When a Pope Errs

A Response to The Wanderer’s Columnist John Young

Robert A. Sungenis, M.A.

In a recent issue of The Wanderer, guest columnist John Young makes an impassioned plea for traditionalists to cease criticism of John Paul II.(1) To Mr. Young the reasons are plainly evident: “John Paul II is a saint,” and because of this heavenly status, he concludes that the spiritual insight of a saint, endowed as he is with supernatural virtue in a high degree and with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, gives him a prudence and wisdom far exceeding what most of us are capable of.

This type of lay canonization of John Paul II is the latest in a series of attempts to put objections to his views entirely out of reach. The implication is that if you criticize a saint, let alone a pope, you denounce heaven itself.

But claiming that John Paul II is a saint or immune from criticism is a lot easier than proving it. Canon law, the very canons John Paul II signed into law in 1983, state quite clearly that it is the Catholic’s “right and...duty” to bring their objections to the pope and to all the Christian faithful for the good of the Church. Canon 212: 2-3 states:

The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.(2)

As can be seen from Canon 212, the Church allows responsible criticism of its pastors, as long as it is done with reverence and dignity. Unfortunately, in our days of unbridled polemics between differing Catholic factions, there are many people at the opposite extremes of this issue. There are those on one side (and I think Mr. Young and The Wanderer fill this description) who think that no criticism can be made of the pope. Those on the other side, for all intents and purposes, despise the pope and make it there business to uncover every single misstep and error he has ever made, some even suggesting that because of these he is an antipope.(3)

Fortunately, Canon Law sides with neither extreme. Throughout history God has used the Catholic populace to keep clerics on the straight and narrow. Part of that help comes from constructive criticism of their views and policies.

Second, Mr. Young already concedes that, although he believes popes have “supernatural virtue...and wisdom,” John Paul II may indeed fall into error. He writes:

The influence of the Holy Spirit in preventing the Pope from teaching error in faith or morals is in a different category from the help given him in practical decisions. There is no guarantee that he will act in the best way when dealing with administrative matters or in practical decisions relating to ecumenical activities or in dealing with dissident theologians. In these areas mistakes may occur due to inadequate information, personal psychological weaknesses of the Pope, and other causes.

Although his admission is admirable, it still has problems. Mr. Young says that the pope is protected from error in “faith and morals,” but he does so without acknowledging that John Paul II has issued no infallible statements on faith and morals in the 25 years of his pontificate (except, perhaps, his 1994 reiteration of the ban on women priests). According to Vatican I and Canon Law 749, the pope is only protected from error in faith and morals when he clearly declares he is invoking such protection from the Holy Spirit. Outside of that domain, of course, he may indeed err.

This should not surprise us. When Vatican I was formulating the doctrine of papal infallibility its researchers found over three dozen historical cases of popes making errors in their statements, and thus the council had to specify four very strict criteria as to when the Holy Spirit was actually protecting the pope from error.(4)

This is because the Holy Spirit does not work in piecemeal. Either He protects from error or He does not. Encyclicals, for example, are not protected from error. If they were, then they would be infallible on their own merit, but the Church has never stated such. An encyclical may guide us, teach us and require our assent, but that does not mean it is error-free. Moreover, as we do give our assent to its guidance, we do so only to an interpretation of the encyclical that agrees with all previous dogmatic teaching, for the Church cannot contradict herself. As Vatican Council I stated:

For, the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might disclose new doctrine, but that by His help they might guard sacredly the revelation transmitted through the apostles and the deposit of faith, and might faithfully set it forth.(5)

Unfortunately, criticisms and questions about John Paul II begin right here. If we contrast Vatican I’s statement against what John Paul II has said about Vatican II, we begin to see the potential problems in his pontificate. For example, in the 1988 document Ecclesia Dei, John Paul II signed-off on the statement in section 5 which declares that Vatican II might contain new points of doctrine. It states:

Indeed, the extent and depth of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council call for a renewed commitment to deeper study in order to reveal clearly the council’s continuity with tradition, especially in points of doctrine which, perhaps because they are new, have not yet been well understood by some sections of the church (emphasis mine).

Although John Paul II seems to escape censure by saying that Vatican II “perhaps” contained something new, or that he is only concerned with “points of doctrine” rather than “doctrine,” nevertheless, the mere suggestion that Vatican II taught something “new” in regard to doctrine (as opposed, for example, to teaching something new in regards to mere pastoral issues which would certainly be allowable), seems to contradict the very declaration of Vatican I against such possibilities. When one says “points of doctrine” it is normally understood as specific statements about doctrine, and certainly nothing outside of doctrine.

Logic dictates that, if they are “new,” then they were not taught before. If they were not taught before, then they were not part of Tradition. It they are not part of Tradition, then they have the potential of being erroneous. Moreover, since “points” is used in the plural, it means that John Paul II interprets Vatican II as teaching a variety of “new” things.

Whether his interpretation of Vatican II is correct or not is another issue, part of which will be addressed in this essay. Suffice it to say, however, John Paul’s statement in Ecclesia Dei is confusing and cause for concern as to what he really believes both about Vatican I’s decrees and the “continuity of tradition.”

Moreover, when we consider the specific and ominous language of the Papal Oath, which solemnly warns the pope against propagating any new teaching, we shudder at the mere thought that John Paul II might interpret Vatican II as teaching new doctrine. The oath which each pope is required to take states:

I vow to change nothing of the received Tradition, and nothing thereof I have found before me guarded by my God-pleasing predecessors, to encroach upon, to alter, or to permit any innovation therein; To the contrary: with glowing affection as her truly faithful student and successor, to safeguard reverently the passed-on good, with my whole strength and utmost effort; To cleanse all that is in contradiction to the canonical order, should such appear; To guard the Holy Canons and Decrees of our Popes as if they were the Divine ordinances of Heaven, because I am conscious of Thee, whose place I take through the Grace of God, whose Vicarship I possess with Thy support, being subject to the severest accounting before Thy Divine Tribunal over all that I shall confess; I swear to God Almighty and Savior Jesus Christ that I will keep whatever has been revealed through Christ and His successors and whatever the first councils and my predecessors have defined and declared. I will keep without sacrifice to itself the discipline and the rite of the Church. I will put outside the Church whoever dares to go against this oath, may it be somebody else or I. If I should undertake to act in anything of contrary sense, or should permit that it will be executed, Thou willst not be merciful to me on the dreadful Day of Divine Justice. Accordingly, without exclusion, We subject to severest excommunication anyone – be it ourselves or be it another – who would dare to undertake anything new in contradiction to this constituted evangelic Tradition and the purity of the Orthodox Faith and the Christian Religion, or would seek to change anything by his opposing efforts, or would agree with those who undertake such a blasphemous venture."

Not only is this language rather foreboding against any pope who would dare change or introduce something new into Catholic teaching, the italicized portions show that it is certainly a possibility that the pope himself could indeed disobey the oath and thus introduce new teaching, otherwise there would be no reason for him to take the oath if he were immune from such transgressions. Hence, our thesis is proved at the outset – the very oath required of the pope indicates that it is possible for the pope to err, and indeed, on the very issues of the faith he chooses not to protect under the domain of infallibility.(6)

Third, Mr. Young confines John Paul II’s “mistakes” to issues of “administrative matters,” “ecumenical activities” and “dealing with dissident theologians.” By listing these specific items I assume Mr. Young believes John Paul II has indeed erred in each of them at one time or another, otherwise he would have no reason to specify such categories. But for the sake of this discussion we will focus on “ecumenical activities.”

“Ecumenical activities,” which according to Mr. Young have “no guarantee that he will act in the best way,” must refer to the implementation of the pope’s teaching on ecumenism, as happened, for example, when the pope kissed the Koran (1999), asked John the Baptist to protect Islam (2000), prayed with an African animist (1985), or invited pagan religions to Assisi to pray for world peace (1986, 2002). If so, this creates a problem for Mr. Young, since the pope’s “ecumenical activities” would necessarily be based upon his “faith and morals.” Unless Mr. Young is prepared to say that John Paul’s actions in regards to ecumenism do not necessarily match his teachings on the Catholic faith, then separating his teaching from his “ecumenical activities” would entail a contradiction.

As an aside, it is startling to see Mr. Young propose that, of all the reasons the pope may err, John Paul II may be subject to “personal psychological weaknesses.” Perhaps in order to minimize the pope’s culpability in questionable actions, Mr. Young has decided to take on the role of psychologist. Be that as it may, it is difficult to understand how Mr. Young sees no inconsistency in declaring the pope to be “gifted by the Holy Spirit” and yet admit that he can make “mistakes” of judgment in matters of “ecumenical activities,” considering that these same “ecumenical activities” are nothing less than the cornerstone of John Paul II’s 25-year pontificate. Is Mr. Young admitting that the very essence of John Paul’s teaching could indeed be awash in bad decisions which, as we see above, are caused by some psychological instability? Either Mr. Young didn’t choose his words very carefully, or he has just given traditionalists even more reason to be concerned about the reigning pontiff.

If we remember what occurred at Assisi, many Catholics would find it easy to agree with Mr. Young that some “psychological weakness” led the pope to conduct such an event. As reported by the major newspapers:

...chants, temple bells and pagan spells echoed around the Roman Catholic shrines of Assisi yesterday as Pope John Paul II and his 200 guests from the world’s 12 main religions prayed for world peace...The medicine man of the Crow Indians, Chief John Pretty-on-Top, offered to cast out evil spirits. He recited: “O Great Spirit, I raise my pipe to you, to your messengers the four winds, and to mother earth, who provides for your children... I pray that you bring peace to all my brothers and sisters of this world” (“A Summit for Peace in Assisi,” Time, November 10, 1986, pp. 78-79). Many came forward, among them a young Franciscan monk....In a chapel down the road, the head of the Zorastrian church in Bombay prayed before a fire that symbolized his God. Next door, six turbanned Sikhs – all Italian converts – sat chanting their prayers in the lotus position to gramophone music. At an old Roman temple, shoeless Moslems sat on prayer mats. The 14th Dalai Lama, exiled god-king of Tibet, headed the strong Buddhist contingent, mumbling sutras amid tinkling bells at the Basilica of St. Peter. In the gardens outside, a Shinto sect called Tenrikyo, in black kimonos, swayed to temple music. African animists, their togas the envy of any designer, invoked the spirits of trees and plants to come to the aid of peace...(Gazette News Services, taken from AP, Chicago Tribune).

These incidents are, of course, unprecedented in the annals of Catholic thought and practice. Since these kinds of “ecumenical activities” were organized by the pope, even against the objections of some of his top cardinals, many today find the pontificate of John Paul II very troubling. In their hearts they know he has said and done many things that none of his predecessors have ever, or would ever, sanction. Yet because he is the pope they feel an uncompromising loyalty to him. Like a mother protecting her atypical child from the taunts of bullies, they feel a compulsion to protect the pope from any criticism, but at the same time, they consistently acquiesce to his faulty judgments and practices, especially those occurring in “ecumenical activities.”

I sympathize with Mr. Young. Like Shem did for Noah, he wants to walk backward and cover up his compromised father. But this is where the real difficulty arises. Is John Paul II like Noah? In regards to “weakness,” Scripture records that Noah slipped into an incident of instability on one occasion – he got drunk. We read of no other sins and certainly no aberrant ideas in Noah’s record. Scripture says Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pt 2:5) and “condemned the world” (Heb 11:7).

As it turns out, it is precisely on these two characteristics that this whole discussion will turn. Considering the emphasis on “ecumenical activities” during the entire 25 years of his pontificate, when has John Paul II ever “condemned the world”? I don’t know of one place in his writings where he has made this a topic of his teaching. This is all the more alarming, since with worldwide abortion and homosexuality leading a long list of modern-age sins (much of it occurring in John Paul’s church), our day is even more wicked than Noah’s.

The world is ripe to have the gospel of judgment and damnation preached to it from the housetops (for its own good and before it is too late), but no one at the Vatican seems to be doing so, and the pope is not leading them in that direction. Ever since the last council, the Vatican has been seeking to be extra “nice” to everyone, engaging in all kinds of “ecumenical activities” that allow for a whole host of beliefs and practices that wouldn’t even have seen the light of day in previous pontificates. In the process, the Vatican seems to have lost sight of the gospel that Noah preached, and that Jesus and Paul certainly preached, that is, that the world is under judgment and condemnation until, if and when, they repent of their sins and are baptized into Christ.

Whereas in Noah’s day there were only eight people saved while the rest were condemned when the doors of the ark were shut (1 Pt 3:20), quite the opposite is taking place today, and John Paul II comes very close on many occasions to declaring that everyone in the world will be saved. Right from the beginning of his pontificate, starting from his 1979 encyclical Redemptor Hominis (an encyclical, incidentally, which uses “church” 150 times but does not mention “Catholic” once), to his January 2002 gathering of 160 world religions at Assisi to “pray” for world peace, John Paul II has given us a steady stream of universalist-type messages, but he has preached little, if any, messages of judgment and condemnation of the world for its sins.

I believe John Paul II does this because the essence of his “ecumenical” gospel appears to be that man is saved until proven otherwise, whereas our traditional gospel holds, as Noah did, that man is under condemnation until he is saved.

This is not hard to demonstrate. First, in light of his view that Vatican II may have taught new doctrine, it is significant to note that, two years before he became John Paul II, he wrote that he believed Vatican II “redefined” the nature of the Church. In his book Sign of Contradiction, which he wrote after Paul VI asked him to prepare meditations for the 1976 papal Lenten retreat, after stating in the immediately preceding paragraphs that “this God is professed in his silence by the....Buddhist too, wrapt in contemplation as he purifies his thought, preparing the way to Nirvana,” and that “The Church...gathers together all men, who in one way or another share this marvelous transcendence of the human spirit,” he then concludes the chapter with this paragraph:

The Church of our day has become particularly conscious of this truth; and it was in the light of this truth that the Church succeeded, during the Second Vatican Council, in redefining her own nature.(7)

From the context it is clear what he is trying to say. It is his view that the nature and mission of the Church which, for two thousand years was willing to send missionaries in great peril of life and limb to get the message of salvation to the condemned men who sat in “silence” and were “wrapt in contemplation of Buddha,” was at best superfluous. According to Karol Wojtyla, the Buddhist already had hold of God and salvation, and the Christian gospel, if the Buddhist ever happened to meet up with it, only confirmed this truth to him.

Other statements in the book reveal the same kind of thought process. He writes in the chapter on redemption: “The finite, human categories of time and space are almost completely secondary. All men, from the beginning of the world until its end, have been redeemed by Christ and his cross.”(8)

Later he writes: “But in this same reality, in this dimension of every dying person – be he a centenarian or two-day old infant – there remains present the promise, the ‘guarantee of our inheritance’ given to us in Christ...every man has inherent in him the mystery of a new life which Christ has brought and which he has grafted on to humanity. Every human death, without exception, has this dimension....As all men are sanctified ‘in Christ Jesus’ their death means a prolongation of this life ‘in Christ.’”(9)

In a 1978 General Audience he stated: “...therefore in Jesus’ human nature, and therefore, the whole of humanity is redeemed, saved, enobled to the extent of participating in divine life by means of grace.”(10)

In May 1980, he stated: “Christ obtained, once and for all, the salvation of man – of each man and of all men.”(11)

In a homily of April 27, 1980, he stated: “He obtains once and for all the salvation of man, of each man, and for all, of those that no one shall snatch out of his hand. Who, in fact, could snatch them?”

In the work, An Invitation to Joy, he writes: “Christians and Muslims...Both of us believe in one God...and we know that after the Resurrection he will be satisfied with us, and we know that we will be satisfied with him.”(12)

In the encyclical Redemptor Hominis 11 and 13 he states: “...for the dignity that each human being has reached and can continually reach in Christ, namely the dignity of both the grace and divine adoption....Man...destined for grace and glory...the mystery in which each one of the four thousand million human beings living on our planet has become a sharer from the moment he is conceived beneath the heart of his mother.”

In the 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio, he writes: “The Redemption even brings salvation to all, for each one is included in the mystery of the Redemption and with each one Christ has united himself forever through this mystery.”

Many more such quotes could be added to this list, but they would only be redundant. Suffice it to say, however, no pope or council has ever said such things. Granted, if someone were seeking to keep the pope from error he would do his best to interpret the above statements in the best light possible, but the fact that he must do so shows, at the least, that the statements are at best ambiguous and at worst misleading or erroneous.

Other men have been branded as heretics for saying things not half as troublesome as some of the above statements. If the pope merely means to say that salvation is possible for all men, wisdom dictates that the language he has chosen to state that view is certainly, to use Mr. Young’s words, not the “best way” to teach Catholic truth. In fact, John Paul II does not use the word “possible” in these types of statements, and therefore it is very difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The critical observer must insist that, to accurately judge what John Paul II means by the above statements, one must look at his actions and his other teachings. As it stands, there are many other things John Paul II has said and done that make it hard for one to be defensive of his teachings in the light of tradition. In regards to the issue of hell, for example, Mr. Young tries to defend the pope by stating that those who have accused him of saying “hell is not a place” have their translation askew. It should be “hell is more than a place.”

Granted, but objections to John Paul’s view of hell have little to do with whether or not it is a place. Rather, it concerns his constant insinuation that few people, if any, will be sent to hell. In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul II states: “Eternal damnation is certainly proclaimed in the Gospel. To what degree is it realized in life beyond the grave? This is, ultimately, a great mystery,” and “even when Jesus says of Judas, the traitor, ‘It would be better for that man if he had never been born’ (Mt. 26:24), his words do not allude for certain to eternal damnation” (pp. 73 and 186). In August 1999, he stated: “Eternal damnation remains a real possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it.”(13)

The words “whether...human beings are...involved in it” are quite disturbing, since they indicate that John Paul holds out for the possibility that no human beings will be in hell, and logically, this would stem from his apparent belief that all men are saved unless proven otherwise. Obviously, this is a dogmatic error of fact, so much so that in the official compilation of his teachings in book form, the Insengamenti, the phrase “of whether” was taken out. It now reads “the knowledge of which human beings are effectively involved in it.”

Thus, even the pope’s own editors caught his error. In any case, it is quite apparent that the pope has done much, short of actually saying that no human beings are in hell, to imply that God may indeed save everyone, or that He already has. In light of this, it is no surprise that one of the pope’s favorite theologians was Hans Urs Von Balthasar, the modernist who became famous for espousing the “hell may be empty” theory in the book Dare We Hope?

When we compare the pope’s statement in L’Osservatore Romano to more tradition-minded statements, we see a marked contrast. For example, St. Alphonsus Ligouri said of Judas: “Poor Judas! Above seventeen hundred years have elapsed since he has been in Hell, and his Hell is still only beginning” (Preparation for Death, p. 127). The same is true if we compare John Paul’s words to those of the Council of Florence: “It firmly believes, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart ‘into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels’ [Mt 25:46], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock...” (DS 714).

In all honesty, how can Mr. Young expect us to not question John Paul II considering that he seems to have such contrasting notions of salvation and hell compared to an ecumenical council confirmed by one of his predecessors, as well as a canonized saint and doctor of the Church? Obviously, something is amiss here, and thus we have the “right and duty,” according to Canon Law, to bring these anomalies to the pope’s attention. As it stands, the Council of Florence and St. Alphonsus Ligouri are clearly representative of all the Fathers, popes, saints, doctors and councils who taught on the reality of hell, not to mention the material in Scripture itself stating that hell will definitely, if not heavily, be populated by human beings (cf., Mt 7:14; Jude 1:6-7; 2 Thess 1:8-9; 2 Pet 2:4-9; Apoc 20:11-15; 22:11-12).

Although one cannot possibly cover all of them in one essay, there are, in fact, many such alarming and troubling statements made by the pope in Crossing the Threshold of Hope. Although obviously the book contains only the pope’s personal opinions, some of its statements are so disturbing that the pope’s editor, Vittorio Messori, said of the book: “I did not reveal all. I thought that for the few remaining Catholics, the shock would be too much.”(14)

So that there is no misunderstanding, our critique of John Paul’s salvation theology does not mean that the Church should be reticent in seeking the salvation of all men. It has been a constant teaching of the Church that God seeks the salvation of all. 1 Timothy 2:4 declares that “God desires all men to be saved.” Similarly, Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism states: “...being made man, he might by his redemption give new life to the entire human race and unify it.”(15)

But neither Scripture nor Vatican II is saying that all men will be saved, or even that a large majority will be saved, but only that those to whom the gospel is preached “might” be saved or it is “desired” that they be saved. Even then, neither source is speaking about those who have already died and been judged, for their eternal destiny cannot be changed, but only to those living presently who still have a chance to repent.

It appears from his writings and teachings, however, that John Paul II has gone sufficiently beyond both Scripture and conciliar teaching to warrant our sincere concern about his basic understanding of how salvation is procured and to whom it might be given. More to the point, I think it would be no exaggeration to say that it is precisely John Paul’s view that every man is a recipient of ‘salvation until proven otherwise’ which is behind all the “ecumenical activities” that even Mr. Young admits “don’t require the same allegiance from us.”

The pope’s liberal views on salvation are the very reason, for example, that without any specific mandate from Vatican II, he believes he can call a voodoo witch doctor to Assisi to ask him to pray for world peace; and has no qualms about sending the witch doctor home without saying a word concerning his need to convert to Christ, as well as not feeling any compulsion to speak of this need for the entire 16 years beginning from the 1986 Assisi when he first encountered the witch doctor.

Apparently, since the pope holds that the witch doctor is “redeemed, saved, enobled to the extent of participating in divine life by means of grace,” then he is indeed heaven-bound until proven otherwise and can thus pray for world peace just like the pope. If this is not what the pope believes, then he needs to stop speaking and acting as if it is, and he needs to issue a disclaimer immediately and forthrightly for the sake of the flock he is designated to shepherd.

Unfortunately, these inter-religious prayer gatherings are now becoming a normal part of the Vatican’s gestures toward pagan religions. On May 9, 2003, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, appointed by the pope as the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, delivered a message to Buddhists on their annual feast of Vesakh. The message was titled: “Buddhists and Christians: Praying for Peace in the World.” The message states:

I would like to invite you, my dear Buddhist friends, to join in prayer for the cause of peace in the world....We Christians and Buddhists are convinced that the origin of all conflict is ultimately located in human hearts characterized by selfish desire....Pope John Paul II has proclaimed the year from October 2002 to October 2003 the Year of the Rosary of the Virgin Mary....My Buddhists friends, is it not a wonderful coincidence that you also have a lengthy tradition of using the Mala for prayer? The Rosary for Catholics and the Mala for Buddhists are simple yet profound and meaningful prayer, despite essential differences in their form and content....For Buddhists, the Mala is used to overcome the 108 sinful desires in order to reach the state of Nirvana. By virtue of their meditative character, these two prayers have in common a calming effect on those who pray them; they lead them to experience and to work for peace, and they produce fruits of love...(16)

It is not difficult to conclude that the above invitation to the Buddhists is, in essence, the “New Evangelization” of John Paul II. It consists of having pagans and Christians “join in prayer” under the concept of seeking “peace in the world” and a mutual concern to rid “human hearts characterized by selfish desire,” and doing so by reciting the Rosary and the Mala, which are both said to be “meaningful prayer” and which “produce fruits of love.”

Contrast this to what St. Paul said of Christians consorting with pagan religions. In 2 Corinthians 6:16-17 he writes:

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said: “I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people. Therefore, come forth from them and be separate,” says the Lord, “and touch nothing unclean; then I will receive you.”

In Acts 17:24-31, in his efforts to evangelize pagans and introduce them to the Christian God, St. Paul, in no uncertain terms, tells the pagans gathered on Mars Hill to put away their idols. In prior days God “winked” at such ignorance, “but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed” (Acts 17:30-31).

Notice the gospel of judgment St. Paul preaches in order to bring the pagan to his senses. Moreover, the “now” to which St Paul refers began 2,000 years ago and has continued ever since without change.

In light of this, has John Paul II ever said anything regarding God’s judgment to the pagans gathered at Assisi similar to what St. Paul said to the pagans on Mars Hill, or at any of the other half-dozen global prayer gatherings he has conducted over the last 16 years?(17)

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is no. Obviously, if the pope believes they are already “redeemed” and have the Holy Spirit working in them, then preaching that the pagans are in need of salvation or under God’s judgment would be superfluous.

Thus, it is no surprise that in Redemptoris Missio, 29, 1 the pope stated: “...the interreligious meeting held in Assisi was meant to confirm my conviction that every authentic prayer is prompted by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in every human heart,” or why he said, on April 19, 1998: “We would like to listen to what the spirit is saying to the Churches, so that they can proclaim Christ in the context of Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism and all those ways of thinking and living which were already rooted in Asia before the preaching of the Gospel arrived there.”(18)

Apparently, whether it is the Rosary or the Mala, the Holy Spirit is invoked and is ready to do the bidding of man.

These matters are very grave yet they are also not without precedent. King Solomon, who according to Jesus was a great preacher of the gospel (cf., Mt 12:42; Heb 4:2), eventually allowed himself to be overcome with the pagan gods of the nations (1 Kings 11:1-14). St. Paul warns us that those incidents “were written down for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:11). St. Paul made it clear that men of God can deliberately or inadvertently neglect or dismiss their commission to preach the gospel. Because of pressure from the world, they will often fall into such error, replacing the true gospel with “another gospel.” In Galatians 1:8-9 he writes:

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.

Notice the words “if WE, or an ANGEL from heaven.” Even St. Paul, the very man inspired by God to give us most of the New Testament, could fall into this trap. Apparently, even an angel can do so. No one is immune from this potentiality. When St. Paul says “that which you received” he is referring to the gospel they received from Tradition, the very same Tradition residing in our Catholic Church that has unceasingly been declaring pagans as condemned sinners until they repent and convert to the Christian faith.

A prime example of one who slipped from the traditional gospel is noted in the case of Peter, for in the next chapter of Galatians, as he is engaged in what we might call “false ecumenism” with the Jews, St. Paul upbraids him for nothing less than “distorting the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). Apparently, Peter’s fault wasn’t merely rudeness to Gentiles; rather, St. Paul is clear that his “ecumenical activities” were tantamount to side-stepping the gospel of salvation.

So if it can happen to St. Peter and St. Paul, and even an Angel from heaven, it could happen to a pope, especially one who isn’t circumscribing his novel teachings under the domain of infallibility, which John Paul II has never done. Obviously, even Mr. Young would have to agree to some extent, since he’s already admitted that: “There is no guarantee that he will act in the best way when dealing with...decisions relating to ecumenical activities” and “ecumenical approaches...are clearly in a different category from teachings on faith and morals, and don’t require the same allegiance from us.”

In effect, contrary to what Mr. Young claims, our criticisms of John Paul II’s pontificate are not concerning trivial things, or a desire to cause “scandal” and “doubt.” Rather, they come from a deep concern about the very nature of the gospel itself and how that gospel is, or is not, being preached to men today.

To us, and even to many of the pope’s cardinals, events like Assisi are the real scandal of the Church. Are all men, as the Church has always taught,(19) under condemnation until they personally receive salvation by means of the preached gospel, or are they, as John Paul II seems to believe, relieved of such condemnation because, as he says, “...in the Incarnation...Christ obtained, once and for all, the salvation of man – of each man and of all men,” or that all men are “saved,” “redeemed” and “participating in divine life by means of grace”? No pope or council prior to John Paul II has ever said such things.

John Paul II and the Jews:

Nowhere has this apparent dilution of the traditional gospel been any more evident than in John Paul II’s dealing with the Jews. It appears that a whole new theology regarding the Jews has come about in just the last few years. Following the pope’s lead, many high-placed cardinals have stated in recent months that “targeting Jews for salvation to Christianity is ‘theologically’ unacceptable.”

By their use of the word “theological,” these Vatican hierarchs are espousing a fundamental shift in soteriology, which, they say, requires us to cease from evangelizing Jews with the Christian gospel. Cardinals Keeler, Kasper, Willebrands and Cassidy have gone on record stating so. They have received no curtailment whatsoever from the pope, and thus it is not surprising to read one of the pope’s admirers and biographers, Darcy O’Brien, admitting in his book “...the pope has rejected the goal of converting the Jews and affirms the permanence of their covenant.”(20)

Cardinal Kasper, appointed by John Paul II, stated to the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in New York on May 1, 2001, the religion of Judaism is salvific for Jews:

The old theory of substitution [i.e., that the New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant] is gone since the Second Vatican Council. For us Christians today the covenant with the Jewish people is a living heritage, a living reality....Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism, i.e., the faithful response of the Jewish people to God's irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises....Thus mission, in this strict sense, cannot be used with regard to Jews, who believe in the true and one God. Therefore – and this is characteristic – there does not exist any Catholic missionary organization for Jews. There is dialogue with Jews; no mission in this proper sense of the word towards them.

Similarly, Cardinal George of Chicago recently stated: “...the Church has also sinned against the Jewish people, first of all, in teaching that God’s covenant with Israel is no longer valid for them.”(21)

Echoing O’Brien’s assessment of the pope’s view, Cardinal Keeler, whom the pope appointed as the head of relations with the Jews in ecumenism, and co-author of the Reflections on Covenant and Mission document of 2002 with Jewish rabbis, stated that the non-necessity of converting Jews to Christianity is based on the fact that “their covenant with God has not been revoked.” Cardinal Willebrands voiced the same sentiments in his book, The Church and the Jewish People. Because of Willebrand’s views, John Paul II appointed him as head of the Council for Christian Unity, stating: “Your work for Jewish-Christian harmony is most important.” As for Willebrand’s advocacy against converting the Jews, O’Brien writes:

...he was asked how it can be possible that the Church no longer advocates conversion of the Jews after centuries of the opposite doctrine and numerous efforts during various periods at forced conversions, he draws himself up with visible exasperation and vehemently states, ‘To proselytize is not an attitude of love, nor is it one of knowledge!....As for the Jews, God made a promise to them, and God does not go back on his promises.(22)

It is rather obvious that all of these cardinals, placed by the pope on the highest commissions of ecumenism and relations with the Jews, are basing their opinions on the idea that the covenant God made specifically and only with the Jews is still in force, and that God is obligated by that covenant. Where is the source for this idea? It seems to come from none other than John Paul II himself, who said in a 1980 speech:

The first dimension of this dialogue, that is, between the people of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God [Rom 11:29], and that of the New Covenant, is at the same time a dialogue within our church, that is to say, between the first and second parts of her Bible. Jews and Christians, as children of Abraham, are called to be a blessing to the world by committing themselves together for peace and justice among all men and peoples (emphasis mine).

The interesting thing about the pope’s statement is that he, or whoever inserted Romans 11:29 in brackets, misquotes and misconstrues the biblical verse. Romans 11:29 does not say that the Old Covenant is irrevocable, but only that the “gifts and call of God are irrevocable” (NAB). As St. Paul explains throughout Romans, the “gifts and call of God” are nothing less than the gospel of Jesus Christ, the very gospel that St. Paul says earlier in the chapter that only a remnant of Jews are presently accepting while the rest remained hardened in their blindness, even to this day (Rom. 11:5-14).

Vatican II was careful enough to catch this distinction, when in footnoting Romans 11:28-29, recorded the verse correctly: “God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or the choice he made” (Nostra Aetate, 4). Accordingly, Vatican II never states that the “Old Covenant” has not been revoked. Even when Vatican II was emphasizing that the Hebrew Scriptures have “not been cancelled,” the council referred to them by the words “Old Testament,” not “Old Covenant” (Guidelines on Religious Relations with the Jews, II Liturgy) so as to specify that the ethical principles and prophetic messages of Scripture endured, but not to suggest that Judaism is still honored by God as a viable religion or that Moses’ covenant is still in force. Moreover, when Vatican II spoke specifically about the Old Covenant it indicated that it was “concluded”:

The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the ancient covenant....Indeed, the Church believes that by his cross Christ, our peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles making both one in Himself.

In place of the Old Covenant, Lumen Gentium specifies that the New Covenant, which incorporates both Jews and Gentiles, is the “unbreakable covenant” (1, 6). It further states that the Church is the New Israel: “Thus the apostles were the first budding-forth of the New Israel” (Ad Gentes 1, 5).

Previous papal and conciliar teaching, as well as Scripture itself, are very clear that the Old Covenant has been revoked. Moreover, both sources confirm there is only one meaning to the “Old Covenant,” that is, the Mosaic covenant. These things were made plain as recent as the teaching of Pius XII in Mystici Corporis 29-30:

And first of all, by the death of our Redeemer, the New Testament took the place of the Old Law which had been abolished; then the Law of Christ together with its mysteries, enactments, institutions, and sacred rites was ratified for the whole world in the blood of Jesus Christ..but on the Gibbet of His death Jesus made void the Law with its decrees fastened the handwriting of the Old Testament to the Cross, establishing the New Testament in His blood...30: On the Cross then the Old Law died, soon to be buried and to be a bearer of death, in order to give way to the New Testament of which Christ had chosen the Apostles as qualified ministers.

The Councils of Trent and Florence were clear about this as well: “that He might both redeem the Jews, who were under the Law” (Trent, Session 6, ch 2); “If anyone shall say that man can be justified before God by his own works which are done through his own natural powers, or through the teaching of the Law...let him be anathema” (Trent, Ses. 6, Canon 1). The Council of Florence said the same:

It firmly believes, professes, and teaches that the matter pertaining to the law of the Old Testament, of the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, sacred rites, sacrifices, and sacraments, because they were established to signify something in the future, although they were suited to the divine worship at that time, after our Lord's coming had been signified by them, ceased, and the sacraments of the New Testament began...

It further warns that all those who practice the old law’s ceremonies in an effort to procure salvation (which is what takes place in Judaism today) are “not fit to participate in eternal salvation.”

All, therefore, who after that time observe circumcision and the Sabbath and the other requirements of the law, it declares alien to the Christian faith and not in the least fit to participate in eternal salvation, unless someday they recover from these errors. (DS 712).

Scripture is also very clear on this matter. 2 Cor 3:7-14 specifies that the “old covenant” (the only time the phrase is used in the New Testament) refers to the Law written on the tablets of stone that Moses carried, and it was those decrees which served as a “ministry of death and condemnation” upon the Jews and all of mankind. Galatians 3:10-12 is clear that those who rely on any part of that Law for salvation will be condemned (cf., Rom. 6:14; 7:6-10; Jam. 2:10). Hebrews 7:18-19 is clear that “the former commandment is annulled because of its weakness and uselessness, for the law brought nothing to perfection” (NAB). Hebrews 8:13 indicates that “When he speaks of a ‘new’ covenant, he declares the first one obsolete” (NAB). Hebrews 10:9 states “He takes away the first to establish the second” (NAB).

Not only does the pope’s statement “the old covenant has not been revoked” go against traditional teaching, it flies in the face of his own teaching that only the New Covenant is irrevocable. For example, in Mulieris Dignitatem, 5, 11 the pope said: “at the beginning of the New Covenant, which is to be eternal and irrevocable.” He said the same in Redemptoris Custos, 32, Dominicae Cenae, 9 and Evangelium Vitae, 25.

If one wants to say that the Abrahamic covenant is still in force, that’s a different story, but neither Scripture nor magisterial teaching ever refer to it as the “old covenant,” nor does either source say that the Abrahamic covenant was made exclusively for the Jews or connected only with Judaism. According to Galatians 3:8, the Abrahamic covenant was made initially in view of the Gentiles, as St. Paul says: “Scripture, which saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, foretold the good news to Abraham, saying, ‘Through you shall all the nations be blessed’” (NAB). This is so since Galatians 3:8 is quoting Genesis 12:1-3 – when Abraham was a Gentile.

Of course, Jews can certainly be incorporated into the Abrahamic covenant if they accept the Christ of Calvary, as even Zechariah the Jewish prophet said in Luke 1:72-73 regarding the sole purpose of the birth of Christ: “He...remembered his holy covenant, the oath which he swore to Abraham our father,” and as St. Paul says in Romans 11:23 pointing out that God is able to “graft them [the Jews] in again” if they “do not continue in their unbelief.”

In effect, the Abrahamic covenant is still quite new, since it deals with faith in Christ, not Law, and it has become the New Covenant. St Paul makes it quite clear in Galatians 3:17-19 that the “old covenant” (the Mosaic law, which “came 430 years later”) was superceded by God’s “promises” to Abraham, and whereas the former was taken away, the latter continued. It is the same reason that St. Paul says in Galatians 3:29 that if we are “Christ’s then we are Abraham’s seed,” and why Jesus says to the Jews that “Abraham your father rejoiced to see My day” (John 8:56).

Apparently, even the pope has assented to this truth. He writes: “God’s covenant with Abraham, of which circumcision was the sign (cf. Gn 17:13), reaches its full effect and perfect realization in Jesus, who is the ‘yes’ of all the ancient promises (cf. 2 Cor 1:20)” (Redemptoris Custos, 11). That being the case, it is puzzling why he would insist that the “Old Covenant” has not been revoked, since he apparently knows the difference between the two covenants, and that the Old Covenant and the New Covenant cannot exist simultaneously.

In the face of all this, there seems to be a concerted effort to relieve today’s Jews of having to accept the Christ of Calvary, and the chosen instrument to implement this new twist to soteriology is the revival of their “old covenant” as a distinct covenant to be practiced indefinitely in Judaism.

The Vatican’s voices have gone so far as to say that “the Jewish messianic wait is not in vain,” a remark made by Pontifical Biblical Commission in the 210-page document titled The Jewish People and the Holy Scriptures in the Christian Bible, and approved by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. It adds that the Jews are waiting for the first coming of the Messiah while Christians are waiting for the second. In effect, it is saying that the Jews can simply relieve themselves of the responsibility of worshiping the Christ of Calvary, for he, at that time, did not come as the Jewish messiah. Scripture and magisterial teaching flatly contradict this.

As noted above, Zechariah, the Jewish prophet, was quite clear that the babe in Bethlehem came precisely for the Jews, as he says in Luke 1:68-69, 77:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited us and accomplished redemption for his people, and raised up a horn of salvation for us, in the house of David his servant, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old...to give to his people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.

Regarding the Jews, much ado is made today about Nostra Aetate 4's statement that “...nor Jews today, can be charged with crimes committed during his passion...” But the truth is that not even St. Peter on Pentecost Day, when he had an audience of Jews and Gentiles from Jerusalem and 15 different nations, held the Jews accountable for the death of Christ, and thus that particular claim cannot be used as something that needs to be undone for today’s Jews. In Acts 3:17 he says: “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also.” Despite this ignorance, Peter says to them in verses 18-20:

But the things which God announced...He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you.

Notice the words “repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away.” Regardless of the fact that they “acted in ignorance” in putting Jesus to death, they are told to repent of their sins so that they can be saved by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, this is not the message that is being told to Jews today. Peter then warns in verses 23, 26:

And it shall be that every soul that does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people....God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness.

And he reiterates this same message to the Jews in Acts 4:10-12:

Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead... And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.

Are the cardinals who have been appointed to relations with the Jews telling them that the Jesus Christ crucified at Calvary is the only person who can provide them with salvation? How can they if they claim that the Jewish messiah has not yet come? Has John Paul II preached the Christ of Calvary to the Jews of today? To my knowledge, in the 25 years of his pontificate John Paul II has never taught that the Jews’ only means of salvation is accepting the Christ of Calvary and converting to Christianity.

Although its message is often ambiguous, at least Nostra Aetate maintained that the Catholic Church is to preach the gospel to the Jews the same as she does for every other nation on earth. It stated: “In virtue of her divine mission, and her very nature, the Church must preach Jesus Christ to the world...to Jews, they must take care to live and spread their Christian faith...”(23)

When the Church “preaches Jesus Christ” it means she preaches, as Scripture and Catholic dogma specify, that Jesus Christ has already come for the Jews at Calvary, and that His message was one demanding that the Jews repent of their sins and accept Him as their savior. Unless someone can prove that these things have been eliminated from the “Christian faith,” then the Church is bound to preach them, and God help her if she doesn’t.

More on the Assisi Gatherings:

Although Mr. Young at first admitted that in regards to John Paul II “there is no guarantee that he will act in the best way when dealing with...ecumenical activities,” nevertheless, he runs to the pope’s defense regarding Assisi with the words:

Take criticisms of the gathering of religions at Assisi, organized by the Pope. Horror is expressed at his alleged encouragement of Hindus, Buddhists, and others to pray to pagan gods. But that is not what he did. Certainly he encouraged them to pray. God is open to all sincere prayer, even though those praying may have confused and erroneous notions of who God is. Nor did the Pope join in prayer with them, as is sometimes insinuated. The groups prayed separately.

It is clear Mr. Young holds that, even though the pagans invited to Assisi brought their own implements of worship (a statue of Buddha, wood chips, incense, snakes, etc), and that the pope ordered crucifixes in their rooms to be removed or covered, and that the pagans recited their centuries-old formulas which are for the purpose of invoking their pagan gods, we are supposed to believe that all this is mere ornamentation, and that they were actually praying to the true God. If so, this is the first time in history that praying to a false god is actually praying to the true God.

But if it is claimed that the pagans were praying to the true God, then why were they separated by walls from the pope? God is no respecter of persons, is he? According to John Paul’s assessment of Assisi 1986: “we prayed with one voice to the Lord of history” (Ut Unum Sint 76, May 25, 1995). Hence, there seems to be a glaring inconsistency here.

As for Mr. Young’s statement that “God is open to all sincere prayer,” apparently he believes that “world peace” constitutes such sincerity. But this is in direct contradiction to what St. Paul mandated in Acts 17. There he commanded the pagans to stop praying to their idols and begin praying to the true God in repentance of their sins, precisely because Judgment Day loomed ahead of them (Acts 17:25-31). According to St. Paul, repenting from their idols would have been the only “sincere” prayer that God was ready to hear. As Scripture states, anything prior to that is an abomination in his sight (1 Peter 3:12; Proverbs 15:8, 29).

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches the same thing. He writes: “If sinners pray because of some good desire coming from their human nature, then God does hear them, not as a manner of justice, because sinners do not deserve this but out of sheer mercy, and provided certain conditions are met, that is, provided it is a prayer made for oneself, for things necessary for salvation, made piously and perseveringly.”

Notice that Thomas makes it clear that God does not hear the prayers of a pagan unless the prayer is for the pagan himself (not “world peace”), and most important, the prayer must concern “things necessary for salvation.” Could it be any clearer?

This is precisely what our traditional gospel has told us, that is, the first prayer to which God responds is the prayer of repentance. That is the same way Pope Peter introduced the ecumenical gospel of the New Covenant in Act 2:38. He told the Jews and pagans: “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Why is the Church so afraid of preaching that gospel today? I believe the reason is twofold: First, she is more afraid of men than she is of God; second, as we have already discovered: why preach a gospel which begs people to receive salvation if you think salvation is already theirs to lose?

This kind of gospel began with the liberal Protestants of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and slowly seeped into the minds of various theologians and prelates of the Catholic Church until they became its torchbearers. It is a gospel that teaches Christ has already saved the human race but that Christians are the only ones who know about it. Consequently, the Church’s only task is to go out and tell the world that they have already been redeemed, and that if one intends on losing salvation he must really work hard at it. Inviting the religions of the world to pray to God through their false gods, just as if they were Christians, is one way this “new evangelization” is disseminated. And, of course, one can send them home without preaching about sin, repentance and baptism because “saved” and “enobled” people don’t really need to hear that kind of gospel.

As noted previously, in his book Sign of Contradiction, John Paul II stated that Vatican II “redefined the nature of the Church.” In light of this, it is not surprising that John Paul II has issued dozens of apologies for past popes, councils, doctors and saints. The reason may be very simple – in his view the Catholics of yesteryear didn’t really understand the “nature” of the Church, for it had not been “defined” properly enough for them, and thus the old church approached the pagan world in the wrong way.

The “redefining the nature” of the Church would be the same reason that John Paul II declared that Martin Luther had a “profound religiousness and spiritual heritage” (Nov. 17, 1980), or the reason he said on June 6, 1989: “What we need today most of all is a joint new evaluation of many questions raised by Luther and his preaching.”(24)

Apparently, Martin Luther’s teaching is going to help “redefine the nature” of the Catholic Church. Perhaps this “redefining” occurred when John Paul II allowed the Lutheran/Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification to add the clause “man is justified by faith alone” in section 2C of the Annex. Ironically, this is in face of the fact that Martin Luther was condemned as a heretic and excommunicated on the basis of 41 errors enumerated in detail by Pope Leo X, and the fact that the Council of Trent condemned the phrase “faith alone” 13 separate times in 13 different ways.

Of Calvin and Zwingli (who, with Luther, claimed that the Catholic Mass was the chief abomination of Christendom, the Pope was the Antichrist and the Catholic Church the whore of Babylon), John Paul II said on June 14, 1984:

This year the memory of the zeal which animated two outstanding religious personalities in Swiss history...the first is Huldriech Zwingli...the second is John Calvin...We find the historical influence of their witness not only in the area of theology and ecclesial structure, but also in cultural, social and political fields.(25)

Some claim that this “redefining the nature” of the gospel and the Church is a “development of doctrine” – the infamous buzz-phrase that is so often used today to rationalize one’s departure from established tradition. But does it make sense that, for almost two thousand years, the Church would be preaching the gospel one way, and then all of a sudden she finds out that she was basically without the proper “definition” of her nature and mission? How is it possible that the Holy Spirit would keep the Church in the dark for two-millennia, letting Satan deceive her into thinking she was doing well, and finally reveal the real marching orders to her by one man in the twentieth century, when, by almost everyone’s instinct, time on earth is almost over?

If the Church of tradition, guided as she was by the Holy Spirit, was working without a proper definition of her nature, what guarantee do we have today that the Holy Spirit is leading us to a “redefining” of that nature? Such a notion is unfathomable, especially when we see the bad fruits of the so-called “new evangelization.” There has been more moral debauchery, spiritual unfaithfulness and mass exodus from the Church in the twentieth century than all previous centuries combined. One need only look at the current homosexual scandal within the Church to see a good indicator of its condition.

Many of these new-fangled interpretations of the gospel are foisted on Vatican II, but even Vatican II, as ambiguous as it was in many cases, never promoted the concept of organized prayer sessions with pagans or the idea that all men were, “from the moment of their birth,” “saved” and “redeemed.” For example, Vatican II used the word “prayer” and its derivatives over two-hundred times in thirteen different documents.(26)

In none of these documents is it ever mandated or even proposed that the faithful are to seek mutual prayer with pagan religions to either persuade God to help with the world’s problems, or as a gesture or anticipation of future unity. It simply is not there. In fact, the only time Vatican II allows Catholics to pray with non-Catholics is when they are seeking to bring Protestants back into the Catholic Church (Unitatis Redintegratio)! Suffice it to say that Assisi 1 and Assisi 2 are utter novelties in the annals of Catholic thought.

Seeking to defend the pope, Mr. Young creates a convenient distinction. He says: “Nor did the Pope join in prayer with them, as is sometimes insinuated. The groups prayed separately.” That Mr. Young would have to resort to such a distinction shows his utter desperation.

Do we find St. Paul, or any of the pope’s predecessors, making such distinctions? Does St. Paul, for example, tell the pagans to continue praying to their idols in one part of Mars Hill while he and the apostles pray to God in another part? Does St. Paul, St. Peter, or any of the pope’s predecessors, ever allow pagans to address their idols under the pretense of appealing to God, or allow Christians to countenance the pagans’ affection for idols provided there is a wall of separation? The answer to these questions is a resounding no. Never before in the history of Catholic Christianity have these things been done, nor anything close to them or even resembling them. It is an invention, pure and simple, of modern ecumenism.

But Mr. Young’s distinction also shows that, if at any time the pope has claimed to pray “with” a pagan, then Mr. Young has inadvertently indicted the pope. On August 8, 1985, John Paul II speaks of his meeting with African animists as: “The prayer meeting in the sanctuary at Lake Togo was particularly striking. There I prayed for the first time with animists” (Peter Lovest Thou Me? John Paul II: Pope of Tradition or Pope of Revolution, p. 154).

It is also reported that during this meeting, while standing with the voodoo chieftan before a snake in the center of town, John Paul cast cucumber peelings on the ground in front of its entrance. Moments later, a serpent slithered forth from it. The chieftan then turned to the Pope exclaiming that the reptile’s appearance meant the snake-god had favored his offering. The pope is said to have nodded in acknowledgment.

Other statements of John Paul II also make Mr. Young’s distinction invalid. In Redemptor Hominis 6 (16) the pope states:

What we have just said must also be applied – although in another way and with the due differences – to activity for coming closer together with the representatives of the non-Christian religions, an activity expressed through dialogue, contacts, prayer in common, investigation of the treasures of human spirituality, in which, as we know well, the members of these religions also are not lacking (emphasis mine).

Here we notice the Pope has singled out “non-Christian religions” (which would include Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Shintoism, Confucianism, et al) and says that we should have “prayer in common” with them. “Prayer in common,” as it is commonly understood, means that we are praying together with them; praying to the same God for the same reasons, for that is what Catholics, for example, do with one another at the Mass when they make their requests known to God – pray in common. This is precisely how the pope has used the phrase “prayer in common” in his other addresses, that is, where people are praying together in the same place at the same time (General Audience addresses of January 29, 1992 and January 4, 1995, and a homily of January 25, 1997).

In regards to Catholics “praying in common” and the concern for world peace, would it not have been better to call all the bishops of the Catholic Church together at Assisi so that they could pray with the pope? What an unprecedented and astounding event that would have been! That kind of gathering would certainly have been one in which God would be listening to the prayers of men. What a great example of sacrifice and dedication it would have been for all the bishops to make their way to one place to call upon the Lord of history for peace on earth. It was the same type of gathering that God requested, through Our Lady of Fatima, that the Church perform in order to fulfill the consecration of Russia and so that the world could have an “era of peace.” Instead, the pope turns to the pagans of the world to do what he and the bishops should be doing. Then again, perhaps God is using the pagans to mock today’s prelates, since many of her cardinals and bishops are as far from a right relationship with God as the pagans (cf., Ezekiel 22:1-4, NAB).

Finally, Mr. Young concludes:

The critics I am speaking of should ask themselves whether they, not the Pope, have a warped view. It is so easy for justified concern about the aberrations in Catholic affairs to cause an overreaction, with suspicion of quite legitimate changes. It must never be forgotten that Satan, who loves to provoke division, can appear as an angel of light and lead us astray.

All I can say is that Mr. Young’s warning cuts both ways. From the traditionalist’s perspective, the best ploy Satan could use to inhibit the gospel of Jesus Christ is to lead people to think that they are already on the path to heaven, already “saved” and “redeemed,” and that human beings may not even be “involved” at all with hell. If they think they’ve already attained salvation and that hell is a remote possibility, they will also think they can pray for earthly needs and that they don’t need to be seeking salvation in Catholic Christianity. As for the Jew, the worst thing you could do if you indeed want to deprive him of the love that the Christ of Calvary wants to give him is tell him that Judaism and his “old covenant” are a separate means to God.

According to Galatians 1:8-9; 2:14, Paul, an Angel, or even Pope Peter (outside of his domain of infallibility), could falter in such matters, and thus, so can John Paul II. This potentiality is even more apparent as John Paul II’s “ecumenical activities” move way beyond the teachings of Vatican II, as well as being at odds with the teachings of all his predecessors, as summed up by Pius XI in the encyclical Mortalium Animos:

...this Apostolic See has never allowed its subjects to take part in assemblies of non-Catholics. There is but one way in which the unity of Christians may be fostered, and that is by furthering the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it...

Final Words:

Pope Leo XIII once stated:

The Church most earnestly desires that the Christian teaching, of which We have given an outline, should penetrate every rank of society in reality and in practice; for it would be of the greatest efficacy in healing the evils of our day, which are neither few nor slight, and are the offspring in great part of the false liberty which is so much extolled, and in which the germs of safety and glory were supposed to be contained. The hope has been disappointed by the result. The fruit, instead of being sweet and wholesome, has proved cankered and bitter. If, then, a remedy is desired, let it be sought for in a restoration of sound doctrine, from which alone the preservation of order and, as a consequence, the defense of true liberty can be confidently expected.”(27)

Popes are confronted with a grave temptation that many of us in gospel work experience to a certain degree. It is the temptation which leads a person to think that he can do better than Christ in bringing men to salvation. There is a temptation that the advancement of the kingdom is not happening fast enough or well enough, and that man needs to invigorate it with his own ideas and programs.

Peter was seized with a similar temptation immediately after Jesus designated him as the rock upon which the church would be built. Perhaps because he became proud of the lofty position bestowed on him, Peter began to take things into his own hands, for as soon as Jesus told him that the church was going to be built by His suffering and death on the cross, Peter took Jesus aside and sternly rebuked him. In turn, Jesus sternly rebuked Peter, saying: “Get thee behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” Thus, it can happen that, one who thinks he is helping the cause of Christ is actually becoming an obstacle in His path.

God’s kingdom must advance in no other way than how He has ordained it to advance. Everything else is a fraud. In that advancement, in John 15:1-6 Jesus taught that the Father prunes away from the vine those branches that do not bear fruit. With the decay removed, the rest of the vine can remain healthy and continue to grow. Not only does the Father prune them, but he also “casts them into the fire where they are burned” – an allusion to excommunication and eternal damnation. The temptation that a pope has, especially one such as John Paul II who is so deep into the ecumenical spirit, is to think that the best way to advance the kingdom is to make a big tent so that everyone can enter and be saved, and to allow dissidents and heretics to roam the earth for fear that if he disciplines them it will cause schism. In doing so he lowers the standards of acceptance and seeks for the lowest common denominator among men. He begins viewing pagan religions as already having access to God and on their way to heaven. In short, his gospel, although trying to advance the kingdom with a new and improved program, ends up becoming a deterrent to the kingdom, just as Peter discovered when Jesus called him “Satan.”

There can be no substitute for the true gospel. In order for the Church to be built properly, the dead branches must be pruned and thrown into the fire. Those that will not accept the Catholic message cannot be coddled, for they will only end up destroying the Church.

As St. Paul said to the Corinthians, the ministers of the gospel cannot build on any other foundation than Jesus Christ, and when they build on that foundation, they must build with gold, silver and gems, not wood, hay and straw. In 1 Corinthians 1:23 St. Paul says that the true gospel is, very simply, “Christ crucified,” which is “to the Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness.”

If the Church ignores the gospel of “Christ crucified” (which, indeed, happens when Jews are told that their “old covenant” allows them to claim that their messiah has not yet come, and pagans are never told about their need to forsake their false gods), the fire of God will eventually burn up that work, and those who fostered it will be destroyed for “destroying the temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:17). Seeking worldly peace at the expense of the true gospel is, as Ezekiel says, like covering deteriorated walls with whitewash to give the appearance of tranquility. It is only a matter of time before God’s wrath puts an end to it all:

For the very reason that they led my people astray, saying, "Peace!" when there was no peace, and that, as one built a wall, they would cover it with whitewash, say then to the whitewashers: I will bring down a flooding rain; hailstones shall fall, and a stormwind shall break out. And when the wall has fallen, will you not be asked: Where is the whitewash you spread on? Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: In my fury I will let loose stormwinds; because of my anger there shall be a flooding rain, and hailstones shall fall with destructive wrath. I will tear down the wall that you have whitewashed and level it to the ground, laying bare its foundations. When it falls, you shall be crushed beneath it; thus you shall know that I am the LORD. When I have spent my fury on the wall and its whitewashers, I tell you there shall be no wall, nor shall there be whitewashers those prophets of Israel who prophesied to Jerusalem and saw for it visions of peace when there was no peace, says the Lord GOD (Ezekiel 13:10-16).


1 The Wanderer, May 2003.

2 We could also add the following papal safeguards. Leo XIII stated: “The one only reason which men have for not obeying is when anything is demanded of them which is openly repugnant to the natural or divine law, for it is equally unlawful to command and to do anything in which the law of nature or the will of God is violated. If, therefore, it should happen to any one to be compelled to prefer one or the other, viz., to disregard either the commands of God or those of rulers, he must obey Jesus Christ…And yet there is no reason why those who so behave themselves should be accused of refusing obedience; for if the will of rulers is opposed to the will and the laws of God, they themselves exceed the bounds of their own power and pervert justice; nor can their authority then be valid, which, when there is no justice, is null” (Diuturnum Illud, 15); “…obedience is greatly ennobled when subjected to an authority which is the most just and supreme of all. But where the power to command is wanting, or where a law is enacted contrary to reason, or to the eternal law, or to some ordinance of God, obedience is unlawful, lest, while obeying man, we become disobedient to God…all being free to live according to law and right reason; and in this, as We have shown, true liberty really consists” (Libertas Praestantissimum, 13). “But when anything is commanded which is plainly at variance with the will of God, there is a wide departure from this divinely constituted order, and at the same time a direct conflict with divine authority; therefore, it is right not to obey” (Libertas Praestantissimum, 30).

3 An “antipope” is a false claimant to the papacy. In Catholic history, depending on the authoritative source, there were between 35 and 44 antipopes who claimed the chair of Peter. Some, like Anacletus II, actually occupied the Vatican and acted as pope from 1130 to 1138, while the true pope, Innocent II, remained in exile. After Anacletus’ death in 1138, Innocent found his way back to the Vatican (1911 Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. i, p. 447):

4 Mansi’s Collectio Conciliorum, Florence, 1764, which contains everything official and unofficial on Vatican 1's deliberations; also Butler’s The Vatican Council, 1930; also C. J. Hefele’s A History of the Councils of the Church, trans W. R. Clark, Edinburgh, 1896; also Cecconi's Antecedente del Concilio, 1874 and Collectio Lacensis, 1892; also Ollivier’s L'Eglise et l'Etat au Concile du Vatican, 1877; and Mourret’s Le Concile du Vatican, 1919.

5 Dogmatic Constitution I, Ch 4, emphasis mine.

6 There are some who assert that John Paul II did not take the papal oath of office when he assumed the chair of Peter. That assertion is beyond the scope of this essay to affirm or deny.

7 St. Paul Publications, 1979, p. 17. Originally titled: Segno di Contraddizione, Karol Wojtyla, 1977, Vita e Pensiero.

8 Ibid, p. 87.

9 Ibid., p. 160.

10 Dec 27, 1978.

11 L’Osservatore Romano, May 6, 1980.

12 p. 129.

13 L’Osservatore Romano, August 4, 1999, emphasis mine.

14 The Case of the Catholic Church versus John Paul II, Gilbert G. Grise. The same can be said of his work Sign of Contradiction. That these liberal theological ideas seem to permeate Karol Wojtyla’s theology is not surprising, since Sign of Contradiction quotes quite favorably all the popular liberal theologians, including Protestants, of the last few decades, e.g., Karl Rahner, Hans Kung, Henri de Lubac, Walter Kasper, Teilhard de Chardin, L. Feuerbach, Rudolph Otto, Martin Heidegger, Albert Camus, et al.

15 Flannery edition, p. 453.

16 Vatican Information Service.

17 Kyoto in 1987; Rome in 1988; Warsaw in 1989; Bari in 1990; Malta in 1991.

18 L’ Osservatore Romano, April 22, 1998.

19 Council of Trent, Decree on Original Sin, Canons 1-6.

20 The Hidden Pope, p. 326.

21 Catholic New World, March 19, 2000.

22 The Hidden Pope, p. 310.

23 Guidelines on Religious Relations with the Jews, I Dialogue.

24 L’ Osservatore Romano, June 19, 1989.

25 Meeting with Federation of Protestant Churches, Hehrsatz, Switzerland, cited in When a Pope Asks Forgiveness, p. 154.

26 Ad Gentes; Apostolicam Actuositatem; Christus Dominus; Dei Verbum; Gaudium et Spes; Inter Mirifica; Lumen Gentium; Nostra Aetate; Optatam Totius; Orientalium Ecclessorum; Perfectae Caritatis; Presbyterorum Ordinis; Unitatis Redintegratio.

27 Libertas Praestantissimum, Para 32 (1888).