One of the Papal allies who recently co-authored a controversial article that has become known for accusing American Catholics and evangelicals of forming an ‘ecumenism of hate’ has defended the piece and welcomed the debate it has sparked.
Marcelo Figueroa, a Protestant pastor who has known the Pope for years, told The Tablet that the authors had ‘no idea it would be a big deal’ but added: ‘All the opinions, reactions and points of view, both for and against, are welcome and show that it was necessary to open this debate.’
The international row began when, as Christian Today reported last month, Figueroa and Antonio Spadaro condemned ‘Manichaean language that divides reality between absolute Good and absolute Evil’ in an article they wrote together on the ‘surprising ecumenism’ between the two groups.
It went on to say that Donald Trump had tapped into this by promoting an ‘apocalyptic geopolitics’, citing the President’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who is nominally a Catholic, as supporting a ‘theopolitical vision of Christian fundamentalism’.
Spadaro is a Jesuit priest who edits La Civiltà Cattolica, and Figueroa is the Presbyterian editor-in-chief of the Argentinian edition of L’Osservatore Romano.
Spadaro’s paper is considered the official voice of the Vatican and its contents are approved before publication by the Vatican secretary of state.
Following the article’s publication, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, wrote that it was ‘an exercise in dumbing down and inadequately presenting the nature of Catholic/evangelical cooperation on religious freedom and other key issues’.
A range of other figures from both denominations have reacted, too, with the leading evangelical consultant Johnnie Moore writing to Pope Francis to ask for a meeting between the Pope, evangelicals and Catholics.
In a written interview with The Tablet conducted in Spanish, Figueroa said: ‘The article describes a religious and ecumenical phenomenon developing in the United States that both of us know and have studied, alhough of course no one has the absolute truth or complete knowledge. Although we’ve talked about this phenomenon in the USA it is also emerging in other countries, especially in Latin America where I have been studying ecumenism for more than two decades.’
Figueroa said that his decision to write emerged from a ‘deep personal dialogue’ with Fr Spadaro and was a ‘reflection and interpretation’ of Francis’ words and ecumenical gestures.
Figueroa emphasised that there are elements of the ‘ecumenism of love, encounter, peace, prayer’ in the US and that the article was not an exhaustive study.
‘The article did not intend to study all the expressions of ecumenism and American religiosity, but to emphasise an aspect we thought was important, opening it up to serious and respectful debate,’ he told The Tablet.