March 19, 2002
volume 13, no. 52

Man With A Mission

Part One

by Mark Fellows
    "Behind the stirring rhetoric, the progressives were leveling the differences between religions, particularly between Christianity and atheism. But no man-made cause was important enough to lose one's faith over, and Popes resisted the interreligious utopians------until 'the other school' ascended to the papacy, that is. These Popes, the Popes of the Second Vatican Council, have tended to interpret and implement Council decrees in accordance with the principles of the vaguely Christian, utopian politics of Catholic progressivism. Nowhere is this tendency more evident today than in the area of 'interreligious dialogue'."

    The Origins of Interreligious Dialogue

    At nearly thirty-five years and counting, penetration of the documents of Vatican II is revealing a neo-modernist gnosis. The most striking example of this occurred during the present pontificate, when the Supreme Pontiff, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, attributed the 1986 pan-religious prayer-meeting at Assisi to cryptic passages in Council documents. [1] 1. "The appropriate key to interpret such a great event," John Paul II said of Assisi, "derives from the teaching of the Second Vatican Council . . ." He went on to cite several passages from Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes, in a December 22, 1986 address to the Roman Curia.

    Never mind all the nonsense about John Paul II being the "Pope of the Restoration." His allegiance, like the allegiance of his predecessors, Popes John and Paul, is not to Tradition but to what Pope John XXIII himself called "the other school": [2] 2. Paul Johnson, Pope John XXIII, Little, Brown, and Company, 1974, p.82. a progressive element in 20th Century Catholicism that championed the Sillon [a lay organization condemned by Pope St. Pius X], sympathized with socialists and socialism [condemned by Pius XI], and encouraged the worker priest experiment [condemned by Pope Pius XII]. The difference between then and now is that today the progressives are running the Church and, understandably, want not only to rehabilitate their condemned predecessors but to legitimize their own "tradition" as well.

    Church Tradition and the tradition of "the other school" presents a study in contrasts. For instance, before becoming Pope John XXIII, Paris nuncio Angelo Roncalli gave a nod and a wink to the post-World War II "worker-priest experiment," which trained French priests to work in factories, organize strikes, and participate in violent protests against Parisian factory owners. [3] 3. Giancarlo Zizola, The Utopia of Pope John XXIII, Orbis Books, 2nd Edition, English Translation, Chapter 6. A well placed friend of Roncalli's, [Pius XII's substitute Secretary of State] Monsignor Giovanni Baptiste Montini, called the worker-priest experiment a "supernatural" movement. [4] 4. Peter Hebblethwaite, Paul VI, pp. 216-217. A young Polish priest, Father Karol Wojtyla, thought the worker-priest movement so positive a development that he wrote an article defending it. [5] 5. Jonathan Kwitny, Man Of The Century, The Life and Times Of Pope John Paul II, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1997, pp.114-115. Far less impressed was Pius XII, who replaced Roncalli with a nuncio more willing to pull the plug on the worker-priest novelty.

    Soon after replacing Roncalli, Pius exiled Montini to Milan------deliberately withholding a Cardinal's hat to prevent Montini from succeeding him to the papacy; but that is another story. What the Sillon, the socialists, the Christian Democrats, and the worker-priest experiment had in common was a tendency to glorify man instead of God, and a pan-religiosity that in practice was agnostic, if not atheistic. "The other school's" often well-meaning attempts to mitigate the suffering of this world, particularly the suffering of the poor, invariably degenerated from its original Christian impulse into a this-world utopianism, which is another name for many things, including Judaism and Freemasonry. The commonality between the Sillon, who were praised by the future John XXIII, the Christian Democrats, who counted in their ranks the future Paul VI, and the fledgling apostolate Opus Dei, which would later bankroll Pope John Paul II, was a preoccupation with the material world of work and progress and politics, a sort of secular messianism with Christian window dressing.

    The other commonality between these organizations and "the other school" was what is now called "ecumenism." Marc Sangnier, the founder of the Sillon, declared, "All of us, Catholics, Protestants, and Free Thinkers, will have at heart to arm young people for battle in the field of social and civic virtues." [6] 6. Sangnier's quote is taken from the encyclical of Pope St. Pius X, Our Apostolic Mandate, Par. 34, Republished by Instauration Press, 1990. Behind the stirring rhetoric, the progressives were leveling the differences between religions, particularly between Christianity and atheism. But no man-made cause was important enough to lose one's faith over, and Popes resisted the interreligious utopians------until "the other school" ascended to the papacy, that is. These Popes, the Popes of the Second Vatican Council, have tended to interpret and implement Council decrees in accordance with the principles of the vaguely Christian, utopian politics of Catholic progressivism. Nowhere is this tendency more evident today than in the area of "interreligious dialogue."

    But don't take my word for it. Just read a new book, John Paul II and Interreligious Dialogue [Orbis Books, Maryknoll, 1999], published just in time to catch the ecumenical wave as it surged to crest during the Millennial Jubilee. The book's foreword is by Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, who writes approvingly of the "radically innovative activities of the Pontiff," like "the unprecedented meeting in Assisi." Appointed by the Pope as President of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and as President of the Pontifical Commission for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Cassidy also offers an interesting revision of Holy Scripture. Where St. Paul declared, "Woe unto me if I do not preach the Gospel," Cardinal Cassidy asserts, "Woe to me if . . . I am lacking in respect and love for those created in the divine image." [p. xiii] That this is the closest thing to an anathema in the whole book is not surprising given the book's dedication: "In Memory of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin."

    John Paul II and Interreligious Dialogue is a compilation of the thoughts of John Paul II regarding the Church's interreligious dialogue with Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism, and responses to the Pope by representatives of those religions. Harold Kasimow and Byron Sherwin, the book's co-editors, respond at length to the Pope's remarks on Judaism. Professor Kasimow, a Holocaust survivor and American Professor of Religious Studies, begins the book: As "a Jew deeply committed to interfaith dialogue," he is "very impressed with" the Pope's "love for humanity, for each individual person, regardless of his or her faith commitment." He is, in fact, "amazed by Pope John Paul lI's strong commitment to interfaith dialogue." For him the Pope is a "brilliant intellectual and mystic" who believes that "interfaith dialogue can help to repair and transform the world."

    Professor Kasimow is also enthusiastic in his praise for John Paul being "influential in the drafting of Vatican lI's Nostra Aetate." In fact Archbishop Wojtyla was not significantly involved in the "drafting, but Kasimow's mistake is understandable, given the pride of place John Paul has given Nostra Aetate as Pope. Kasimow is more accurate in his analysis of John Paul's encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Mission of the Redeemer, [1990], from which he quotes the following:

    "The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all." [RM 55]
"To my knowledge," Kasimow writes, "the Pope has never used the term 'anonymous Christian'." Yet John Paul's "position on this issue," he concludes, "seems to be similar to that of Karl Rahner." [p. 7] Kasimow is not alone in this conclusion, and it seems a fair one, given the snippet Mr. Kasimow quoted. But the Pope says many things in Redemptoris Missio, and since it is often cited in John Paul II and Interreligious Dialogue, it will be useful to briefly examine the encyclical, especially its focus on interreligious dialogue.

Redemptoris Missio

    Redemptoris Missio was issued on the 25th anniversary of Ad Gentes [Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church], the Vatican II document on missions to "the two billion non-Christian peoples in Africa, Asia, and Oceania." [Ad Gentes, Chapter 2, Par. 10, nt. 36] The document's preface asserted that "the present historical situation is leading humanity into a new stage," a stage optimistically characterized by the Council Fathers as "the movement of modern man toward world community and the effective unity of mankind."

    But by the 25th anniversary of Ad Gentes not even rose-tinted spectacles could disguise the bad news: modern man still acted a lot like pre-modern man. True, there was a world community, of sorts. The web of international finance bickered with an infant world government over how to discipline and educate their great child, a world community characterized by incessant civil war, enormous disparities in wealth, technology, and standards of living, and restless materialism, immorality, murder and crime. Christianity was comatose in the West. In Central and South America Protestants were converting Catholics by the millions. Catholic missions in Asia were persecuted, and in Africa were co-opted by local traditions and customs. Many priests "went native," allowing their Masses to resemble pagan ceremonies. Others followed the post-conciliar drift and lapsed into indifference regarding the conversion of non-Christians.

    To be blunt, missions were going nowhere, and in Redemptoris Missio John Paul conceded as much, noting "an undeniable negative tendency," which "the present document is meant to help overcome." The Pope also admitted:

    "Missionary activity specifically directed 'to the nations' [ad gentes] appears to be waning . . . Difficulties both internal and external have weakened the Church's missionary thrust toward non-Christians, a fact which must arouse concern among all who believe in Christ. For in the Church's history, missionary drive has always been a sign of vitality, just as its lessening is a sign of a crisis of faith." [RM 2]
    According to John Paul,
    ". . . as a result of the changes which have taken place in modern times and the spread of new theological ideas, some people wonder: Is missionary work among non-Christians still relevant? Has it not been replaced by interreligious dialogue? . . . Does not respect for conscience and for freedom exclude all efforts at conversion? Is it not possible to attain salvation in any religion? Why then should there be missionary activity?" [RM 4, emphasis in original]
    That these questions were being asked at all, much less being asked publicly by the Pope, indicates that the state of worldwide missions was dismal indeed. John Paul's answers to these questions took up most of the next one hundred pages of Redemptoris Missio. Initially the Pope seemed bent on rallying the troops, declaring missionary work was "still relevant" because "salvation can only come from Jesus Christ." [RM 5] Furthermore, "Proclaiming Christ and bearing witness to Him, when done in a way that respects consciences, does not violate freedom." [RM 8] There should be missionary activity because "true liberation consists in opening oneself to the love of Christ . . . Mission is an issue of faith," asserted the Holy Father, "an accurate indicator of our faith in Christ and His love for us." [RM 11, emphasis in original]

    This is certainly true. One could also add that faith in Christ is inseparable from faith in what His Church teaches. One of those teachings, that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church, has fueled missionary work and its essential byproduct, Martyrdom, for two millennia. In Redemptoris Missio the Pope asks a question that profoundly impacts not only missionary work but interreligious dialogue and the nature of the Church as a Divine institution: "Is it not possible to attain salvation in any religion?" The Pope's answers merit examination.

    Before doing so, it is necessary to note a tendency in the post-conciliar Church to "reinterpret" the teaching that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. The reinterpretation involves ignoring the rule and emphasizing the possibilities of exceptions to the rule.

    Such a reinterpretation is not possible anyway, since the dogma that outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation is an article of faith, not subject to change or reinterpretation. [7] 7. Vatican Council I taught infallibly, "The meaning of Sacred Dogmas, which must always be preserved is that which our Holy Mother the Church has determined. Never is it permissible to depart from this in the name of a deeper understanding." Session Ill, Chap. IV, Faith and Reason. Pope Eugene IV proclaimed ex cathedra at the Council of Florence:

    "The Most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews, heretics, and schismatics can ever be partakers of eternal life, but that they are to go into the eternal fire 'which was prepared for the devil and his angels,' [Mt. 25: 41] unless before death they are joined with Her; . . . no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved unless they abide within the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church." [8] 8. Bull, Cantante Domino, Eugene IV, Feb. 4, 1442, Council of Florence.
    Blessed Pope Pius IX, who constantly reiterated Catholic Church's doctrine of exclusive salvation, warned of the dangers of even speculating on the invincibly ignorant, let alone those who live outside the Church. In Singulari quadam he declared that "it is unlawful to proceed further in inquiry" regarding the possibility of salvation for the invincibly ignorant, lest the dogma no salvation outside the Church be undermined." [9] 9. For a fuller treatment of this subject, consult "Invincible Ignorance Neither Saves Nor Condemns" by Father Michael Mueller, The Catholic Dogma, (Benzinger Brothers, 1888), pp. 211-216. Reprinted in Catholic Family News, August, 1998, p. 11.     In Redemptoris Missio John Paul splits the difference between traditional teaching and post-conciliar tendency. He does so by briefly noting "the necessity of the Church for salvation," [Par. 9] and then dwelling at length on his abiding hope for exceptions to the rule------without enlightening his audience about his misplaced emphasis. For instance, he stresses that "The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church." [RM 10] For these non-Catholics,

    "Salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation." [RM 10]

    Instead of realistically quantifying the long odds of salvation of those who live outside the Church, he continues to emphasize exceptions to the rule by citing------paraphrasing, actually------Paragraph 22 of Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes:

    "Since Christ died for everyone, and since the ultimate calling of each of us comes from God and is therefore a universal one, we are obliged to hold that the Holy Spirit offers everyone the possibility of sharing in this Paschal Mystery in a manner known to God."
    This is certainly true enough, as far as it goes. Omitted, however, is the reality of Original Sin and the bald fact that humanity, generally speaking, has a pretty unimpressive track record of responding to God's call. Also ignored is the reality that without the teaching and sanctifying grace found only in the Catholic Church, it is virtually impossible for a significant number of non-Catholics to accept the offer to share in the Paschal mystery, or to persevere in the life of grace. One must conclude here that, unfortunately, John Paul's answer to his own question------Is it possible to attain salvation in any religion?------is equivocal, at least in its implications.

Next week: Part Two: "Interreligious Utopianism?" www.DailyCatholic.org

Your email:
Your name:
E-mail it  to:

EDITOR'S NOTES: We have received the gracious permission of John Vennari, editor of Catholic Family News to reprint various articles he has published in the excellent Roman Catholic monthly publication. This multi-part article is by Mark Fellows, a regular contributor to CFN.

Note: [editor's bold, brackets and italicized for emphasis]

March 19, 2002
volume 13, no. 52
FOCUS on a Top Story
Return to Current Issue