An invitation to an encounter
Religion & Liberty Online

An invitation to an encounter

It was with great interest that I have been following exchanges related to the now well-discussed article that appeared in the Vatican associated journal La Civilta` Cattolica several weeks ago. Written by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ and Rev. Marcel Figueroa, a Presbyterian minister, the former being the editor of La Civilta` Cattolica while the latter is the editor of the Argentine edition of the Holy See’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

In their essay, they outline in vigorous terms their concern that a certain “ecumenism of hate” is being fostered in the United States via an unholy alliance between conservative Catholics (or what they call “Catholic Integralists”) and Evangelical fundamentalists. They express concern at what they argue amounts to a combined retrofitting of apocalypticism, “Prosperity Gospel” themes and the advocacy of a “theocratic type of state” under a banner of conservative Catholicism.

This provocative piece is clearly designed to create a debate. But thus far, no real debate has ensued. In light of the lack of an open and respectful debate, as well as Fr. Spadaro’s call to dialogue, encounter and conversation, I have personally invited Fr. Spadaro and Rev. Figueroa to participate in a respectful forum at Acton University. My invitation includes the following description of the event:

Acton University is somewhat similar to the type of summer university which is very common in Europe. Each year, Acton University brings together over 1000 participants from around the world and from many Christian confessions (as well as some non-Christians) to hear lectures and participate in discussions which address theological, philosophical, political, economic, social, and diplomatic themes. It is one of the world’s largest meetings and sustained conversations of Catholics, Evangelicals, Eastern Orthodox Christians and members of other faiths on the intersection of theology, politics, and economics.”

See the entire letter, in EnglishItalian and Spanish.

If these gentlemen want a fruitful engagement of their ideas, this would be it. When they both declined, due to busy schedules, I modified the invitation in effect to say, “any time, any place, at our expense.” They declined again.

The arguments these gentlemen pose have encountered substantive and serious critiques, including here, here, here, and even one from a fellow Jesuit, here.  Among other things, it has been argued that their view of the role and history of religion and politics in America is incorrect. It has also been argued that they misrepresent Evangelical Christianity in America, and misrepresent the present-day relationship between Evangelical Christians and Catholics in America, by using charged language such as “ecumenism of hate.” An adequate defense of Fr. Spadaro and Rev. Figueroa’s position requires a response to these critiques.

As yet, they have not responded to these very serious critiques – critiques which, if left substantially unanswered, would suggest that the positions defended in their article lack veracity.

The invitation still stands.  Fr. Spadaro?  Rev. Figueroa?

Featured Image: Juan Rubiano, Vatican angle° 0, CC BY 2.0

Rev. Robert Sirico

Rev. Robert A. Sirico received his Master of Divinity degree from the Catholic University of America, following undergraduate study at the University of Southern California and the University of London. During his studies and early ministry, he experienced a growing concern over the lack of training religious studies students receive in fundamental economic principles, leaving them poorly equipped to understand and address today's social problems. As a result of these concerns, Fr. Sirico co-founded the Acton Institute with Kris Alan Mauren in 1990. As president of the Acton Institute, Fr. Sirico lectures at colleges, universities, and business organizations throughout the U.S. and abroad. His writings on religious, political, economic, and social matters are published in a variety of journals, including: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, the London Financial Times, the Washington Times, the Detroit News, and National Review. Fr. Sirico is often called upon by members of the broadcast media for statements regarding economics, civil rights, and issues of religious concern, and has provided commentary for CNN, ABC, the BBC, NPR, and CBS' 60 Minutes, among others. In April of 1999, Fr. Sirico was awarded an honorary doctorate in Christian Ethics from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and in May of 2001, Universidad Francisco Marroquin awarded him an honorary doctorate in Social Sciences. He is a member of the prestigious Mont Pèlerin Society, the American Academy of Religion, and the Philadelphia Society, and is on the Board of Advisors of the Civic Institute in Prague. Father Sirico also served on the Michigan Civil Rights Commission from 1994 to 1998. He is also currently serving on the pastoral staff of Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Fr. Sirico's pastoral ministry has included a chaplaincy to AIDS patients at the National Institute of Health and the recent founding of a new community, St. Philip Neri House in Grand Rapids, Michigan.