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Spadaro, Figueroa, and questions of competence

Does the Spadaro/Figueroa article really represent the views of the Secretariat of State about today’s debates at the intersection of religion and politics in the United States?

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It’s a safe bet that 99.95% of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics have never heard of La Civiltà Cattolica [Catholic Civilization], a journal founded in 1850 by the Jesuits of Rome to combat the evils of the age (then taken to be secularist liberalism and freemasonry). Its current circulation is perhaps half that of First Things, and while it has recently made attempts to broaden its readership by publishing English, Spanish, French, and Korean editions, it’s also a safe bet that Civiltà Cattolica will remain a small-circulation magazine with a readership confined to what we might call “Catholic professionals:” clergy of various ranks; papal diplomats; officials of the Roman Curia; academics and pundits.

And the vast majority of them will read (or at least scan) it, not for scintillating content, but because its articles are vetted by the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, and are thus assumed to have some sort of quasi-official status: which means that those articles are taken to reflect the cast of mind of the current pontificate. So if you want to be in the know, you read (or at least scan) Civiltà Cattolica.

On occasion, however, that can be a journey through the looking glass and into Wonderland.

Last month, Civilta Cattolicà featured an article co-authored by its editor-in-chief, Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, and Pastor Marcelo Figueroa, who edits the Argentine edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. The article purported to analyze a startling “ecumenism of hate” in the United States, forged by ultra-conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants, and creepy-dangerous for its indulgence in a new Manicheanism that distorts the Gospel and divides everything in the world into rigid and narrowly-defined categories of good and evil. This bizarre screed generated weeks of controversy in the blogosphere, during which Father Spadaro tweeted that the article’s critics were “haters” whose vitriol confirmed the article’s hypothesis – a Trumpian outburst ill-becoming a paladin of “dialogue.”

My friends and colleagues R.R. Reno, Robert Royal, and Fr. Raymond de Souza have ably replied to the comprehensive inanities of the Spadaro/Figueroa article: its ill-informed misrepresentation of American religious history; its surreal descriptions of 21st-century American Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism; its obsessions with marginal figures in contemporary American religious life like R.J. Rushdoony and Michael Voris; its misreading of the dynamics of religiously-informed public moral argument in American politics; and its weird description of the premises of current Vatican diplomacy, which will give comfort to the likes of Vladimir Putin, Raul Castro, and Nicolas Maduro. Those who care to sift through this intellectual dumpster can consult Dr. Reno’s article, Dr. Royal’s, and Fr. De Souza’s. The questions I’d like to raise here involve Civilta Cattolicà’s relationship to its putative overseers in the Vatican Secretariat of State.

What kind of vetting did this misbegotten article get? Were any knowledgeable experts on U.S. Catholicism or American evangelical Protestantism  consulted on what the overseers must have known would be an incendiary piece? Does the Spadaro/Figueroa article really represent the views of the Secretariat of State about today’s debates at the intersection of religion and politics in the United States? If the answer to the last is “Yes,” then what does the Secretariat of State make of the American situation as described by the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christoph Pierre, in his addresses to the U.S. bishops – a description that bears no resemblance to the wasteland of madcap pseudo-theology and hatred described by Spadaro and Figueroa? If the answer is “No,” then why was the Spadaro/Figueroa article cleared for publication?

Does the Secretariat of State share the authors’ seeming view that murderous jihadists rightly think of those who oppose them as “crusaders”? And can it be true that the Holy See’s approach to conflict situations in the world has abandoned the notions of “right” and “wrong,” as the Spadaro/Figueroa article suggests?

Because of its relationship to the Secretariat of State, Civiltà Cattolica has long been read, not in the way serious readers read serious journals, but like ancient augurs read the entrails of sacrificial animals. Perhaps both the future of this venerable journal and the credibility of the Secretariat of State would be better served by severing the connection. For at the moment, the auguries raise deeply disturbing questions about the competence of both parties.

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About George Weigel 490 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. Unfortunately, this article was covered by NBC News, Newsweek, Financial Times, Washington Post, and probably other news sources as well. “Catholic bashing” by “catholics” adds fuel to the fires that are already raging. This also does not bode well for Catholic/Evangelical relations in the future.

    As to who at the Vatican was aware of the sentiments of the article, it seems to me that the underlying attitudes have been expressed by those in high positions at the Vatican over the past few years. Spadaro and Figueroa should look in the mirror if they want to see intentional divisiveness.

  2. Much of what is churned out by our Catholic writers resembles Nero fiddling while Rome is burning. Surely the author G Weigel has the wherewithal to address Rome’s moral collapse during Pope Francis’ pontificate. Everyone with a semblance of ‘wherewithal’ knows Spadaro Figueroa are lightweight morally irrelevant stooges. Several articles including those named by the author convincingly expose them. What is the point here? To convince the convinced? The issue of import is an unofficial cleverly promoted theological doctrine emanating from the Vatican that is tearing the Church apart. At the cost of souls. I as others would benefit from in depth analyses. Remedial response.

    • Fr. M, you just hit the nail on the head. While I know Mr. Wiegel’s heart is in the right place, the essay is a bit too detached, as if to say: “The problem is Spadaro, not Francis, and there’s no real crisis, everything is fine, and this will all blow over.”

      “Convincing the convinced” !!

      Wickedly funny – a great addition to foxhole humor.

  3. We may well be experiencing unprecedented confusion and internal attacks in the Church. Obviously, the Arian heresy has a strong claim to being #1, but it is possible that this is even worse in scope.

  4. If 2+2 can be 5, then I suppose Catholics banding together with Evangelicals to lovingly save unborn children from being torn from limb to limb and vacuumed out of the womb can indeed be called “An Ecumenism of Hate.”

    • Weigel’s question:

      Who “vetted” “two of Pope Francis’s closest collaborators” (Crux, “Jesuit journal close to pope says “Manichean vision” behind Trump, July 13, 2017) Spadaro/Figueroa article?

      Weigel’s answer:

      Maybe Pope Francis’s Secretariat of State

      (I’m sorry forgot we’re not supposed to mention the Secretariat of State’s boss or that the authors of the article were two of Pope Francis’s closest collaborators.)

      Weigel’s conclusion:

      The “competence” of Pope Francis’s two closest collaborators and Secretariat of State is called into question in allowing the article to be published.

      (Sorry I mentioned the person we’re not supposed to mention, again.)

      I know we’re not supposed to do this, but Weigel’s “friend” in his article de Souza’s editor at Crux “America’s leading Vaticanist” John Allen said of the Spadaro/Figueroa article:

      “Pope Francis and his team consciously are trying to reorient… away from the emphasis on Catholic identity and the culture battles that dominated during the John Paul II and Benedict XVI years.” (Crux, “Agree or not it’s good to know what Vatican insiders think of America,” July 16, 2017 & Catholic Monitor, ” Pope Francis/Spadaro’s Attack on Faithful Catholics is Rehash of John Allen’s”Taliban Catholicism” Speech, July 31, 2017)

  5. Given that Spadaro is one of the Pope’s closest collaborators and that the Pope hand picked Figueroa to lead the Argentine edition of the official Vatican newspaper, aren’t we compelled to form a strong presumption that the ariticle which Mr. Weigel rightly complains of was published with the tactit, if not explicit approval of Francis?

  6. At the risk of indelicacy, is it really only the Secretariat of State, or is it indeed the Holy Father, whose competence and grasp of the situation is being called into question here?

  7. This attempt to distance Francis and others from the article is untenable. It is almost incomprehensible that Francis was not at least aware of or gave some sort of approval for the article. This is even more likely given that it also appeared- the next day- in l’osservatore romano. Especially given the timing, the latter had to have occurred by order of someone very high up. Furthermore, there has been no repudiation or comment whatsoever by the Holy See, e.g., any statement from the press office, inexplicable if its contents are opposed to what Francis or the secretariat of state thinks, and considering the backlash it is causing.

  8. Unfortunately, the loss of credibility on the part of La Civiltà Cattolica does not mean that the papacy will be transformed any time soon away from its exaggerated ultramontanist form.

  9. Excellent response to a rotten article.
    And, yes, Dr Weigel would be doing our Church a favor by writing to shine a spotlight on an embarrassingly corrupt Vatican which seems determined to change just about everything we know as true and holy.
    I no longer trust the Church. I trust certain individual bishops and priests and certain orders of priests and nuns.
    But the Vatican and many, many cardinals of the Church…nope, no way, no how.
    They have all shown their cards.

    • This is a terrible trial, this faction of men who have clawed their way to the seat of St. Peter, and now threaten the future of our children with their darkness.

      Come Holy Spirit, light our hearts with the fire of your love, that we may fight for truth against principalities and powers.

    • Agree 100%. I stopped giving years ago to the USCCB, the Vatican, and any entities closely associated with them, including Catholic Relief Services. Keep the donations close to home, where they help directly and accountably.

  10. And Jesus said: Will there be faith on earth when the son of man returns? It is time for prayer like never before.

  11. “my Immaculate Heart will be your refuge,and the way that will lead you to God” our Lady at Fatima. Climb ABOARD. It’s SO time to cling to our Mother, the heavy weight!our lifeline, her daily rosary…. She’ll haul us safety to Port, lest we drown in the muck

  12. This is actually the best article I’ve read from Weigel in some time. Recently his writing has been either lost in the past or admiring the flowers, while the institutions of the Roman Church lurch toward schism, led by a Pontifex “slouching toward Bethlehem” (Yeats).

    Weigel clearly notes the problem within the Vatican itself, but doesn’t trace it back to the inevitable source in Bergoglio. But after what has happened with José Galat in Colombia, it has become a risky thing indeed for Catholic intellectuals to try and dialogue with these clerical thugs.

  13. “Does the Spadaro/Figueroa article really represent the views of the Secretariat of State about today’s debates at the intersection of religion and politics in the United States?”

    Goodness, you wouldn’t know it if it bit you on the face! It’s the Pope, get it? Not the Secretariat of State. The Pope!

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