Pope Francis and non-Catholics
The Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” also contains multiple problematic statements with respect to non-Catholic religions. For example, Pope Francis writes:
“As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word … God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the Church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism.”
The reference to 1 Thes 1:9 really has nothing to do with the stunning claim that Judaism is not a foreign religion, or that Jews are not called to turn from idols and “serve the true God”. I invite you to read the verse for yourself, in context, at this link. Why this irrelevant biblical passage was cited in the text is anyone’s guess. Sacred Scripture offers no support for the idea that the Jews are not to be evangelized and converted to Christ. On the contrary, the apostles gave their lives for the conversion of their kinsmen according to the flesh, even going into their temples to proselytize and suffering martyrdom. We have also, of course, the words that St. Peter himself preached to the Jews:
And as they were speaking to the people, the priests, and the officer of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead: And they laid hands upon them, and put them in hold till the next day; for it was now evening. But many of them who had heard the word, believed; and the number of the men was made five thousand. And it came to pass on the morrow, that their princes, and ancients, and scribes, were gathered together in Jerusalem;
And Annas the high priest, and Caiphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest. And setting them in the midst, they asked: By what power, or by what name, have you done this? Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said to them: Ye princes of the people, and ancients, hear: If we this day are examined concerning the good deed done to the infirm man, by what means he hath been made whole: Be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God hath raised from the dead, even by him this man standeth here before you whole.
This is the stone which was rejected by you the builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:1-12)
But it gets even worse. Here’s “Evangelii Gaudium” driving another nail in the coffin of Catholic evangelism:
“Non-Christians, by God’s gracious initiative, when they are faithful to their own consciences, can live ‘justified by the grace of God’, and thus be ‘associated to the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ’. But due to the sacramental dimension of sanctifying grace, God’s working in them tends to produce signs and rites, sacred expressions which in turn bring others to a communitarian experience of journeying towards God. While these lack the meaning and efficacy of the sacraments instituted by Christ, they can be channels which the Holy Spirit raises up in order to liberate non-Christians from atheistic immanentism or from purely individual religious experiences. The same Spirit everywhere brings forth various forms of practical wisdom which help people to bear suffering and to live in greater peace and harmony. As Christians, we can also benefit from these treasures built up over many centuries, which can help us better to live our own beliefs.”
To which a Catholic need only respond with the Syllabus of Errors, by which Pope Pius IX condemns the following propositions:
15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true. — Allocution “Maxima quidem,” June 9, 1862; Damnatio “Multiplices inter,” June 10, 1851.
16. Man may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation. — Encyclical “Qui pluribus,” Nov. 9, 1846.
17. Good hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ. — Encyclical “Quanto conficiamur,” Aug. 10, 1863, etc.
The error of indifferentism has been condemned repeatedly by popes, councils, saints, and doctors of the Church in thundering passages like this one from Pope Gregory XVI:
“Now We consider another abundant source of the evils with which the Church is afflicted at present: indifferentism. This perverse opinion is spread on all sides by the fraud of the wicked who claim that it is possible to obtain the eternal salvation of the soul by the profession of any kind of religion, as long as morality is maintained. Surely, in so clear a matter, you will drive this deadly error far from the people committed to your care. With the admonition of the apostle that ‘there is one God, one faith, one baptism’ may those fear who contrive the notion that the safe harbor of salvation is open to persons of any religion whatever. They should consider the testimony of Christ Himself that ‘those who are not with Christ are against Him,’ and that they disperse unhappily who do not gather with Him. Therefore ‘without a doubt, they will perish forever, unless they hold the Catholic faith whole and inviolate.’ Let them hear Jerome who, while the Church was torn into three parts by schism, tells us that whenever someone tried to persuade him to join his group he always exclaimed: ‘He who is for the See of Peter is for me.’ A schismatic flatters himself falsely if he asserts that he, too, has been washed in the waters of regeneration. Indeed Augustine would reply to such a man: ‘The branch has the same form when it has been cut off from the vine; but of what profit for it is the form, if it does not live from the root?’
This shameful font of indifferentism gives rise to that absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone. It spreads ruin in sacred and civil affairs, though some repeat over and over again with the greatest impudence that some advantage accrues to religion from it. ‘But the death of the soul is worse than freedom of error,’ as Augustine was wont to say.”
It would be unfair to single out Pope Francis as being uniquely prone to confusing statements about non-Catholic religions. The Second Vatican Council, along with the popes of the post-conciliar era, all helped lay the groundwork. What is unique about Pope Francis, however, is that he doesn’t seem to be at all concerned – thus far – about openly contradicting established doctrine or the pre-conciliar magisterium. But perhaps it’s too early. When the religious indifferentism of Bl. John Paul II’s pontificate got out of control, due in part to many of his own statements, his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was compelled to issue “Dominus Iesus” and thereby saved the day. Let’s hope that a similar corrective will soon be forthcoming, and the sooner the better.