Last week, we reprinted a report of some very odd online behavior on the part of Fr. Spadaro, SJ, close friend and spokesman of Pope Francis. Among his various activities on Twitter, it was discovered that he was retweeting an account in the name of “Habla Francisco” (which can be translated as “The Pope Says”) which was, in fact, linked to his email account. As the writer of our piece, Oakes Spalding, said at the time:
That’s right, Antonio Spadaro, the editor of La Civiltà Catholica and one of the Pope’s main point men in promoting Amoris Laetitia had been “retweeting” his own tweets from a sock-puppet Twitter account. These fake retweets were used to defend an Apostolic Letter and attack four cardinals of the Catholic Church.
Now, in an exclusive interview with Crux, Fr. Spadaro has confirmed our report, attempting to pass it off as something totally harmless:
There’s also the issue of a Twitter account which some of your critics claim you are ‘hiding’ behind.
What do they mean, “hide”?! The account was simply an under-used one of three or four I operate, including that of the journal. I often re-tweet from one to the other.
If I had really wanted to throw stones from an anonymous account I would never, obviously, have re-tweeted it. And why should I feel any need to hide? I was merely quoting the view of an American friend who was commenting not on the behavior of the cardinals but the way the expression “the four cardinals” was being used on so many blogs in ways that reminded her of 196os rock bands.
I find this admission absolutely bizarre. There is nothing normal about a priest who is both the editor of a major Catholic publication and a close advisor and spokesman to the pope using phony Twitter accounts under pseudonyms to bolster the credibility of his social media scoffing — least of all over serious questions about dangers to the faith posed by four distinguished members of the curia and echoed by Catholics around the world.
He goes on to say:
The funny thing was that when I sent that tweet, Raymond Arroyo of EWTN tweeted the photo of a cardinal [Timothy Dolan of New York] dancing the can-can with his legs in the air along with the Rockettes. His tweet was cheered by my detractors, from which I deduce that this attack on me is organized and deliberate.
I’ve seen that Tweet. In fact, I shared it. It’s here:
— Raymond Arroyo (@RaymondArroyo) November 24, 2016
And in my opinion, this was Arroyo having some fun at the Cardinal’s expense, since this inappropriate appearance of the highest prelate in the second largest diocese in America has become something of a tradition. That Spadaro’s “detractors” would “cheer” such a Tweet is entirely in keeping with the spirit of why they would question Spadaro’s own tweets: because both involve a certain violation of priestly decorum that is offensive to an authentic Catholic sensibility.
But while his confirmation of the fake Twitter account was strange, the hubris with which he dealt with critics of Amoris Laetitia was unsurprising:
What’s behind it, do you think?
I think that some people are exploiting the cardinals’ letter in order to ramp up the tension and create division within the Church. These groups feel sidelined, so they’re yelling, and attacking anyone perceived as being close to the pope. I’m not here referring to the case of the tweet, but more generally.
It’s painful that this is taking place within the Church, among Catholics. In some cases it’s enough to be positive about the Petrine magisterium to be attacked. It’s a deeply unpleasant opposition, incapable of articulating a thought without at the same time turning it into an attack.
Did you hear that? We are the ones acting in an exploitative fashion, “in order to ramp up the tension and create division within the Church.”
We apparently also feel “sidelined.” Interesting. I hadn’t been made aware of that. Here’s more:
But why are the attacks so unpleasant – what’s going on?
I think there are three things happening here. The first is that Francis’s actions have been highly effective; they’ve hit the nail on the head.
And that means, secondly, that, “the spirits are expressing themselves,” as Bergoglio would say. The hatred and viciousness directed against him are always signs of the bad spirit which has nothing to do with the Gospel.
That’s easy to discern. And by the way, that disturbance of spirits is a reaction to the good spirit: if there were no reaction, it would be worse.
The third point is that those who are hostile to Francis are in the main self-enclosed groups who cannot handle an open, serene debate, and who simply repeat each other, like in an echo chamber. Some of those sites, and Twitter accounts, are simply copies of others.
So, what we see here is that — in Spadaro’s eyes — any criticism of what Francis is doing is just a confirmation that he’s been effective, successful, and on the right path. Also, the critics are bad guys full of hatred, viciousness, and bad spirit. Aaaand they’re part of a self-enclosed echo chamber.
Did I miss anything?
What is the proper response?
Patience. We need patiently to bear the insults and attacks, and just trust in the process that’s underway. The attacks are an inescapable part of the process.
That must be why he blocks anyone who challenges him on Twitter at the slightest provocation. That’s the very definition of “bearing wrongs patiently,” amirite?
Moving on a bit, he is asked if the criticisms make the pope angry. Remember, Edward Pentin reported (and confirmed again, off-air) that he had sources inside Casa Santa Marta telling him that the pope was “boiling with rage.” (Incidentally, he said this to none other than Raymond Arroyo, who was asking his own probing questions about the dubia. But I’m sure the dig at Arroyo by Fr. Spadaro was just a coincidence…)
Not so, says Spadaro, with a skip in his step and a laugh in his voice:
How does the pope himself react to the attacks? There have been reports that he’s enraged by the letter.
Oh please! Such comments make me laugh. To get Bergoglio angry it has to be something very different. His real concerns are pastoral. What disturbs him is poverty, injustice, the martyrdom of Christians, violence, and so on, not these kinds of criticisms.
I can assure you, because I have direct knowledge of this, that Francis simply doesn’t get annoyed about this kind of thing. I think he sees the anger in some quarters as evidence that some people feel challenged by the hermeneutic of mercy, by the Gospel sine glossa [‘unglossed’ – i.e. presented directly].
Consider me assured, Father. Francis is never angry with anyone for anything less than “poverty, injustice, the martyrdom of Christians, violence, and so on”. Except…adoring fans pulling his arm a little too hard and “being selfish“.
But let’s return to the interview, shall we?
Why hasn’t the pope responded to the cardinals?
The pope doesn’t give binary answers to abstract questions. But that does’t mean he hasn’t responded. His response is to approve and to encourage positive pastoral practices. A clear and obvious example was his response to the Buenos Aires area bishops, when he encouraged them and confirmed that their reading of Amoris Laetitia was correct.
In other words, the pope responds by encouraging, and indeed loves to respond to the sincere questions put to him by pastors. The ones who really understand Catholic doctrine are the pastors, because doctrine does not exist for the purpose of debate but for the salus animarum [‘the health of souls’] – for salvation rather than intellectual discussion.
Did you catch that? Yes, that was
a) an admission that the pope won’t offer yes or no answers (Sorry, Mt. 5:33!) on the dubia and
b) That the Buenos Aires letter — famous for its tacit endorsement of Communion for the divorced and remarried — is the new law of the land in the Church… and
c) Since he “loves to respond to sincere questions put to him by pastors” and he won’t respond to the four cardinals, ergo, their questions are either not sincere or they are not pastors, or both.
And here’s Spadaro, doubling down on b):
The cardinals want to know whether Amoris Laetitia ever makes possible absolution and Holy Communion for people who are still validly married but having sexual relations with another. They claim that hasn’t been made clear.
I think that the answer to that has been given, and clearly. When the concrete circumstances of a divorced and remarried couple make feasible a pathway of faith, they can be asked to take on the challenge of living in continence. Amoris Laetitia does not ignore the difficulty of this option, and leaves open the possibility of admission to the Sacrament of Reconciliation when this option is lacking.
In other, more complex circumstances, and when it has not been possible to obtain a declaration of nullity, this option may not be practicable. But it still may be possible to undertake a path of discernment under the guidance of a pastor, which results in a recognition that, in a particular case, there are limitations which attenuate responsibility and guilt – particularly where a person believes they would fall into a worse error, and harm the children of the new union.
In such cases Amoris Laetitia opens the possibility of access to Reconciliation and to the Eucharist, which in turn dispose a person to continuing to mature and grow, fortified by grace.
“I think the answer to that has been given, and clearly,” he says. Followed by three paragraphs of incomprehensibly vague word salad that sounds mostly like, “Reconciliation and the Eucharist for people who don’t feel guilty of adultery even if they’re violating the 6th Commandment is totes okay.”
I can’t take anymore. It’s an unserious interview from an unserious man. But his proximity to the pope — despite his protestation that this interview is reflective only of his own thinking, and not that of Francis — makes it noteworthy. If you want to read more, pay particular attention to how he tries to justify the compatibility of AL with Veritatis Splendor. (I recommend at least two stiff drinks before beginning that section.)
Of course, at the end of the interview, he unconvincingly attempts to twist the knife, saying, “My sense is that the vast majority of the cardinals and bishops are with him [the pope], and very few are resisting Amoris Laetitia.”
Because Divine Truth is a popularity contest, Father? I think not.
The bottom line is this: a man in Fr. Spadaro’s position wouldn’t solicit an interview like this (with a sympathetic publication, no less) if the Vatican felt like they had this situation under control. He’s trying to mitigate damage here, and he’s principally doing so by going after the credibility of the pope’s critics and by dismissing their concerns.
It’s a little too late for that, Father. We’re onto you.
This is all the more reason why now is the time to apply more pressure. When you’re living in a house of cards, the last thing you want is for the wind to blow.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.