That La Civilta Cattolica article!

I was away for the past two weeks, some of that time with only intermittent access to the Internet. I was, however, able to follow the reaction to this article in La Civilta Cattolica by Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa.

The article is a fascinating pastiche of stereotypes one usually finds from left-wing sources, such as claims that conservative Christians—both Catholic and Protestant—are “theocrats” who want to impose some kind of fascist, church-dominated government.  But given the journal is vetted by the Vatican Secretariat of State and both men are deemed confidants of Pope Francis, one needs to pay attention, as John Allen Jr writes at Crux.

First, the authors – Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, one of Francis’s closest collaborators, and Marcelo Figueroa, a longtime Protestant friend hand-picked by Francis to edit the Argentinian version of L’Osservatore Romano – clearly reflect the kind of views held by the pontiff. The Secretariat of State would not have signed off if the presumption wasn’t that Francis would approve.

If you want to know what Francis himself makes of the Trump phenomenon, in other words, this is probably the best place to go.

Here’s a selection from the piece that might have some kernel of truth in it to ponder about power, but ruins it with claims that those who believe Scripture (or the Catechism for that matter) about the Apocalypse are trying their darndest to bring it about through fomenting war, kind of like ISIS.

The religious element should never be confused with the political one. Confusing spiritual power with temporal power means subjecting one to the other. An evident aspect of Pope Francis’ geopolitics rests in not giving theological room to the power to impose oneself or to find an internal or external enemy to fight. There is a need to flee the temptation to project divinity on political power that then uses it for its own ends. Francis empties from within the narrative of sectarian millenarianism and dominionism that is preparing the apocalypse and the “final clash.”[2] Underlining mercy as a fundamental attribute of God expresses this radically Christian need.

Francis wants to break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church. Spirituality cannot tie itself to governments or military pacts for it is at the service of all men and women. Religions cannot consider some people as sworn enemies nor others as eternal friends. Religion should not become the guarantor of the dominant classes. Yet it is this very dynamic with a spurious theological flavor that tries to impose its own law and logic in the political sphere.

Having been a journalist for a long time, first as an evangelical, then as a Catholic, I have had much exposure to different types and expressions of the Christian faith in multiple communities, from mainline and more modernist to charismatic to traditional.

When Christians pray “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven,” and long for Christ’s return, and for His peace to reign on earth, are they guilty of being integralists and theocrats? There is a huge difference between spiritually preparing for the Apocalypse–such as being like the wise virgins with our lamps trimmed since we are told we do not know when Jesus will return– and “preparing the Apocalypse.”   I have *never* in 30 years met a Christian who is actively preparing to bring about Armageddon.

I have also encountered the cynical partisan use of anti-Christian stereotypes in politics to demonize, discredit and dismiss politicians who are serious about their Christian faith and Christians who argue in the public square (seldom using anything but reasonable, natural law-based arguments, never Bible-thumping) on issues such as euthanasia.

Anyway, the responses to this article have been most interesting.  Here are some:

Carl Olsen at Catholic World Report 

Robert Royal at The Catholic Thing

Samuel Gregg at Catholic World Report

Fr. Raymond J. de Souza at Crux

Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter

Tim Stanley in the Catholic Herald

Fr. Dwight Longenecker at Patheos

At the same time, I’m puzzled by the fact that early in his pontificate, Pope Francis reached out to the very kinds of evangelical Christians his confidantes are disparaging in their article.

Remember this video that Pope Francis sent to a big meeting of American televangelists in 2013, brought by his friend Bishop Tony Palmer of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, a Anglican-style body.    You can find Pope Francis’ video made on Palmer’s iPhone at about the 32:00 mark, but you might also find Palmer’s introduction to the video most interesting.

I was possibly the last journalist to interview Palmer via Skype only three weeks before he died in a motorcycle crash.

I also had the first published story about a private lunch Pope Francis hosted that included big televangelists such as Kenneth Copeland and James Robison.

I happened to find out about the lunch because of my wide number of contacts in the evangelical world.  One of them was Canadian Brian Stiller, global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance.  He posted a picture of the meeting on Facebook, I asked for an interview and contact info for Palmer.

Another Canadian present was John Arnott, who pastored the former Airport Christian Fellowship in Toronto, home of the “Toronto Blessing.”

All this to say this Pope is defies easy-pigeonholing even by his alleged confidants.




14 thoughts on “That La Civilta Cattolica article!

  1. Normally I would just ignore articles like the Spadaro piece, but because it was Vatican vetted, I found it beyond offensive. This is not only because I am a faithful Catholic who voted for Trump, but because my entire family (mother, father, sisters, in-laws, nephews and nieces) remain conservative Evangelicals. I was more offended for them. Sadly these days, I have become accustomed to abuse from liberal clergy in high places, but what offended me the most was the blatant attack on my Evangelical family.


  2. Apropos of “evangelizing” or whatever we’ve decided to call getting people to go to your church instead of their church, most Catholics who leave the Church capital “C” do so for an Evangelical denomination. Here is an article which mentions problems created for Catholic chaplains by aggressive proselytizing by their Evangelical counterparts I am sure Pope Francis, as a South American, is well aware of the challenges the Church faces in its relationship to such denominations. Reaching out is not an indication of complacency about this.


    • The blunt truth is that those who leave the Catholic Church for evangelical denominations do so because they never heard the gospel clearly within the Catholic Church. The gospel, in its simplest form, boils down to four facts.

      >> 1. We all have sinned (that is, rebelling against God) and thus deserve death.

      >> 2. We cannot repair our relationship with God and get to heaven on our own.

      >> 3. Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, died and rose to bring us forgiveness for our sin.

      >> 4. We need to surrender our lives to the Lordship of Christ to receive forgiveness and salvation. (This commitment of faith is precisely what the baptismal vows in the Catholic rites of baptism embody.)

      Evangelical denominations typically lay the message of salvation out that clearly and concisely, and their pastors and teachers typically go to great lengths to ensure that each member (1) understands it and (2) makes the commitment of faith before moving on to other doctrine. Catholic catechetical programs often fail to do so, with the devastating consequence that those who go through such programs fail to develop a solid foundation of faith in Christ and instead form individual belief systems on the shifting sands of whatever seems to fit at the moment. When the victims of defective catechetical programs of far too many Catholic parishes subsequently hear the gospel clearly and embrace it in another place, it’s not really surprising that they gravitate to that place,often rejecting the defective formation they left and the institution that provided it.

      Of course, it often happens that those who leave the Catholic Church for a denomination in which they hear the message of salvation clearly find themselves yearning for a deeper experience of faith than that of evangelical Christianity perhaps a decade or two later. Many end up returning to the Catholic Church when they somehow discover that the Catholic Church actually offers the depth of theology and spiritual experience that they seek.



  3. Online Pushback for the Spadaro “Ecumenism of Hate” article at Civiltà Cattolica:

    Tim Stanley:
    “Why is Civiltà Cattolica attacking American Christians? I have a theory”

    Fr. John Zuhlsdorf:
    “Jesuit @AntonioSpadaro, Jesuit-run Civiltà Cattolica attacks Americans”

    Dr. Samuel Gregg:
    “On that strange, disturbing, and anti-American “Civiltà Cattolica” article”

    Fr. Dwight Longenecker:
    “On European Ignorance and Arrogance”

    Rod Dreher:
    “Top Papal Adviser Denounces ‘Ecumenism Of Hate’”

    Phil Lawler:
    “An ignorant, intemperate Vatican assault on American conservatism>

    Thomas Williams:
    “Papal Advisers Bash American Christians in Bigoted Screed”

    Fr. Dwight Longnecker
    Spadaro, Straw Men and Scapegoats

    Father Raymond J. de Souza
    Article by pope’s confidantes adds little to understanding Trump’s America

    John Zmirak
    Leading Jesuit Condemns Pro-Life Movement, Trump Voters and Conservatives

    Robert Royal
    Are Americans from Mars?

    Mark Silk
    Catholicism’s Two-Party System

    Maureen Mullarkey
    In God They Don’t Trust: Anti-American Syllabus in Vatican journal Maureen Mullarkey’t-trust-anti-american.html

    Kathryn Jean Lopez
    Evangelicals are potential allies for the good, not partners in hate

    Matt Hadro
    What Civilta Cattolica’s analysis of US Christianity missed

    Carl E. Olson
    Move over, Dan Brown; here come Spadaro and Figueroa!

    Deborah Gyapong
    That La Civilta Cattolica article!


  4. Pope Francis has put his pulse again on the United States and again the cries of its delusional are heard here. Many have observed the increasing confluence of the very conservative Evangelicalism movement with conservative Catholicism within the religiosity of the United States. Strange bedfellows but totally in concordance with the history of the United States. And the United States in spite of denial is, was and still is a theocracy. And this is Puritanism! No more accurate in this assessment is that recent publication of “Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History” by James Morone, Yale, 2003.

    A brilliant and so accurate critique of Professor Morone’s book is that of the Brit reviewer, Colin Kidd , His analysis is absolutely in concord with the Holy Father’s assessment of the United States (source …. Kidd’s more meaty gems are:

    “Hellfire Nation depicts a hardline moralism – which turns out, as often as not, to encode nativist and racist prejudices – lurking in the neglected penumbra of American liberalism: ‘How do Americans get around all their constitutional safeguards and repress rivals, strangers and scary others? Morality. We are bound to honour our fellow citizens and their rights, unless the neighbours turn out to be bad. Then they can be – and often are – stripped of their lives, their liberty and their legally acquired property.’ Americans have consistently misunderstood the liberal significance of the Constitution’s carefully contrived mechanics, and have instead required a ream of unnecessary virtues of their fellow citizens – especially from blacks, Catholics, Asians and Southern Europeans.”…..

    “Morone knows that American historians and political scientists have shed considerable light on this underside of American political culture. He cites, for example, Richard Hofstadter’s definition of anti-Catholicism as the pornography of the Puritan. However, Morone diverges sharply from works such as Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab’s The Politics of Unreason: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970 (1970) and David Bennett’s The Party of Fear: From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History (1988), which identify a persistent crackpot fringe on the margins of American politics. Instead, Morone contends that the hardliners have shaped some of the central features of the American state.”….

    “Similarly, while historians have pointed to the Puritan origins of American politics, they connect these with a progressively secular dilution of New England religiosity as it enters the liberal mainstream. The Puritan notion of the ‘covenant’, for example, appears to provide a model for the contract theory of government, though the latter is denuded of the former’s connection with the divine. But Morone argues that Puritan influences are much more profound and direct than most historians acknowledge. “

    Right on !


    • Pope Francis didn’t write the article. Pope Francis has built bridges with the very evangelicals the authors of the article seem to be castigating, such as Kenneth Copeland who was one of the televangelists who gathered with Donald Trump to pray for him—-not because he was endorsing him, but because Christians pray for their leaders.
      The article takes a swipe at the movement launched by Fr. Richard Neuhaus, founder of First Things and Charles Colson, who created the movement Catholics and Evangelicals Together. Do you think there’s something scary and theocratic about First Things? Do you think Christians should keep their mouths shut in the public square?


      • Of course “vetted by the Vatican” would have been more accurate in my comment. However – the permutation of Puritanism in the United States is still shaping our culture and world view— whether secularism or/ and religiosity based. And until this is acknowledged, “our exceptionalism ” within the world stage is going to just continue !


  5. This whole discussion is predicated on the popular misconception that morality is defined by religion, when in fact it is NOT.

    Two and a half millennia ago, a school of thinkers in ancient Athens that included Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle began the formulation of a philosophy known as “Classical Realism,” part of which is a moral code called “Natural Law” that’s inherent in the order of the universe and knowable by reason alone, and thus which is universally applicable to the whole of humanity. It should be noted here that philosophy demands the same rigor of absolute proof as the field of mathematics — which is why most mathematicians of the renaissance also were philosophers and vice versa. The derivation of Natural Law does use current scientific understanding of the universe as its starting point so new scientific discoveries occasionally compel reconsideration of a moral precept predicated on what was discovered to be wrong, but the proofs are nevertheless air-tight.

    Historically, the Catholic Church has always maintained that there are two distinct bodies of doctrine.

    >> Moral doctrine consists precisely of Natural Law, with no reference whatsoever to divine revelation.

    >> Theological doctrine is based upon divine revelation.

    This distinction is manifest in the definition of the dogma popularly called “papal infallibility” in the apostolic constitution Pastor aeternus promulgated by the First Vatican Council (emphasis in source; boldface mine).

    Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, for the glory of God Our Savior, the exaltation of the Catholic Religion, and the salvation of Christian people, the Sacred Council approving, We teach and define that it is a divinely-revealed dogma: that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex Cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of Pastor and Teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the Universal Church, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding faith or morals: and that therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church.

    The traditional depiction of the “Ten Commandments” divided into two tablets also embodies the distinction between moral and theological doctrine. The first tablet contains the religious precepts and the second tablet contains the moral precepts.

    The distinction between moral doctrine and theological doctrine is utterly critical when we vote or otherwise take part, as citizens, in our government.

    >> I have a responsibility as a citizen to vote and to act for a moral society. Thus, Natural Law should guide the manner in which I vote and act in public service.

    >> But it would be utterly wrong to impose my religious beliefs and practices on others, or to vote to do so. Thus, theological doctrine never should influence my vote or my action in public service.

    And this also means that we need to be aware of the distinction and the boundary so that we can discern what we should and should not bring into the public realm and into the voting booth.

    It should be noted here that teaching morality from Natural Law is not at all problematic for Christian faith. The belief that a deity is the creator of the universe carries the direct implication that what is inherent in the universe is given by that deity and thus is an expression of that deity’s divine will. This has two immediate consequences: (1) divine revelation can reinforce, but cannot contradict, Natural Law since both come from the same source (God), and (2) an act which violates Natural Law, and thus is intrinsically evil, also violates God’s will and thus constitutes sin.

    About five centuries ago, the instigators of the Protestant Reformation rejected Natural Law in favor of a heresy known as sola scriptura (“solely scripture”), by which they meant that they would teach doctrine only from scripture — that is, a religious source. From a theological perspective, sola scriptura has two defects.

    >> 1. There is no listing of the content of scripture anywhere in scripture. Thus, one must refer to non-scriptural source (tradition) to know what is scripture and what is not — which is precisely what sola scriptura explicitly forbids.

    >> 2. Scripture itself recognizes the oral tradition as a source of doctrine. By way of example, II Thessalonians 2:15 says, “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings[c] we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Here, “word of mouth” is the oral tradition.

    One immediate consequence of this decision is that the denominations that they formed stopped teaching classical philosophy completely. Of course, ignorance of that body of knowledge does not make that body of knowledge any less true.

    The notion that the United States was founded as a theocracy is not quite accurate. It actually was founded as thirteen separate semi-theocratic states, each of which had its own official denomination. The purpose of the “establishment” clause in the first article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America was NOT to prevent the states from adopting official churches (which most states already had), but rather to prevent the Congress from choosing the official church of one state over the official churches of the others as a national official church. The Catholic Church was the official church of Maryland, but the official churches of the other twelve original states were either Protestant or Anglican, so sola scriptura became the norm for teaching morality and religion in their public schools — and in most private schools as well, since the founders and teachers of most private schools belonged to the official church in each state.

    Not much changed here in the States until the twentieth century, when an activist judiciary of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decided that the fourteenth article of amendment to the federal constitution actually extended the “establishment” clause of the first amendment to each of the states — and effect which the proponents and adopters of the fourteenth amendment clearly never intended — and ordered public schools to stop teaching religion. This is where the ignorance fraught by the Protestant insistence on sola scriptura did its damage: those in charge, thinking morality to be part of religion, stripped teaching of morality from the public schools along with teaching of religion and did nothing to replace it. Many private schools followed the same trend. The result is that we are approaching a century of absence of moral teaching to the majority of our population, many of whom still labor under the misimpression that morality is defined by religion. The only way to cure this is to add classical philosophy to the curriculum of our public school system as a major compulsory subject area, alongside English, social studies, mathematics, and the sciences.

    Catholic schools are very much a mixed bag. Catholic schools that stress a “classical education” continue to teach philosophy as a major compulsory subject area. Unfortunately, many other Catholic schools, now in the hands of lay staff trained in secular colleges and universities, have adopted substantially the same curriculum as the public schools, perhaps with the addition of a time block for religious instruction that typically does not include classical philosophy.

    And evangelical Christians — and other Protestants — who want our country to get back on track morally need to get onboard with this!



    • “The Catholic Church was the official church of Maryland”

      Not so; in 1692 the Anglican Church became the “established church” of the Maryland colony; cf.:

      “The Maryland colony was granted to Cecilius Calvert, a Roman Catholic, who had to support the Church of England. Because Calvert believed that religious restrictions would interfere with Maryland’s growth and development, he drafted a religious toleration law that the colonial assembly approved in 1649. Called the Maryland Toleration Act of 1649, this was the first law of its type in the British Empire, and it granted religious freedom to all people. Afterward, a group of Puritans fled from Virginia to Maryland, which became famous for its religious freedom. However, the act was soon repealed, and Protestant settlers overthrew Calvert’s government in 1654. Control of Maryland seesawed between Protestant-led and Catholic-led governments into the next century. In 1692, the Anglican Church became the established church of Maryland. In 1718, Roman Catholics in Maryland lost their right to vote, which they did not regain until 1776.”


  6. Pingback: The Benedict Option and the Ordinariates | Anglicanorum Coetibus Society Blog

  7. Pingback: Another La Civilta Cattolica article on religion in America | Anglicanorum Coetibus Society Blog

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