as applies in getting a license to drive a car. 

The powerful and rich National Rifle Association (NRA) claims that 18-year-olds should be entitled to carry weapons, including quick-firing semi-automatic ones. Republicans support them and so, just in the last two years, sensible enactments restricting gun ownership passed the House but failed in the Senate.

The cries of a classroom of helpless fourth graders and their teachers touch a new depth of rage among ordinary people. How could they compete against an armed frustrated bully? Where will the next outrage be?

Are we any closer to legislation that would curb this madness? Or are we doomed to continue in a dark system where a clear majority of the citizens say that gun ownership calls for a background check but nothing happens and we await the next school massacre? 

(Gerry O’Shea blogs at wemustbetalking.com)  

*This column first appeared in the June 1 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.

This article was submitted to the IrishCentral contributors network by a member of the global Irish community. To become an IrishCentral contributor click here.