One of Francis’ closest associates, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, recently gave a controversial sermon that could prove to be a watershed event for the Church.
Spadaro’s revealing sermon may mark the point at which it is no longer tenable to believe that the Francis papacy is a continuation of the succession that goes back to Saint Peter.
If Spadaro was simply a parish priest with idiosyncratic theological views, then his views could be safely ignored. We’ve had priests who hang LGBT flags over their church doors, priests who urge Catholics to celebrate Pride Month, and priests who recommend that other priests watch porn as a healthy outlet.
But Spadaro is a very prominent person in the Church. He was the editor of La Civilta Cattolica, a semi-official Vatican publication, until his resignation just weeks ago. He is a close friend and trusted advisor to Francis whom he has frequently interviewed, and he is sometimes referred to as “the pope’s mouthpiece.” Moreover, he often travels with the Pope. But, most important, his remarks were a flagrant attack on the core of the Christian faith.
What did Spadaro say that was so controversial? In a commentary on Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman, Spadaro describes Jesus as “indifferent,” uncaring, “angry and insensitive,” unbreakably hard, “mocking and disrespectful,” and “blinded by nationalism and theological rigor.”
Yet, the Canaanite woman persisted in her plea that Jesus heal her daughter, and managed to “upset the rigidity of Jesus” who, in the end, “shows himself free from the rigidity of the dominant theological, political and cultural elements of his time.”
In short, Spadaro sees Jesus as little more than a creature of his time, until the Canaanite women convinces him to be more open-minded. By the same token, Spadaro seems to see himself as one who, living in a more advanced civilization, has the right to judge the backwardness of Jesus.
But, of course, this is equivalent to denying the divinity of Christ. If Jesus can’t transcend the prejudices of his time and place without the help of a “foreigner,” then he can’t be God. Likewise, if he gives into temptations to be mocking and disrespectful to a poor woman who only seeks to save her daughter, he can’t be God.
However, the most shocking aspect of the Spadaro affair is not his apparent denial of a central tenet of the Catholic faith, but that Pope Francis has done nothing about it.
Quite the contrary, hours after Spadaro announced his resignation from his position as editor of La Civilta Cattolica, the Holy See Press office reported that Pope Francis had elevated him to a curial position—Under-Secretary of the Dicastery for Culture and Education.
It’s possible—but unlikely—that Francis did not know about Spadaro’s sermon at the time of the appointment, but he has certainly heard of it by now. Why hasn’t he done something? Shouldn’t Pope Francis have rescinded the offer? After all, the Dicastery for Culture and Education works to ensure that “the fundamental principles of education especially Catholic education, may be welcomed and better understood.” Yet Spadaro seems to have dismissed the most fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church. Shouldn’t Francis have issued a correction of Spadaro’s faulty theology, or have requested a retraction by Spadaro?
Why wouldn’t Francis act immediately to prevent further confusion about Spadaro’s apparently heretical view of Christ. One unsettling explanation for his inaction is that Francis shares the same view.
There is a growing body of evidence that Pope Francis, like Spadaro, sees himself as more merciful than Jesus. Whereas Jesus required repentance as necessary for forgiveness, Francis waives the requirement, and tells seminarians that in the confessional they should forgive all sins even if there is no repentance.
Although Jesus was forgave sexual sins, he also stressed their gravity:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery: But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mt. 5: 27-28)
By contrast, Pope Francis dismisses sexual sins as “the lightest of sins” and jokingly refers to them as “sins below the belt.” Francis seems blissfully unaware that “sins below the belt” can result in abandonment, heartbreak, abortion, or else in the birth of a child who grows up without a father, and whose upbringing often puts an unexpected burden on his or her grandparents and other relatives.
For homosexuals, however, Francis seems anxious to lighten the burden of guilt even more. While meeting with a group of Jesuits in Portugal at the start of World Youth Day, Francis seemed to downplay the universal call to chastity. When asked by one priest whether homosexuals were bound by the call to chastity, Francis gave an equivocal answer which suggested it was an open question.
Francis also has a habit of letting off wayward priests and prelates with even less than a slap on the wrist. He protects them from well-deserved punishment and usually manages to promote them to higher positions. A few of the many beneficiaries of his mercy include Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, Cardinal Godfried Daneels, Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, Monsignor Battista Ricca, Cardinal Francesco Cocopalmerio, Fr. Mauro Inzoli, Fr. Marko Rupnik and numerous others. One sometimes gets the impression that Francis deliberately befriends wayward and flamboyant types so that when they inevitably get in trouble, he will have the opportunity to shower them with his mercy.
Speaking of colorful types, the erotic poet and recently appointed Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Victor Fernandez, spoke in an interview with the National Catholic Register of the “Doctrine of the Holy Father” and warned bishops not to judge the pope’s doctrine because they were not given the unique charisma that he alone has.
What is the doctrine of the Pope? Fernandez doesn’t really tell us, but I think it’s safe to say that Francis’s thinking about doctrine is guided by the principle of the primacy of mercy over justice. For example, although the Church has consistently taught that capital punishment is permissible, Francis calls it, a sin and instructed the CDF in 2018 to revise The Catechism of the Catholic Church to reflect his views.
Christ also emphasized mercy but not to the detriment of justice, but it seems that Francis along with Spadaro believes that Christ wasn’t merciful enough. It seems strange to say so, but Francis often acts as though he is in a competition with Jesus. During his ministry, Christ forgave hundreds of repentant sinners, but Francis seems to want to forgive everyone whether they repent or not. Jesus said the way to salvation is narrow, but Francis seems intent on widening it.
Francis is portrayed by the media as being exceedingly humble, and he likes to portray himself in the same way, but in one respect he seems quite prideful. As one commenter on a recent article about Francis puts it, “Francis sees himself not as the successor to Saint Peter but as the successor of Christ.”
Francis, along with Spadaro, Fernandez, Hollerich, and many others seems dissatisfied with the job Jesus did. “Yes,” they seem to say, “Jesus was extremely enlightened for a man of his time but we, because we live in the modern age, are much more enlightened, and we intend to update the teachings of Jesus to better conform to the spirit of our times.”
Francis doesn’t come out and explicitly endorse modernism, but it doesn’t take much discernment to notice the modernist bias in his talks and writings. He is forever reminding his audience that the Church must constantly update its teachings, and he reserves his harshest criticisms for those who are “frozen” in the past.
Here are some excerpts from a talk he gave to a large group of Portuguese Jesuits in August:
- “In the United States…there is a very strong reactionary attitude.”
- “indietrismo (being backward looking) is useless.”
- “There is an appropriate evolution in the understanding of faith and morals.”
- “Our understanding of the human person changes with time.”
- “If you don’t change upward, you go backward.”
- “It is clear that… [sensitivity to the issue of homosexuality] changes according to historical circumstances.”
And here, from the same talk, are some of his terms of opprobrium for traditional Catholicism:
- “a museum.”
- “We cannot live as though preserved like pickled food.”
- “rigid and contorted.”
By contrast, Francis’ favorite term of approval is “open,” as in “open to change,” “open to the Spirit,” “open the doors to the Church,” and so forth.
Francis’ exaggerated emphasis on openness puts me in mind of the open-minded, modernist bishop portrayed in C.S. Lewis’, The Great Divorce.
The clergyman who lives in hell (though he doesn’t quite realize it) is given the opportunity to visit Heaven—and stay there if he is willing to give up his sinful inclination to intellectual pride.
The Anglican bishop is almost convinced to come into Heaven, but suddenly remembers that he is to deliver a paper to a meeting of “a little theological society down there,” and he turns down the offer. As I wrote elsewhere, “He is particularly proud of the paper he is to deliver because of its novel thesis. In fact, what he describes is nothing more than the Modernist view of development of doctrine”: Here’s his thesis:
I’m going to point out how people always forget that Jesus…was a comparatively young man when he died. He would have outgrown some of his earlier views, you know, if he’d lived. As he might have done, with a little more tact and patience. I am going to ask my audience to consider what his mature views would have been. A profoundly interesting question. What a different Christianity we might have had if only the Founder had reached his full stature!
We don’t get to see if the modernist bishop thinks of himself as more merciful than Jesus, but he certainly sees himself as more enlightened than Jesus. We see the same patronizing attitude toward Jesus in Spadaro’s sermon (“angry and insensitive,” “blinded by nationalism and theological rigor”).
Does Pope Francis look upon himself as more mature and enlightened than Christ? He is careful not to criticize Christ, but he has no problem in criticizing the teachings of Christ as handed down by the Church. He has no trouble lambasting the Church of the past—that is, prior to his own election– as being backward, rigid, pharisaical and fossilized.
But since the Church’s teachings adhere very closely to what Christ revealed in scripture, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Francis does see himself as the successor of Christ—the one who has come to deliver the more “mature” and updated version of Christianity. In other words, the humanist version.
That shouldn’t be terribly surprising. In addition to being a modernist, Francis is also a humanist. His attraction to humanist thinking can be clearly seen in several of his official documents. And he clearly wants to push the Church in a humanist direction. In the Document on Human Fraternity and in Fratelli Tutti he describes the mission of religion as being roughly equivalent to the goals of secular humanism.
The point is that one of the central tenets of humanism is that man can save himself without the help of God. In humanism each man becomes, in effect, his own God—a person with infinite potentials. Interestingly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church links this false divinization of man with the Church’s ultimate trial:
Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh (675).
“Glorifies himself in place of God”? When Spadaro indulges in an extensive and condescending critique of Christ, that’s exactly what he’s doing. We owe Spadaro a debt of gratitude for making it clear what he and Francis, and other “enlightened” figures in the Church leadership are up to.