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Another Interview, Another Controversy

UPDATE: Some more perspectives on what the pope said:

From Jimmy Akin

From Father Z

And a revised translation in the works.

Creative Minority Report

Sr. Flannigan

Egregious Twaddle

Fr. Longenecker

Pope Francis Pope Francis has done another interview, this time with an atheist at an Italian newspaper. While the controversy over the last interview can in large part be attributed to selective reporting by newspapers, there are some legitimate concerns from Dr. Janet Smith, Catholic Answers and others. The latest interview is problematic because there really isn't any way to claim that the pope was ambiguous.  His statements were concise and in some cases, repeated. The only things that can possibly be claimed are that the interview as published wasn't complete or that the translation is bad. Here are some examples:

It's a joke I tell him. My friends think it is you want to convert me. He smiles again and replies: "Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good."

Unless the pope knows some definition of proselytism that isn't in the dictionary, "the great command" of Christ was to proselytize all nations and here the pope calls it "solemn nonsense." He seems to give a little hope at the end by mentioning "the Good" but quickly crushes it in the next questions:

Your Holiness, is there is a single vision of the Good? And who decides what it is? "Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good." Your Holiness you wrote that in your letter to me. The conscience is autonomous, you said, and everyone must obey his conscience. I think that's one of the most courageous steps taken by a Pope. "And I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place."

"We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is good"?? I would expect that from any moral relativist but it certainly isn't Catholic teaching. The Church teaches that people need to be encouraged to learn what is "the Good" and move towards it, not to move towards what they think is good. His next response is even more bizarre. Every dictator in history thought he was doing what was best for his country, even while murdering millions. The pope is either not saying what I think he is saying, or he is naive.


Is the Church doing that? "Yes, that is the purpose of our mission: to identify the material and immaterial needs of the people and try to meet them as we can. Do you know what agape is?" Yes, I know. "It is love of others, as our Lord preached. It is not proselytizing, it is love. Love for one's neighbor, that leavening that serves the common good."

Christian love has always been about bringing others to salvation. It seems here that the pope is reducing love to a worldly thing separate from salvation. By setting love and proselytizing as things opposed, he seems to be discounting what true love really is about. Later in the interview he brings this up again which really makes it hard to not say that he sees Christian love and the desire to save souls as opposed to each other.

You Christians are now a minority. Even in Italy, which is known as the pope's backyard. Practicing Catholics, according to some polls, are between 8 and 15 percent. Those who say they are Catholic but in fact are not very are about 20%. In the world, there are a billion Catholics or more, and with other Christian churches there are over a billion and a half, but the population of the planet is 6 or 7 billion people. There are certainly many of you, especially in Africa and Latin America, but you are a minority. "We always have been but the issue today is not that. Personally I think that being a minority is actually a strength. We have to be a leavening of life and love and the leavening is infinitely smaller than the mass of fruits, flowers and trees that are born out of it. I believe I have already said that our goal is not to proselytize but to listen to needs, desires and disappointments, despair, hope. We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace. Vatican II, inspired by Pope Paul VI and John, decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to be open to modern culture. The Council Fathers knew that being open to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. But afterwards very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and ambition to want to do something."

At the very beginning of the interview is a quote from the pope that isn't in context which makes it seem that the published interview isn't complete but is still pertinent to the tone of the interview as a whole. This quote may have come from the letter the pope sent to Eugenio Scalfari, the interviewer.

"The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don't even look for them any more. They have been crushed by the present. You tell me: can you live crashed under the weight of the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing."

Really? Youth unemployment and loneliness among the elderly? The "most serious evils"? A twenty-something who can't get a job and is living with his parents is confronting a worse evil than millions of aborted babies? (Oops, I'm obsessing.) The pope says some good and interesting things in the interview such as " The Church must feel responsible for both souls and bodies." but since the pope seems to be saying that seeking conversion is bad, what's the point of concern for the soul? It is disturbing that every time the pope speaks, reams of virtual paper are wasted to try and explain that what the pope said is really the same as what the Catholic Church teaches. The pope is supposed to be the shepherd that clearly leads his sheep. Unfortunately, our current shepherd seems at least as likely to misguide his sheep as to lead them with his vague and questionable statements. The last thing we need right now, when the entire secular sphere is arrayed against the Church, is a shepherd who can't clearly articulate the basic tenets of the Faith in public.

If you don't think that the pope's comments are being used for evil, I have two examples. First, I attended a debate last night on when, based on science, a human being is a person. The debater who said that being a person was a legal definition that starts at birth and ends at death was a doctor who's testimony in Canada helped convince the Canadian government to expand legal abortion through the second trimester. His closing argument was that this whole debate was really pointless since the pope had said we shouldn't be obsessing about contraception and abortion. Second, a Catholic college in Minnesota is going to be welcoming to openly homosexual staff and their "spouses". Again, because of what Pope Francis supposedly said.

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Paul Uwemedimo
Paul Uwemedimo

Posted by Fr. Paul Uwemedimo on Monday, Oct 7, 2013 Maybe the following sheds light on the Pope’s words that proselytizing is solemn nonsense. It is from the ZENIT website and more specifically http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/francis-the-church-is-not-an-ngo Vatican City, June 11, 2013 (Zenit.org) Junno Arocho Esteves | 2664 hits In his daily Morning Mass, Pope Francis told the faithful present that poverty and praise of God “are the two key signs of an evangelical and missionary Church.” The Holy Father echoed that same words he said the day after his election to the papacy, warning that a rich Church can become an NGO (non-governmental organization). The Pope reflected on the Gospel of the day, which recounted Christ’s exhortation to the Apostles on how to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ call to go proclaim the Gospel with neither gold nor silver, he said, is Christ’s call to proclaim his Word “with simplicity.” That simplicity, the Pope continued, “gives way to the power of the Word of God, because if the Apostles had not had confidence in the Word of God, they would probably have done something else.” Meditating on Christ’s mandate to give freely what they had received freely, Pope Francis conveyed the importance of proclaiming the Gospel as a grace, while warning that “when we leave grace a little to one side in our proclamation, the Gospel is not effective.” “Evangelical preaching flows from gratuitousness, from the wonder of the salvation that comes and that which I have freely received I must freely give,” the Holy Father said. “This is what they were like at the beginning. St. Peter did not have a bank account, and when he had to pay taxes, the Lord sent him to the sea to catch fish and find the money in the fish, to pay. Philip, when he met Queen Candace’s finance minister, did not think, ‘Ah, good, lets set up an organization to support the Gospel ...’ No! He did not strike a deal with him: he preached, baptized and left.” The Holy Father also warned that in announcing the Kingdom of God “as a free gift”, there is a temptation to seek some form of strength or authority in preaching the Gospel. The temptation, he continued, cause a confusion where “proclamation becomes proselytizing.” “The Church does not grow through proselytizing but by drawing people to her”. And this attraction comes from the testimony of those who freely proclaim the gratuity of salvation,” Pope Francis said. “Everything is grace. Everything. And what are the signs of when an apostle lives this gratuity? There are so many, but I will underline only two: First, poverty. The proclamation of the Gospel must follow the path of poverty. The testimony of this poverty: I have no wealth, my wealth is the gift I received, God: this gratuity is our wealth! And this poverty saves us from becoming managers, entrepreneurs.” The Church, he continued, should bring forth their works with a heart of poverty and not of an investment broker. “The Church is not an NGO,” the Holy Father exclaimed. The Pope went on to say that the other sign of living in gratuity is praise, stressing that in praising the Lord, it is essentially a gratuitous prayer. “These two are the signs of an apostle who lives this gratuity: poverty and the ability to praise the Lord,” the Pope concluded. “And when we find the apostles who want to build a rich Church and a Church without the gratuitousness of praise, the Church becomes old, the Church becomes an NGO, the Church becomes lifeless. Today we ask the Lord for the grace to acknowledge this generosity: ‘Freely you have received, freely give’. Recognizing this gratuity, this gift of God . Let us move forward in preaching of Gospel.” (June 11, 2013) © Innovative Media Inc. Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/did-pope-francis-just-say-that-evangelization-is-nonsense-8-things-to-know#ixzz2h1Kh5g5n

Neil Draves-Arpaia
Neil Draves-Arpaia

I think you completely missed the fine point: the difference between prosyletizing (an agenda to convert another to your belief system, value system, etc. with the implication that your's is better and that the other is devoid of truth) and Pope Francis' clear message that the church has a missionary vocation (he uses St. Francis of Assisi as a model of the missioner who goes out as a disciple of Christ to draw others into intimacy with Christ) and a call to evangelize. The latter anticipates that God's grace is present in the other and that the Spirit is at work in the world. The latter is clearly Catholic; the former view (grace is restricted) is clearly not a traditional Catholic belief. So, please.....go back and read that interview again before reacting as you did. And I would suggest re-familiarizing yourself with Aquinas' teaching about grace building on human nature.


It is possible that he is making a distinction between the negative connotations of proselytism, suggesting almost a forcing of one's views on others, versus evangelism, which might be said to involve preaching the Gospel through our entire life example, inviting others into that Truth. At least I hope that is what he's aiming for.


I am getting really tired of this Pope. Something I never said about John-Paul or Benedict.


What better way to show people the value of being Catholic, or proselytism, than giving them hope for a better life? Educate and lecture all you want. Most people don't want to hear it, so lets show them it!


That's what I'm hoping as well.


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