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First Things Misses the Mark on the Spadaro-Figueroa Screed

by Christopher A. Ferrara
July 20, 2017

Yesterday’s column addressed a liberal screed published in the Pope’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano (OR), co-authored by “papal mouthpiece” and close collaborator Antonio Spadaro, SJ and Marcelo Figueroa, a longtime Protestant friend of Pope Bergoglio’s whom he made editor of the Argentine edition of OR.

The piece has understandably provoked fierce criticism even among “mainstream” Catholic commentators, who rightly note that Spadaro-Figueroa have produced a meandering, pseudo-intellectual jumble of liberal clichés.  One such commentator is P.J. Smith, writing in First Things.  Smith does a good job of exposing the two authors’ rejection of the Church’s constant teaching on the necessary organic connection between Church and State, religious truth and political life, and against the errors of modern “liberty,” which have severed the State from the Church as its conscience and very soul, leading to the moral and spiritual death throes of the body politic we are now witnessing.

As Smith points out, when Spadaro and Figueroa deride “Catholic integralism” — an empty epithet which, in the manner of all demagogues, they never define — they reveal only that they:

“are squarely against the Church’s tradition. They apparently intend to deny the integralist doctrines contained in Leo XIII’s Libertas praestantissimum, Immortale Dei, and Diuturnum illud, to say nothing of St. Pius X’s Fin dalla prima nostra and Notre charge apostolique….

“They also apparently intend generally to deny the condemnations of liberalism contained in Gregory XVI’s Mirari vos and Bl. Pius IX’s Quanta cura and Syllabus. No doubt they see in the Second Vatican Council, particularly Gaudium et spesDignitatis humanaeNostra aetate, and Unitatis redintegratio, the rejection of such tedious anti-liberal doctrines….”

So far, so good.  But Smith stumbles badly when he attempts to put distance between Pope Bergoglio and the two authors of the piece, who are, after all, his close friends and collaborators, writing in his own semi-official newspaper.  Most implausibly, Smith insists that Spadaro and Figueroa are wrong when they assert that while “fundamentalists and integralists want to unite the spiritual power and the temporal power, Francis wants to erect a wall of separation between the two.” 

Sorry, but that won’t fly.  For it is none other than Pope Bergoglio who flatly declares: “States must be secular. Confessional states end badly. That goes against the grain of History. I believe that a version of laicity accompanied by a solid law guaranteeing religious freedom offers a framework for going forward.” 

In other words, the separation of Church and State is mandatory, according to Pope Bergoglio.  As for the “solid law guaranteeing religious freedom” he posits, the modern regime of “religious liberty” guarantees the freedom of any and all religions, including those whose very mission is to oppose the Catholic Church and negate her teaching on faith and morals, above all Islam. The resulting religious fragmentation of the modern state system, even in overwhelmingly Catholic countries, is precisely why it is morally and spiritually falling to pieces.

Smith gamely asserts that Spadaro and Figueroa are wrong to aver that Francis “wants to break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church”. His search for proof texts in the Bergoglian manifestos, however, produces scanty results: a few stray phrases that hardly constitute a ringing endorsement of anything like the Christian commonwealth that both he and the two authors have emphatically rejected.  Pope Bergoglio, says Smith, has declared in Evangelii gaudium that “the whole is greater than the parts,” whereas in Laudato si’ he observes that “the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality,” and thus he calls for “a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge … in the service of a more integral and integrating vision.” 

That’s it?  Indeed, it is: a mere vague appeal to a new humanism that integrates knowledge according to some ill-defined “vision” that has nothing to do with the Catholic faith as the unifying matrix of social order and the Church as the conscience and soul of the State. One will search in vain through the mountain of verbiage Pope Bergoglio has produced for any sign that he accepts the very teaching Spadaro and Figueroa reject as “Catholic intregralism.”  Every indication is to the contrary. For example, Evangelii Gaudium’s infamous condemnation of “the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism…”  And so on and so forth, over the past four years of nearly daily denunciations of tradition-minded Catholics — something absolutely without precedent in Church history.

Sorry, Mr. Smith, but Spadaro, Figueroa and Bergoglio are three peas in a pod.  That is why they are friends and collaborators at the highest level of the Church. And that is why the Church has reached what must be the final stage of the worst crisis in her long history — a crisis from which the Mother of God will ultimately rescue the Church through Her most powerful intercession.  Just as She promised at Fatima.