Reply to Critics of Human Fraternity

Response to the Protest against Idolatry part 3

The Protest document links the accusation of idolatry against Pope Francis to

Protest document: This participation in idolatry was anticipated by the statement entitled “Document on Human Fraternity”, signed by Pope Francis and Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Mosque, on February 4, 2019. This statement asserted that:

“The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives.”

Pope Francis’s involvement in idolatrous ceremonies is an indication that he meant this statement in a heterodox sense, which allows pagan worship of idols to be considered a good positively willed by God.

Moreover, despite privately advising Bishop Athanasius Schneider that “You [the Bishop] can say that the phrase in question on the diversity of religions means the permissive will of God…” , Francis has never corrected the Abu Dhabi statement accordingly. In his subsequent audience address of April 3, 2019 Francis, answering the question “Why does God permit that there are so many religions?”, referred in passing to the “permissive will of God” as explained by Scholastic theology, but gave the concept a positive meaning, declaring that “God wanted to permit this” because while “there are so many religions” they “always look to heaven, they look to God (emphasis added).” There is not the slightest suggestion that God permits the existence of false religions in the same way He permits the existence of evil generally. Rather, the clear implication is that God permits the existence of “so many religions” because they are good in that they “always look to heaven, they look to God.” [Contra Recentia Sacrilegia (Protest against Pope Francis’s sacrilegious acts)]

The above accusation was included in the “Open Letter” as one of seven false accusations of formal heresy against Pope Francis.

Human Fraternity: “Freedom is a right of every person: each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action. The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives. Therefore, the fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept….”

1. The point in question is whether the diversity of religions is willed by God permissively, as when God permits persons to sin gravely but positively wills that they avoid sin, or willed by God positively, as when God wills “all men to be saved and to arrive at an acknowledgment of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4). As a matter of very clear fact, the Magisterium has NEVER defined the answer by formal dogma, under Papal Infallibility, or Conciliar Infallibility, or the ordinary and universal Magisterium. No magisterial texts even answer this question directly. The answer can only be arrived at by a theological argument, which makes the answer NOT dogma, and any contrary answer NOT heresy.

Therefore, this theological question, answered either way, cannot truly be said to anticipate an act of idolatry, especially since (as explained in previous posts), the Pope is not guilty of idolatry at all.

2. The diversity of sex, that humanity is divided into male and female, is positively willed by God. It is an essential part of the plan of salvation, as proven by the choice of God to create Adam and Eve, to have Mary assist Christ in all that He does for our salvation, to make the family one of the cornerstones of the Church and of society, etc.

Differences of race, color, ethnicity, and language are not as essential to the plan of God as sex. These differences are goods, but goods which are non-essential. This point proves that the text of Human Fraternity does not require the interpretation that all the things listed are willed by God in the same way as sex.

Then when we come to the question of diversity of religion, we are in no way compelled to the conclusion that the document asserts this diversity to be the same as sex or as color or language.

In addition, the claim of the Protest document, that diversity of religion includes false religion is refuted by the text of Human Fraternity. There, religion is defined in a way which excludes idolatry, pagan and folk religions, and the worship of evil. Still, more than a few religions would still fall under that narrowed term in Human Fraternity, including but not limited to: Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, Protestant denominations, Judaism, moderate peaceful Islam, and perhaps a few others. The non-Catholic religions contain substantial error, but many also contain substantial truths on faith and morals. They cannot be utterly condemned as if they were forms of idolatry.

Therefore, the conclusion is false that Human Fraternity necessarily implies that the diversity of religion includes false religions, the worship of evil, or idolatry. The conclusion is also false that Human Fraternity necessarily implies that God positively wills the diversity of religion. And, as noted by the Protest document, Pope Francis himself repeatedly stated that God wills the diversity of religions permissively.

To accuse Pope Francis of heresy, or of teaching an error that supports or approves idolatry, when he repeatedly stated, publicly as well as privately to one of his prominent critics (Bishop Schneider), that it is only permissively willed is a blatant false accusation against the Vicar of Christ.

3. The text of Human Fraternity

Human Fraternity: “The first and most important aim of religions is to believe in God, to honour Him and to invite all men and women to believe that this universe depends on a God who governs it. He is the Creator who has formed us with His divine wisdom and has granted us the gift of life to protect it.”

“Moreover, we resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.”

“The firm conviction that authentic teachings of religions invite us to remain rooted in the values of peace; to defend the values of mutual understanding, human fraternity and harmonious coexistence; to re-establish wisdom, justice and love;”

“Dialogue among believers means coming together in the vast space of spiritual, human and shared social values and, from here, transmitting the highest moral virtues that religions aim for.”

The above quote narrows the term religion, at least as used in Human Fraternity and in the expression diversity of religion, so as to exclude idolatry, pagan or folk religions, and any worship of evil, as well as any so-called religion with little or no true religious value. The term religion in that document is restricted to religions that believe in God and worship him, excluding Satanism, paganism, and idolatry. The term religion also excludes religious fanaticism, such as cults or violent extremists. And notice that a true religion must offer wisdom, justice, and love.

So even if one interpreted the expression “God wants to permit this” as positively willed, it does not include “false religions” or the “pagan worship of idols” as the Protest document falsely claims. Moreover, everything permissively willed is something that God wants (has decided) to permit, even mortal sin as a result of free will. The diversity of religions is a result of free will, which is why it is termed a human freedom (even if human persons sometimes choose poorly).

4. My position

Finally, I must point out that the theological opinion that God positively wills the diversity of religion (with the term narrowed to only religions that help along the path of salvation) is not heresy, and may be more probable that the other position, that God only permissively wills this diversity.

My opinion is that, before the fact of our sinfulness, God positively wills that all human persons be saved in the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and that they come to a knowledge of the fullness of truth that the Catholic Faith presents. But after the fact of our sinfulness, because our human weaknesses, imperfections, sins and failings sometimes make human persons unable to see the Catholic Faith as the one true Faith, God wills positively that other good religions exist, so that these persons may have a path to salvation that is at least partially lit by the limited truths these religions offer. And this position has never been condemned by the Magisterium, nor has the answer to this question ever been answered, except non-infallibly by Pope Francis. One can make a theological argument to either position, but a theological argument’s conclusion is not dogma.

5. Hypocrisy

The version of Catholicism offered by the papal critics is more damaged and has more error in it than many of the other religions that these critics disdain. Consider the popular book Infiltration, which accuses the Church Herself of being infiltrated by Satan, and of having her Popes, Vatican II, and many points of doctrine and discipline controlled by this infiltration. This claim is an complete rejection of the Church; it is heretical and schismatic. Moreover, if the Church were infiltrated by Satan, She could not also have Christ as Her head and the Holy Spirit as Her soul. The accusation utterly destroys the Christian Faith, making this a case of apostasy, as well as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Which is worse, to be a devout believing and practicing Jew, Muslim, or non-Catholic Christian, or to be an apostate who has not only committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, but has encouraged many other Catholics to do the same? Do persons guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit go to Heaven? No. Do Jews, Muslims, and non-Catholic Christians go to Heaven? Yes, by the millions.

So it is absurd to accuse the Roman Pontiff of heresy and idolatry, for seeing good in other religions, when the version of Catholicism offered by these critics is heretical and schismatic, if not also apostasy and blasphemy.

Certain conservative leaders on the far right in Catholicism have decided that freedom of religion is an evil, not a good, that Judaism and Islam are (according to them) false religions, and that God only saves baptized Christians (a condemned heresy). Therefore, they hate the Pope for teaching this doctrine on freedom of religion and on the diversity of religions. But they themselves believe and practice a version of Catholicism which is hateful, faithless, blasphemous, and nothing but pride in their own narrow-minded ideas. They fall under their own condemnation for practicing a false religion which idolizes conservatism, their own misunderstandings, and a Pharisaical obsession with liturgical form.

They are very much like the Pharisees of old, who were condemned by Jesus:

{5:20} For I say to you, that unless your justice has surpassed that of the scribes and the Pharisees you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

This entry was posted in commentary. Bookmark the permalink.