Cardinal Raymond Burke has said that a controversial sentence in a document signed by Pope Francis “has to be removed”.
Earlier this month, Pope Francis and a senior Muslim cleric, Ahmed el-Tayeb, signed a “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together”. It claimed that “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God”.
The possible implication, that God wills non-Catholic religions, provoked much debate. Some Catholics argued that Pope Francis really meant “permissively willed” – that is, God tolerates religious diversity without actively willing it.
However, a report by the influential Catholic News Service, which was republished in some major outlets, criticised Fr Zuhlsdorf’s reading, saying: “Pope Francis and Sheik el-Tayeb seemed to assert something more and to demand of their faithful an attitude that goes beyond being tolerant of religious pluralism.”
Moreover, outside Catholic circles the statement was seen as meaning that God favours the existence of non-Catholic religions. The historian Peter Frankopan, who was in UAE, tweeted that Pope Francis was saying “We must celebrate diversity of belief.” The Anglican commentator “Archbishop Cranmer” argued that Pope Francis was effectively claiming that “God raised up Mohammed to be a prophet” and “the Catholic-Orthodox schism of 1054 and the Reformation of the 15th-16th centuries were willed by God”. Thus, Cranmer said, the Pope was contradicting traditional Catholic teaching.
Cardinal Burke, the former prefect of the Vatican’s highest court, told the National Catholic Register that he was unconvinced by the “permissive will” reading. Rather, the document seemed to be actively praising religious diversity. In any case, the cardinal said, the phrase was misleading: “It’s certainly confusing for the faithful regarding salvation, which comes to us through Christ alone.”
The Council of Florence taught that “those not living within the Catholic Church…cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart ‘into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels’, unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock”. Leo XIII affirmed that “the only true religion is the one established by Jesus Christ Himself, and which He committed to His Church”, while the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church compares the Church to Noah’s Ark, “which alone saves from the flood”.
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