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(LifeSiteNews) The following is an open letter of a layman to Pope Francis on the so-called “sin” of “proselytism” and the need to convert others to the one, true Church. It is published on condition of anonymity. The author is known to LifeSiteNews.

Most Holy Father Pope Francis, 

Greetings and peace to you from God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, in the love which is the Holy Spirit. United to you in faith and charity, I, a layman and son of the Church, write to you as to a father in Christ. I am a small member of Christ, but one concerned with the proclamation of the Gospel and the salvation of souls in the present day, in the circumstances of the modern world, as a recipient and sharer of this proclamation and salvation.  

I write concerning some particular statements made by you on several occasions, and more generally of some of the impressions of your faithful children regarding some of the words and actions of your pontificate. The perspective that I offer is principally theological, which I hope will shed light on some fundamental questions of the Christian life and of the Petrine office. I wish to keep my considerations both objective and practical. 

In a recent interview with Mundo Negro, you said, “The most serious sin that a missionary can have is proselytism. Catholicism is not proselytism.” Similarly, several years ago in a reception of Lutheran pilgrims in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, you said the following in answer to a girl’s question about trying to convert her friends to the Catholic faith: “It is not licit to convince them of your faith; proselytism is the strongest poison against the ecumenical path… He [the Holy Spirit] needs to speak, not you… You can tell the ‘why,’ with much thoughtfulness. But without wanting to convince.” Likewise, you have said concerning the conversion of the Orthodox: “‘But should I make efforts to convert him or her?’ There is a very grave sin against ecumenism: proselytism. We should never proselytize the Orthodox!” 

READ: Pope Francis condemns ‘serious sin’ of ‘proselytism’ but has ‘no explanation’ for vocations crisis 

Holy Father, I wish to show that Jesus Christ and the Church have already condemned the principles expressed by you in these statements. This is a bold claim, but I will argue from revelation itself, and if what I will say is true, it is not so much my claim that is bold, but rather the utterance of statements contrary to the Faith by you, the Supreme Pontiff, called to be the voice of Christ on earth for the whole world. 

First, we must rid the argument of derogatory and vague words, and address the issue in a clear, straightforward, and theological manner that makes known the essence of the matter. We can neither set theology aside, since in order to judge rightly, prudence must apply theological principles to concrete action, nor can we be dismissive of our choice of words, since connotation affects their very meaning. So instead of the vague word, ecumenism, I will use the clearer words, the uniting of all Christians into the one true Church. And instead of the derogatory word proselytism, I will use the plain and simple words, the convincing of another of the truth of the Catholic Faith. 

The first truth in these questions, the foundation of all other principles in the matter at hand, is that the Catholic Church is the one true Church, founded by Jesus Christ on Peter and the Apostles. From this follows the necessity of being a member of the Catholic Church in order to be saved, the necessity of the explicit profession of faith in the one true Church for those who have knowledge of the Church, and the necessity of proclaiming this to those who do not yet know or who reject it.  

You said in a 2013 interview with La Repubblica, “Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense… I believe in God, not a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God, and I believe in Jesus Christ, his Incarnation.” But the creed goes further: I believe in one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. It is this truth of revelation that is at stake in questions concerning the conversion of Protestant or Orthodox Christians to the Catholic Church. It is not enough to believe in God, and the Incarnation of His Son. Faith also demands assent to and membership in the one true Church, and this is the Catholic Church. This is the fundamental article of faith in the issue. All others are consequent upon this: that God has revealed that the Catholic Church is the one true Church 

The first consequence is for the man to whom this is made known, to accept this truth in faith. Then he must act upon this truth by becoming a member of the Catholic Church. In relation to other men he must do two things: first, profess his faith, which is simply to state that he believes the Catholic Church to be the one true Church. Then, because he believes this to be true and in charity wills the good of faith for his neighbor also, he must strive to convince him of the truth of the Catholic Faith and the necessity of membership in the Catholic Church. Such belief and membership are objectively just as binding upon his neighbor as they were upon him, once they become known to his neighbor.  

Thus, the truth that the Catholic Church is the one true Church has a moral consequence in relation to external action and speech. In relation to himself each man must not only believe, but profess his faith and do things such as receive the sacraments and keep the commandments. But because truth, grace, and salvation are common goods, Christ also commanded the Apostles and all Christians to share these things. “Go therefore, 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” (Mt 28:19-20). Likewise, St. Paul exhorts Timothy, “Preach the word, be urgent in season, and out of season; reprove, entreat, rebuke with all patience and teaching.” (2Tim 4:2)  

So the Church, in all her members to varying degrees, must proclaim the Faith to the world—“make disciples of all nations,”—whether men are disposed or not—“in season and out of season.” And the Church must also strive to convince men of the truth of the Faith—“reprove, entreat, rebuke,” “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,”—as well as include them as members of the Church through baptism and a common profession of faith—“baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” 

Given that the visible Catholic Church is the one true Church, it follows that explicit membership in her is the ordinary means of salvation revealed by God, just as is also the external reception of the Sacraments. These are the ordinary means intended by God for the salvation of souls. To say, then, that “It is not licit to convince them of your faith” (assuming, Holy Father, that you grant the truth that the Catholic Church is the one true Church), is to say that it is evil to intend what God Himself intends, namely, that another man believe what God Himself has revealed, the Catholic Faith. This is fundamentally to say either that what God intends is evil, which is blasphemy, or that it is evil for man to intend what God intends. But since what is intended here is the same for both God and man—and it is the object that makes the intention, and the one intending, to be good or evil—if this object makes man’s intention evil, it also makes God’s intention evil and therefore God Himself evil; and if it is good for God to intend it, it is also good for man to intend it.  

That God intends men to become members of the visible Catholic Church is clear from the revelation of His founding the Church upon Peter and His command that the Church spread to all nations. In this regard, the words of St. Peter, the first pope, to the Sanhedrin come to mind, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, decide for yourselves. For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20) And again, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) Do you forbid Catholics to try by their words to convince men of the truth of the Catholic Church? God Himself commands it. Therefore, it is an error to say that it is “not licit” to intend to convert another by word and speech, or that such speech is a “very grave sin”. Beware lest, holding the keys of the kingdom of God, you neither enter yourself nor allow others to enter. 

Given, then, that when a man intends to persuade another by his words that the Catholic Church is the one true Church, he is intending something which God Himself intends, and therefore what he intends is morally good, and given that conversion to the one true Church is a grace from God, it follows that man and his words are instruments of grace, through which God brings another to believe in the Catholic Church and to act upon that belief by becoming a member.  

The understanding of truth is through and in words, statements, and arguments. The very content of faith includes statements. God as First Truth, the object of the virtue of faith, is more than the statements He has told man about Himself, but by the virtue of faith He unites the intellect to Himself through things proportioned to the very nature of the intellect, through words and statements. Therefore, human words, human speech, are among the principal instruments of grace for man. They are that through which God’s nature as First Truth is proportioned to the lowly nature of man’s intellect.  

So to say that in principle man should not speak as one trying to convince another of the truth of the Catholic Faith, is to say that man cannot be an intentional instrument in his speech about the Faith, with regard to the conversion of another. This is to say that God cannot or does not use persuasive speech, or speech intended to persuade, to move the mind of another to assent to revealed truth.  

Against this stands the whole of Christ’s own preaching and that of the Apostles and the Church down to the present day. St. Paul, preacher to the nations par excellence, not only instructs but debates, and debates so fiercely he incurs the bitter wrath and persecution of unbelieving Jews. Are we better than St. Paul? More enlightened? Has human nature changed? Has the Gospel changed? Or have we rather departed from Christ’s great commission to convert all nations through the preaching of the Gospel? This must be faced once and for all: Did Christ establish one Church, the Catholic Church? And did He command it to be spread to the whole world through preaching, that is, through human speech? If so, faith in Him demands faith in His Church, membership in Him demands membership in His Church, and the proclamation, the persuasive proclamation, of Christ demands also the persuasive proclamation of His Church, the one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. 

What I have argued here makes clear that it is a great error to say that “it is not licit” or that it is “a very grave sin” to speak persuasively to another about the truth of the Catholic Faith with the intention of persuading. From the object and the end of such an action, a man cannot but be doing a morally good, and a very good, action. In fact, it is a spiritual work of mercy to instruct the ignorant. It remains to judge whether in particular circumstances it is good or prudent. Whatever may be judged in different circumstances, this must not be confused with the prior, more fundamental judgment that, from the object and end, the action is good. 

The first basic circumstance of the situations with which we are dealing is that it is Christians who are not Catholic for whom the primary question of conversion is the truth of the Catholic Church. They already believe in God and in Jesus Christ; they do not believe in the Catholic Church. The cause or causes of this unbelief may be many and varied. They may be of an intellectual, moral, emotional, or experiential nature. In dealing with these circumstances prudently, the causes must be identified in order to choose the proper remedy for removing the obstacles to faith. Otherwise, the cure will not fit the illness, and the problem or obstacle to faith will remain and perhaps become even worse.  

To iterate some general principles, usually, there is not a single obstacle but several, to belief in the truth of the Catholic Faith. Further, the actions of a man are a prior, more fundamental, and often more powerful witness to the truth of the Faith, than his words: such a witness is a moral witness. Similarly, the experience of charity and friendship is a powerful means of moving the mind of a non-Catholic to see the actions of grace in a Catholic and to be drawn to the Faith. It must also be admitted that choices, actions, and feelings affect a man’s thoughts, and in like manner, a man’s thoughts affect his choices, actions, and feelings. Finally, it is of the utmost importance to acknowledge that the mind does desire to know the truth; and what a man thinks and believes matters for his salvation, or faith is of no account.  

If, then, the obstacles are more fundamental than the intellectual question of the truth of the Catholic Church, then the proper order of action will be to address these first. For example, if a non-Catholic has experienced the ill will of Catholics through oppression or unjust violence, then the experience of the charity and friendship of a Catholic will be necessary before the mind is open to listening to speech about the truth of the Catholic Church.  

Whatever be the case, at some point or other, the questions of the intellect regarding such a truth must ultimately also be addressed, since this is in all the cases at hand one of the obstacles. In other words, in all the circumstances with which we are dealing, the non-Catholic thinks the Catholic Church is not the true Church. In order to enter into the Church, he must think differently, and man thinks in and through words. Therefore, at some point, words regarding the truth of the Catholic Church must be spoken. “How are they to believe in him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear if no one preaches? … As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Gospel of peace; of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom 10:14-15). We must preach the Gospel; we must speak. Whatever else preaching might include, it does of its very nature include and signify speech. This is its first and essential meaning. It is precisely through man’s words that God Himself speaks in Scripture, moving the mind and heart to faith.  

The act of faith is itself an act of the intellect, by which it adheres to God as First Truth, in and through the words and statements of revelation. Whatever other means, then, will be necessary in the conversion of a non-Catholic Christian to the Catholic Church, persuasive argument will always be indispensable. This is on account of the very nature of the intellect, which adheres to truth, even truths of faith, through words, statements, and arguments. 

When such speech about the truth of the Catholic Church, that is, speaking with the intention of persuasion and conversion, is stigmatized as “proselytism” and called “illicit” and “a very grave sin,” not only is this erroneous, but it is insensitive to the instinct of faith in the sons and daughters of the Church. These souls love the Church and desire the salvation of the world. The intention to convince or persuade is not from an overly zealous antiquated manner of evangelizing, mistaken and harmful. It is rather an essential part of man’s role in the conversion of others. It arises from faith, is an expression of faith, is demanded by faith. Do not trample upon the faith of the little ones of the Church. Beware, lest you find yourself fighting against the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:39).  

In this regard, you have several times said and done things that have caused no little distress, confusion, and disturbance to your faithful sons and daughters. The comment about a mother of eight children that we should not breed like rabbits, the comment concerning homosexuals, “who am I to judge”, the entertaining of the idea that the use of the contraceptive pill might have a legitimate use for married couples to prevent disease, the claim that the death penalty is a worse crime than murder, your silence about abortion to the U.S. Supreme Court on your pastoral visit the day after it voted against a pro-life bill, all these are causes of confusion, obstacles thrown before the faithful children of the Church.  

READ: The devastating results of rejecting God’s command: ‘Be fruitful and multiply’

Your predecessor of holy memory, Pope St. John Paul II, as well as St. Teresa of Calcutta, both of whom you have canonized, did not act thus. Sensitive to the instinct of faith and bold against the attacks of a perverse world, the first thing each of them said on their visits to the U.S. concerned abortion. In 1993, Pope St. John Paul II confronted President Bill Clinton directly in an address, immediately on his landing on US soil, and rebuked him before the whole nation for his stance on abortion. In 1985, St. Theresa of Calcutta focused her address to the United Nations on the evil of abortion for the family and society.  

The Church has spoken very clearly on these issues, but they are still living moral issues of our own day and hour. You are the living voice of Peter, and the faithful look to you to reiterate what the Church has always taught, and to defend them against the attacks of a world increasingly opposed to the Gospel. It was to Peter that Christ entrusted even the other Apostles: “And do thou, when once thou hast turned again, strengthen thy brethren” (Lk 22:32). The very fact that the faithful children of the Church desire you to proclaim what the Church has already taught, and the fact that they are distressed when you do not, while the world and the enemies of the Church rejoice at such silence, are clear signs that you ought to speak on these fundamental moral issues. Holy Father, non-Catholic pro-life, pro-family, politicians have been more outspoken than you on abortion and gay marriage. This is a shame!  

And when you speak, you must do so in clear continuity with you predecessors. With this you sometimes seem little concerned. In Amoris Laetitia you said that a definitive moral judgment about an action cannot be made without a consideration of circumstances. In this you voiced an opinion solemnly and authoritatively condemned by Pope St. John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor. The difference is striking.  

In all of these matters, the impression for a faithful Catholic is that you are neither sensitive to the instinct of faith in the devout children of the Church, nor to the solemn teachings, practices, and example of your predecessors. And to cause further distress, neither do you listen to the voice of cardinals and bishops who have been proven to be true sons of the Church and who have voiced the concerns of Her faithful.  

Christ warns his disciples against shepherds who are really wolves disguised in sheep’s clothing. You seem to have surrounded yourself with many such wolves. Against such the prophet cries loud in denunciation. “Woe to the pastors that destroy and tear the sheep of my pasture, saith the Lord… You have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you for the evil of your doings” (Jer. 23:1-2). “His watchmen are all blind, they are all ignorant: dumb dogs not able to bark… The shepherds themselves knew no understanding: all have turned aside in their own way” (Is. 56:10-11).  

In like manner, Christ Himself condemns the hireling who refuses to shepherd His flock. “The hireling, who is not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees. And the wolf snatches and scatters the sheep; but the hireling flees because he is a hireling and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, even as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep” (John 10:12-15). Mark well the words of the Shepherd, for you are His Vicar. From you He will demand a strict accounting.