In a May 29, 2023 audience, Francis recounted one of his characteristically hostile attacks on Catholics who engage in proselytism:
“I had a bad experience in this, in a youth meeting, some years ago; I was coming out of the sacristy and there was a woman, very elegant, and you could see she was wealthy too, with a boy and a girl. And this lady, who spoke Spanish, said to me: ‘Father, I am happy because I have converted this two: this one comes from such-and-such, that one from such-and-such.’ I was angry, you know, and I said, ‘You haven’t converted anyone, you lack respect for these people: you have not accompanied them, you have proselytized, and this is not evangelizing.’ She was proud to have converted! Be careful to distinguish apostolic action from proselytism: we do not proselytize. The Lord never proselytized.”
With such a reaction from Fr. Bergoglio, one wonders whether he managed to convert the poor woman and the children into non-Catholics. Indeed, has anyone — Martin Luther and Henry VIII included — ever done more than Francis to convert Catholics to another religion?
In any case, most Catholics will recognize the obvious contradiction between Francis’s May 29, 2023 message and the one Our Lord Jesus Christ delivered to His disciples after His Resurrection:
“Going therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
The reason we have Catholics today is because Christ’s disciples and their successors have understood these words to mean exactly what they say — we are called to cooperate with God’s grace to lead souls to His Church. In other words, we are called to do the opposite of what Francis wants us to do.
While we may be tempted to believe that Francis has developed these attacks on proselytism on his own, it is important to see that he is simply amplifying the messages that have been promoted by his predecessors for over sixty years.
While we may be tempted to believe that Francis has developed these attacks on proselytism on his own, it is important to see that he is simply amplifying the messages that have been promoted by his predecessors for over sixty years. As we can see from the following snapshots of anti-proselytism rhetoric, the core message has remained the same ever since John XXIII launched his Council to enshrine false ecumenism.
2012 “Catechetical Sunday” Article from USCCB. Fr. Leo Walsh’s 2012 article published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — “Proselytism and Evangelization: Important Distinctions for Catholic Catechists” — provides important background on the anti-proselytism movement. Fr. Walsh presented two arguments against proselytism. First, we ought to dislike proselytism because it is “intolerant”:
“It is important to recognize that proselytizing always carries with it a moral judgment. ‘To engage in proselytizing implies a moral judgment of error (in assent) or impropriety (in action) on the part of the aliens being proselytized, and the consequent adoption of a course of action designed to bring the mistaken aliens into the fold of those who think rightly or behave properly. Particular proselytisms, then, imply (and are sometimes explicit about) the rightness or propriety of what they proselytize on behalf of, and, concomitantly, the wrongness or impropriety of what they proselytize against’ (‘Proselytizing for Tolerance,’ 32).
It is this element of moral judgment that gives the term its pejorative connotation in the present-day climate that so highly extols the virtue of ‘tolerance.’”
Proselytism was not a bad thing until it became a problem for Christians to “try to win adherents from other Christian communities.” Again, there is some irony in Francis hectoring actual Catholics into abandoning true Catholicism to follow the anti-Catholic religion he promotes.
Fr. Walsh would not have known it in 2012, but there is irony in the fact that Francis shows himself to be incredibly intolerant of Catholics when he is lecturing them against the moral evils of intolerant proselytism. However, it is Fr. Walsh’s second point that gets to the heart of the matter:
“Another factor contributing to the pejorative sense of the word is frustration with the attitudes and methods employed by proselytizers. In a statement in 1995, the Joint Working Group between the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches acknowledged that at one time the term had a positive meaning as a term for missionary activity, but in the context of the modern ecumenical movement, it takes on a negative connotation when Christians try to win adherents from other Christian communities.”
Proselytism was not a bad thing until it became a problem for Christians to “try to win adherents from other Christian communities.” Again, there is some irony in Francis hectoring actual Catholics into abandoning true Catholicism to follow the anti-Catholic religion he promotes — is it not the case that he has become one of the most egregious proselyters in the world?
2003 Apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II. In his 2003 Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Europa, John Paul II made essentially the same distinction Francis has made twenty years later, albeit with less anger:
“Despite the inevitable difficulties, I ask everyone to acknowledge and appreciate, in love and fraternity, the contribution which the Eastern Catholic Churches can offer for a more genuine building up of unity through their very presence, the richness of their tradition, the witness of their ‘unity in diversity,’ the inculturation which they have accomplished in their proclamation of the Gospel, and the diversity of their rites. At the same time I wish to assure once more the pastors and our brothers and sisters of the Orthodox Churches that the new evangelization is in no way to be confused with proselytism, without prejudice to the duty of respect for truth, for freedom and for the dignity of every person.”
As is clear from the context, John Paul II was trying to promote ecumenical outreach toward non-Catholics, and his argument is that we can share our Catholic beliefs without criticizing the beliefs of others. His reference to “the duty of respect for truth” is fascinating — how can one respect truth while simultaneously showing the same respect for the errors opposed to that truth?
The common denominator throughout appears to be an insistence that Catholics should not try to persuade others to become Catholic.
1982 Ecumenical Considerations on Jewish-Christian Dialogue. The report entitled “Ecumenical Considerations on Jewish-Christian Dialogue” was promoted by the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches at Geneva in 1982. While it does not appear that the Vatican played a direct role in drafting this specific study, its criticism of proselytism is worth considering because it purports to dictate the way in which Christians in general, and Catholic specifically, should be allowed to discuss religious matters with the Jewish communities:
“Christians have often distorted their witness by coercive proselytism - conscious and unconscious, overt and subtle. Referring to proselytism between Christian churches, the Joint Working Group of the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches stated: ‘Proselytism embraces whatever violates the right of the human person, Christian or non-Christian to be free from external coercion in religious matters.’ (Ecumenical Review, 1/1971, p. 11) . . . Such rejection of proselytism, and such advocacy of respect for the integrity and the identity of all persons and all communities of faith are urgent in relation to Jews, especially those who live as minorities among Christians.”
Because this obviously does not relate to the respect we must show fellow baptized Christians, it seems that there must be something else at play other than the ecumenical endeavor to unite Christians. The common denominator throughout appears to be an insistence that Catholics should not try to persuade others to become Catholic.
2018 Document from the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity. This 2018 document promulgated by Cardinal Kurt Koch and the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity — “Pentecostals, Charismatics and Evangelicals: Impact on the Concept of Unity” — exposes some of the most important roots of anti-proselytism. To begin with, the document explains the role of Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae:
“[T]he Second Vatican Council also rejected every form of proselytism in its Declaration on Religious Freedom ‘Dignitatis humanae,’ when it for example emphasised that ‘in spreading religious faith and in introducing religious practices everyone ought at all times refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion or of a kind of persuasion that would be dishonourable or unworthy especially when dealing with poor or uneducated people.’
This provision from Dignitatis Humanae is exceptionally broad and subject to varying interpretations: clearly it prohibits burning heretics at the stake, but does it allow Catholics to mention hell, or talk about the flaws in Martin Luther’s religious positions? Undoubtedly, this provision leaves no room for Catholics to teach that there is no salvation outside the Church.
The 2018 document also refers to a 1961 study that propelled the anti-proselytism movement even before Vatican II:
“This negative connotation of the word proselytism has come to predominate in the ecumenical movement notably since the study document adopted at the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in New Delhi in 1961 which states: ‘Proselytism is not something totally distinct from authentic witness: it is the corruption of witness. Witness is distorted when – subtly or openly – cajolery, bribery, undue pressure or intimidation are applied in order to achieve a seeming conversion.’”
So the anti-proselytism movement not only began well before Francis, it even pre-dated Vatican II. As we can see, none of this has anything to do with Scripture or Tradition — it is all based on the desire of non-Catholics to avoid hearing about why they should become Catholic.
The anti-proselytism movement is also anti-truth, anti-Catholic and, ultimately, anti-Christ. Moreover, it is simply a grotesque application of the error Blessed Pius IX denounced in 1846, with his Qui Pluribus.
Cardinal Augustin Bea. It is hard to overstate the importance of Cardinal Augustin Bea in both the ecumenical movement and the current crisis in the Church. In 1960, John XXIII appointed him as the first President of the “Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity,” one of the preparatory commissions for the Council. His influence at the Council was such that Yves Congar wrote that it was “turning into Cardinal Bea’s Council” (Congar, My Journal of the Council, November 25, 1962 entry).
Upon the fiftieth anniversary of Bea’s death, Francis addressed the commemorative meeting organized by the “Cardinal Bea” Centre for Judaic Studies of the Pontifical Gregorian University together with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Centre for the Study of Christianity of the Jewish University of Jerusalem:
“Cardinal Bea was convinced that love and respect are the primary principles of dialogue. He was convinced that ‘Respect will also teach us the right way to propose the truth’ (L’Unione dei Cristiani, 1962, 72). It is true: there is no truth apart from love, and love finds expression above all in the capacity to accept, to embrace, to take to oneself.” (February 28, 2019)
As nice as this sounds, we know that Cardinal Bea was not the first Catholic to introduce the concept that we should treat our neighbors (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) with love and respect; so we must recognize that his impact went well beyond simply adding civility and charity to dialogue. To get a better sense of what Bea actually brought to the ecumenical movement, we can look to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s account in They Have Uncrowned Him:
“‘Freemasons, what do you want? What do you ask of us?’ Such is the question that Cardinal Bea went to ask the B’nai B’rith before the beginning of the Council. The interview was announced by all the newspapers of New York, where it took place. And the Freemasons answered that what they wanted was ‘religious liberty!’ — that is to say, all the religions put on the same footing. The Church must no longer be called the one true religion, the sole path of salvation, the only one accepted by the State. Let us finish with these inadmissible privileges. And so, declare religious liberty. Well, they got it: it was Dignitatis Humanae.” (p. 214)
This would sound outrageous were it not for the fact that it is arguably the most rational explanation for everything that has happened in the Church since the Council. Archbishop Lefebvre made many enemies by telling the truth about the problems with Dignitatis Humanae and the Conciliar view of religious liberty. With Francis, though, we can see that he was correct all along.
The anti-proselytism movement is also anti-truth, anti-Catholic and, ultimately, anti-Christ. Moreover, it is simply a grotesque application of the error Blessed Pius IX denounced in 1846, with his Qui Pluribus
“Also perverse is the shocking theory that it makes no difference to which religion one belongs, a theory which is greatly at variance even with reason. By means of this theory, those crafty men remove all distinction between virtue and vice, truth and error, honorable and vile action. They pretend that men can gain eternal salvation by the practice of any religion, as if there could ever be any sharing between justice and iniquity, any collaboration between light and darkness, or any agreement between Christ and Belial.
If we are with Christ, let us do all we can to oppose Francis and all those who think it is charity to hide God’s graces and truth from souls. The only way to show true love and respect to our non-Catholic neighbors is to do all we can to convert them to the only Faith that can lead them to Heaven. Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us! Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!
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