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Ecumenism, religious liberty, and Spadaro’s straw man

The only thing that Christians – and not only Christians – in the United States ask, is that their fellows in society and the government recognize that the First Amendment to the Constitution says what it says, and means it.


Antonio Spadaro S.J. on Wednesday retweeted The New York Times‘ article on the recent essay under his and Marcelo Figueroa’s by-line in La Civiltà Cattolica, quoting this line: “The main point of the article was the pope’s argument that religion in the service of politics or power is ideology…”

Perhaps that was the main point of their piece. If it was, it is good to know: their essay was perplexing, to say the least, and that piece of clarification is most welcome.

That Spadaro did not merely retweet the NYT article, but also quoted that line, tells us that he did indeed purport to speak the Pope’s mind in his and Figueroa’s essay. This puzzle piece does move the story forward in significant ways, for whether – and if so, to what extent – Spadaro and Figueroa spoke for the Pope in their piece has been a question from the moment of their essay’s first appearance.

Does Pope Francis really believe that there is a powerful, nominally Christian but really Manichaean cabal calling the shots in the White House?

Does Pope Francis really believe that there is a large, organized, and powerful group of U.S. Catholic political conservatives committed to establishing theocratic government in the United States and spreading its sway by the sword over the whole world?

I find the notion that he does believe such nonsense a hard pill to swallow, but I do not have the Pope’s ear – and Spadaro does, to hear him tell it.

In any case, the cooperation between politically and socially conservative Catholics and evangelical fundamentalist Protestants in the public square is generally in defense of life, marriage and the family, and religious liberty – all causes in favor of which Pope Francis himself has called on Catholics to advocate tirelessly. Indeed, he has called on Christians to cross confessional lines in defense of them, precisely with a view to progress on the road to full, visible unity through effective public witness:

As we move towards full communion, we can already develop many forms of collaboration, to go together and collaborate in order to foster the spread of the Gospel. By walking and working together, we realize that we are already united in the name of the Lord. Unity is achieved on the journey. (Homily of Pope Francis at Vespers on the vigil of the Solemnity of the Conversion of St. Paul, 2016)

Spadaro and Figueroa also decry American conservatives’ “condemn[ation of] traditional ecumenism…” Leave aside for the moment that the modern ecumenical movement began just over 100 years ago, and that the Catholic commitment to ecumenism is only a half-century old at best – a few minutes ago in ecclesiastical time – and consider what Pope Francis had to say about the ecumenical context in 2014:

In our day, ecumenism and relationships between Christians are changing significantly. This is due above all to the fact that we profess our faith within a society and a culture increasingly less concerned with God and all that involves the transcendental dimension of life. (Address to a Finnish ecumenical delegation on the Feast of St Henry, 2014)

Has the ecumenical landscape changed so radically in the past three and a half years, as to render his observations obsolete?

Spadaro and Figueroa acknowledge the threat to religious liberty, writing, “The erosion of religious liberty is clearly a grave threat within a spreading secularism.” Nevertheless, they declare, “[W]e must avoid its defense coming in the fundamentalist terms of a ‘religion in total freedom,’ perceived as a direct virtual challenge to the secularity of the state.”

Here, please ignore for a moment the literary infelicity of the phrase, “direct virtual challenge,” and consider that they mean, in essence, a direct challenge to the “secularity of the state” that disguises itself as something else, or couches itself in ostensibly reasonable terms.

Sadly, their breathless warning reads more like a straw man.

Religious liberty in America has never been absolute and unqualified, nor has it ever been construed to exempt churches from basic rules of participation in civil society. Church buildings – including worship venues, schools, hospitals, soup kitchens, orphanages, and hospices, inter alia, must be built to specific safety regulations such as occupancy ordinances, and fire codes apply to churches as much as they do to everyone else.

The only thing that Christians – and not only Christians – in the United States ask, is that their fellows in society and the government recognize that the First Amendment to the Constitution says what it says, and means it.

That Christians, together with other religiously committed fellows in citizenship and a not insignificant number of their fellow citizens of good faith but no religious conviction of which to speak, ask this after the manner of people who are used to speaking in the language of truth, and divested of those expressions of servility which would persuade both their fellows and the guardians of their rights in government that they are asking favors, rather than rights, should not be surprising to anyone familiar with the American way of engaging in public controversy and addressing political leaders.

Perhaps Spadaro and Figueroa are unaware of the nature and scope of the threat to religious liberty that comes from the radical secular left in the United States. Perhaps they missed the news that the Supreme Court of the United States truncated a vigorous national debate and imposed same-sex marriage on all fifty states in the union, and that two days did not pass from the time of their imposition before fresh calls for revocation of churches’ tax-exempt status began coming. Or that, as recently as last month – the same week in which their essay appeared – the fabulously wealthy, powerful, well-connected and motivated tech millionaire and LGBTQ activist, Tim Gill, enthusiastically proclaimed his intention, “[To go] into the hardest states in the country,” and, “punish the wicked” who dare to assert their right not to be forced to participate in same-sex marriages, or seek other reasonable protections of their rights to order their own affairs according to their religious convictions.


In any case, if Spadaro and Figueroa want a powerful, organized, motivated cabal, filled with all the zeal of perverted religion, and bent on imposing its worldview on the nation and using American power to spread its convictions throughout the globe, I know where they should look.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 239 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. It’s simple, really.
    There is a marxist jesuit bishop of Rome. He detests the United States and its economic system. And so do his lieutenants in the liberation theology movement.
    It gets better.
    He, the pope, has a poor grasp of US history in general and an even poorer grasp of the history of Catholics in America. This does not phase him at all. Francis has his agenda and he will stick with it.
    And let there be no mistake. As the author states, the message in Spadaro’s article is the pope’s message. Bet on it.

  2. What the Vatican has seem to have forgotten is we (U.S.) stopped caring what other countries think of our politics or economics back in 1776. What is so sad today it almost seems our Head of State could teach the Vatican Head of State a thing or two when it comes to the spiritual.

  3. Bergoglio the Pope is busy trying to find every way he can to undermine orthodoxy. He has repeatedly compared merely telling the truth as “ideology” if it’s not in line with HIS heterodox ideology. Spadero and Figueroa are merely his stooges. As a wise cleric quoted to me: “Fiant dies eius pauci, et ministerium eius accipiat alter” Psalm 109:8.

  4. If Pope [emeritus] Benedict dies before he does, Bergoglio will begin an immediate revision of the Catechism to scrub it of orthodoxy. Spadero, Figeuroa and Cdl Schönborn will be the editors! He is as Ranger01 has described him, only worse …

  5. Nevertheless, they declare, “[W]e must avoid its defense coming in the fundamentalist terms of a ‘religion in total freedom,’ perceived as a direct virtual challenge to the secularity of the state.”

    Nobody is advocating “religion in total freedom.” Protestants and Catholics alike acknowledge the legitimate authority of Caesar as clearly defined in the Scriptures. It is Spadaro who is a fundamentalist leftist.

    Fundamentalism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Athanasius was a fundamentalist when it came to defending the divinity of Christ. Spadaro is a fundamentalist according to the negative connotation of the word, and in the worst way.

  6. First of all, I expect that anyone looking into how the NYT story started would find that Father James Martin called his buddies over there, asking them to put up some sort of defense of Spadaro’s idiotic article. Second, Spadaros defense of his idiotic article is even more revealing of a stunning lack of self awareness – He uses the heft of the Vatican to issue a nonsensical article railing against conservative American politicians, and then he says the article is about “The main point of the article was the pope’s argument that religion in the service of politics or power is ideology…” Now, that is really funny because Spadaro and the Pope are famous for putting religion in the service of politics. Global Warming? Political. The Pope starts an organization of leftists called the World Meeting of Popular Movements” and then condemns Catholics who are involved in politics? The nonsensical nature of the Vatican is approaching critical mass. (Get it, Critical Mass?)

    I am re-reading George Weigel’s Witness to Hope, the Biography of JP II. At one point, Cardinal Wojtyla makes the point that Marxism says that “ideas are mere superstructure, ephemera, not the real stuff of power”(p. 185) This is not so far from Pope Francis Peronist dictum that “Reality is greater than ideas”. Both seem to stem from the same philosophical roots. Just as communism was an empty ideology that led to Communists saying entirely stupid things, and continually engaging in “Experiments against Reality”. the same sickness is now deeply rooted in the Vatican with Spadaro and his buddies. Pope Francis seems to be making war on the basic grounding of the church, and attempting to replace it with ideas that stem from Marxism.

  7. Pope F should not be preaching to serious adults that “religion in the service of politics is ideology.”

    Not if he doesn’t want to get struck by lightning.

  8. And on the subject of Team Francis – yesterday I wished Cdl. Kasper a happy feast of the “Non-Transfiguration,” since that is one of the miracles Kasper denies in his “Jesus the Christ” ( 1976, reissued 2011, pp 90-91).

    Pope F calls Kasper’s theological works “Theology on its knees.” Team Francis is prescribing Kasper to “Catholic” colleges and seminaries, like those under the “shepherd” Cdl. Cupich.

    As to the pope’s theologian – No thank you, Francis.

  9. What I would like is for those frauds, Spadaro and Figueroa to explain:

    Why would a Pope like Pope Francis have as advisors and consultants: an atheist like the pro-abortion population control extremist Jeffery Sachs; an atheist like the pro-abortion population extremist Hans Schellnhuber; an atheist like the extreme anti-capitalist Naomi Klein?

    Why did this Pope have an atheist, Sachs, co-host a Vatican conference on climate change—a summit from which all but exactly one climate skeptic were screened, in April of 2015—two months before “Laudato Si” was promulgated?

    Why was the atheist Schellnhuber made an official presenter of that Papal document, as well as named to the Pontifical Academy of Science as an “advisor to the Vatican on scientific matters?”

    No mindset colluuuuuusion, there, that’s for sure. It’s all “in your face” effrontery—sort of like our last President.

    But we’re supposed to worry that Catholic and non-Catholic Christians supporting each other—on those policy issues on which they agree—suggests something sinister.

    The increasing defiance of the lying is staggering.

  10. There has been no faith and no reason in the Vatican for almost four year’s now but what there has been and currently is going on, is Ecumenism without bringing people into the ‘One True Fold,’ that would be called proselytizing… better yet is Bergoglio pushing the Church of Jesus Christ into Lutheranism

4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Ecumenism, religious liberty, and Spadaro’s straw man - Catholic Daily
  2. Ecumenism, religious liberty, and Spadaro’s straw man - Catholic Crossing
  4. How Spadaro and Figueroa misunderstand the motto “In God We Trust” – Catholic World Report

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