Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Pope's "Mouthpiece" Spadaro Makes Bizarre First Response to Sock-Puppetgate

"Tweeto ergo sum"

The truth is always brilliant and clear. But it is often an involved and even complex process to explain what the truth is. Why this is so is itself unclear. If I make it to Heaven, I'll be sure to ask the authorities about it.

Liars make use of this. They sometimes tell a lie or a set of lies, or a set of lies, obfuscations, half-truths and truths knowing that it will be a pain for anyone to sort it out. And if anyone does, it will in turn be a pain for anyone else to follow the thread.

Goebbels was reputed to have said "if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people are bound to start believing it." That might be true. But I would add, "if you tell a clever enough lie, people are bound to fall asleep before anyone succeeds in refuting it."

That's by way of an introduction to this long post.   

In an interview two days ago with Austen Ivereigh of Crux, Jesuit editor and papal confidante Antonio Spadaro responded for the first time to the allegation (made on this blog and reprinted at OnePeterFive) that he had used a "sock-puppet" Twitter account to make a petty attack on the four cardinals who had gone public with their dubia addressed to the Pope.

He also responded to another allegation about his strange Twitter behavior, as well as commenting generally on Amoris Laetitia and the dubia.

Obviously, the general issue of Amoris Laetitia is of infinitely more importance than a Twitter spat. But I'm going to comment on the Twitter spat, here, or at least one part of it, if only because I was involved in it. And of course others have already well-analyzed Spadaro's more general remarks.

Did Spadaro behave deceptively? Is he attempting to deceive now, or at least obfuscating in a way tantamount to deception? Did he behave on social media "like a teenage girl" (as I wrote a few days ago)?

Why does it matter, one might ask? It's only about a few tweets, after all, most of which are now deleted.

I think it does matter, among other things because it goes to the character of the man who has been referred to as the "vice-pope" or the Pope's "mouthpiece." He has emerged as one of the Vatican's most prominent defenders of the Pope's recent controversial Apostolic Letter, as well as one of the most vocal critics of those who have expressed criticisms, doubts or questions on it. Last Wednesday I wrote:
That’s right, Antonio Spadaro, the editor of La Civiltà Cattolica and one of the Pope’s main point men in promoting Amoris Laetitia had been “retweeting” his own tweets from a sock-puppet Twitter account. These fake retweets were used to defend an Apostolic Letter and attack four cardinals of the Catholic Church.
Let me proceed sequentially.

1. Who is Austen Ivereigh?

Ivereigh is a liberal or left-wing journalist who writes on Catholic subjects, sometimes for Crux. Four days before the Spadaro interview was released, Ivereigh published a short quasi-defense of Fidel Castro's legacy that itself ignited a minor Twitter storm. Ivereigh has also recently been Spadaro's go-to man when Spadaro wanted to make his thoughts known on matters related to Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia. The journalist appears to be a sort of ally of Spadaro. They often retweet each other's material and Ivereigh has participated in at least one Twitter debate on the subject of whether Spadaro was a "liar" (he didn't think that he was).

Is there anything wrong with any of the above, in and of itself? No. Journalists are still allowed to have political opinions about things, and contemporary journalists often involve themselves in partisan debates on Twitter about this or that. One role of a journalist is to act as a conduit for a newsworthy person who wants to say something publicly, etc.

But I think Ivereigh's "bias" is important for context. Among other things it explains the lack of follow-up to some of Spadaro's odd responses. The "interview" wasn't an interview so much as it was Spadaro trying to get his message out via a friendly, though officially "neutral" source.

2. What was the original sock-puppet allegation?

Spadaro was accused of using a sock-puppet account to make a petty attack on the four cardinals. More specifically, the "attack" had been retweeted by Spadaro from another account that was also in fact his account but that had appeared to be that of another person. I believe I was the first blogger to claim this in a post, but the allegation had been publicly discussed on Twitter for a number of days. The initial sleuthing that linked the account to Spadaro was done by another party. Here is the main tweet in question:

And here is Habla Francisco, the account the retweet came from:

3. How did Spadaro respond to the allegation?

Here is the relevant portion of the Crux interview:
There’s also the issue of a Twitter account which some of your critics claim you are ‘hiding’ behind. 
What do they mean, “hide”?! The account was simply an under-used one of three or four I operate, including that of the journal. I often re-tweet from one to the other. 
If I had really wanted to throw stones from an anonymous account I would never, obviously, have re-tweeted it. And why should I feel any need to hide? I was merely quoting the view of an American friend who was commenting not on the behavior of the cardinals but the way the expression “the four cardinals” was being used on so many blogs in ways that reminded her of 1960s rock bands.
Steve Skojec of OnePeterFive labeled that response "absolutely bizarre." I agree. I would add that it's also clever obfuscation that is tantamount to a lie.

Here are the facts: The "under-used" account was "protected." No one except Spadaro  (and possibly some or all of his 18 unknown "Followers") knew it was Spadaro's account. And if he had "thrown stones" from it, no one outside that private little group would have been aware of them.

After the retweet was criticized, he deleted it without acknowledging that it had in fact come from him. When a Twitter user tweeted him to ask whether the account really was his, that user was immediately blocked.

And of course, the tweet was more than a comment, but an obvious petty little snark, the "trite" identifying it as such, among other things.

Spadaro's retweet came amidst criticism that Spadaro was himself making inappropriate attacks (which Spadaro stridently denied). So now (it appeared) he was attempting a juvenile work-around.

The "American friend," whether she really exists or not, is a red-herring. Of course he never mentioned her in the original Tweet. It might be useful to consider this hypothetical: If I had for some reason tweeted (or retweeted), "Spadaro reminds me of that stupid kid from That 70's Show," it wouldn't really be a defense (if I needed one) to later say, "I was merely expressing the sentiments of an Italian friend of mine."

Here is the most charitable explanation for what happened:

Spadaro used Habla Francisco to have private, sometimes jokey conversations with his allies and friends. He made a private snark at the four cardinals. But the snark was so good (he thought) that he just couldn't resist retweeting it from his own account.

Here is what I think actually happened:

Spadaro was smarting from being previously accused of inappropriately using Twitter to attack the four cardinals and other perceived "enemies." So he realized he had to tone things down. But he just couldn't resist the "trite 1960's rock band" poke. So he decided to use the Habla account to give himself some deniability.

We will probably never know what really happened. Spadaro certainly can't be relied upon to accurately tell us. What we do know, however, is that Spadaro's protestations of innocence here - of (as he would claim later in the interview) being ganged up on by an evil cabal of right-wing Pope critics or whatever - are laughable.

People - even "vice-pope" Jesuit editors - do silly things on Twitter. Or so it would seem. Spadaro's initial behavior made him look silly. His subsequent efforts to obfuscate and blame others for his own lapses in judgment make him look like a cad.

4. What is the Cardinal Dolan connection?

On the matter of the "sock-puppet" tweet, Spadaro went on to say this:
The funny thing was that when I sent that tweet, Raymond Arroyo of EWTN tweeted the photo of a cardinal [Timothy Dolan of New York] dancing the can-can with his legs in the air along with the Rockettes. His tweet was cheered by my detractors, from which I deduce that this attack on me is organized and deliberate.
Here is that tweet:
Spadaro's attempt at spinning now reaches stratospheric levels of strangeness.

Arroyo's tweet had absolutely nothing to do with Spadaro's tweet.

Among other things it was made three days later. There was no link, explicit or otherwise between them. For those unfamiliar with the context, it has become a Christmas tradition for Cardinal Dolan of New York to pose for photos with the Rockettes. Dolan obviously wants people to see these photos, and because of their nature people oblige by posting them and tweeting them around.

Some people think the photos "humanize" Dolan and/or the Church. Others view the pictures of a portly red-faced cardinal doing a kick line with scantily-clad dancers as showing what a ridiculous figure Dolan is. No doubt a few believe this proves that Vatican II was a false council. Or whatever. I have no idea what Arroyo thinks.

So what was Spadaro trying to say? Everyone I know has been scratching their heads on this. The most likely interpretation is something like, "well, even if I was making an inappropriate snark at the cardinals by making a pop music reference, others make fun of cardinals by making pop music references, and the same people who attacked me are fine with the other attacks." Or some such. Of course Dolan was making his own pop music reference. Also...well, never mind. I don't think there's any point in belaboring the point. The Dolan connection is a twisted non-sequitur, made with the intention to deceive. Among other things, if a reader of the interview were unfamiliar with the background or context of either the four cardinals tweet or the Dolan tweet, they might think Spadaro had made a sort of point.

The right-wing dubia conspirators are out to get me (Spadaro wants you to know). Ivereigh would earlier ask Spadaro sympathetically:
How does that make you feel?
5. What is Habla Francisco up to now?

Here's the clincher. At the very moment that Spadaro told Ivereigh that the "sock-puppet" account was no big deal, he unprotected the account!

Let me restate that by all appearances Habla Francisco had only made three tweets in three years - one of them being the attack on the four cardinals that he then deleted. If Spadaro was truthful about anything, it was that the account was under-used.  

But it's suddenly aliveHabla Francisco now has public Followers and is starting to publicly follow other Twitter accounts including that of Crux. Indeed, Habla has busily followed 32 accounts in the last two days. And it has even started to make public tweets. The tweets link to...wait for it...the Crux interview.

In one of the tweets he even wrote, "(this is Antonio Spadaro speaking)."

See, it's just another account. No big deal. I'm not trying to hide anything. This is Antonio Spadaro speaking.

His last tweet (beneath the hashtag #Calm) was of a flowerpot.

This is manic behavior.

Or as one Vatican insider remarked privately to me,
Wow.... Spadaro is a piece of work.


  1. Good work. Spadaro's ridiculous defense does not pass the straight face test. We've got the Obama administration, Vatican style. Spadaro is deceptive in this. That is the only characterization one can make. It's bad enough Francis fleeces his sheep; he tries to pull their own wool over their eyes.

  2. So what's the point of all this?? Well, suddenly it's all about HIM. All about Spadaro and his feelings. He's being attacked. We're facing the worst crisis since Arius and we've got a papal mouthpiece with a personality disorder. Hey ho.

    1. I think if you're a public personality-religious or not-the best thing is just to ignore criticism on social media, unless you're an accomplished snarker like, say, Milo. It's so easy for it to blow back in your face or make you look silly, etc. And of course you're just one person facing many "opponents," many of whom have a lot of time on their hands. Spadaro either doesn't see this or can't control himself. The irony is that he styles himself an expert on the topic of social media and has even written a book on it.

  3. So let me get this straight. This man is a priest? He needs to be assigned to a busier parish as it appears he has way too much time on his hands (yes, that is a joke.). A priest, imagine.

    1. Well he's the editor of a "prestigious" journal, writes books-some in collaboration with the Pope-and jets around to places like Korea where he posts pics of food. He's obviously a multitasker.

  4. If anything Spidaro is guilty of not realizing that the internet is very nearly intrinsically evil; I'd suggest he relax and guard against more and worse things trying to motivate his posting than whatever whispered to him that multiple twitter accounts is ok.

  5. ugh, and I spell Fr.'s name wrong. See, internet gremlins.

    1. Well, spell check is my enemy. I think we should all agree to change his name to "James Spader" and be done with it.

  6. I would love to know what are the names of the three or four other accounts of Fr. Spadaro

  7. At the least Fr. Spadaro needs to improve his performance. Besides the smoke of Satan that surrounds the goings-on in the Vatican there is also incompetence, incoherence and, what else, insanity.