PopeWatch: Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, The Jesuit’s Jesuit



Sandro Magister at his blog Chiesa believes that he knows what the Pope is going to do in regard to Communion for Catholics in adulterous marriages, and it is bad news for those who believe that Christ was not simply running His mouth when he gave his command regarding marriage:

ROME, November 7, 2015 – Last Wednesday, at the weekly catechesis in Saint Peter’s Square, after recalling that the synod fathers have delivered the text of their conclusions to him, Pope Francis limited himself to saying in sibylline language:

“This is not the moment to examine such conclusions, on which I myself must meditate.”

While waiting for the enigma on the pope’s future moves to be unraveled, nothing remains but to rely on an indirect but sure herald of his intentions: the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro with the magazine that he directs, “La Civiltà Cattolica.”

For Pope Francis, Fr. Spadaro is everything. Advisor, interpreter, confidant, scribe. There is no counting the things that he incessantly writes about the pope: books, articles, tweets. Not to mention the papal discourses that show the mark of his hand.

This is why one cannot overlook the account of the synod that Spadaro has written in the latest issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” as always printed only after its proofs went through Casa Santa Marta and received the placet of the supreme authority.


They are twenty pages of exceptional interest for those who want a sneak peek not at the form but at the substance of the conclusions that Francis will draw from the synod just ended.

In the previous post on this site, the Dominican theologian Thomas Michelet demonstrated how the final text of the synod, on the crucial issue of communion for the divorced and remarried, lends itself to two alternative interpretations, of continuity or rupture with respect to the preceding magisterium of the Church:

> Synod of Discord. Toward a “De Facto Schism” in the Church?

So then, Fr. Spadaro opts without hesitation for the second mode of interpretation. It doesn’t matter to him that the words “communion” and “access to the sacraments” don’t even appear in the “Relatio.” His peremptory conclusion is that “the ordinary synod has therefore effectively laid the foundations, opening a door that at the previous synod had instead remained closed.”

Presented further below is the complete section of the article that Spadaro dedicates to this question.

But the whole article is a must-read, as shown by these five excerpts full of citations of the talk with which Francis closed the work and bursting with distaste for the synod fathers accused of “dreaming of a world that no longer exists.”



“Synodality implies diversity. […] A solution that is good for New Zealand is not so for Lithuania, an approach valid in Germany is not so for Guinea. So ‘beyond the dogmatic questions fully defined by the magisterium of the Church,’ the pontiff himself observed in his talk concluding the synod that it is evident ‘that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent can appear strange, almost a scandal – almost! – to the bishop of another continent; that which is considered the violation of a right in one society can be an obvious and inviolable principle in another; that which for some is freedom of conscience, for others can be only confusion.”


“One critical issue is the one concerning the significance of doctrine. Already at the end of the 2014 synod the pontiff had spoken of the temptation to ‘transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick, that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens.’ Doctrine is bread, not stone. At the end of the ordinary synod the pope repeated the image, saying that the synod ‘bore witness to all that the Gospel remains for the Church the living fountain of eternal newness, against those who want to indoctrinate it into dead stones to be thrown at others.’

“Doctrine – as was reiterated in some small circles – is the teaching of Christ, it is the Gospel itself. This is why it never has anything to do with those ‘closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families,’ Francis furthermore said.”


One key issue of the discussion was the model of relationship between the Church and the world. […] For some fathers, the Church is surrounded by a hostile and demonic world from which one must defend oneself, and which one must attack with the proclamation of doctrine. Others, instead, affirmed that the Church’s duty is to discern how God is present in the world and how to continue his work. On the other hand, we can neither live by dreaming of a world that no longer exists, nor fall into the ‘Masada complex,’ or the complex of encirclement. This risks being a lack of faith in God who acts in history.”


Pope Francis spoke twice of ‘overcoming every conspiracy hermeneutic that is sociologically weak and spiritually unhelpful.’ And this because, as he himself has observed, ‘opinions are expressed freely,’ but ‘sometimes with methods not entirely benevolent.’ The German group also manifested ‘great distress and sadness’ over the ‘public statements of some synod fathers on persons, contents, and the unfolding of the synod. That contradicts the spirit of encounter, the spirit of the synod and its elementary rules. The images and comparisons used are not only undifferentiated and mistaken, but also offensive.’ Its members – and many others with them – unanimously kept their distance. The synod was therefore not entirely devoid of faux pas, nor of attempts to pressure it from outside and inside of the assembly – before it began and during its development – some of which found their soapbox in the media.”


“The door was evoked by some as ‘closed’ or as to be closed definitively, as in the case of the Eucharist for the civilly divorced and remarried; by others as ‘open’ or to be opened for opposing reasons, and speaking in general terms, as a fundamental pastoral attitude. […] The pontiff had used the image of the door in the opening Mass of the synod, spurring the Church on to ‘be a “field hospital” with doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support; even more, to reach out to others with true love, to walk with our fellow men and women who suffer, to include them and guide them to the wellspring of salvation.”


The complete text of the article by Fr. Spadaro in “La Civiltà Cattolica” of November 28, 2015:

> Vocazione e missione della famiglia. Il XIV sinodo ordinario dei vescovi

And the following is its final part.


An open door to communion for the divorced and remarried

by Antonio Spadaro S.I.

Concerning the baptized who are civilly divorced and remarried, the “Relatio synodi” first of all affirms that they “must be integrated into the Christian communities in the different ways possible.”

The logic that guides numbers 84-86 of the document is that of integration, the key to a solid pastoral accompaniment. Once again the Church shows herself to be a mother, telling the civilly divorced and remarried to be aware that they belong “to the Body of Christ that is the Church,” that they are “brothers and sisters.” It says that “the Holy Spirit infuses them with gifts and charisms for the good of all.”

The intention is therefore that of affirming that these persons have not lost the vocation for the good of all, their mission in the Church. Their ecclesial participation can express itself in different ecclesial services, and one must “discern which of the different forms of exclusion currently practiced in the liturgical, pastoral, educational, and institutional fields can be overcome” (no. 84). For the Christian community, taking care of these persons “is not a weakening of its faith and of the witness to the indissolubility of marriage: on the contrary, the Church expresses its charity precisely in this care” (ibid).

The “Relatio synodi” incorporates the overall criterion expressed by Saint John Paul II in “Familiaris Consortio”: “discerning the situation well.” There is in fact a difference “between those who have made sincere efforts to save the first marriage and have been completely unjustly abandoned, and those who by their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage” (no. 85). But there are also those who have contracted a second union in view of raising the children, and are subjectively certain in conscience that the previous marriage, destroyed beyond repair, had never been valid (cf. no. 84).

The synod therefore affirms that it is the duty of priests “to accompany the persons in question on the path of discernment according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop.”

This itinerary imposes a pastoral discernment that makes reference to the authority of the pastor, judge and physician, who is above all “minister of divine mercy” (cf. “Mitis et misericors Iesus”). In this sense it follows the path of the recent motu proprio of Pope Francis on the reform of canonical procedures for annulment cases. And in this reference to the bishops can be seen an important policy of reform on the part of the pope, which attributes greater pastoral powers to them.

The document proceeds on this path of discernment of individual cases without putting any limits on integration, as appeared in the past.

It also expresses that one cannot deny that in some circumstances “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified” (CCC 1735) on account of various influences. “As a result, the judgment on an objective situation must not lead to a judgment on ‘subjective imputability’ (Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, declaration of June 24, 2000, 2a)” (no. 85).

There is a general norm, but “responsibility for certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases.” This is why “pastoral discernment, while taking into account the rightly formed conscience of persons, must take these situations upon itself. Even the consequences of the actions taken are not necessarily the same in all cases” (ibid).

The conclusion is that the Church realizes that one can no longer speak of an abstract category of persons and close off the practice of integration within a rule that is entirely general and valid in every case.

It is not said how far the process of integration can go, but neither are any more precise and insurmountable limitations set up. In fact, “the journey of accompaniment and discernment directs these faithful to come to grips in conscience with their situation before God” (no. 86). This reasoning sets personal conscience as the foundation of the Church’s action and judgment (no. 63).

Go here to read the rest.  This passage from Gratian, the twelfth century father of canon law has come to mind for PopeWatch over the past year:


If the Pope, remiss in his duties and neglectful of his and his neighbor’s salvation, gets caught up in idle business, and if moreover, by his silence (which actually does more harm to himself and everyone else), he nonetheless leads innumerable hoards of people away from the good with him, he will be beaten for eternity with many blows alongside that very first slave of hell [the Devil]. However, no person can presume to convict him of any transgressions in this matter, because, although the Pope can judge everyone else, no one may judge him, unless he, for whose perpetual stability all the faithful pray as earnestly as they call to mind the fact that, after God, their own salvation depends on his soundness, is found to have strayed from the faith. (Decretum, Part 1, Distinction 40, Chapter 6)

God has spared the Church much over the past 20 centuries, but now the Church is facing a situation almost unprecedented:  the Pope leading the Church away from the words of Christ.  It is a time for prayer.  The time for action if our prayers are not answered may soon be upon us.


More to explorer


  1. All the circumstantial ponderings, in and of themselves, cannot alter the intrinsic character of simple mortal sin.(never mind attempting to use those unstated exceptions as a replacement for a much broader clear teaching of what a commandment has said for 2000 years,( by the game of a workaround camouflaged as pastoral care.)
    If indeed the pope himself cannot judge grave wrong, who are mere isolated bishops to make such alterations of God’s commandments? How can a confessor give absolution without judgment (discernment of violation of a fixed standard of wrong?)
    Then there’s that devolution business–by any other name.
    Subsidiarity is not a teaching tool, but a social tool for the proper structuring of society and is not meant for the teachings and dissemination of God’s truth, leaving it to a gazillion different interpretations. The hierarchy is such in order to prevent bottom-up error and novelty from imitating the protestant heresies.
    It appears this modernist movement, at the highest levels of God’s church, is putting on a pretty new coat of paint (mercy and pastoral care-without being bonded to truth) to distract from the many termites chewing away at the Church’s underlying foundation.

    National bishop’s councils are not part of the hierarchy (Ratzinger-and Leo XIII on Americanism) for a good reason, to divide truth, doctrine and the practice of such, is to leave it to be conquered.

  2. I believe that the original Latin for the quote from Decretum Gratiani is as follows, though I am sure that a certain European will correct me if I err.
    Si Papa suae et fraternae salutis negligens reprehenditur inutilis et remissus in operibus suis, et insuper a bono taciturnus, quod magis officit sibi et omnibus, nichilominus innumerabiles populos cateruatim secum ducit, primo mancipio gehennae cum ipso plagis multis in eternum vapulaturus. Huius culpas istic redarguere presumit mortalium nullus, quia cunctos ipse iudicaturus a nemine est iudicandus, nisi deprehendatur a fide devius; pro cuius perpetuo statu universitas fidelium tanto instantius orat, quanto suam salutem post Deum ex illius incolumitate animaduertunt propensius pendere.

  3. Here is my literal translation to my comment above. I am a nuclear energy professional, not a Latinist, so i did the best I could. I still recall the four years I took under a great Latin teacher almost 4 decades ago. I am certain MPS will correct errors.
    If the Pope useless and slack in his works is blamed negligent of his and the brethren’s salvation, and in addition silent from the good (which to a greater extent impedes him and everyone), he nonetheless leads numberless people in herds with himself, beaten by himself with many blows in first purchase of Gehenna. None of mortals assumes to refute faults of this there, because he himself judging all will have been judged by no one, unless he is discovered straying from the faith; for whose perpetual stability so great the whole of the faithful insistently pray; by how much their salvation after God depends from him in safety they the more eagerly observe.

  4. I am just on a roll this morning. The full name of the guy who wrote what Donald quoted in red italics above is Franciscus Gratianus, a 12th century canon lawyer, dubbed the Father of Canon Law (Pater Iuris Canonici). Oh the irony of his first name – Franciscus! Does anyone want to tell the Pope? Should I write a letter to the Vatican? In lingua Latina???????
    OK, that’s enough fun for one morning. Back to neutrons’R us.

  5. Why should this newfound ‘Spirit of Synodality’ be applied only to
    the cases of those Catholics in adulterous marriages? What about,
    say, pedophiles and serial killers and those who like to have sex
    with animals? Who are we to judge? Why shouldn’t Francis’ version
    of ‘mercy’ be extended to those cases also? Is there a mortal sin
    left that would preclude one from approaching the Sacraments?
    The answer, from what I gather from Francis and Fr. Spadero, seems
    to be ‘no’. There is no reason to think that this newfound disdain
    for judging by 20 centuries of clear Church teaching could not be
    extended to all other categories of mortal sin as well.

  6. Clinton, are you suggesting they should therefore welcome Jeffrey Dahmer under the rubric of gradualism…and, why not?

  7. Is this guy the pope’s “Rasputin” or “Svengali”?
    I apologize. Often my minds goes back to younger years and reminded of an adage some of the rough men with whom I was associated would say, “Don’t urinate on my shoes and tell me it’s raining.” Of course, we pronounced a monosyllabic word for “urinate.”
    Another mental deficit: whenever I see the S.J. following a name I think “Society of Judas.”
    In addition to resorting to Meagher’s quote identifying the Heavenly Judge who reverses wrong worldly judgments, my reaction to post-modern proponents of fabrications and innovations is “Everything he just said/wrote is baloney.”

  8. There are several requirements to receive the Sacrament of Penance. Be sorry, reject your sins, say your sins, accept and do the penance and a firm purpose of amendment, without any one of these requirements, the Sacrament of Penance does not exist. When Pope Francis called for the year of Mercy, he called for the Sacrament of Penance. Too many priests, since Vatican II, complain if a person goes to confession “too many times”. to bad. St. Thomas Aquinas went to confession every day. Must we, too, be denied?

  9. Mary De Voe, I recall a story about Pius XII, who once remarked to a friend
    that he went to his confessor almost daily. When the Pope’s friend expressed
    surprise at the frequency of the Holy Father’s confessions, His Holiness replied
    that he was “a glutton for God’s mercy”.
    DonL, that is exactly what all this doublespeak seems to suggest. Why should
    this new uncoupling of doctrine from pastoral practice be confined merely
    to one category of mortal sin? Why can’t this new disdain for law and 20
    centuries of the Church’s wisdom also apply to homosexual acts, pedophilia,
    murder, etc.? Isn’t that where this is inevitably going?

  10. The mercy of the Sheppard is to kill the wolf who threatens the flock, or at the very least, guide the flock away from the present danger.

    The false mercy is to accustom the flock to the positive attributes of the wolf. It’s fur. It’s warmth. By this, the nature of the wolf isn’t changed, but the demise of the flock is guaranteed.

    Where are the good sheppard’s? Where is true pastoral care?

  11. “But there are also those who have contracted a second union in view of raising the children, and are subjectively certain in conscience that the previous marriage, destroyed beyond repair, had never been valid “
    Even if the first marriage is invalid, the second is certainly so, for the Council of Trent in its twenty-fourth session decreed that “Those who shall attempt to contract marriage otherwise than in the presence of the parish priest, or of some other priest by permission of the said parish priest, or of the Ordinary, and in the presence of two or three witnesses; the holy Synod renders such wholly incapable of thus contracting and declares such contracts invalid and null, as by the present decree It invalidates and annuls them…”
    To hold otherwise would reintroduce all the mischiefs of clandestine marriages.

  12. MPS
    Thanks for the solid info. I was also struck by this phrase, (subjectively certain in conscience) and am reminded that it appears to be the source of much of our present day difficulties.

  13. What I meant is that those who are living in an “adulterous marriage” might be more accurately described as simply “those committing adultery”. I can’t commit adultery with my own spouse (I assume that we are using the Church’s definition of marriage and not the secular, corrupted version).

  14. I understand what you are getting at now. Either usage is fine with me. I prefer adulterous marriage simply because from a secular legal stand point those people are certainly married and because it nails down quite simply why the Church cannot approve of it.

  15. Is it not true that Pope Francis is going to bat for those divorced and remarried folks who couldn’t be bothered to get an annulment and consequently don’t much believe in the Catholic Church in the first place and have little concern for what Jesus commands?

    So we might conclude that the primary reason for the Pope’s interest in these adulterous Catholics without faith is most probably in response to Cardinal Kasper and the German Church which needs these indifferent adulterers for mostly money reasons and Pope Francis nonsense about ‘mercy’ is just a cover for greed.

  16. M. Dowd, I long ago decided that the hierarchy is mostly concerned with money. It makes it difficult to continue to give (and yes, it has been a source of screaming fits at the house) since I think the funds are used mostly for my and my family’s ruin.

  17. The time has come for this Pope to:
    (1) publicly ask the German government to stop taxing in order to support the Church, and
    (2) suppress the Jesuits.

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