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Pope Francis in an Oct. 8, 2020 video where he prays for there to be more women in leadership roles in the Church. Vatican News / Youtube screen grab

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ABOARD PAPAL PLANE, March 10, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis said charges that he acts against “Catholic doctrine” and is even on the verge of committing “heresy” are a “risk” he’s willing to take to move forward on the path toward “human fraternity” with believers of other religions.

“This is important, human fraternity, that as men we are all brothers, and we must move forward with other religions,” said the Pope on March 8 while speaking to reporters on the plane returning from his trip to Iraq.

“The Second Vatican Council took a big step in this, and also the institutions after, the Council for Christian Unity and the Council for Interreligious Dialogue,” continued the Pope.

“Cardinal (Miguel) Ayuso accompanies us today. You are human, you are a child of God and you are my brother, period! This would be the greatest indication, and so many times you have to risk to take this step,” he said.

It was at this point that the Pope mentioned the risks he is willing to take.

“You know that there are some criticisms: that the pope is not courageous, he is a reckless person who is taking steps against Catholic doctrine, that he is one step away from heresy, there are risks. But these decisions are always made in prayer, in dialogue, in asking for advice, in reflection. They are not a whim and also are the line that the Council taught,” he said.

The Pope made these comments while responding to a question about his meeting two years ago in Abu Dhabi with Imam Al Tayyeb of Al Azhar where both Pope and Imam signed the controversial Declaration on Human Fraternity, sometimes referred to as the Abu Dhabi statement.

The document stated, among other things, that the “pluralism and the diversity of religions” are “willed by God.” At no point does the document mention the name of Jesus.

A number of prominent Catholic clergymen and scholars reacted by accusing Pope Francis of committing heresy. In an April 2019 open letter to the Pope, they charged him of backing the notion that “God not only permits, but positively wills, the pluralism and diversity of religions, both Christian and non-Christian.”

They quoted various scriptural passages that appear to contradict the position to which the Pope signed his name. This included a passage from the Gospel of John in which Christ states “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me,” as well as a passage from the Acts of the Apostles which states that Christ is the “stone which was rejected by you the builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved.”

Two months AFTER this accusation, Cardinal Raymond Burke and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, together with several other bishops, issued in June 2019 a public declaration of truths of the faith, part of which made clear reference to the controversial declaration which Pope Francis signed in Abu Dhabi.

“The religion born of faith in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God and the only Savior of humankind, is the only religion positively willed by God,” they stated in their declaration.

During his trip in Iraq, the Pope met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the most influential figures in Shi’ite Islam.

On his flight back to Rome, the Pope referred to Sistani as a “great, a wise man, a man of God.”

“He got up to greet me, twice, a humble and wise man, it did good to my soul this meeting. He is a beacon of light, and these wise men are everywhere because God's wisdom has been scattered all over the world. It is the same with the saints who are not just those on the altars. It happens every day, those I call the saints next door, men and women who live their faith, whatever it may be, with consistency,” he said.

The Pope’s comments on the plane correspond to what he has written in his latest encyclical on brotherhood. ‘Fratelli tutti’ has been praised by the Masons for his embrace of “Universal Brotherhood” while it has been criticized by some prominent Catholic voices such as Professor Roberto de Mattei for placing the value of “fraternity” over Christ himself.

“The absolute truth (in Fratelli tutti) is not Jesus Christ, in whose name and in whose baptism Christians are brothers,” De Mattei wrote. “Fraternity is a value superior to Christ himself because it has the ability, according to Pope Francis, to reconcile Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists and atheists themselves, who also have their faith and convictions.”