Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Spadaro Lashes Out at Journalists and "Cybertrolls" - "It all started with the strawberries"

The original Antonio Spadaro

Antonio Spadaro, the Jesuit editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, and the man who has been called the Pope's "mouthpiece," just wrote a post on his own blog CyberTeologia where he made another attempt to defend his odd Twitter behavior. In the post he repeats some of the same points he made in a Crux interview of two days before. He also expands on what he obviously wants to develop into a major theme - the social media spats are really examples of an organized attack by "cybertrolls" against not only Antonio Spadaro but the Holy Father and the very Papacy itself. The post is titled:
The Manual for Making Cyberattacks Against Pope Francis
I think it's fair to say that due to Spadaro's weird social media activity, including apparently blocking virtually anyone who has ever said anything negative about him, Spadaro has become a figure of derision. He's one of the Pope's closet confidantes and yet he can't stop tweeting out attacks on cardinals in between pictures of what he had for dinner. He's an "expert" on internet matters and yet he's inept at various aspects of social media. People tease him behind his back without intending him to overhear and he strains to find out what they're saying.

But you have to admit the man has chutzpah.

A small number of Catholics tweet about Catholic subjects and find themselves, among other things, exchanging gossipy tweets about Spadaro's silly online behavior. So someone retweets a Spadaro tweet, adding the comment, "yikes, third Jack London post of the day." Or another asks,"is Pope_News an independent account or another Spadaro sock-puppet?" And so on.

And yes, Spadaro's own behavior eventually grew into a larger "story."  

But in an epic mix of paranoia, narcissism and a Goebbels-like desire to create a useful propaganda narrative, all of this becomes a monstrous conspiracy to launch cyberattacks against the Pope!

There is a serious side to this. For all of his silly games and missteps, Spadaro is not stupid. He is now trying to hitch his wagon to the anti-Trump anti-"alt-right," anti-bad conservative people, anti-"fake-news" narrative recently ginned up by the American left but now spreading to Europe. It's all a vast right-wing conspiracy, you see. Without sounding too conspiratorial myself, one wonders whether it's a coincidence that Pope Francis has suddenly picked up on the "fake news" meme. Spadaro and the Pope, are supposedly close, after all.

[UPDATE, 2:05 PM CST: The Pope just gave a bizarre interview to the Belgian Catholic Weekly Tertio. I hesitate to write this, but the following is exactly what the Pope said, and there appears to be no mistranslation: "Fake news is like getting sexually aroused by feces." The Pope later apologized for his language.]

Spadaro has now started to lash out at journalists. There are Good Journalists who respectfully write the truth and Bad Journalists who are in league with the cybertrolls that are against him. Unfortunately for the heroically put-upon Spadaro, the Bad Journalists outnumber the Good Journalists, or so it is implied in his post.

Ross Douthat of the New York Times is a Good Journalist. He repeated an allegedly false cybertroll attack and then apologized for doing so. (This is true as far as it goes. But as with most things Spadaro, it also has its silly side. Spadaro pestered Douthat about the apology over and over on Twitter - "Did you put it up yet?" "Did you put it up yet?" - until a friend stepped in, "Antonio, calm down, give the man some time.") But there are also Bad Journalists. First Things is a magazine of Bad Journalists - they don't apologize. Raymond Arroyo is a Bad Journalist because he tweets pictures of Cardinal Dolan dancing with scantily-clad Rockettes (Spadaro bizarrely believes that this was actually a snide attack against him!) The Italian, Marco Tosatti is a Bad Journalist because he repeats the allegations of the cybertrolls and then disclaims responsibility. Edward Pentin, an English journalist based in Rome, is a Bad Journalist because he sent Spadaro his own dubia asking questions. (Isn't that what reporters do?) And so on. Presumably Austen Ivereigh is a Good Journalist because he's always available for a puffball interview if one needs to get one's own side of the story out.  

I want to excerpt some of the post because I think it needs to be read. Indeed, it really has to be read to be believed, so to speak. Of course, much of it is silly. It's obviously largely about Spadaro himself and his interior battle with his own Twitter demons. But it's also about the attempt to defend Amoris Laetitia and (one has to admit) the Pope himself, from a rising tide of criticism, and the related attempt by those around the Pope to demonize the critics. That part isn't silly at all, since the Church may be headed into extremely dangerous and historically almost unprecedented territory due to the actions of the Pope and those around him. Spadaro's weird attempts at spin are perhaps the more humorous side to what Bishop Athanasius Schneider recently described as a "climate of threats" from within the Church, likening the atmosphere to that of the Soviet regime Schneider grew up in.

I apologize if the translation is my own cleaned up version of Google Italian. If Spadaro sounds in places like the comedian Roberto Benigni, it's possible that's my fault, not his. On the other hand, if Spadaro sometimes sounds like Captain Queeg from The Caine Mutiny, I disclaim responsibility:
There's an anti-Papal opposition strategy, which although small is very noisy...let's consider an actual case of indirect attack against's useful to study the dynamics of trolling from people who call themselves Catholics. 
The first rule of the anti-Francis manual is you have to create a narrative, a story... 
It has to begin with a fake story... 
...In some certain anti-Francis circles there is this technique: one writes something and then other accounts follow repeating it literally all the time trying to make it "viral." Sometimes it works, sometimes not. We are in what some have called the "post-truth" era, that is something based on the spreading of hatred and defamation: lies and half-truths artfully constructed and disseminated by an army of sympathizers. It is the organized trolling technique that assaults the opponent until it destroys spaces for discussion and especially patience.  
In this, however, they stumble into good people who are troubled by the "propaganda." At least in my case, I write tweets and emails where I make heartfelt prayers for their repentance. They are people who "fall into the network," so to speak, in good conscience. But in reality it is impossible to judge the conscience in these case or in general terms. Some trolls may feel in good conscience that it is right to fight their crusade against what is pointed out as the "enemy." The strategy is to identify a target, a precise objective: the enemy. 
...Douthat apologized. The ultraconservative blog undergrowth did not. Clearly we are talking about different standards. It strikes as a headboard that First Things did not have the courage to admit that it had been deceived... 
CNN asked me to comment on what was happening. This sent the army of trolls into delirium. But then it entered a more virulent phase... 
...Someone tried to breach my account. Part of the machinery of the mud alleged that I wanted to hide behind a fake account. From there another part of the machinery of the mud made sympathetic epithets, so it escalated. They wanted to say the account was fake when it was merely mine! 
...The famous Raymond Arroyo posted...which caused rejoicing [among the cybertrolls, I think he means]. 
Is there not something strange? 
Marco Tosatti, who collects these kinds of stories, simply recopied something from an American blog and added a few ironic notes. Then he tries to spread the word by posting the same tweet obsessively 15 times in a row from his account...I point out (politely) to Dr. Tosatti that he has fallen into the error of Douthat... 
...he tells me this, "To me it is unknown." Without any problem Tosatti admits that he knows nothing of the affair and does not understand the objection. Had he only heeded by pleas and not lent his voice to echoing the anti-papal American blogs that were the "echoes" of false news. 
...(Edward Pentin) sends me a series of questions stating that "avoiding answering them will be interpreted as a non-response." These echoed those scattered by the organized system of "trolls." Obviously I do not answer. 
What is the moral of the story?...The media strategy started soon after the dubia the Cardinals made public and delivered to the press. There had been no great reaction except in some circles. So someone saw fit to create as much noise as possible to draw attention. 
What makes us understand this strategy? The use of defamation and manipulation, in my view, suggests three things. 
The first is that the action of Francis is effective and touches a chord. He puts his finger on it. 
The second thing is that "the spirits express themselves", according to Bergoglio. The climate of hatred and provocation is always a sign of an evil spirit and has nothing to do with the Gospel. So you can easily discern this! If everything was seemingly quiet it would be worse. 
The third is that the ones hostile to Francesco are self-referential groups that do not hold open and serene debate but seek an enemy to fight against, echoing one another. Some sites have an uncritical copy paste policy  Not to mention some Twitter accounts. But these are things that are known... 
How to get out of this impasse? With patience. It takes a lot of patience. And trust in the ongoing process. The attacks are part of the process and are unavoidable... 
So there it is. Antonio Spadaro has problems, as he would even agree in a sense. But he would say that none of them are of his own making. So many people are against him. As the paranoid Captain Queeg testified, it all started with the strawberries...

But of course (to be serious now) we, as faithful Catholics, are facing a much larger problem, and Spadaro only represents an atom of it.

Or should I not call the community of faithful Catholics "cybertrolls," at least those faithful Catholics who participate in social media? Antonio Spadaro think that we are.

I am a troll. That Catholic school-teacher is a troll. The deacon is a troll. The mother of seven who at the end of a 14-hour day spends a half-hour on Facebook communicating with her Catholic friends is a troll. That priest is a troll. You are a troll.

We may be trolls now but I understand on good authority that we are all trying to eventually become saints. Even trolls have dreams, you know. God grant that many of us will succeed.

But in the morning, Antonio Spadaro will still be tweeting pictures of what he had for dinner.


  1. We found out the Bears had eaten the strawberries. Look. When you are blaming your problems on some conspiracy, that's a sign you are in serious trouble, and you know it. That only plays for the true believers. And I DO think it's stupid to try to bolt an American phenomenon onto Francis' troubled Vatican Family. Unlike Trump, NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE POPE except a bunch of bloggers, who are clearly scoring body shots. This Vatican just does not get PR. They know the words but not the music. Yet they think they do. Nope. Amateurs, from Lombardi's severe personality disorder to Spadaro's narcissism and clumsiness. And let us not forget the walking talking gaffe machine Francis himself. Having been away from blogging due to other commitments, I realize how much we bloggers have our heads into stuff most people don't care about. Ah, but Francis does. Perhaps we are another force they must factor into their calculations? Because, THEIR heads are so into it, too. I think we matter. But not because we are reaching the masses. Someone from the Vatican City State shows interest in the Bear. QED.

  2. The Bear said it best: "Unlike Trump, NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE POPE except a bunch of bloggers..."

    I asked an ex-Dominican priest friend of mind what he thought about Pope Francis. He said he "found nothing interesting" in anything coming from the Vatican. I guess this is probably the case with most folks as there are not many who care about eternal life either.

  3. It's haunting (and nauseating) to realize that one could hurl the old schoolyard comeback, " it takes one to know one" , at Francis' diagnosis of coprophagia.

  4. A priest not wearing his Roman collar is not to be taken seriously. Can we start pointing this out? Does he want to be liked so much that he dresses like a 'dressing-down' CEO who wants to get closer to the 'workers?'