Pope Francis: If You’re Not With the Council Then You’re Not With the Church! And the Council? Is it With the Church?

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Pope Francis: If You’re Not With the Council Then You’re Not With the Church! And the Council? Is it With the Church?
Pope Francis: If You’re Not With the Council Then You’re Not With the Church! And the Council? Is it With the Church?

On January 30, speaking to Italian bishops about catechesis, Pope Francis suddenly changed the subject and talked about the Second Vatican Council.

He stated: “The Council is the Magisterium of the Church. Either you are with the Church, and therefore follow the Council, and if you do not follow the Council or interpret it in your own way, as you wish, you are not with the Church.”1

More than fifty years since the Council ended, this is the first time that a pope has ever made such a statement. It was done off the cuff, as the Argentine pope likes to do, departing from the prepared text he was reading.

This statement is extremely serious because theologians and scholars have shown ambiguities and errors in Vatican II since that assembly came to an end.

This notwithstanding, according to Pope Francis, anyone who shows that some Vatican II texts cannot be reconciled with the Church’s perennial teaching, and refuses to accept the new doctrines out of fidelity to the faith of the ages, would be tantamount to excommunicated.

Can that be true? No. One cannot be excluded from the Church for being faithful to her infallible teaching.

The burden of proof that the new doctrines do not contradict infallible dogma lies with the innovators. In this article, we will consider just one example of the contradictions to illustrate how this burden has not been met.

A “Pastoral,” Not a Dogmatic Council

Vatican II is sui generis in that it is supposedly a “pastoral” not a dogmatic council. In fact, it neither condemned errors nor proclaimed truths of Faith.

In its opening speech, on October 11, 1962, Pope John XXIII made clear that the Council’s teaching would be “mainly pastoral” and that Catholic doctrine “was to be studied and expounded [by the Council] ‘by using modern methods of research and the literary forms of modern thought.’”2

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At the same time, the pope said that the Council would not condemn modern errors but employ “the medicine of mercy” instead of the “weapons of rigor” against them.3

On closing the Council, Paul VI declared that in it “the teaching authority of the Church … [had not wished] to issue extraordinary dogmatic pronouncements.”4

Furthermore, in the January 12, 1966 general audience, Paul VI reaffirmed that “[G]iven the pastoral character of the council, it avoided pronouncing, in an extraordinary way, dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility; but it nevertheless endowed its teachings with the authority of the supreme ordinary magisterium.”5

Again, at the March 8, 1967 general audience, the same pontiff confirmed that the Council had, as one of its programmed items, “not to issue new solemn dogmatic definitions.”6

Therefore, Vatican II chose to avoid using that infallibility which obliges the faithful to accept what is defined under pain of falling into heresy and automatic expulsion from the Church.

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It is true that the Church’s ordinary magisterium must also be accepted. However, this teaching does not enjoy infallibility per se and, therefore, can contain errors and affirm something opposed to doctrine that has already been taught infallibly. When an accurate examination in the light of traditional doctrine proves the ordinary teaching to be in error, it must be rejected.7

Now, Vatican II’s ordinary magisterium contradicts previous infallible magisterium on important points.

Dogmatic Relativism

As mentioned above, following the express wishes of John XXIII, the Council used modern philosophies. It did this despite Pius XII’s warning: “It is evident … that such [attempts] [to allow dogma to be expressed with modern philosophy concepts] not only lead to what they call dogmatic relativism but that they actually contain it.”8

The basis of dogmatic relativism is the denial of absolute truth and its complete distinction from error. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Relativism, roughly put, is the view that truth and falsity, right and wrong, standards of reasoning, and procedures of justification are products of differing conventions and frameworks of assessment and that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them.”9

Relativism is what explains the statement by John XXIII that the Council would not issue condemnations. There being no absolute truths, the Church, which previously condemned errors, now dialogues with them.

A doctrinal truth where this relativism stands out most clearly is one’s need of the Church to attain salvation.

“No Salvation Outside the Church,” a Dogma of Faith

This truth of Faith was taught by Church Fathers and Doctors from the earliest times and reiterated by Councils and countless popes.

Pope Gregory XVI (1831–1846) attests to this in his encyclical Summo Iugiter (May 27, 1832). He affirms that this “article of Faith” was taught “by the ancient Fathers in an almost infinite number.” He mentions, among others, “St. Gregory the Great, who clearly states that that was the doctrine of the Catholic Church. He says that, ‘The holy universal Church proclaims that God cannot be duly adored except within it. Therefore, whoever finds himself outside it, will absolutely not be able to save himself.’”

He continues: “There are also solemn documents of the Church, announcing the same dogma. The decree on Faith, promulgated by our Predecessor Innocent III with the assent of the IV Lateran Ecumenical Council, reads: ‘One, in truth, is the universal Church of the faithful; outside of it no one can save himself in any way.’” He adds: “Finally, the same dogma is found expressly in the professions of Faith proposed by the Apostolic See.”

Therefore, Gregory XVI concludes, “Whoever finds himself outside of it will absolutely not be able to save himself.”10

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This is, therefore, an infallible truth. Pius XII (1939–1958) approved the August 8, 1949 Letter from the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Boston: “Now, among those things which the Church has always preached and will never cease to preach is contained also that infallible statement by which we are taught that there is no salvation outside the Church.”11

However, the same Pius XII, and before him also Pius IX (1846–1878), explained that those who are outside the body of the Church by invincible ignorance but live by the natural moral law, have charity and a burning desire to obey God, are somehow related to the Church and can obtain salvation.12

To be saved, those in heretical or schismatic sects or paganism must be there only “materially,” i.e., without giving a formal adherence to the error and revolt they contain.13

As Pius IX warns, it is impossible to attain eternal glory by “living in error and alienated from the true faith and Catholic unity.”14

A Dogma Denied in Practice

Lumen Gentium (LG), Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, is the Council’s most important document since our religion hinges on what the Catholic Church is.

While saying that there is no salvation outside the Church, in practice, LG denies this dogma by presenting the Church as somehow linked with all religions, which it sees as sanctifying and salvific.

In article 14, LG clearly states that the Church “is necessary for salvation,” and “[w]hosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.”15

However, the very next section contradicts this statement. Referring to those who “do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter” (i.e., heretics and schismatics), LG asserts that the Holy Spirit “is operative among them with His sanctifying power” strengthening many “to the extent of the shedding of their blood.16

Unitatis Redintegratio, the Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, goes even further by claiming that the Holy Spirit acts not only on individuals in the state of invincible ignorance but does so through churches separated from the Catholic Church. Indeed, it says: “It follows that the separated Churches and Communities as such…the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church.”17

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The Second Vatican Council
“The Second Vatican Council” © Album / Alamy Stock Photo

If people can sanctify themselves and even become martyrs outside the Church, and if heretical and schismatic sects can serve as “means of salvation,” what remains of the dogma that there is “no salvation outside the Church”? It becomes a meaningless, vacuous formula.

Nevertheless, this new conception in LG contradicts Church Magisterium as clearly stated by the Council of Florence:

[The Council] It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.18

The Holy Spirit Does Not Sanctify Outside the Church

Pius XII teaches that the Holy Spirit does not sanctify outside the Church: “Finally, while by His grace He [the Holy Spirit] provides for the continual growth of the Church, He yet refuses to dwell through sanctifying grace in those members that are wholly severed from the Body.19

The Holy Spirit grants people graces of conversion to give up error and join the Church, because, in the present order, that is, after Jesus consummated the Redemption and founded His Church, sanctifying graces are given in function of the Church, as the Jesuit theologian Ludovico Lercher emphasizes: “In the present order, no supernatural grace is given except in order to the Church of Christ. For this reason, the Holy Spirit impels and helps men to come to the knowledge of the truth and then be incorporated as members of the Church.”20

God Cannot Be Contradictory

In article 16, LG says that the Church is “related” with the Jewish people, “from whom Christ was born according to the flesh” and that it “remains most dear to God.”21

Nostra Aetate (the Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions), says that the Jewish people, who received the Old Covenant, remain beloved by God because of the Patriarchs, and that “the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great.”22

Yet, between the Old Testament people of Israel and present-day Judaism, there was the rupture represented by the rejection of Jesus Christ, the very reason for God’s promise and covenant with the Jewish people.

Eternal and Natural Law: The Foundation of Morals and Law

In his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, Pope Pius XII states: “[B]y the death of our Redeemer, the New Testament took the place of the Old Law which had been abolished.” Further ahead, he states that, “[o]n the Cross then the Old Law died, soon to be buried and to be a bearer of death.”23

LG goes on to say that the “plan of salvation also includes…the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God.”24

How is it possible for Christians to worship together with Muslims a God Who, for us, is Trinitarian—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Three Persons in One God—and for them is Unitarian? How can we worship with them, when they regard the Blessed Trinity as polytheism that the sword must exterminate?25

Guiltless Atheists

LG explains that those who do not know the Gospel through no fault of their own can also attain salvation. That is possible, as we have seen, when they are merely passive infidels who practice the natural moral law and by an act of love for God are linked to the Church “by desire.”

LG goes on to state that the necessary help for salvation is also received by those who, “without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God”—therefore, atheists—but who “with His grace, strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.”26

A Doctrine Put Into Practice

LG’s doctrine on the Church (completed by Unitatis Redintegratio, on ecumenism, and Nostra Aetate, on dialogue with non-Christian religions) did not remain in the abstract but was put into practice. One of the many examples of this was the inter-religious gathering at Assisi on October 27, 1986. It saw the presence of thirty-two Christian and eleven non-Christian groups. Christian and pagan prayers were said, and ceremonies held.27

In practice, many post-conciliar events have denied the dogma that there is no salvation outside the Church. Pope Francis doctrinally denied this dogma in signing the Document on Human Fraternity at the Abu Dhabi inter-religious meeting of February 4, 2019, which unequivocally affirms that God wills “the pluralism and the diversity of religions.”28

By dogmatizing everything that Vatican II affirms and “excommunicating” those who do not accept its new doctrines, Pope Francis contradicts the “spirit of the Council” and the express intentions of the pope who opened that ecclesiastical assembly and the one who closed it.

The errors mentioned above, notably the Council texts that contradict the Catholic dogma that there is “no salvation outside the Church,” and this dogma’s practical denial in the ecumenical implementation of this Council teaching cannot be accepted.

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Confident in the intervention of Mary Most Holy, who in Fatima promised the triumph of her Immaculate Heart, we remain faithful to the Catholic doctrine always taught by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the Popes and Councils.

Photo Credit:  “The Second Vatican Council” © Album / Alamy Stock Photo


  1. Adriana Masotti, “Il Papa: chi non segue il Concilio non sta con la Chiesa,” Vatican News, Jan. 30, 2021, https://www.vaticannews.va/it/papa/news/2021-01/papa-francesco-udienza-ufficio-catechistico-cei-concilio-chiesa.html.
  2. Ralph M. Wiltgen, S.V.D., The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber: The Unknown Council (New York: Hawthorne Books, 1967), 14. (Our emphasis.) See also Walter M. Abbot, S.J. and Joseph Gallagher, eds. The Documents of Vatican II (New York: Guild Press-America Press-Association Press, 1966), 715. We rely here on the text of the opening speech as published the following day by L’Osservatore Romano and reproduced by almost all collections of Vatican II documents in different languages. The speech’s Italian text published in L’Osservatore Romano differs a bit from the Latin version. It is more explicit in its acceptance of modern methodology and thought. (See Romano Amerio, Iota Unum, trans. John P. Parsons [Kansas City, Mo.: Sarto House, 1996], 78.) The Latin text is the official one from the strictly canonical standpoint. However, the Italian version is important to know the pontiff’s mind and his intentions in holding the Council. It seems to be the original since in a speech to the cardinals, John XXIII quoted the Italian text from L’Osservatore. This shows that L’Osservatore’s version expressed well John XXIII’s thoughts and intentions for the Council. See “Discorso Del Santo Padre Giovanni XXIII Al Sacro Collegio e Alla Prelatura Romana In Occasione Della Solennità Del Santo Natale,” Dec. 23, 1962, http://www.vatican.va/content/john-xxiii/it/speeches/1962/documents/hf_j-xxiii_spe_19621223_prelatura-romana.html. “Solenne Apertura del Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II – Discorso del Santo Padre Giovanni XXIII,” Oct. 11, 1962, no. 5, http://www.vatican.va/content/john-xxiii/it/speeches/1962/documents/hf_j-xxiii_spe_19621011_opening-council.html.
  3. Solemn Opening of the Vatican II Ecumenical Council—Speech of the Holy Father John XXIII. “There is no time in which the Church has not opposed these errors; she has also often condemned them, and sometimes with the utmost severity. As for the present time, the Bride of Christ prefers to use the medicine of mercy instead of taking up the weapons of rigor.” Ibid., no. 7, 2.
  4. “Address of Pope Paul VI During the Last General Meeting of the Second Vatican Council,” Dec. 7, 1965, http://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/speeches/1965/documents/hf_p-vi_spe_19651207_epilogo-concilio.html.
  5. Paul VI, General Audience (Jan. 12, 1966), http://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/it/audiences/1966/documents/hf_p-vi_aud_19660112.html. (Our translation and emphasis.)
  6. Paul VI, General Audience (Mar. 8, 1967), http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/it/audiences/1967/documents/hf_p-vi_aud_19670308.html. (Our translation.)
  7. See Arnaldo Vidigal Xavier da Silveira, Can Documents of the Magisterium of the Church Contain Errors? (Spring Grove, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property—TFP, 2015).
  8. Pius XII, Encyclical Humani Generis (Aug. 12, 1950), no. 16, http://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_12081950_humani-generis.html. (Our emphasis.)
  9. Maria Baghramian and J. Adam Carter, “Relativism,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta, ed., https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/relativism/.
  10. Gregory XVI, Brief Summo Iugiter, http://www.vatican.va/content/gregorius-xvi/it/documents/breve-summo-iugiter-27-maggio-1832.html. (Our translation and emphasis.)
  11. Benedictine Monks of Solesmes, The Church, trans. Mother E. O’Gorman, R.S.C.J. (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1962, 1980), 645. Letter of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office (Aug. 8, 1949), https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/letter-to-the-archbishop-of-boston-2076.
  12. See Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis Cristi, http://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_29061943_mystici-corporis-christi.html; Pius IX, Encyclical Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, https://www.papalencyclicals.net/pius09/p9quanto.htm.
  13. See Ludovico Lercher S.J., Institutiones Theologiae Dogmatice, (Barcelona: Herder, 1945), vol. 1, 235.
  14. Pius IX, Quanto Conficiamur Moerore.
  15. Lumen Gentium, no. 14, http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html.
  16. Ibid., no. 15.
  17. Unitatis Redintegratio, no. 3, https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19641121_unitatis-redintegratio_en.htm.
  18. Bull Cantata Domino, Feb. 4, 1442, in Heinrich Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 714, http://patristica.net/denzinger/#n700. (Our emphasis.)
  19. Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi, no. 57.
  20. Ludovico Lercher, S.J., Institutiones Theologiae Dogmaticae (Barcelona: Herder, 1945), 1: 252.
  21. Lumen Gentium, no. 16.
  22. Nostra Aetate, no. 4, https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html.
  23. Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi, 29, 30. Commenting on Romans 11:25–32, Jesuit fathers Bover and Cantera state: “St. Paul clearly announces the future conversion of Israel. This conversion, at least morally, will be universal, and will happen after all nations have accepted the Gospel.” Jose Maria Bover, S.J. and Francisco Cantera Burgos, S.J., Sagrada Biblia (Madrid: Biblioteca de Auctores Cristianos, 1961), 130, note.
  24. Lumen Gentium, no. 16.
  25. See The Koran, 4:171, 5:73, and 5:116. “Polytheists” should be killed: Koran 9:5. See Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, Islam and the Suicide of the West (Spring Grove, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, 2018).
  26. Lumen Gentium, no. 16.
  27. See Henry Sire, Phoenix from the Ashes (Kettering, OH: Angelico, 2015), 382–8; see also William F. Murphy, “Remembering Assisi After 20 Years,” America 195, no. 12 (Oct. 23, 2006), https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/588/article/remembering-assisi-after-20-years.
  28. Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “Theological and Canonical Implications of the Declaration Signed by Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi,” TFP.org, Feb. 27, 2019, https://tfp.org/theological-and-canonical-implications-of-the-declaration-signed-by-pope-francis-in-abu-dhabi/.

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