Papal Contradiction?

Pope and Friend



Well, in the space of a week, we have Pope Francis saying no, again, to proselytism:


The woman of Sychar asks Jesus about the place where God is truly worshiped. Jesus does not side with the mountain or the temple, but goes deeper. He goes to the heart of the matter, breaking down every wall of division. He speaks instead of the meaning of true worship: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24). So many past controversies between Christians can be overcome when we put aside all polemical or apologetic approaches, and seek instead to grasp more fully what unites us, namely, our call to share in the mystery of the Father’s love revealed to us by the Son through the Holy Spirit. Christian unity – we are convinced – will not be the fruit of subtle theoretical discussions in which each party tries to convince the other of the soundness of their opinions. When the Son of Man comes, he will find us still discussing! We need to realize that, to plumb the depths of the mystery of God, we need one another, we need to encounter one another and to challenge one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who harmonizes diversities, overcomes conflicts, reconciles differences.

Gradually the Samaritan woman comes to realize that the one who has asked her for a drink is able to slake her own thirst. Jesus in effect tells her that he is the source of living water which can satisfy her thirst for ever (cf. Jn 4:13-14). Our human existence is marked by boundless aspirations: we seek truth, we thirst for love, justice and freedom. These desires can only be partially satisfied, for from the depths of our being we are prompted to seek “something more”, something capable of fully quenching our thirst. The response to these aspirations is given by God in Jesus Christ, in his paschal mystery. From the pierced side of Jesus there flowed blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34). He is the brimming fount of the water of the Holy Spirit, “the love of God poured into our hearts (Rom 5:5) on the day of our baptism. By the working of the Holy Spirit, we have become one in Christ, sons in the Son, true worshipers of the Father. This mystery of love is the deepest ground of the unity which binds all Christians and is much greater than their historical divisions. To the extent that we humbly advance towards the Lord, then, we also draw nearer to one another.

Her encounter with Jesus made the Samaritan women a missionary. Having received a greater and more important gift than mere water from a well, she leaves her jar behind (cf. Jn 4:28) and runs back to tell her townspeople that she has met the Christ (cf. Jn 4:29). Her encounter with Jesus restored meaning and joy to her life, and she felt the desire to share this with others. Today there are so many men and women around us who are weary and thirsting, and who ask us Christians to give them something to drink. It is a request which we cannot evade. In the call to be evangelizers, all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities discover a privileged setting for closer cooperation. For this to be effective, we need to stop being self-enclosed, exclusive, and bent on imposing a uniformity based on merely human calculations (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 131). Our shared commitment to proclaiming the Gospel enables us to overcome proselytism and competition in all their forms. All of us are at the service of the one Gospel!

Then we have this:

They scorn the others, they stay away from the community as a whole, they stay away from the people of God, they have privatized salvation: salvation is for me and my small group, but not for all the people of God.  And this is a very serious mistake.  It’s what we see and call: ‘the ecclesial elites.’  When these small groups are created within the community of God’s people, these people believe they are being good Christians and also are acting in good faith maybe, but they are small groups who have privatized salvation.”


Is there a contradiction here?  Not really I think.  Pope Francis is no fan of traditional Catholicism and of some traditional Catholic devotions.  Thus he condemns those who believe, as the Catholic Church has always taught, that in the Church is our path to salvation.  He certainly does not want proselytism by these Catholics.  On the other hand, some sort of fairly amorphous Christianity Pope Francis obviously finds attractive.  The encounter by the Samaritan woman with Christ at the well seems to be a symbol for this type of Christianity:  long on an emotional encounter with Christ and short on doctrines and rules.  That is the way I make sense out of the Pope simultaneously condemning proselytism and also condemning Catholic “elites” who claim, and I confess that I have never met traditional Catholics that have stated this, that salvation is alone for their group and them.  (The traditional Catholics I have known are more in the “Let’s convert the World!” mode.)  I have long known that God does not see as we see.  Now, apparently, we have a Pope who does not see as almost all believing Catholics have seen.

More to explorer


  1. “They scorn the others, they stay away from the community as a whole, they stay away from the people of God, they have privatized salvation: salvation is for me and my small group, but not for all the people of God. And this is a very serious mistake. It’s what we see and call: ‘the ecclesial elites.’ When these small groups are created within the community of God’s people, these people believe they are being good Christians and also are acting in good faith maybe, but they are small groups who have privatized salvation.”

    Here speaks the elite of elites, with a group of elite advisors, teaching the poor ‘community’ a divisive, unreasonable way to think about those who would uphold the deposit of the Faith as troublesome to plans for wholesaling ‘salvation’.

  2. I’m coming to the conclusion that interpreting him is something of a fool’s errand. He’s so amorphous, broadbrush and vague in his spiritual condemnations that it’s like trying to catch a cloud in a butterfly net. For example, this one strikes me as a heat-seeking missile aimed at such groups as the Neocatechumenical Way, whose modus operandi is to create a parish within a parish. Or it’s also a good fit for the Legion of Christ, too.

    But neither are traditionalists, and I agree that the latter are his bête noire. But it still fits that kind of group (NCs/LCs) best.

    Who knows? The one thing you can be certain about is that it won’t be clarified.

  3. And the other thing to consider is that he seems to indulge non-Catholics, lavishing them with a generosity he generally denies the wrong kind of Catholics. That explains the sweeping endorsement in the first speech. Though I think he was on to something with the “ecumenism of blood” idea, which is a keeper–that is an undeniable truth, and an excellent turn of phrase. Too bad it was swaddled in a blanket of “I’m OK, You’re OK” beforehand.

  4. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’” – Matthew 10:34-36

    “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” – Luke 12:49-53

    “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid. Otherwise it is more akin to a sewer, taking in all things equally.” ~ G.K.Chesterton

  5. One recalls Mgr Ronald Knox, in his magnum opus Enthusiasm: “There is, I would say, a recurrent situation in Church history – using the word ‘church’ in the widest sense – where an excess of charity threatens unity. You have a clique, an élite, of Christian men and (more importantly) women, who are trying to live a less worldly life than their neighbours; to be more attentive to the guidance (directly felt, they would tell you) of the Holy Spirit…The pattern is always repeating itself, not in outline merely but in detail. Almost always, the enthusiastic movement is denounced as an innovation, yet claims to be preserving, or to be restoring, the primitive discipline of the Church… ”

    From Montanists, Novatians and Donatists to Quietists and Jansenists, the history of the Church is littered with them.

    The upshot, too, is always the same, “There is provocation on both sides; on the one part, cheap jokes at the expense of over-godliness, acts of stupid repression by unsympathetic authorities; on the other, contempt of the half-Christian, ominous references to old wine and new bottles, to the kernel and the husk. Then, while you hold your breath and turn away your eyes in fear, the break comes; condemnation or secession, what difference does it make? A fresh name has been added to the list of Christianities.”

  6. “The encounter by the Samaritan woman with Christ at the well seems to be a symbol for this type of Christianity: long on an emotional encounter with Christ and short on doctrines and rules.”

    That is quite a stretch.

    The Holy Father may mean no more than Bl John Henry Newman, when he wrote, “The heart is commonly reached, not through the reason, but through the imagination, by means of direct impressions, by the testimony of facts and events, by history, by description. Persons influence us, voices melt us, looks subdue us, deeds inflame us. Many a man will live and die upon a dogma: no man will be a martyr for a conclusion.”

    Hence, he says “If an image derived from experience or information is stronger than an abstraction, conception, or conclusion—if I am more arrested by our Lord’s bearing before Pilate and Herod than by the “Justum et tenacem” &c. of the poet, more arrested by His Voice saying to us, “Give to him that asketh thee,” than by the best arguments of the Economist against indiscriminate almsgiving, it does not matter for my present purpose whether the objects give strength to the apprehension or the apprehension gives large admittance into the mind to the object. It is in human nature to be more affected by the concrete than by the abstract.” In this, he agrees with Aristotle: Λόγοσ ούδέν κινεί – Reason moves nothing

  7. “I’m coming to the conclusion that interpreting him is something of a fool’s errand.”

    I’m coming to the same conclusion Dale. I think that when Pope Francis comes down on positive subjects he is generally on the money, though his reasons are frequently too ‘pastoral’ and lack theological rigor. When he comes down on negative subjects it is a different story – here he is again right on the money with the corrosive spiritual outcomes of atheistic materialist culture, but he gets much wrong: traditionalist Christians, Islam, capitalism being just three examples.

    I think he definitely has a vision of the church that is worthy of attention. It is also a vision that is so broad and far reaching that it cannot avoid leading into contradictions that arise from a lack of rigor and meticulousness. If he can’t be more careful then it is more important that the rest of us be careful for him.

  8. This quote from his talk is important to notice: ““His (Jesus) attitude tells us that encounter with those who are different from ourselves can make us grow.”

    ! Once again our pope is calling for latitude in the attitude. Jesus’ attitude. This story of the encounter with the Samaritan woman was not about Jesus having an attitude of willingness to change and grow. God does not change.
    The woman knew who He was,, where he was from, what he believed and she asked Him: “then bring me this water…” After her willingness to hear Him about her own personal life, did she go back to town and ask others if this could be the Messiah.
    Jesus spoke of true worship spirit and truth in the same way prophets had. The people of Jesus’ day had the same problems they had in Isaiah’s and Jeremiah’s days.
    Jesus did not change his teaching (knocking down walls of division) to suit the woman or the Samaritan way of life. He called her to higher understanding of truth.
    What connects the people of Samaria and those of Judah is their sinfulness, and the remedy for both is the worship in spirit and truth.
    God calls shepherds or pastors to account in Jeremiah 23:1 “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord.”
    Jeremiah 23:13
    In the prophets of Samaria
    I saw a disgusting thing:
    they prophesied by Baal
    and led my people Israel astray.
    14 But in the prophets of Jerusalem
    I have seen a more shocking thing:
    they commit adultery and walk in lies;
    they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
    so that no one turns from wickedness;
    all of them have become like Sodom to me,
    and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.

    in Samaria….”Led my people Israel astray”… but more shocking in Jerusalem — “strengthen the hand of evildoers, so that no one turns from wickedness….”

  9. I think the Pope displays an inner confidence in Catholicism such that if all Catholics strive to LIVE the Good News as Catholics there would be no need to proselytize, since THE TRUTH, Jesus Himself, draws all men to Himself. Further, those who do proselytize are like the last in a chain of ‘oral’ re-presenters whose truth has become so distorted as to become unrecognizable. Thousands of ‘splintered’ Christian denominations and sects testify to this. Jesus’ prayer ‘THAT ALL MAY BE ONE’ has not yet been achieved…!!!

  10. Disagree Fran. Jesus did not say “if necessary use words”. I understand Francis ( the saint) did not actually say it either. Yes I do agree that our actions are powerful witness. But it is not enough for us to withdraw from speech and silently live holy lives. Words are almost always necessary.

  11. “I think the Pope displays an inner confidence in Catholicism such that if all Catholics strive to LIVE the Good News as Catholics there would be no need to proselytize”

    Judging from history such confidence would be completely unwarranted. It also flies in the face of Christ’s command to go forth and make disciples of all the nations.

  12. To clarify my earlier comment, PREACHING is not the same as Proselytizing…one continues to TELL THE GOOD NEWS, while the other attempts to ‘CONVERT’ to one’s ideology. The many sects and denominations attest to taking a piece or pieces of truth and corrupting and distorting its original meaning. JESUS IS THE TRUTH and He can not be divided…and so the Church’s ONENESS…!!!

  13. I think the Pope displays an inner confidence in Catholicism such that if all Catholics strive to LIVE the Good News as Catholics there would be no need to proselytize,

    I think the Pope displays the unseriousness of the ecclesiastical people pleaser.

  14. Being nice and broad minded today seems to indicate that good manners would make one refrain from proselytizing… after all, it’s one just one ideology or another. Mine against yours.
    The point of evangelizing, of telling the good news, is to encourage conversion, to encourage acceptance of Jesus as Savior. It is true that the many sects and denominations tells the sad story of fracturing Truth into bits and pieces. That is why proselytizing the Truth of the Catholic Faith is so important.

  15. We proselytize because we want all men to be saved, which can be done only through the sacraments and worship in the one true Church founded by Jesus, who says He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. If one is in a false religion, we do him no service by allowing him to stay and die in that state. To say that proselytism is solemn nonsense as Francis has is the real solemn nonsense and shows a complete disregard for the highest love, which is that a soul is saved.

    If one believes that all religions are the same, or that there are other ways to salvation outside of the Church, then one is a heretic if one is a Catholic.

    This homily was a muddled contradictory and insulting attack on real Catholics, who abide by the Commandments, try to practice the virtues and the works of mercy and develop in sanctity, attend Mass, receive the sacraments, do penance, and believe and abide by all the dogmas of the Faith. Those are the ones, who actually practice the Faith and those are the ones he was putting down as ecclesial elites.

    He says we’re saved as a people and there is no privatized salvation. That’s nonsense: we are given free will, to choose good or evil, to obey the commandments or not, to live according to the dogmas of the Faith or not, to receive the sacraments or not, to pray or not, to repent or not. By its very nature, one’s individual salvation is fundamentally a private affair, helped along by others, but ultimately is our individual choice to want it or not, and the final decision is not ours, but Jesus’.

    Moreover, Francis says quite clearly that we’re already saved, which for Catholics is not the Faith but a heresy.

    I wrote more extensively on this on my own blog a couple of days ago at

  16. And here I thought it was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself Who said:”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you..”! NO?

  17. Anzlyne wrote, “This story of the encounter with the Samaritan woman was not about Jesus having an attitude of willingness to change and grow. God does not change.”
    “And Jesus advanced (προέκοπτεν) in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men.” – Luke 2:52
    We are not, I hope, Apollonarians.

  18. We must be very careful to balance what you say with the teaching of the Council of Orange:

    Canon 3. If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah, or the Apostle who says the same thing, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me” (Rom 10:20, quoting Isa. 65:1).

    Canon 4. If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, “The will is prepared by the Lord” (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

    Canon 6. If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when, apart from his grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labour, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, but does not confess that it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought; or if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7), and, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10).

  19. My last comment was a reply to Steven Hansen, “we are given free will, to choose good or evil, to obey the commandments or not, to live according to the dogmas of the Faith or not, to receive the sacraments or not, to pray or not, to repent or not.”

  20. Michael Patterson, you are very correct. I was not saying that we are practicing Catholics because we give ourselves the grace to do so, nor was I saying that we can obtain or achieve Faith and salvation because of our sheer sole will to have them without Grace. Faith is a pure gift, given to everyone, but we must receive that gift. Many refuse the gift. After we accept the gift, we can choose to ignore what the Spirit has prompted and enables us to do. The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to say “Jesus is Lord” but we can choose to say it or not. The Holy Spirit prompts us to go to Mass, but we can choose to ignore that and stay home, and many do. Those who follow the prompts, who strive to respond to the gift of Faith are now the disparaged “ecclesial elites”, whom Francis accuses falsely of placing themselves separate and apart.

    The main problem here is that we’re trying to interpret and reinterpret contradictory stupidity at its core. By its nature, no one really knows what the heck was actually meant. That’s my take on what Francis meant based upon his words, but he could truly believe he meant something else even though his words ought to be taken as they are objectively defined and understood.

  21. Steven Hansen wrote, “After we accept the gift, we can choose to ignore what the Spirit has prompted and enables us to do.”

    But, according to St Augustine, writing against the Pelagians, who held grace is either efficacious on account of man’s consent to the good, or inefficacious on account of the evil will of man, efficacious grace ensures that we shall never want to.

    “If, therefore, you confess that to persevere to the end in good is God’s gift, I think that equally with me you are ignorant why one man should receive this gift and another should not receive it; and in this case we are both unable to penetrate the unsearchable judgments of God. Or if you say that it pertains to man’s free will—which you defend, not in accordance with God’s grace, but in opposition to it—that any one should persevere in good, or should not persevere, and it is not by the gift of God if he persevere, but by the performance of human will, why will you strive against the words of Him who says, “I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith fail not”? (Luke 22:32) Will you dare to say that even when Christ prayed that Peter’s faith might not fail, it would still have failed if Peter had willed it to fail; that is, if he had been unwilling that it should continue even to the end? As if Peter could in any measure will otherwise than Christ had asked for him that he might will. For who does not know that Peter’s faith would then have perished if that will by which he was faithful should fail, and that it would have continued if that same will should abide? But because “the will is prepared by the Lord,” (Proverbs 8:35 LXX) therefore Christ’s petition on his behalf could not be a vain petition. When, then, He prayed that Peter’s faith should not fail, what was it that He asked for, but that in his faith Peter should have a most free, strong, invincible, persevering will! Behold to what an extent the freedom of the will is defended in accordance with the grace of God, not in opposition to it; because the human will does not attain grace by freedom, but rather attains freedom by grace, and a delightful constancy, and an insuperable fortitude that it may persevere.”

  22. I am speaking of the choices to be made to either follow the prompts of grace daily or not and it is by our free will that we make the choice to sin or not. Grace does not prevent us from sinning no more than it causes us to sin, unless we ask for its assistance. St. Augustine is speaking here of perseverance which is only possible by grace, by which we repent, seek forgiveness, get back up and try again, but not abandoning the Faith, even though we sin. Indeed, these are the among the gifts we receive at confirmation from the Holy Spirit. However, by our sin we can be cut off from Grace. Through our sins, we can make our situation worse, persist in our refusal to repent, and lose our salvation. That’s not to say though that through the prayers of others, God cannot lead us back. It happens all the time. Yet, some people refuse to follow because of their obstinate pride. God gives us freedom to choose to do or not. Otherwise, we are just puppets on a string with no freedom. As we know, God loves us too much for that.

    St. Augustine wrote a treatise on predestination, where your quote might come from, but I seem to recall that his ideas on this were refuted by the Church and perhaps even by himself later in life. I have a copy and read it some time ago. You’ve made me want to revisit it.

  23. Steven Hansen

    St Thomas teaches that “Since the love of God is the cause of the goodness of things, no one would be better than another, if God did not will a greater good to one than to another.” [ST Ia, q. 20, a. 3] He also says in article 4 of the same Question and also in Ia, q. 23, a. 4: “In God, love precedes election.”

    Obviously, the person who keeps the commandments is better than the one who is able to do so, but does not. Therefore, he who keeps the commandments is more beloved and assisted by God. In short, God loves that person, to whom He grants that he keep the commandments, more than another in whom He permits sin.

    This principle of predilection presupposes, according to St. Thomas, a decree of the divine will rendering our salutary acts intrinsically efficacious [ST Ia, q. 19, a. 8]. For, if they were efficacious on account of our foreseen consent, of two people equally loved and helped by God, one would be better in some respect. He would be better of himself alone and not on account of divine predilection.

    The Bible bears this out. “I will have mercy on whom I will, and I will be merciful to whom it shall please Me” (Exod. 33:19); and “For who distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?” (I Cor. 4:7.) And, again, “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” (Rom 9:16)

  24. As a Catholic I know that God loves all of us. Also as a Catholic I find musings as to the gradations of God’s love and speculations as to the interplay between such putative gradations and one’s obedience to His commandments to be worse than unprofitable, other than to say that any suggestion that a man’s failure to cooperate with God’s grace is a product of God’s decision to love him insufficiently is wholly incompatible with Catholic teaching and Christian Tradition as properly understood.

  25. Mike Petrik

    The teaching of St Augustine and St Thomas is really very simple

    No good, here and now, in this man rather than in another, comes about unless God Himself graciously wills and accomplishes it, and no evil, here and now, in this man rather than another, comes about unless God Himself justly permits it to be done. Nevertheless, God does not command the impossible, and grants even to those who do not actually observe His commandments the power of observing them.
    But those who observe His commandments are better than others and would not keep them in fact, had not God from eternity efficaciously decreed that they should observe these precepts. Thus, these good servants of God are more beloved and assisted by Him than others, although God does not command the impossible of the others.

  26. These are very precious theological musings for sure, Michael, but to the extent that they can be construed to endorse predestination and the silly concept of the elect over free will and God’s love for us all, I hold with the latter and His Church.

  27. Michael Petrik

    We must also avoid the Pelagian heresy, according to which grace is either efficacious on account of man’s consent to the good, or inefficacious on account of the evil will of man.I believe it is very widespread today.

    But St Augustine says, “Who would dare to affirm that God has no method of calling whereby even Esau might have applied his mind and yoked his will to the faith in which Jacob was justified? But if the obstinacy of the will can be such that the mind’s aversion from all modes of calling becomes hardened, the question is whether that very hardening does not come from some divine penalty, as if God abandons a man by not calling him in the way in which he might be moved to faith. Who would dare to affirm that the Omnipotent lacked a method of persuading even Esau to believe?” (Ad Simplician, 13-14)

  28. Michael Petrik

    Of course the Church does not teach heresy – but many in the Church do.

    Many, one trusts, are in the position described by Macaulay, “We know through what strange loopholes the human mind contrives to escape, when it wishes to avoid a disagreeable inference from an admitted proposition.”

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