The controversies about screenshots and anonymous accounts have obscured Fr Spadaro's startling remarks about Communion

Until yesterday, I was beginning to suffer from Spadaro Controversy Fatigue, a condition afflicting those who spend too long reading Catholic news. Fr Antonio Spadaro, the editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, has recently been involved in several simultaneous quarrels. He is known to be close to the Pope and so, amid the heated discussion of the four cardinals’ dubia, Fr Spadaro’s statements are read with special attention. Sometimes the attention seems over-the-top. But yesterday he said something truly eye-opening.

It came in an interview with Crux, in which Fr Spadaro discussed some of the accusations that have been thrown at him. There was the dispute about whether he had set up an anonymous Twitter account. He had – but what was wrong with that, he asked. There was another about whether he had screenshotted an image from Lord of the Rings in order to call the four cardinals “witless”. He hadn’t, and the New York Times had to publish a surreal correction to apologise to him.

But after the interview covered the anonymous account and the screenshot, it moved onto serious matters. Fr Spadaro was asked whether he thought the divorced and remarried could receive Communion if still in a sexual relationship. Fr Spadaro’s answer was startling – partly because he seemed to think the answer was yes, and partly because of his reasoning.

He explained that sometimes the remarried could “be asked to take on the challenge of living in continence”. This is, of course, the only path to the Eucharist which Catholic doctrine allows. But Fr Spadaro asserted that “this option may not be practicable”. And he then said that someone might “believe they would fall into a worse error”. That is, not sleeping with one’s new partner would be worse than sleeping with them. Hence, it could be a moral obligation to sleep with them.

In short, a papal adviser has said that extramarital sex could be a moral duty.

This is more interesting, and more worrying, than any number of anonymous accounts and Tolkien-themed screenshots. The Church teaches that God always gives us enough grace to follow His will. She also teaches that some acts – extramarital sex among them – are never justified, whatever the situation.

I don’t see how Fr Spadaro’s words can be reconciled with these well-established truths. (Unless he means to say “believes erroneously“, but nothing in his words indicates that.) Here is the full quote, in case I’ve missed something (my emphasis added):

When the concrete circumstances of a divorced and remarried couple make feasible a pathway of faith, they can be asked to take on the challenge of living in continence. Amoris Laetitia does not ignore the difficulty of this option, and leaves open the possibility of admission to the Sacrament of Reconciliation when this option is lacking.

“In other, more complex circumstances, and when it has not been possible to obtain a declaration of nullity, this option may not be practicable. But it still may be possible to undertake a path of discernment under the guidance of a pastor, which results in a recognition that, in a particular case, there are limitations which attenuate responsibility and guilt – particularly where a person believes they would fall into a worse error, and harm the children of the new union.

Fr Spadaro is only speaking a personal capacity: he makes that very clear in the interview. But such a remark, from someone so prominent within the Church, suggests that there really is confusion in the air.

English is not Fr Spadaro’s first language, and the prose here is rather complex (as are the issues). So maybe I have misconstrued his words. If so, I’m happy to join the list of people who owe him an apology.

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Jan 20 2016 cover