Proselytism Is “A very grave sin against ecumenism”
“He, who had been she,
but is he.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ founded a single Church, the one true Church. The Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church is the sole Church of Christ, built on the rock of Peter; and he who refuses to enter it will perish forever.1
The Savior commanded the Church to teach all peoples, transmitting her doctrine of salvation and baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Mark 16:15; Matt. 28:19).
Therefore, out of fidelity to her Divine Founder, the Church has the obligation to do apostolate and earnestly strive for the conversion and sanctification of men, bringing them into the fold of Christ.
Thus, to stop seeking the conversion of those in the darkness of paganism, heresy or schism is tantamount to abandoning the salvific mission that Christ entrusted to the Apostles and their successors.
A Sin Against Ecumenism?
For this reason, Pope Francis’ answer to a seminarian during his recent trip to Georgia on whether he should do apostolate with his Orthodox friends perplexes many of the faithful. Francis said:
“And now one final thing…the problem of ecumenism. Never fight! Let the theologians study the abstract realities of theology. But what should I do with a friend, neighbor, an Orthodox person? Be open, be a friend. ‘But should I make efforts to convert him or her?’ There is a very grave sin against ecumenism: proselytism. We should never proselytize the Orthodox! They are our brothers and sisters, disciples of Jesus Christ.”2
Some days later, on October 13, speaking to German Protestants and Catholics that went to Rome in an ecumenical pilgrimage, Pope Francis was more precise about proselytism. Said he:
“It’s not right to convince someone of your faith.”“Proselytism is the strongest venom against the path of ecumenism.”3
Leaving one’s friends in the grip of heresy and schism is not true friendship, but cruelty. True friendship, the fruit of charity, is not to abandon friends to schism and heresy but to do everything—with due respect and prudence—to lead them to the true doctrine and union with the Church of Jesus Christ. In other words, it is to do apostolate.
When calling proselytism a “very grave sin against ecumenism” Pope Francis does not make clear whether he is talking about “sin” in its proper theological sense (an offense against God) or in a merely metaphorical sense. But, when he declares, “It’s not right to convince someone of your faith,” he puts the issue in moral terms of right and wrong, which gives a theological meaning to the affirmation that to proselytise is a sin. Now, to qualify as a sin converting someone to the Catholic Church goes directly against the command of Our Lord Jesus Christ to do apostolate, “Going therefore, teach ye all nations.” (cf. Mark 16:15; Matt. 28:19).
It is also unclear if he is presenting ecumenism as a new rule of faith and morals in which an act of virtue, such as doing apostolate, would become a sinful act. Conversely, using the same logic, one could argue that a vicious act would become virtuous. Would that be the key to understand the Pope’s confusing statements on homosexuality and “transgenderism”?
Schismatics: Disciples of Christ?
It could be argued that the Supreme Pontiff does not condemn the apostolate but rather “proselytism,” which ecumenists see as a coercive way to induce someone to change his faith. The fact is that the seminarian asked if he should “make efforts to convert” a schismatic friend, not to coerce him. And the reason the Pope gave to condemn these efforts was not of the manner in which they were done, but of a theological nature: For Francis, the “orthodox” already “are our brothers and sisters, disciples of Jesus Christ.”
His words suggest that “orthodox” (who are not only schismatic but also heretics because they deny Catholic dogma4) are part of a “Church of Christ” that encompasses different churches, an error specifically condemned by the Popes as shown below.
“Christ Did Not Institute a Church to Embrace Several Communities”
In his Encyclical Satis Cognitum, on the oneness and unity of the Church, Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) teaches:
“It is so evident from the clear and frequent testimonies of Holy Writ that the true Church of Jesus Christ is one, that no Christian can dare to deny it….
[W]hen we consider what was actually done we find that Jesus Christ did not, in point of fact, institute a Church to embrace several communities similar in nature, but in themselves distinct, and lacking those bonds which render the Church unique and indivisible after that manner in which in the symbol of our faith we profess: ‘I believe in one Church’.”5
And further on:
“Another head like to Christ must be invented − that is, another Christ − if besides the one Church, which is His body, men wish to set up another.…
The Church of Christ, therefore, is one and the same for ever; those who leave it depart from the will and command of Christ, the Lord − leaving the path of salvation they enter on that of perdition.”6
Also clear are the words of his predecessor, Pius IX (1846-1878) condemning indifferentism:
“Also well known is the Catholic teaching that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church. Eternal salvation cannot be obtained by those who oppose the authority and statements of the same Church and are stubbornly separated from the unity of the Church and also from the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff…”7
Homosexuality and “Transgenderism”
On his return flight, the Pope gave his customary interview to journalists dealing, among others, with two topics that became headlines: homosexuality and “transgenderism.”
On the first issue, he said that in his priestly life he accompanied people with homosexual tendencies and also others with homosexual activity. And he made another confusing statement that was highlighted by the media: “When a person who has this condition comes before Jesus, Jesus certainly does not say: ‘Go away because you are homosexual.’” In his statement it is not clear if he refers only to those who have that disordered tendency but remain chaste or whether it also covers those with “homosexual activity,” as the media readily interpreted.
An example of the advantage the liberal media drew from the Pope’s words is the title of this release from Reuters, a major international news agency: “Pope says Jesus won’t kick gays out of heaven.”8
“He, Who Had Been She, but Is He”
Further on, Francis dealt with “transgenderism” or “transsexualism.” Obviously, one cannot change his sex but only the appearances. A sex change is a biological impossibility, as sexual identity “is written on every cell of the body and can be determined through DNA testing. It cannot be changed.”9
While criticizing “gender theory” as “ideological colonization,” the Pope accepts people who mutilate their bodies to take on the appearance of the opposite sex. He goes so far as to tell the story of two women he received at the Vatican, calling one of them (who had a “sex change”) “he” and using the term “marriage” to refer to the union between the two. He fails to make the slightest allusion to the sin of revolt against God’s designs regarding one’s own sex and the impossibility for two people of the same sex to marry. Here is what he said:
“He was born a female, a girl, and he suffered greatly because he felt that he was a boy but physically was a girl. He told his mother, when he was in his twenties, at 22, that he wanted to have an operation and so forth. His mother asked him not to do so as long as she was alive. She was elderly, and died soon after. He had the operation. He is a municipal employee in a town in Spain. He went to the bishop. The bishop helped him a great deal, he is a good bishop and he “wasted” time to accompany this man. Then he got married. He changed his civil identity, he got married and he wrote me a letter saying that it would bring comfort to him to come see and me with his bride: he, who had been she, but is he. I received them.”10
Statements That Do Not Contribute to Salvation
What more could be said about Pope Francis’ astonishing (but regrettably usual) statements? Do they contribute to the sanctification and salvation of the faithful entrusted to his pastoral care? Who could claim that? Clearly, these continuous and, at the least, ambiguous papal statements only increase the doctrinal confusion and the mass exodus of Catholics to Pentecostal churches or theoretical and practical atheism. Such is the result of efforts to mold the Church according to a concept of mercy that favors sin.
But we must not be discouraged because, as Saint Paul teaches, God never sends trials greater than our strength, aided by grace:
“And God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13.)
Let us have earnest recourse to Mary Most Holy, Seat of Wisdom, to enlighten us and obtain for us the grace of being faithful in this terrible trial and resisting and fighting distortions of Catholic doctrine and practice.
- Analyzing this point in his treatise On the Church of Jesus Christ, Fr. Joaquin Salaverri, S.J., lists a series of papal and conciliar documents through the ages that affirm the need to belong to the Church, at least by desire, to save one’s soul. He concludes: “Dogmatic value: One clearly sees through the documents of the Church that the need to belong to the Church is a dogma of faith.” (Spanish text online at http://www.mercaba.org/TEOLOGIA/STE/iglesia/libro_3_cap_2.htm#Articulo%20V, accessed October 8, 2016 (our translation).
- Address of the Holy Father, Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Tbilisi, October 1, 2016, http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2016/october/documents/papa-francesco_20161001_georgia-sacerdoti-religiosi.html, accessed October 8, 2016. (All emphases are ours.)
- ANSA, “Proselytism venom against ecumenism-pope: Francis addresses Lutheran pilgrims” available at http://www.ansa.it/english/news/vatican/2016/10/13/proselytism-venom-against-ecumenism-pope_f39b848d-c170-46ba-b2ae-a58366ec391e.html, accessed October 15, 2016; Luca Marcolivio, Zenit, “Francesco ai luterani: ‘Il proselitismo, il veleno più forte contro l’ecumenismo’” available at https://it.zenit.org/articles/francesco-ai-luterani-il-proselitismo-il-veleno-piu-forte-contro-lecumenismo/, accessed October 14, 2016.
- Cf. Corrado Gnerre, Le differenze fra la Chiesa Cattolica e le chiese ortodosse, accessed October 8, 2016.
- Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, June 29, 1893, No. 4, http://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_29061896_satis-cognitum.html, accessed October 8, 2016.
- Ibid., No. 5.
- Pius IX, Encyclical Quanto Conficiamur Moerore (On Promotion of False Doctrines), August 10, 1863, available at http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius09/p9quanto.htm, accessed October 8, 2016. Cf. Pius XI, Encyclical Mortalium Animus, January 6, 1928; Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, June 29, 1943.
- Reuters Media, October 2, 2016, http://www.westfargopioneer.com/news/4127852-pope-says-jesus-wont-kick-gays-out-heaven, accessed October 12, 2016.
- “The Psychopathology of ‘Sex Reassignment’ Surgery ─ Assessing Its Medical, Psychological, and Ethical Appropriateness,” The National Catholic Bioethics Center, in Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “Sex Change”: Biological Impossibility and Revolt Against God, available at https://www.tfp.org/tfp-home/catholic-perspective/sex-change-biological-impossibility-and-revolt-against-god.html#footnote_1, accessed October 8, 2016.
- “In-Flight Press Conference of His Holiness Pope Francis from Azerbaijan to Rome,” October 2, 2016, http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2016/october/documents/papa-francesco_20161002_georgia-azerbaijan-conferenza-stampa.html, accessed October 8, 2016.