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The Church of Nothing Special

In December 2018, Bishop Robert Barron was asked a question by Ben Shapiro. Mr. Shapiro professed to be an observant, practicing Jew. He asked Bishop Barron whether, in the view of the Catholic Church, he is, accordingly, damned.

Citing the Second Vatican Council for his authority, Bishop Barron answered that Mr. Shapiro is not damned — that Catholicism is the “privileged way” to salvation but that people who follow their conscience or obey the laws of their faith sincerely can be saved. He added that those people are saved “through the grace of Christ, indirectly received.”

This made me think of a train heading to a station called “Heaven.” Some passengers on the train are in the club car, enjoying cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and some are in a no-frills coach. However, when the train finally arrives at its destination, everyone gets off in the same place.

Bishop Barron implied that those people in the no-frills coach are really members of the Catholic Church, whether they like it or not. They are members because of their sincere efforts to do what they, through no fault of their own, think is right. (En route announcement: For those of you who are traveling in the no-frills coach, pay no attention to the bad publicity the Catholic Church is currently experiencing.)

Just weeks later, in early February 2019, Pope Francis traveled to Abu Dhabi to attend the Global Conference of Human Fraternity, sponsored by the Muslim Council of Elders. There he signed a document entitled “A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” which declared, among other things, that “the pluralism and the diversity of religions … are willed by God.”

The Document on Human Fraternity explains:

The first and most important aim of religions is to believe in God, to honor 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.

No representatives of the world’s other plural and diverse religions signed this Document on Human Fraternity. I wonder how they feel about Pope Francis and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyib, speaking for them.

In essence, Pope Francis has given the Church a revised Catechism. The ramifications for Part One, Section Two, Chapter Three, Article 9, Numbers 811 through 822 of the current Catechism are staggering.  Those are the teachings that the Triune God founded only one Church. This proclamation of a culture of tolerance (see the quote below) can mean only that no religion should seek to claim superiority over any other. In other words, there really is nothing special about the institutional Catholic Church.

So much for “the privileged way,” eh, Bishop Barron? If you were going to rely on the teachings of Vatican II to comment on the salvation of Jews, you would have done better (though not necessarily well) to say, “The people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh (that is, the Jews) are saved on account of their fathers.” (Compare Lumen Gentium, number 16.)

But Bishop Barron said salvation is available to all because, one way or another, salvation is from and through Jesus Christ. Not so, according to the Document on Human Fraternity endorsed by the pope, which states that “the values of peace, justice, goodness, beauty, human fraternity and coexistence” are the “anchors of salvation for all[.]”

The Document on Human Fraternity purports to be about “human fraternity, world peace and living together,” but that distracts us from its core message. It is about salvation and how to achieve it. Why do I say that? Because the Document on Human Fraternity says so:

We, who believe in God and in the final meeting with Him and His judgment, on the basis of our religious and moral responsibility, and through this Document, call upon ourselves, upon the leaders of the world as well as the architects of international policy and world economy, to work strenuously to spread the culture of tolerance and of living together in peace; to intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of innocent blood and bring an end to wars, conflicts, environmental decay and the moral and cultural decline that the world is presently experiencing.

In a document about death and judgment (and, implicitly, about Heaven and Hell), there is no mention of Jesus Christ. There is the Creator, but no Redeemer.

This should not be a surprise in a document co-signed by the pope and the grand imam. It was pre-ordained at Vatican II. See again number 16 of Lumen Gentium:

But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.

So there it is. Acknowledgment of the Creator is sufficient for salvation. There is no need of a Redeemer. The Document on Human Fraternity is the fulfillment of Lumen Gentium.

The teaching of the Document on Human Fraternity that God wills the pluralism and diversity of religions is utterly refuted by the “Manifesto of Faith,” released by Gerhard Cardinal Müller almost simultaneously with the Document on Human Fraternity.

The distinction of the three persons in the divine unity marks a fundamental difference in the belief in God and the image of man from that of other religions. Religions disagree precisely over this belief in Jesus the Christ. (Manifesto, Section 1.)

This action by the pope was not spontaneous or off the cuff. It was carefully planned, scripted, and executed. Let theologians blather on about papal infallibility, the ordinary magisterium, and how this new pronouncement fits into the hermeneutic of continuity. Meanwhile, this pope has an agenda to complete, and what an agenda it has turned out to be.

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