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A Controversy in American Catholic Circles

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Antonio Spadaro 28giu2011
Antonio Spadaro 28giu2011
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) August 5, 2017: As OEN readers know, white Christians, including both certain conservative American Catholics and American Protestant Evangelicals, contributed significantly to Donald J. Trump's decisive electoral victory in the 2016 presidential election.

Now, Jason Horowitz, the Rome bureau chief of the New York Times, published a news story in the Times online titled "A Vatican Shot Across the Bow for Hard-Line U.S. Catholics" (dated August 2, 2017; the print version is titled "From the Vatican, a Warning Shot for Hard-Line Catholics in the U.S." and dated August 3, 2017, page A12).

Horowitz's news story focuses on the controversy in Roman Catholic circles in certain online and print venues about an article-length editorial published in the Jesuit-sponsored Rome-based Italian-language magazine La Civilta Cattolica titled in the English-language version "Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism":

The co-authors are the Italian Jesuit editor of La Civilta Cattolica, Antonio Spadaro, a close friend of Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, and the Argentine Protestant pastor and theologian Marcelo Fugueroa. To get his own words and views out in Argentina, his home country, Pope Francis authorized an Argentine version of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano in August 2017, and appointed his longtime friend Figueroa to serve as the editor. At an earlier time in Pope Francis' life, he, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, appeared regularly with Figueroa and Rabbi Abraham Skorka in a TV program titled "Bible, current dialogue" that was broadcast on the Buenos Aires' diocesan channel.

In all honesty, I was surprised to see Horowitz's news story in the Times about the controversy over the Spadaro and Figueroa's editorial. Evidently, their editorial caught certain American Catholic commentators by surprise. (Your guess is as good as mine as to how many American Catholics have read their editorial.)

OEN readers know that Republicans like to charge certain other Republicans with being RINOs (Republicans in name only). So is Spadaro and Figueroa's editorial critique of certain American Catholic tendencies just a Catholic version of the Republican game? If that's all the controversy amounts to, then it is not really news-worthy for non-Catholic Americans. Or is there perhaps something really news-worthy in their editorial critique? Because their editorial critique involves a formal defense of Pope Francis' thought (such a formal defense is known as an apology), I tend to think that their editorial critique is important and news-worthy not only for American Catholics but also for non-Catholic Americans as well. However, to explain why I think this is the case, I am going to re-frame their editorial critique in terminology that they do not use.

Now, my favorite scholar is the American Jesuit cultural historian and theorist Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955). My friend and frequent co-editor the American Jesuit Paul A. Soukup in communication studies at Santa Clara University, the Jesuit university in Santa Clara, California, published an article about Ong's thought in La Civilta Cattolica (in Italian). No doubt Spadaro in his capacity as editor read Soukup's article about Ong's thought. It is even possible that Pope Francis may have also read it. However, I seriously doubt that either of them were much influenced by it. Nevertheless, I will use certain points from Ong's thought in the present commentary.

Arguably the theme of what Ong in his book Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness (Cornell University Press, 1981), Ong's 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University, refers to as agonistic structures (the Greek word agon means contest, struggle) is one of the most important themes in his work.

See my new 3,300-word essay "A Concise Bibliographic Guide to Five Themes in Walter J. Ong's Thought and Selected Related Works" online at the University of Minnesota Libraries' Digital Conservancy:

In connection with certain points in Spadaro and Figueroa's article, it is important to note here that Ong himself had earlier referred instead to polemical structures (the Greek word polemos means war, struggle) in his book The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (Yale University Press, 1967), the expanded version of Ong's 1964 Terry Lectures at Yale University.

No doubt Ong was picky about his word choices. No doubt his switch from using the expression polemical structures to using the expression agonistic structures represents an evolution in his own personal consciousness.

But perhaps we can see that evolution in Ong's consciousness as analogous to the contrast Spadaro and Figueroa work with between certain expressions used by American Protestant Evangelicals, on the one hand, and, on the other, expressions used by Pope Francis.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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