How progressives ruined Catholicism

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In a recent sermon, a deacon from my local Catholic church recounted a humorous anecdote about a group of Protestants entering Heaven after dying in a bus crash. Saint Peter greets them and tells them to quietly walk past a certain group of souls as they make their way to their heavenly abodes. He explains: “They are Catholics, and they think they are the only ones here.

What was the point of this anecdote? Pretty much the point of every story and joke in typical Catholic homilies: be kind, be tolerant, and give thanks for your many blessings. It’s a message that plays well with elderly parishioners who expect these comfortable, non-confrontational platitudes every week.

It is also a message which unfortunately drove all subsequent generations from the Catholic Church. As Eric Sammons argues in his new book, Deadly indifference: how the Church lost its mission and how we can get it back, there has been a major “shift in emphasis” in Catholicism (along with most other Christian denominations) since the 1960s.

For most of the history of the church, Catholics understood that salvation comes from the church alone, and participating in heresy, schism, or non-Christian faith would likely endanger that. Hello. However, over the past half century this teaching has been played down in favor of expressing the hope that all people in any church will be saved.

What immediately followed of this shift in focus was a widespread “deadly indifference” that descended upon the Church “like a thick fog, formed from the words of Church documents, from the treatises of radical theologians, and from the words of the Church. actions of the popes ”. Therefore, the church and its members today are very different from the church of the past: while they are more tolerant and welcoming, they are also more ignorant of their faith and lax in their practice. Yes, it is easier than ever to be a Catholic in good standing; it doesn’t seem like much anymore.

‘Extra Ecclesiam Null Sales’

Sammons begins his book by considering the church’s original purpose, saving souls, which seems to be forgotten by most Catholics today. However, not so long ago the popes issued statements about the church’s fundamental and almost completely exclusive role in the salvation of souls. In 1949, Pope Pius XII proclaimed: “Among the things which the Church has always preached and will never cease to preach, is also this infallible statement by which we learn that there is no salvation without. from the church.

As Sammons demonstrates through a plethora of church documents, the church strayed from this teaching as soon as some church leaders and progressive theologians decided to cover their tracks. While the official position on salvation was “extra Ecclesiam null sales” (“outside the Church there is no salvation”), some theologians will later point out some exceptions to this, such as those who experience the baptism of blood or desire. Certainly, baptism in the church was preferable, but some Catholic candidates did not have access to this sacrament because they were martyred or because there were no churches nearby.

But what about those who ignore the faith? This is where the exception begins to expand to the rule. As Sammons notes, many theologians, including Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) would argue that salvation was possible for those outside the church if they demonstrated goodwill and listened to their conscience, which was the means by which the Holy Spirit reached them. Details on the specifics vary – some theologians simply call it a “mystery” and move on – but it has now become a popular belief among Catholics and many Christians to simply be a good person of any faith. or will probably lead a person to heaven.

Opening up this possibility of salvation outside the church has also opened up other possibilities that have been essential in liberalizing the church and normalizing a relativistic mindset. The first thing that happened was to change Christ’s mission of proclaiming the gospel to the world to foster dialogue with him. Apparently, “dialogue” was Pope Paul VI’s favorite word, and his main contribution to Vatican Council II. Sammons observes: “As to how the Church should behave both with non-Catholic Christians and the world at large, dialogue is now the key that enables the Church to understand her outward mission. Almost overnight, all Church documents would be littered with this term.

The next thing to change was the centrality of the Catholic Church in the Christian faith, which went from being “the Church of Christ” to a church which “subsists in” the Church of Christ. Concretely, it amounts to the church losing its uniqueness and becoming one denomination among others. Typically, church leaders have posted numerous “clarifications” on this sentence, only to make matters even less clear.

This naturally led to the final change that sealed the fate of the church for the foreseeable future, which was the collective search for common ground with other faiths and religions – and the accompanying refusal to report. Errors. Ecumenism has in a way become synonymous with evangelism, even though its aim was to keep both sides where they were and to reinforce the idea that “all religions – even religions that the Church has officially always considered false religions – like paths to God ”.

After outlining these three major shifts that defined “shifting emphasis,” Sammons then discusses the different positions on salvation that emerged shortly thereafter. He puts them on a “Specter of Salvation“with absolutists on the one hand, who reject the possibility of salvation for anyone outside the church, and universalists on the other hand who believe that everyone will be saved. Naturally, most Catholics fall somewhere part in between, although most lean towards the universalist, generally viewing Heaven as the default destination for most souls.

In this section of the book, Sammons focuses on three key figures in modern Catholicism: Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis. Although the former two are seen as champions of conservatism while the latter is a paragon of progressivism, all play a significant role in the church’s decline into deadly indifference.

Even though he was a saint who performed miracles and is credited with truly globalizing the church, Pope John Paul II was also what Sammons calls an “expansive inclusive” on salvation. He embraced ecumenism and the idea of ​​having “full communion,” which amounted to a nebulous consensus between denominations and different religions.

This approach was fully brought to light with John Paul II’s “World Day of Prayer” in Assisi, Italy, where representatives of different religions prayed together to their respective gods in their respective ways. While this was a great photoshoot, it was also extremely confusing and outrageous to the faithful.

Pope Benedict XVI was also firmly in the inclusive camp, but also had to deal with the fallout from his predecessor’s overly openness and trust. The significant decline in the number of practicing Catholics, the rise of the “relativistic dictatorship” consuming the West, and the widespread sexual abuse scandal have likely prompted Pope Benedict to question the idea of ​​assuming everyone would automatically enter. in heaven for one reason or another. However, when he raised this doubt and even dared to implicate the shortcomings of other religions, notably in his Regensberg lectures, he was severely condemned and soon renounced the effort.

Riding the inclusive wave and enjoying much more popular support (at least initially) than the Pope Emeritus, Pope Francis has pushed inclusivism to its breaking point, flirting with the outright heresy of pluralism, the conviction that all faiths are equally legitimate means of salvation. In addition to issuing several statements condemning “proselytism” (which most people would consider normal evangelism), Francis co-authored “The Abu Dhabi Declaration,” a document which Sammons said explicitly broke with the teachings. Catholics: “After having treated other religions on an equal footing with Catholicism for years, the Church is now writing down the conviction behind this course: that the plurality of religions is“ willed by God ”.

Churches or social clubs?

Needless to say, the Catholic Church is in a bad spot today, as Sammons shows with numerous statistics and graphs all indicating a sharp and constant decline in attendance, vocations and general knowledge of the faith. As such, Catholic parishes, once vibrant centers of orthodoxy and tradition, are now mostly beige social clubs that occasionally host community events having little to do with salvation or evangelism.

It is only in the last few pages that Sammons offers some sort of remedy for this dire situation. As one can probably guess, he recommends going back to the “old evangelization” which dispenses with counterproductive ecumenical dialogues and confused statements about salvation. As a traditional Catholic himself, he also fully endorses the ongoing renewal of traditional Catholic life that is restoring the aesthetics, practices and attitudes of Catholicism prior to the change in emphasis of Vatican II.

This section of the book could easily have been extended, especially given the amount of time Sammons spends on exposing the issue. To say that Catholics should just stop doing all the things that led them to their current mess rings a bit hollow after going to so much trouble to explain how far the current mess goes. Again, he may have decided to shorten this part since he wrote an entire book on the subject, The old evangelism: how to spread the faith like Jesus did.

Beyond this minor criticism, the book is very effective and surprisingly accessible. By analyzing and articulating so many Vatican documents and modern theological treatises, Sammons clearly masters some of the most obscure and ambiguous texts one can ever counter. Most writers who delve into these texts tend to get bogged down and leave readers to fend for themselves. To his credit, Sammons is intentional and clear with his sources without sacrificing their language and nuance.

He is also an effective teacher, keeping his readers up to date with a rather complex point. While some readers may find it irritating that he repeats and repeats certain points, most will appreciate it. Unfortunately, he also has to deal with many voices in the church who have gone out of their way to make these ideas even more incomprehensible.

Unlike his opponents, Sammons is not only interested in starting a conversation but also persuading and changing the situation. He goes beyond the distractions that predominate in most religious circles and makes his point boldly. In this regard, Deadly indifference succeeds in achieving its goal and provides an invaluable resource for Catholics (and Christians in general) who want to understand the decline and finally reverse it.


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