News Analysis

Overlooked: Pope clarifies ‘diversity of religions’ comment

What happened?

Pope Francis has clarified a remark about religious diversity. Last month, the Pope signed a joint statement saying that “the diversity of religions” is “willed by God in His wisdom”. But during an audience with the bishops of Kazakhstan, Francis said this meant that God merely permits this diversity, rather than actively willing it.

Why was it under-reported?

It is a near-universal law that controversial remarks get more attention than later clarifications. All the more so when the clarification is second-hand: while the original document was signed in front of the cameras, the latest comments were made behind closed doors. They were only reported because Bishop Athanasius Schneider revealed them in an interview with LifeSite. The Pope “acknowledged that … the sentence can be understood erroneously,” Bishop Schneider said.

The story is also technical: it hinges on a crucial, but easily missed, distinction between God’s active and permissive will.

What will happen next?

This clarification will allow anxious Catholics to breathe a little easier. Cardinal Raymond Burke said the sentence about diversity “has to be removed from this accord because it’s not correct”. Others said the statement could be given an orthodox interpretation – the “permissive will” reading now endorsed by the Pope – but said that it was unhelpfully ambiguous.

The Pope has made other statements which have been criticised as ambiguous. This clarification suggests that these should be put, where possible, in the context of traditional doctrine.