Pope Francis: God merely ‘permits’ Islam

Hard to see the debate over “willed” or “permitted” having any material effect apart from theological debates:

Pope Francis has further clarified his controversial statement issued in Abu Dhabi, in which he appeared to state that God “wills” the existence of many religions.

This appears to contrast with the traditional doctrine of the Catholic Church, which teaches, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, that the “one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men.”

The informal clarification came at today’s general audience, as the Pope reflected on his recent trip to Muslim-majority Morocco. In unscripted remarks, he said to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square:

But some may wonder: but why does the Pope go visit the Muslims and not only the Catholics? Because there are so many religions, and why are there so many religions? With the Muslims we are descendants of the same Father, Abraham: why does God allow so many religions to exist? God wanted to allow this: the Scholastic theologians referred to the voluntas permissiva [permissive will] of God. He willed to permit this reality: there are many religions; some are born of culture, but they always look to heaven, they look to God. But what God does will is fraternity among us, and in a special way — hence the reason for this journey — with our brothers, who are sons of Abraham, like us, the Muslims. We must not be afraid of the difference: God has permitted this. We ought to be frightened if we do not work in fraternity, to walk together in life.

The Feb. 4 statement incited controversy among Christians for asserting that “the pluralism and the diversity of religions” — like the diversity of “color, sex, race and language” — are “willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings” — a claim many believe to be contrary to the Catholic faith.

Some critics argued the Pope’s statement seemed not only to “overturn the doctrine of the Gospel” but also to align with the ideas of Freemasonry.

Observers pointed out that the potential for confusion was compounded by the fact that both Al-Azhar and the Catholic Church asked in the document that it “become the object of research and reflection in all schools, universities and institutes of formation.”

To remedy the confusion arising from the statement, four days later Bishop Athanasius Schneider issued a statement on uniqueness of faith in Jesus Christ. Three weeks after that, at a Mar. 1 ad limina meeting of the bishops of Kazakhstan and Central Asia with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Bishop Schneider privately obtained from Pope Francis a clarification that God only permits but does not positively will a “diversity of religions.”

The Pope explicitly stated that Schneider could share the contents of their exchange on this point. “You can say that the phrase in question on the diversity of religions means the permissive will of God,” he told the assembled bishops, who come from predominantly Muslim regions.

Bishop Schneider in turn asked the Pope officially to clarify the statement in the Abu Dhabi document.

In light of the Abu Dhabi statement and today’s informal clarification from Pope Francis, LifeSite spoke with Capuchin Father Thomas Weinandy, a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission and former chief of staff for the U.S. Bishops’ committee on doctrine, about the controversy.

In 2017, Fr. Weinandy wrote a letter to Pope Francis (which was subsequently made public) saying his pontificate is marked by “chronic confusion” and warning that teaching with a “seemingly intentional lack of clarity risks sinning against the Holy Spirit.”

In our interview with the Fr. Weinandy on the Abu Dhabi statement, he identifies what he believes is its most problematic element, and offers his perspective on both on the Pope’s private clarification to Bishop Schneider and his public remarks at this week’s general audience.

Fr. Weinandy says while he believes Pope Francis is motivated by a “noble desire” to “foster mutual understanding” and “undercut some Islamic factions that foster terrorism,” his signing the Abu Dhabi statement “has doctrinal consequences well beyond what he may have envisioned or desired.”

“What I find very sad and scandalously troubling” he added, “is that, in the midst of it all, Jesus is being insulted. He is reduced to the level of Buddha or Mohammed when in fact he is the Father’s beloved Messianic Son, the one in whom the Father is well pleased.”

Source: Pope Francis: God merely ‘permits’ Islam

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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