Jesuit priest Antonio Spadaro (and Presbyterian minister and co-author Marcelo Figueroa) has already been widely criticized for his July article, “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism,” which was published in the Vatican-based international Jesuit magazine, La Civiltà Cattolica. He has been called “delusional” and ignorant of the United States and has been characterized as “wrong on Protestant history, ignorant of contemporary Catholic life.” Archbishop Chaput called it a “dumbing down” of the true nature of American Catholic-Evangelical relations.
Yet, on the other hand, it has been argued that Spadaro’s “basic thesis is certainly correct” and that he has identified “pathologies” that need to be cured. Another viewpoint approves of Spadaro’s criticism of “fundamentalism” and gratuitously adds that those fundamentalists whom Spadaro is criticizing are also against evolution. And American Jesuit Thomas Reese agrees with Spadaro’s description of “the unholy alliance between Catholic and evangelical conservatives who have attempted to make their churches the Republican party at prayer.”
Despite these critiques pro-and-con and the publicity surrounding Spadaro’s article, this reviewer thinks that much of the substance of Spadaro’s article has been downplayed and even ignored. For instance, Fr. Spadaro has attacked not only the politics but also the very faith of American Evangelicals – and their Catholic peers. And his accusation that Evangelicals and Catholic are haters, that is, that their social/political alliance is really an “ecumenism of hate” has made headlines, of course, but also been essentially ignored in its substance. We will also deal here with a follow-up interview of Spadaro in America, the American Jesuit magazine.
Spadaro says that some Catholics in this country have become “Integralists”, a term referring to the Catholic movement in Europe mainly in the nineteenth century that advocated the subordination of the state to the Church. What he does not mention and may not understand is that well more than 99 percent of American Catholics have never heard of Integralism, either in its definition or as a social/political movement, and do not subscribe to it, knowingly or unknowingly. Spadaro’s basic accusation is that Catholics Integralists are associating in politics with the wrong people: “evangelical fundamentalists.” This association is not a proper ecumenism; it has become an “ecumenism of hate,” and also an “ecumenism of conflict” because, he alleges, it identifies political allies and political “enemies.” As for his knowledge of the United States and American Christianity, Spadaro does not seem to know that there are important distinctions between Evangelism and fundamentalism.
The essential problem with “evangelical fundamentalism” is its reliance on the Bible, Spadaro argues. He includes at least five separate attacks on evangelical-fundamentalist interpretation of the bible. They employ a “decontextualized reading of the Old Testament.” Their “literalist understanding of the creation in Genesis leads them to “put humanity in a position of dominion over creation” (Spadaro does not mention Gen. 1:28). They read the final figures of the book of Revelation “non-allegorical[ly].” And they have “an apocalyptic hope in a ‘new heaven and a new earth.” Their “unidirectional reading of the biblical texts” about Armageddon leads them to “anesthetize consciences or actively support the most atrocious and dramatic portrayals of a world that is living beyond the frontiers of its own promised land.” They think that “the economic growth of the county” occurred because of a “literalist adherence to the Bible.”
He then proceeds to directly attack the both the existence and the quality of the faith of his opponents; that is, he disparages them as Christians and even compares them to terrorists. They “maintain conflict levels,” instead of relying on “the incisive look, full of love, of Jesus in the Gospels.” They should instead be “reconsider[ing] their dogmas…” “Their logic is no different from the one that inspires Islamic fundamentalism” as ISIS “is based on the same cult of an apocalypse.” Many televangelists concentrate “more on personal success than on salvation or eternal life.” There are “millionaire pastors” who think that God wants their followers to be “materially rich.” Their theological/political agenda is not “eschatological.” Their “triumphalist, arrogant, and vindictive ethnicism” is “actually the opposite of Christianity.” And overall: “Fundamentalism” is a “poor and abusive perversion” of religious experience.” Their “theopolitical plan” is not “truly Christian.”
What is more, he wonders how Catholics and Evangelical Christians can ever cooperate in ecumenism when they are “paradoxically competitors when it comes to confessional belonging.” And, those Catholics allied with Evangelicals are expressing themselves “in ways that until recently were unknown in their tradition.” Thus, he deliberately drives a theological and ecclesiastical wedge between Catholics and Evangelicals. No ecumenism there. Perhaps Spadaro does not realize that in making this attack, he has eliminated all ecumenism between Catholics and all other Christians, for there is always, of course, an ecclesiastical difference between and among different Christians.
Let us consider how many American Christians Spadaro is criticizing. According to the Pew Research Center, Evangelical Christians, the largest American religious group, are 25.4 percent of all Americans, religious and not religious. Catholics are second, with 20.8 percent, while mainline Protestants now are only 14.7 percent of all Americans, with the religious “nones” now 22.8 percent of all Americans. Of the 52 percent of American Catholics who voted for Trump, let’s say that only half of them, maybe, are Intergralists (even though they don’t know it). So, with the Evangelical 25.4 percent of all Americans and the roughly one-quarter of American Catholics of all Americans, that makes about 30 percent of the entire American public who deserve the wrath of Spadaro and close to half of all American Christians.
Spadaro says that Evangelicals, those Catholic Integralists, and and the American Republican Presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush II, and Trump have displayed a kind of Manichaeanism in that they have divided politics and even “reality” between “absolute Good and absolute Evil.” He says that Vatican diplomacy does not do that because “the pope does not want to say who is right and who is wrong . . .” Thus, according to Spadaro, “there is no reason for taking of sides for moral reasons, much worse for spiritual ones.” Those people who do take sides make “enemies” whom they then “demonize.”
But Spadaro himself seems to get a little Manichaean when he refers to his own preferred political issues, that is, the “dramatic” change in climate and the “crisis” in global ecology.” And what about former vice-president and climate-change alarmist Al Gore? Was he being Manichaen when he recently demonized “the large carbon polluters” and accused them of being as bad as the “tobacco companies” in the fight over cigarettes? And what about Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election campaign when she famously demonized half of the supporters of Donald Trump as a “basket of deplorables.” Of course, neither Gore nor Clinton are Republicans.
The Catholic Integralists-Evangelical coalition, Spadaro claims, has a wrong understanding of the significance of “natural disasters, dramatic climate change, and the global economic crisis”. He directly criticizes Evangelicals and conservative Catholics for concentrating on abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious education in schools, while they have “anesthetiz[ed]” themselves about the importance of ecology and climate change. However, it may be informative for Spadaro to learn that Evangelical Christians are in fact concerned with climate change, and 28 percent of them say that human activity is the cause. While that is below other Christian groups, it represents a lot – millions – of American Evangelical Christians.
In a July 14, 2017, followup “exclusive” interview with Gerard O’Connell, the Vatican correspondent for the American Jesuit magazine America, Spadaro makes a meager and deceptive effort to do some backpedaling. He states that Catholic-Evangelical fundamentalism “is a risk that is not just confined to the United States, it is valid in other countries too.” But he mentions no such other country. Nor is he asked to do so by O’Connell. He states that his La Civiltà Cattolica article was describing an international “phenomenon,” and that he was merely trying to “understand” the phenomenon, “not focus on a nation.” Of course, this is demonstrably false since in an article that analyzes American Evangelicalism and American Catholic “Integralism,” and criticizes four American Republican presidents, there is no direct or implied reference whatsoever to any other country.
In America, Spadaro piously mentions ways in which Catholics and “Protestants” can engage in “positive partnerships” on certain issues, which issues include “the care of the family” and “the protection and support of human life,” although he does not use the word “abortion.” But that is a direct contradiction of the explicit terms in the La Civiltà Cattolica article where the constant theme and purpose is to divide American Evangelicals from American Catholics and in which abortion and marriage were set in opposition to preferred issues such as climate change.
He says to American interviewer O’Connell that “it was not our intention to demonize anybody.” However, in light of his accusation of the “ecumenism of hate,” his comparison of American fundamentalism to “Islamic fundamentalism,” his demeaning of evangelicalism and fundamentalism as “a poor and abusive perversion” of Christianity, and his locating of this perversion “mainly” among “whites from the deep American South,” Spadaro has gone well beyond making a false statement about his clear intent to demonize his opponents and has moved on to insulting the intelligence of the readers of the two articles.
According to his biography on Wikipedia, the Italian Jesuit Spadoro, the international editor-in-chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, has apparently spent almost all of his priesthood as a scribe in the Vatican. Could that be the source of his ignorance of the world? To be understood, ecumenism needs to be practiced. What Fr. Spadoro should do, perhaps, is leave the power and privilege of the Vatican and go to rural Catholic parishes in the south of the United States. There he would not only have to interact with American evangelical Christians, he could also fill in for hardworking Catholics pastors and give them some time off. As Pope Francis (to whom Spadoro is a close confidant) has said in Evangelii Gaudium, sometimes “realities are more important than ideas.”
Spadaro has pioneered a new kind of ecumenism: denouncing the content and quality of other Christians’ faith and slamming the Church doors in their faces. He has likely done great harm to relations between American Catholics and Evangelicals. He has also blackened the image of the American Catholic Church across the world. In falsely calling them “haters,” he has slandered, defamed, and calumniated both American Evangelical Christians and a large portion of American Catholics.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!
Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.
Spadaro owes me nothing, and I certainly owe him no allegiance. If the current papacy has shown me one thing, it is that my loyalty is to a savior and to the Church, not to a man who may or may not be a faithful vicar. Much less a hierarchy of clerics. Francis has effectively killed the credibility of the Catholic clergy, or what fragile part was left of it after the priest abuse scandal. It really is a shame, but the damage is done.
Don’t let them win, never give up on our Church.
Well, Joe M, that whole approach is about as wrong as it gets.
What should we think of a pope in cahoots with a guy like Spadaro over the years? It’s all quite breathtaking and augurs badly for any idea of keeping the Church united — maybe we could get around it in the creation of a new Rite?
Spadaro seems to be emblematic of a kind of know nothing European of the left. They read left wing papers, they watch left wing TV, and what happens in the US is all filtered through a very weird European media that writes laughably about US events. So I am sure that after Charlottesville, they really do believe there are Nazis popping up all over America. We do really have a problem with the fantastici idiocy that is being spread around the world by universities, especially in the US, that churn out complete nonsense and call it scholarship.
Colleges and universities are in no way what they once were because the vast majority of administrators who have control of them, along with most faculty, advocate a monopoly of relativism regarding truth in most matters to justify their own nihilistic and absolutist ideological presumptions.
Well said. Well said, indeed.
It is very bad marketing for the Supreme Pontiff Francis to be represented by such low-minded men as “Rev.” Spadaro. It doesn’t help people think well of the pontiff.
I can’t speak for this particular Supreme Pontiff surrounding himself with low minded men, but I can say without equivocation that Pope Francis surrounds himself with men who think exactly like him. Anyone else, regardless of the quality of their reputation, is immediately “pink slipped” if they have the temerity to publically disagree with him.
One may not like Spadaro, but never forget that Spadaro speaks with the courage of Francis’s convictions.
Spadaro will not offer an apology and neither will orthodox Catholics apologize to gays per Pope Francis’ request. A well intended article perhaps meant to illustrate Fr Spadaro’s absurdity. There is a related issue which I wish to address here. Related because of absurdity. That is the notion of ‘profiling’ considered a crime in Am when the fact profiling initially was an FBI highly developed investigative technique for identifying serial murderers. To identify criminals. That’s the irony. Under the Obama regime profiling become a misnomer, applying it to discrimination. That interpretation is what destroyed effective crime programs in NYC and elsewhere when suspected criminals were frisked by police for weapons. Then it was applied by Democrats to hamper ICE from effectively identifying and apprehending illegal immigrants. Then it was applied to charge, convict sheriff Joe Arpaio. Then when he was pardoned by Pres Trump supposedly loyal Republicans expressed silent outrage, Republicans like Biden expressing expected hypocrisy. Has ‘profiling’ been codified as a criminal offense? And how is profiling distinguished as discrimination in law enforcement? It seems Republicans have become cowards abiding to irresponsible interpretations of criminal law simply because such misnomers have become popularized.
Profiling is what all animals do- to survive.
It’s as natural as breathing and it will never stop, it cant.
Time to take back the language from the ‘babblers’.
Huh? Former US Senator and Vice-President Joe Biden is a hard-core Democrat.
Micha I realized the typing error after posting. We can’t correct on this site once posted. I have difficulty with the small space for typing and need to scroll up and down to review. At any rate it could be read that Republicans like [similar to] Biden etc but that wasn’t my intent. I meant to type Democrat. Another embarrassing example is my post on Dr Karl Stern I wrote “I studies Karl Stern rather than studied. Thanks for allowing me to make belated corrections.
Judging from what I have read in this article I would have to say that Fr. Spadaro appears to be an idiot.
As are most contemporary Jesuits.
The current Pontiff and his like minded sycophants in the Society of Jesus that he has surrounded himself with are doing yeoman’s work in dispelling the myth that all Jesuits are intellectuals.
The article does not include two very dangerous trends in American Catholicism. More serious than the rejection of climate change and unfair distribution of wealth is the “Gospel of Prosperity” being preached by Protestant evangelical televangelists. This new gospel contradicts everything which Jesus said about the poor. According to the Gospel of Prosperity, people are poor because they are stupid or because they are sinners and not all right with God. If you are all right with God, you will be happy, healthy, wealthy, etc. If you are not right with God, you will be poor, miserable, sick, etc. Of course you can get all right with God by becoming a Protestant and sending a large donation to your favorite televangelist. Another way to win converts is through the false issue of abortion. Protestant have demonized Democrats by saying they favor abortion. That is an outright lie. Being Pro-Choice means we have no right to interfere in what is a very personal, significant decision. Even God is pro-choice. He does not force us to follow his commandments. That is why he gave us a mind and a will–to discern the truth and to make intelligent choices. Through their propaganda tactics and cherry-picking passages in the Bible, Protestants have made God a Republican and if we are not careful, he will end up being a Nazi. The Klan are highly religious, and use the burning cross to scare to death Jews, Negroes, Hispanics, and anyone who is not white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant. Each day the Catholic church in America sides more with the wealthy Protestants than with the poor, the marginalized, blacks, immigrants, etc. We drift further away from the Pope and more into the racist embrace of Luther.
My friend, your Democratic understanding of God being Pro Choice is remarkably in error.
God thru the Church has said abortion is always and in every instance, absolutely evil. Your statement clearly says it is ok, moral, for some to chose abortion. You just can’t have it both ways!
Ronald, being Pro-Choice does not mean a person is pro-abortion. That is the lie which Protestants and conservative Catholics want good Christians to believe. How can you be pro-life if Protestants and Trump’s followers want to deprive 22 million low income and chronically ill people of affordable health care? They have dismantled Obamacare and have cut drastically Medicaid which provides affordable health care to the very low income people. How can you be pro-life if you are willing to let gun lovers have no restrictions on guns when these guns have killed 20 elementary school children and their teachers? How can you be pro-life when you send back mothers and their children to a living hell in Central America because they are fleeing from the gang violence in their countries? Didn’t the holy family also flee the infanticide ordered by King Herod because he was told that a new king would be born, so to prevent any competition, Herod ordered the killing of any new babies born at that time.
As to abortion, do priests, bishops, or even the Pope have the medical training to tell a woman that giving birth might endanger her life? No one has the right to practice medicine without a license. There can be physical, psychological, financial reasons why an abortion might be the better choice than giving birth. If God wanted us to be like stupid animals, he would not have given us a brain and a will. He gave man a mind and a will to think and choose. He gave Adam and Eve a choice, to eat or not eat of the forbidden fruit. She gave Mary a choice, to be the mother of Jesus or not to be. God the father even gave Jesus the freedom to choose. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed that if possible He be spared the terrible crucifixion. The Father must have revealed to Jesus that the only way to have Christianity flourish was to undergo the Crucifixion. Jesus had many opportunities to escape death under the hand of Pontius Pilate. He tried by saying his kingdom was not of this world. He did not want to renounce his teachings. He just pointed out that he was not an insurrectionist planning the overthrow of the Jewish government or the Roman government which was the real ruler in Israel. He choose to accept crucifixion. As to abortion, it can be easily stopped by allowing all women to have free access to all types of very effective contraception. But conservatives oppose contraception because then there would be no religious principle on which to sway gullible Christians. pro-life is a propaganda tactic. People who are Pro-Life are really Pro-Birth. Once the babies are born, these Protestants and Catholics cut off all types of health care, food stamps, etc. and call these poor people lazy, shiftless, ignorant, worthless. I am in favor of RESPONSIBLE PARENTHOOD.
Ben, you are barking up the wrong tree here. This is a Catholic web site! The left’s attempt to dilute the real and original meaning of “pro life” with just about every cause won’t fly. Its about abortion! And now you are apparently identifying “responsible parenthood” with killing the child. Pretty far out!