It’s a subject I’ve addressed in these pages more than once. Catholics MUST evangelize those of other faiths with a desire to convert them. “Dialogue” alone, without the intent of winning converts, is useless. In January, I wrote about my own experiences as a Catholic missionary, and how rare that missionary spirit is today:
Religious indifference — the idea that usually takes shape under the deception that people all religious faiths are on a shared journey to salvation — has become alarmingly commonplace among the Catholic clergy. So much so that it comes as a shock when we hear a priest, bishop, or pope say something which indicates to the hearer that conversion to Catholicism is of the utmost importance. It is much more likely that we’ll hear apologies for the historical fact that Catholic missionaries brought the saving faith of their Church to the indigenous peoples of various lands, often at the cost of their own lives.
I’ve written before on why we can’t be indifferent to indifferentism. Eric Sammons has discussed one of the most important missing components of effective evangelization. We talk constantly in these pages about the importance of good liturgy, of reverence, of authentic devotion, and spiritual warfare.
At the heart of it all, though, is one simple question: do you believe that membership in the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation?
If you can’t answer that question with a resounding, “Yes!”, you can’t be an effective missionary. If you don’t have a conviction that Christ established ONE Church for the purpose of transmitting the sacraments and thereby offering access to the graces necessary for heaven, you will never have the courage to share that treasure with others. If you believe that people are probably “just fine where they are” and never even give them a reason to consider Catholicism, you may be unwittingly neglecting your role as the person God sent to invite them to a life of eternal happiness.
It appears that our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI agrees. In a story released this afternoon, we learn that today, he has broken his customary silence to address an important topic:
On March 16, speaking publicly on a rare occasion, Pope Benedict XVI gave an interview to Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, in which he spoke of a “two-sided deep crisis” the Church is facing in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. The report has already hit Germany courtesy of Vaticanist Guiseppe Nardi, of the German Catholic news website Katholisches.info.
Pope Benedict reminds us of the formerly indispensable Catholic conviction of the possibility of the loss of eternal salvation, or that people go to hell:
The missionaries of the 16th century were convinced that the unbaptized person is lost forever. After the [Second Vatican] Council, this conviction was definitely abandoned. The result was a two-sided, deep crisis. Without this attentiveness to the salvation, the Faith loses its foundation.
He also speaks of a “profound evolution of Dogma” with respect to the Dogma that there is no salvation outside the Church. This purported change of dogma has led, in the pope’s eyes, to a loss of the missionary zeal in the Church – “any motivation for a future missionary commitment was removed.” Pope Benedict asks the piercing question that arose after this palpable change of attitude of the Church: “Why you should try to convince the people to accept the Christian faith when they can be saved even without it?” As to the other consequences of this new attitude in the Church, the Catholics themselves, in Benedict’s eyes, were less attached to their Faith: If there are those who can save their souls with other means, “why should the the Christian be bound to the necessity of the Christian Faith and its morality?” asked the pope. And he concludes: “But if Faith and Salvation are not any more interdependent, even Faith becomes less motivating.”
Pope Benedict also refutes both the idea of the “anonymous Christian” as developed by Karl Rahner, as well as the indifferentist idea that all religions are equally valuable and helpful to attain eternal life. He says: “Even less acceptable is the solution proposed by the pluralistic theories of religion, for which all religions, each in its own way, would be ways of salvation and, in this sense, must be considered equivalent in their effects.”
Considering how strongly the indifferentist program figures into the current pontificate, could this be considered, even obliquely, a criticism of a sitting pope by his still-living predecessor? It is impossible to say that this was Benedict’s intention, but the words he uses — and the truth behind them — speak for themselves.