Debate: Is it ever right to advise someone not to become a Catholic?

Fr Josemaría Escrivá, played by Charlie Cox, in the movie There Be Dragons (CNS photo/Motive)

Archbishop Antonio Mennini, Apostolic Nuncio to Britain, says in an interview with the Herald this week that he used to advise an Orthodox seminarian “not to become a Catholic”. The archbishop, who was nuncio to Russia for eight years, said:

I would tell him quite often: “You must not become a Catholic. You have to keep your faith in order to better serve your Church. Now you know us you can dream about going to Rome. You can go to Rome one day in order to study but you should remain a Russian Orthodox.”

The blogger Fr Tim Finigan says he finds the comment “disconcerting”: “Surely we can never say to someone that they must not become a Catholic?” he suggests.

Archbishop Mennini was, perhaps, in an exceptional situation: as nuncio to Russia, he was working very delicately to repair relations between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox.

But what about in more ordinary situations? A surprising example comes from the life of St Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei. A Jewish girl told him she wanted to become Catholic but that her parents were against it. He advised her not to make “any gestures of rebellion”: “You will be a good daughter of Christ,” he said, “if you are a good daughter of your parents.”

So, are there ever good reasons not to become Catholic? Or should people always be encouraged to convert?