Canadian Catholic journalist Lianne Laurence has written a profile offering new insight into the role that Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ — editor of the Italian Jesuit magazine, La Civiltà Cattolica — plays in divulging the mind of his close friend, Pope Francis.
In a new interview at World Youth Day, Fr. Spadaro gives details on his relationship with Francis that help paint a picture of how attuned he is to the mind of the pope.
The fortnightly journal is reviewed by the Vatican’s secretary of state before publication, and is seen as reflecting the “official” views of the Holy See.
Spadaro, in particular, first came into the public eye when he published an exclusive interview with the pope in September 2013 that spread like wildfire across the globe. In it Francis offered some of his first public thoughts on the state of the Church and his priorities. Pro-life and pro-family advocates remember it most especially for the pope’s comments on abortion and same-sex “marriage”: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. … The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
Under Spadaro’s direction, La Civiltà Cattolica has consistently asserted during and after the Synod of the Family that the Church is evolving toward allowing Communion for the divorced and remarried.
In his interview with Aleteia, Spadaro, who has been at the helm of La Civiltà Cattolica since 2011, related that shortly after being elected pope in March 2013, Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio called him on his cell phone.
The two men then spent “three long afternoons” together as Spadaro interviewed the new pontiff. The priest noted further that “usually, I accompany the Pope on his travels, and I was also with his appointment as a member of two synods dedicated to the family.”
Vatican watchers have since come to regard the 50-year-old Italian priest as a reliable bellwether of the Holy Father’s thinking and intended course of action, with Canadian priest and writer Father Raymond de Souza going so far as to describing Spadaro as a “mouthpiece of Pope Francis.”
Spadaro did not demur when Aleteia interviewer Konrad Sawicki described him as “closer to Pope Francis than most people in the world.”
Such closeness, and the apparent affinity between the two Jesuits, lends credibility to the notion that when Spadaro writes on a topic, he is expounding upon the mind of the pope. Which is why it is important to note that
As editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, Spadaro has insisted that the Synod on the Family laid the groundwork for implementing the “Kasper proposal,” which would allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion.
His November 2015 article arguing just that was picked up by the German and Swiss bishops, who emphasized that Spadaro “is in close contact with Francis.”
Echoing this was de Souza, who wrote at the time that Spadaro was even more “authoritative” than the journal he edits, because he is a “confidante” to Pope Francis. “It is inconceivable that he would write something contrary to what the Holy Father desired,” added de Souza.
According to Catholic journalist Phil Lawler, Spadaro, who “worked closely with Pope Francis” at the synod, adopted “a polemical tone” during the October 2015 assembly, where on his Twitter feed, he “poured out barbs, mocking those who question the apparent direction of the Synod.”
After the April 2015 release of Amoris Laetitia, the pope’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation that still generates controversy and confusion, Spadaro continued to press the point, describing the papal document as an “evolution” in the way the Church will approach “accompaniment” of those living in situations that the Church teaches are objectively sinful.
As pertains to the question of sacraments for the divorced and remarried, and the discernment of the permissibility of such situations through the internal forum, Spadaro
told Aleteia’s Sawicki that “the pope is more interested in driving people to the relationship [with Christ] than on what answer to provide for each question. Besides, he knows very well that the answer that seems appropriate for one does not always fit all.”
To consider this as “relativism” would be a “mistake,” Spadaro added, noting that the pope has said that “there is such a thing as a good relativism, in this sense: that God enters into a personal relationship with each person and each relationship is bound to be different…”
In a recent analysis of Pope Benedict’s resignation, Italian canonist Guido Ferro Canale quotes Archbishop Georg Gänswein, personal secretary to Pope Benedict, about the “dramatic struggle” that led to Ratzinger’s election:
“It was certainly the result even of a clash, the key to which had been furnished by Ratzinger himself as cardinal dean, in the historic homily of April 18, 2005 at Saint Peter’s; and precisely there where to ‘a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires’ he had opposed another measure: ‘the Son of God, the true man. as ‘the measure of true humanism’.”
It is perhaps Ratzinger’s most famous turn of phrase: this “dictatorship of relativism,” which he defined as “letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine’.” It seemed, he said, “the only attitude that can cope with modern times.” His juxtaposition of Christ, “the Son of God, the true man” showed the deception in such thinking:
We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An “adult” faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.
What would Ratzinger have thought had he known that his own abdication would pave the way for a successor who believes in a dictatorship of “good relativism”; who promotes through his own teaching the concept that clarity and universal principles are of little use in the complexity of coping with modern times? What would he have done if he had known that by leaving his post, the groundwork would be laid for allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion?
What does he think? And what conditions maintain his silence in this reversal of his own thought on the importance of a Christ-centered “criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth”?
Sadly, we will most likely never know what our “Pope Emeritus” truly believes. If we want insight into the mind of Francis, however, it appears that all we need do is pay close attention to the words of Fr. Spadaro.