Father Spadaro has been a busy man.
Between forcing Ross Douthat to issue a correction over his reporting of a Twitter spat and to insinuating that this publication is “one of the anti-papal American blogs that were the ‘echoes’ of false news” to appearing to accuse papal critics of being under the influence of the devil to his general portfolio of bizarre online behavior, the “pope’s mouthpiece” is beginning to talk almost as much as the pontiff he works for — and in no less troubling a fashion.
Dan Hitchens, deputy editor of the Catholic Herald (UK), expressed something we’re probably all feeling:
Until yesterday, I was beginning to suffer from Spadaro Controversy Fatigue, a condition afflicting those who spend too long reading Catholic news. Fr Antonio Spadaro, the editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, has recently been involved in several simultaneous quarrels. He is known to be close to the Pope and so, amid the heated discussion of the four cardinals’ dubia, Fr Spadaro’s statements are read with special attention.
Up until this point, I was nodding in agreement. Fr. Spadaro is a figure difficult to take seriously, and I doubt anyone would if it weren’t for his relationship with the pope. But then Hitchens says:
Sometimes the attention [on Spadaro] seems over-the-top. But yesterday he said something truly eye-opening.
It came in an interview with Crux, in which Fr Spadaro discussed some of the accusations that have been thrown at him. There was the dispute about whether he had set up an anonymous Twitter account. He had – but what was wrong with that, he asked. There was another about whether he had screenshotted an image from Lord of the Rings in order to call the four cardinals “witless”. He hadn’t, and the New York Times had to publish a surreal correction to apologise to him.
But after the interview covered the anonymous account and the screenshot, it moved onto serious matters. Fr Spadaro was asked whether he thought the divorced and remarried could receive Communion if still in a sexual relationship. Fr Spadaro’s answer was startling – partly because he seemed to think the answer was yes, and partly because of his reasoning.
He explained that sometimes the remarried could “be asked to take on the challenge of living in continence”. This is, of course, the only path to the Eucharist which Catholic doctrine allows. But Fr Spadaro asserted that “this option may not be practicable”. And he then said that someone might “believe they would fall into a worse error”. That is, not sleeping with one’s new partner would be worse than sleeping with them. Hence, it could be a moral obligation to sleep with them.
In short, a papal adviser has said that extramarital sex could be a moral duty. [emphasis added]
The conclusion Hitchens reaches here is the one any Catholic should:
The Church teaches that God always gives us enough grace to follow His will. She also teaches that some acts – extramarital sex among them – are never justified, whatever the situation.
I don’t see how Fr Spadaro’s words can be reconciled with these well-established truths.
He goes on to reproduce the full quote from the Spadaro interview (which I already addressed here):
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.
My question is: why would anyone be surprised to hear Spadaro say something like this? Yes, it contradicts bedrock Church teaching. But it’s nothing new. In fact, it’s so consistent with what we find in Amoris Laetitia, I’m beginning to think of it as “the hermeneutic of heterodoxy”. See this section of AL, paragraph 298:
The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment. One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins. The Church acknowledges situations “where, for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate”.329 [emphasis added]
Now, take a look at the referenced footnote, 329:
329 John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 84: AAS 74 (1982), 186. In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living “as brothers and sisters” which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 51).
It’s the same thing, said a slightly different way. In both cases, the assertion is that if couples already living in adulterous relationships don’t have (adulterous) sex, they may endanger the “faithfulness” of that second, illicit union, and go run off and commit more adultery with someone else.
The reasoning is a marvel to behold, isn’t it?
Of course, I already dissected AL 298 months ago. I explained there how it also takes Familiaris Consortio out of context, stripping it of the command for couples to live in continence if they want to receive sacraments.
And then the 45 theologians produced their list of theological censures against AL, and they really drove the point home (with lots and lots of footnotes):
14). AL 298: ‘The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment. One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self-giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins.’
If understood as meaning that persons who are civilly married to someone other than their true spouse can show Christian virtue by being sexually faithful to their civil partner:
i). Erronea in fide.
1 Cor. 7:10-11: “To them that are married, not I but the Lord commandeth, that the wife depart not from her husband; and if she depart, that she remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. And let not the husband put away his wife.” 11 See also: Gen. 2: 21; Mal. 2:15-16; Mt. 5:32, 19:9; Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18; Heb. 13:4; Letter Quam laudabiliter of Leo I, DH 283; Letter Regressus ad nos of Leo I, DH 311-14; Letter Gaudemus in Domino of Innocent III, DH 777-79; 2nd Council of Lyons, Profession of Faith of Emperor Michael Palaeologus (DH 860); Council of Trent, Session 24 canons 5, 7; Pius Vl, Rescript. ad Episc. Agriens., 11th July 1789; Arcanum, ASS 12 (1879-80): 388-94; Pius XI, Casti connubii, AAS 22 (1930): 546-50 (cf. Dz 3706-10); John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, 19, 80-81, 84: AAS 74 (1982) 92-149; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1643-49.
What Father Spadaro said is clearly wrong, but it isn’t really news. I hope that Hitchens’ response means that the larger Catholic world is finally waking up to the explosive nature of Amoris Laetitia.
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.