THE manner in which religious faith can be distorted to endorse secular politics was on display grotesquely in Miami last week. There was Donald Trump in the middle of a prayer huddle as the hands of several Christian evangelical leaders were laid upon him.

“We repent the personal sins, national sins, and we humbly ask you to bless our nation and to bless our president, Donald Trump,” and the American president gave thanks for their support.

The supplicant was now in full flow. “Lord I thank you that America didn’t need a preacher in the Oval Office. It did not need a professional politician in the Oval Office, but it needed a fighter and a champion for freedom and Lord that’s exactly what we have.”

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A few hours before this a missile carried on a $64 million drone had slammed into the vehicle carrying the Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani and blown him to, well … to kingdom come. No mercy; no forgiveness; no right of appeal and no regard for the hundreds of thousands of innocents who will suffer and die as a result.

“Vengeance is mine,” sayeth the Donald. And in 21st-century America, the Lord had just better get used to it.

Those pastors who gathered at El Rey Jesus International Ministry to bless the White House’s resident racist, homophobe and sex offender belong to that strain of US Christianity that makes Satan look like Mother Theresa. Well-heeled believers are fleeced to provide a millionaire lifestyle for pastors who say that their riches are proof of God’s favour and that poverty is a sign of evil. They’re half-right, of course. It’s just that the evil is usually being perpetrated by the US president and the interests working him from the back.

And when some of them get caught with their cassocks up well, that’s just God’s way of reminding them they’re sinners like the rest of us. At this rate Auld Nick will soon be redundant.

In Scotland another version of this squalid faith/politics interface has been reported. According to the Sunday Times the Scottish Catholic Church has declared guerrilla warfare on those politicians they feel don’t pass muster in a highly subjective index of moral delinquency. A “source” (I can guess who) even ventured to crow that the church’s intervention might have contributed to the SNP’s Stephen Gethins losing his Westminster seat last month. The Labour MP Hugh Gaffney, they claim, might also have succumbed to this medieval witch-hunt.

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In preparation for the next Holyrood election, the Church is compiling its own list of who’s been naughty and nice on such issues as abortion, same-sex marriage and assisted suicide. Priests will be checking it twice before communicating the results to Catholic congregations throughout Scotland.

Before last month’s election Catholic bishops signed a letter to parishioners advising them to elect only those who reflect “as closely as possible our beliefs” amidst what they believe is “a creeping intolerance towards religious belief”.

Well, writing as a practising (if faltering) Catholic I feel moved to suggest to the bishops that one of the many reasons why there might be “a creeping intolerance” towards religious belief is because of arrogant and clumsy interventions such as this.

I could also mention the not insubstantial matter of decades of widespread clerical sex abuse and subsequent cover-ups and secret pay-offs. There was also the hypocrisy of its most senior clergyman Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who was revealed to have concealed a double life of inappropriate relationships with priests under his jurisdiction while railing against the wickedness of gay sex.

I agree there is intolerance of religious faith in a country that pretends it’s liberal and inclusive, but most of the reputational damage done to the Catholic Church in Scotland has been self-inflicted.

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The Catholic Church lost its right to make moral judgments on the character of our elected representatives a long time ago (if indeed it ever had such) and it won’t be regaining it any time soon.

And I’d be ashamed if I thought that this shower of vindictive ultras had contributed in any way to the electoral downfall of Gethins, who I know to be a good man and whose common humanity and work to alleviate poverty and oppose inequality accords with the social teachings of Jesus Christ.

This seems indicative of a small but malignant right-wing sect which appears to have gained influence in some Scottish dioceses. I’ve seen how these people work and it’s not pretty.

I will never disavow my church’s teaching on the sanctity of all human lives, including the unborn, but I’m not about to condemn women who will face this choice alone and often as a result of acute economic distress or sexual violence.

How many of those who turn up like vigilantes in the night outside hospitals to intimidate these women would be willing to care for them and the children they carry or provide for them with their own funds? And how does it work when a politician who is against euthanasia and abortion is nevertheless happy to endorse the indiscriminate bombing of innocents in the Middle East and then refuse them sanctuary when they seek it?

It’s difficult enough being a Catholic in this secular wilderness without bishops and priests setting themselves up as judge and jury in the chaos of human relationships. Most mornings you wake up and find yourself needing snookers after the transgressions of the previous day. Most of us have enough on our plate trying to navigate the treacherous and competing currents of religious faith and secular justice without pronouncing on the moral turpitude of others.

The Catholic Church needs to be careful what it’s wishing for here and this is where the sheer stupidity and crassness of this strategy is exposed. If they want to get all political and smart-ass then they need also to get real.

The cornerstone of Church culture and influence in Scotland is its system of Catholic schools. Until now, the leaders of the main left-of-centre parties in Scotland have backed these schools unequivocally. Church leaders were almost weeping with gratitude when Nicola Sturgeon issued a robust and eloquent endorsement of them last year to mark their centenary.

If I was advising her I’d be suggesting she have a quiet word with the bishops along the lines of: “kindly remove your tanks from my lawn or else …” She might also suggest they get their own house in order before making highly selective, moral judgments on others.