Did Father Spadaro leave the first circle of the Bergoglian government?

Par l'abbé Claude Barthe

Français, italiano

With the kind permission of L’Homme nouveau, this article was first published on 30 December 2023.

In September one the members of the close guard of the Pope, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, Jesuit, 57 year old, was appointed Under-secretary of the Dicastery for Culture and Education. Spadaro left his position as Director of La Civita Cattolica, a position he held for twelve years. Some commentators have immediately suggested he had fallen into disfavor. We believe it is very unlikely.

Antonio Spadaro, the pope’s chief communicator

Father Spadaro came from a literary background before becoming a Jesuit. He completed his studies in Chicago and is well versed in contemporary Italian and American literature, with ease he can discuss music and contemporary art as well as cinema. He started a cultural project, Bomba Carta, which encourages initiatives in creative writing as well as video production.

Most of all, he is a specialist in communication, which he considers as largely political, which he studied and now teaches at the Gregorian University’s Interdisciplinary Center of Social Communications. As a specialist he is interested in new technologies of communication and in their social influence… as well as spiritual: he inspires the reflection of administrators who make to agree spirituality and technological innovation. He is an expert at website animations: he has his own website, he is the moderator of a blog dedicated to cyber theology and an other, dedicated to the American novelist Flannery O’Connor.

This brilliant personality became in 2009, under Benedict XVI, Director of La Civilita Cattolica, a monthly Jesuit review, an official body of the Secretary of State, with its offices located in the romantic Villa Malta, on the hills of Pincio. Each article of the review is meticulously examined by heads from the Secretariat of State. But this supervision is purely formal, from the moment the review is under the guidance of a man as influential as Spadaro is.

He became so, as soon as the election of Pope Francis, putting together in September 2013 an interview, published simultaneously in the Jesuit cultural reviews of sixteen European and American countries, thirty pages that did not go unnoticed at all and which had the value of an informal encyclical at the start of the pontificate. The principal theme discussed a softening of moral in the name of mercy, notably vis-a-vis remarried divorcees and homosexual persons.

The importance, from then on, communication took in the pontificate was manifested by the creation in 2015 of a Dicastery for Communication, whose Prefect is actually a laity Paolo Ruffini, and where Spadaro is like right at home. This dicastery gathers and supervises all the bodies of communication of the Holy-See: Press Office, Vatican Publishing House, Vatican Internet Office, Vatican Typography, Vatican Media Center, and L’Osservatore Romano. Furthermore, the direction of this official newspaper of the Holy See has been entrusted to Andrea Monda, a writer and friend of Antonio Spadaro, that is after the removal of Giovanni Maria Vian, a figure close to Cardinal Bertone, Benedict XVI’s Secretary of State.

Antonio Spadaro and the great projects of the pontificate

Spadaro subtile use of words can be seen in the important documents of the pontificate, notably in Querida Amazonia. This pontifical exhortation published after the Assembly of the Synod on the Amazon, suggested a laicized vision of the Church, fundamentally hostile to “clericalism”, and which de facto became larger and eventually went further than the problematic of married priests and included it in a wider perspective.

But it is for the great design of the Bergoglian pontificate, the softening of the moral of marriage, that Fr. Spadaro has been maneuvering with Mgr Victor Manuel Fernandez, Archbishop of La Plata, then Cardinal-prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri who was General Secretary of the Synod but who reaches now the age limit, the Archbishop of Chieti, Bruno Forte, twice Special Secretary of the assembly of the Synod, and Mgr Marcello Semeraro, Bishop of the Suburbicarian See of Albano, President of the Episcopal Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Conference of Italian Bishops and Secretary of the group cardinals in charge of advising the pope in the government of the Church and the reform of the Curia.

After the two assemblies of the Synod, extraordinary and ordinary, in 2014 and 2015, Cardinal Baldisseri in charge, the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia was published on 19 March 2016, meaning to provide the actual position of the Catholic Church on Family and married life, as well as defined the discernment to access the sacraments for remarried divorcees.

Synodality was a topic at a gathering of experts organized in 2015 by Fr. Spadaro, bringing together stars of progressive theology, such as Dario Vitali from the Gregorian University, Alphonse Boras from Louvain, Gilles Routhier from Laval, Quebec. A pubication came out directed by A. Spadaro and Carlos Maria Galli, an Argentine theologian, La riforma e le riforme nella Chiesa[1], “The reform and the reforms in the Church”. Then, contributions from a “research” of La Civilta Cattolica were made available to French speaking readers in Des Chemins de réforme, directed by A. Spadaro[2].

A condensed resume of the reflections of these laboratories more or less orchestrated by the director of the Jesuit review can be found in the chapter dedicated to the “Church missionary synodality” from the final document of the Assembly of the Synod on Young People: “[the experience of shared responsibility lived with the young] calls the Church to practice synodality as a way of being and acting, promoting the participation of all the baptized and of people of good will, each according to his age, state of life and vocation (n.119)”.

Dicastery for Culture

It is very likely that the Sicilian Jesuit is the one who actually wanted to join the ranks of the Dicastery for Culture directed by Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça. Definitely, he only has rank of an Under-Secretary, next to an other Under-Secretary, a women, Antonella Sciarrone Alibrandi, expert in financial law. But this Dicastery, via della Conciliazione which takes over the Counsel for Culture directed by Cardinal Ravasi, is one of the high places of curial leftwing ideas.

His Prefect Cardinal Tolentino de Mendonça is in fact not a secondary player. Portuguese of Madeira, a biblical scholar, a poet who was the idol of the Portuguese Catholic intelligentsia, very close to feminist theologian Teresa Forcades, a Benedictine from Montserrat, he has the same age as Spadaro. With an eminently compatible profile, both have the same preoccupation, shared by all the members of governing Roman circles: make sure that the entrance of the Church in an everlasting aggiornamento, which they have been promoting for ten years, is irreversible.

Father Claude Barthe

[1] in Biblioteca di Teologica Contemporanea, Queriniana, Brescia 2016.

[2] Parole et Silence, 2018.