St. Francis debating with the Muslim Iman in front of Saladin

With Bergoglio the “Spirit of Assisi” Triumphs. But Ratzinger Is Ruining the Party

Francis reruns the encounter with men of all religions inaugurated by John Paul II thirty years ago. But the objections of the cardinal prefect of doctrine back then are still alive. And even more radical

by Sandro Magister

ROME, September 18, 2016 – The memorable encounter in Assisi, thirty years ago, between John Paul II and men of all religions (see photo) was perhaps the only moment of disagreement between the holy Polish pope and his absolutely trusted chief of doctrine at the time, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who didn’t even go.

Ratzinger himself recalls this in his book-length interview published in recent days: “He knew,” he says, “that I was following a different approach.”

But now that Pope Francis, the successor to both, is preparing to replicate that event in Assisi on September 20, the contrast is reemerging even stronger than before.

A dialogue among the religions on an equal footing – Ratzinger has in fact warned even after his resignation of the papacy – would be “lethal for the Christian faith.” Because every religion “would be reduced to an interchangeable symbol” of a God assumed to be equal for all:

> “Renunciation of the truth is lethal for the faith”

Naturally Jorge Mario Bergoglio does not identify with this kind of egalitarian dialogue, nor has he ever thought that the Catholic Church should give up preaching the Gospel to every creature.

 But some of his actions and words have effectively bolstered such tendencies, starting with his definition of proselytism as “solemn foolishness,” without ever saying how this is to be distinguished from genuine mission.e are no few missionaries on the frontiers, having spent a lifetime preaching and baptizing, who now feel betrayed in the name of a dialogue that makes almost any conversion useless.

Also with other Christians, Protestant and Orthodox, Francis moves at a different pace compared to his predecessors.

While for example Benedict XVI encouraged and facilitated the return to the Catholic Church of Anglicans in disagreement with the “liberal” pivot of their Church, Francis does not, he prefers that they keep to their own home, as revealed by two Anglican bishops who are his friends, Gregory Venables and Tony Palmer, whom he discouraged from becoming Catholic:

> Ecumenism Behind Closed Doors

But it has been above all a brief video from January of this year, released on a large scale in ten languages, that has most given the idea of a surrender to syncretism, to the equating of all the religions:

> “We are all children of God”

In it, Francis urges prayer together with men of every faith, for the love of peace. And along with him, in fact, appear a Buddhist, a Jew, a Muslim, with their respective symbols, all on equal terms. The pope says: “Many seek God and find God in different ways. In this broad spectrum of religions there is only one certainty for us: we are all children of God.”

Nice words, but in effect not in keeping with those of the New Testament and in particular of the Gospel of John, according to which all men are creatures of God, but the only ones who become his “children” are those who believe in Jesus Christ.

In Assisi, on September 20, Francis will again find himself beside Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and still others. And it is likely that his speech will be more circumspect than in the video.

But there is an impact of the images that will be difficult to contain and rationalize. It is that which has been extolled by many since 1986 as the “spirit of Assisi,” a formula that Ratzinger always sought in vain to defuse, as cardinal and pope, so that it would be taken in a manner opposite to how so many understand it, meaning not in the “syncretistic” and “relativistic” sense:

> The “spirit of Assisi” that Benedict XVI doesn’t trust

So over Assisi there will again loom, in all its drama, the perfect storm that shook the Catholic Church in the summer of 2000, when the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, headed by Ratzinger, published the highly contested declaration “Dominus Iesus” precisely to contrast the idea that all religions are on a par and to reiterate instead that there is one way of salvation for all men, and it is Jesus:

> Dominus Iesus

In two millennia, never had the Church felt the need to recall this elementary truth of the Christian faith.

“The fact of needing to issue a reminder of this in our time tells us the extent of the gravity of the current situation,” warned a cardinal named Giacomo Biffi on the verge of the conclave of 2005, the one in which Ratzinger was elected pope:

> “What I Told the Future Pope”


This commentary was published in “L’Espresso” no. 38 of 2016 on newsstands September 18, on the opinion page entitled “Settimo cielo” entrusted to Sandro Magister.

Here is the index of all the previous commentaries:

> “L’Espresso” in seventh heaven


Pope Francis’s day in Assisi, September 20, 2016:

> Visit of the Holy Father to Assisi. Program


The guests at the encounter in Assisi on September 20 do not include the Dalai Lama, who however was present at the 1986 event with John Paul II.

The Holy See has said nothing in justification of this exclusion. But one indirect confirmation that this was dictated by the desire not to irritate the Chinese authorities is what happened in recent days following the invitation issued to the Dalai Lama by a political representative of Taiwan for a round of conferences on the island.

The spokesman of the Chinese office for external affairs, Ma Xiaoguang, reacted by threatening “the gravest consequences,” which he justified as follows:

“The Dalai Lama is a wolf dressed as a monk who, with his gang of independence activists and terrorists, is seeking to destabilize China and separate Tibet from it. But we will not stand by watching: anyone who supports him is an enemy of ours.”


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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