As we all likely know by now, Pope Francis is a little shy in more directly answering candid questions put to him about his moral teaching. So far, he has not responded to any of the filial and scholarly appeals, nor even to some proposed polite corrections. However, what is equally known is that he likes to speak through three of his closest advisers: Archbishop Manuel Fernàndez; journalist Andrea Tornielli; and Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J. (the editor of the journal Civiltà Cattolica, which is approved by the Vatican).
For example, the latter Jesuit priest has now once more spoken, and he has spoken in such a way and with such words that one can get the impression that he, by partly quoting the pope, has just answered the pressing and piercing question posed by Professor Josef Seifert, which also happens to coincide with one of the five dubia of the four cardinals.
On 6 October, Father Spadaro gave a talk in the United States at a conference hosted by the Jesuit Boston College – and with supportive participation from two of the newly made Cardinals, Blase Cupich and Kevin Farrel. The conference’s topic was about the papal document Amoris Laetitia, and it was seemingly intended to instruct and correct some of the still more resistant U.S. prelates concerning this controversial papal document. As Joshua McElwee from the National Catholic Reporter wrote on that day:
An Italian Jesuit priest known to be a confidant of Pope Francis says the pontiff thinks the Catholic Church can no longer issue general rules that apply to whole categories of people. [emphasis added]
This statement in itself is quite troubling, to say the least, because it seems to be a direct answer – in the name of the pope – to Professor Josef Seifert’s urgent request to the pope to answer whether, after what he wrote in Amoris Laetitia, he still believes that there are absolute moral norms, or standards, that apply in each and every case or whether an intrinsically evil act as such does not exist anymore. (The same question was essentially one of those five dubia posed by the four cardinals.) Otherwise, argued the Austrian philosopher, the Catholic Church is about to face and gravely experience the destruction of her whole moral edifice, and thus it would open the door to moral relativism. He even used the image of a “moral atomic bomb” in this context and showed that, subsequently, even such evil acts as abortion and rape would more easily find exemptions and evasions from being verbally condemned and actually punished.
Moreover, Professor Seifert had referred to this lax line of argument by citing paragraph 303 of Amoris Laetitia, according to which there might be times where irregular couples who have sexual relations realize that God at that point wishes them to continue these objectively sinful relations. Thus, Seifert had put his finger on one specific aspect and had asked only one specific question.
Father Spadaro seems to answer him. According to McElwee’s report, Spadaro also said
that the document recognizes that even people living in “irregular” family situations, such as divorce and remarriage, “can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in a life of grace.”
While still quoting the pope, Spadaro also says:
“We must conclude that the pope realizes that one can no longer speak of an abstract category of persons and … [a] praxis of integration in a rule that is absolutely to be followed in every instance,” said Spadaro, who was one of the first people to interview Francis as pope in 2013. [emphasis added]
“Since the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same,” he said.
Thus it nearly seems as if these statements of Father Spadaro were a direct – and obstinate – response to the discussion raised by Professor Seifert. But even if they were not a direct response to Professor Seifert – who just last week reiterated his argument and question – it certainly confirms his grave concern and sense of alarm.
Should someone raise an objection with regard to the reliability of the McElwee report, let us consider that Father Spadaro himself had even openly retweeted that same McElwee article on his twitter, with exactly that very troubling message: “@antoniospadaro tells @BostonCollege event pope thinks you can’t issue general rules for whole categories of people.” Spadaro himself had written his own nominalistic twitter message on that same day where he says: “Ogni caso è singolare. Non si può dare regola generale che li abbracci tutti né costruire casistica del discernimento#AmorisLaetitia.” (“Every case is unique. One cannot grant a general rule which embraces all of them, nor construct casuistry of discernment.”) Father Spadaro surprisingly here still uses as a “meme” the 2+2 =5 image once more, and in spite of much criticism of this idea, that in theology, sometimes 2 plus 2 can be five, and even in spite of the critique coming from Cardinal Gerhard Müller, then-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
OnePeterFive‘s contributor, Hilary White, had a good set of separate responses on twitter to this Spadaro statement which sums up, also, Professor Seifert’s own concern:
If this is true, then the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount are all meaningless. This is Bergoglianism out of the closet.
In fact, if this is “true” then there is no truth. Nothing is true, including the idea that nothing is true. Anti-rationality eats itself.
If every case is judged separately & there is no moral law, can I buy a slave? Can I pollute the environment? Can I defraud the wage earner?
Such is the harvest, and such are the foul fruits, of Nominalism.
Thus it seems that Pope Francis and his advisers and close confidants are now insisting upon their erroneous doctrine and pastoral teaching, which is fundamentally undermining all the moral discourse and structure of the Church’s larger teaching.
If anyone would object that Spadaro is not here speaking for the pope (even though he claims it himself), let the pope come forth and be prompt to correct these grave statements from a man who often permissively speaks in his name. The pope would now have a moral duty to do so, otherwise he would become complicit, and not just tolerant.
Let us thus hope that the two remaining dubia cardinals now more fully see that this sort of response by Father Spadaro is a form of doubling down, and of hardening obstinacy, on the side of Pope Francis himself, which also calls for a fraternal correction. May this additional correction loyally come to pass this week. For, what is enough is enough, especially when we see and feel a moral earthquake a-forming.
Update: Shortly after publication of this article, Mr. Andrew Guernsey kindly sent to us translated quotes from an article published today by La Repubblica‘s Eugenio Scalfari – to whom Pope Francis repeatedly grants interviews, thus giving credence to his papal quotes. Guernsey points out that this article which contains quotes from Pope Francis has already been picked up by the “semi-official” Vatican organ, Il Sismografo. In this new article, Scalfari quotes Pope Francis with words which now even more directly give support for the fear that Pope Francis defends a sort of moral relativism:
Scalfari quotes Francis as saying: “We believers and of course above all we priests and we bishops believe in the Absolute, but each in their own way because each one has his own head and thought. So our absolute truth, shared by us all, is different from person to person. We do not avoid discussions in the case where our different thoughts confront each other. So there is a kind of relativism among us as well.“