November 16, 2015
Two European bishops’ conferences and prominent Vatican observers are highlighting the significance of a recent article by one of Pope Francis’ closest confidants interpreting the Synod’s final report to allow Communion to “remarried” divorcees. They say the author’s interpretation signals the path Pope Francis will adopt himself.
In a recent article, papal friend and adviser Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, declares that the recent Synod of Bishops on the Family opened the door for the “remarried” divorcees to possibly have access to Holy Communion.
“Concerning access to the sacraments, the ordinary synod has therefore effectively laid the foundations, opening a door that at the previous synod had instead remained closed,” he wrote.
The well-informed Vatican expert, Sandro Magister, reported on Spadaro’s article November 7 and presented the essential parts in English translation. Magister comments: “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.’”
The claim that the Synod opened the door for the “Kasper proposal” has been doubted, and even denied, by some commentators who say that there is no explicit mention of Holy Communion in the paragraphs 84-86 of the Final Report of the Synod which deals with the pastoral care for the “remarried” divorcees.
On the other hand, the official websites of both the German and the Swiss bishops have now picked up on the Spadaro article and stressed its special importance because of Spadaro’s closeness to Pope Francis. For example, the website of the German bishops, katholisch.de, published an article on November 10, entitled: “Confidant of the Pope: Synod Opens the Door for Remarried Couples.” In it, the German bishops quote Spadaro’s article with the words that the Synod now proposes a case-by-case individual examination of the situation of the “remarried” divorcees “without ‘setting any limits’ as to the integration of the concerned couples.” Katholisch.de also quotes Spadaro as saying that “a door has been opened” and that one may “rightfully speak of a new step.” Then the German bishops insist upon the importance of these statements and give several reasons:
The statements of Spadaro have a special weight inasmuch as the journal Civiltà Cattolica – which is edited by the Italian Jesuits – has the reputation of being official and is known to be counter-checked by the Vatican’s Secretary of State. Spadaro had been personally appointed by Francis to be a member of the  Synod which took place from 4-25 October in the Vatican. The Italian clergyman is in close contact with Francis.
The German website also points out that the Final Report of the Synod, even though it quotes Pope John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, does not repeat the complete teaching of John Paul II according to which “remarried” divorcees have to live in permanent continence if they are to be allowed access to the Sacraments. “This condition [i.e., stipulation] has not been put into the Final Report of the Synod,” says katholisch.de.
Essentially the same message and interpretation of the Spadaro article was published on November 10 by the German branch of Vatican Radio, whose editor is Father Bernd Hagenkord, S.J. Hagenkord had also been a press speaker for the recent 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family and is widely known for his liberalizing attitude with regard to the moral teaching of the Catholic Church.
Moreover, the official website of the Swiss bishops, kath.ch, published an article – also on November 10 – bearing the same title as Father Hagenkord’s own article: “Confidant of the Pope: Synod Means a Change for Remarried Couples.” After a short introduction, summing up Spadaro’s claims, the website concludes with this single sentence: “The statements of Spadaro have weight.” The article also refers to Spadaro’s claim that there are no limits now – as had earlier been the case – to integrating more fully the “remarried” divorcees, even to include their access to Holy Communion. The Swiss bishops also mention the same above-quoted reasons as the German bishops as to why the statements of Father Spadaro have to be taken quite seriously.
Only two days later, on November 12, the Catholic Herald published an article entitled “What Will the Pope Say? His Friends Tell Us,” which interprets Spadaro’s article in just the same way as the German and Swiss bishops have done. Father Raymond de Souza, the well-known Canadian priest who authored the article, points out that Pope Francis “has steadily prepared the Church for change” and says “it’s foolish to ignore the signs.” While de Souza also sees that the Synod’s Final Report is ambiguous with regard to the question of the “remarried” divorcees, he says that one only needs to read Spadaro’s article to get “a clear answer.” De Souza points to the reasons why Spadaro’s statement is important:
Civiltà always carries a certain authority, as the Jesuit periodical is reviewed by the Holy See secretariat of state before publication. Fr Spadaro is more authoritative still, as both a close confidant and mouthpiece of Pope Francis. It is inconceivable that he would write something contrary to what the Holy Father desired.
De Souza also makes a connection between Spadaro’s statement and the recent interview which Pope Francis himself gave to the self-professed atheist founder of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Eugenio Scalfari, who reported that Pope Francis said that “all those divorced and remarried who ask will be admitted to Holy Communion.” Father de Souza stresses that the Vatican’s later denials about this interview are of little weight:
The Holy See Press Office issued the customary statement about the unreliability of Scalfari, who reconstructs his papal conversations from a fertile memory, but what Scalfari wrote in a few lines is basically what Fr Spadaro wrote in 20 pages: living in a conjugal union outside of marriage will either no longer be considered necessarily sinful, or being in a state of serious sin will no longer be an obstacle to receiving Holy Communion. If Scalfari and Fr Spadaro were presenting conflicting views, it would be advisable to follow Fr Spadaro as to the Holy Father’s thought. But if they agree, there is no room for doubt.