Close papal adviser Antonio Spadaro, SJ

‘Pope whisperer’ blasts Synod critics for racism, defence of “political-economic interests”

A close ally of Pope Francis and director of one of the Vatican’s semi-official publications has blasted critics of the Amazon Synod for their tacit racism.

Driving the news

Jesuit Antonio Spadaro, director of Vatican-vetted La Civiltà Cattolica, wrote an opinion piece in Medium at the half-way point of the Amazon meet this month in Rome highlighting “some aspects of this great ecclesial event”.

“The Amazon, which covers nine nations (Guyana, French Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru), is speaking from Rome”, Spadaro wrote.

“The periphery speaks [from] the center with the awareness that its experience is heard as a prophetic voice for the whole Church. And, precisely for this, it is judged by some as disturbing”.

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The big picture

Spadaro explained that one of “the point” of the Amazon Synod is to highlight that “today the Church has an extraordinary need for prophecy in the face of the great challenges of the present, and to discern what future we want to build”.

The Jesuit said that the Church is seeking that necessary prophecy away from its traditional centres of gravity in Europe or the United States, in the Amazon, “where gigantic contradictions of a political, economic and ecological character are concentrated”.

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Drawing on the Amazon peoples’ “enormous wealth of languages, cultures, rites [and] ancestral traditions”, Synod participants “are painting a large fresco in which everything is interconnected: faith and history, hope and geography, charity and politics”, Spadaro affirmed.

“This is why the preemptive attacks aimed at the Synod, dressed up as a fundamentalist religiosity that does not disdain racist tones, come from groups that protect political-economic interests”, the Jesuit denounced.

“The theological themes in the Synod aula are closely intertwined with the life of the people, geopolitical tensions, and care of the ‘common home'”, he explained.

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Go deeper

Ultraconservative attacks on the Synod have been present ever since Pope Francis announced the meet in 2017.

But those broadsides have intensified in recent days as the majority of Synod participants have expressed their openness to major Church reforms including married priests and women deacons.

Spadaro referred in his Medium piece to these “new paths” the Amazon Synod is seeking for the universal Church.

The Jesuit said, for example, that Synod participants had expressed their “awareness of the difficulty for [Amazon] communities to regularly celebrate the Eucharist due to a lack of priests”, and the “right of the faithful to not remain in a fast from the Eucharist and of the obligation of the pastors to provide bread”.

But Spadaro explained that Synod attendees are fitting those concerns into “a broader and more mature vision of the Church, finally alienated from clericalism, aware of the need to imagine new ecclesial ministries, also for women”.

The Jesuit added that it is “clear” from Synod testimonies “how much the Church of the Pan-Amazon region owes its life to women”.

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Synod participants have also understood “how the laity already actually have the task of teaching and supporting the ecclesial communities” in the Amazon, Spadaro affirmed.

“Everything is mixed and connected giving life to a living, lively, original organism. And this is the Church”, the Jesuit concluded.

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Why it matters

Spadaro is perhaps most famous to English-speaking Catholics for a 2017 article he co-authored with Marcelo Figueroa, an Argentine Presbyterian pastor and editor-in-chief of the Argentinian edition of Vatican paper L’Osservatore Romano.

The article centered on the “ecumenism of hate” that unites Evangelical fundamentalists and Catholic integralists in the USA “by the same desire for religious influence in the political sphere”.

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But along with that Evangelical and Catholic “political Manichaeism”, Spadaro and Figueroa’s article also exposed the theological shortcomings of the so-called “Prosperity Gospel”, the belief that proper faith ensures financial and physical well-being.

Pope Francis was so impressed by Spadaro and Figueroa’s condemnation of the Prosperity Gospel that he recommended it in a meeting with Jesuits in Mozambique in early September this year.

That recommendation just goes to show the closeness between the two Jesuits, Francis and Spadaro.

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