What Did The Pope Really Say? 2 – Proselytism

For a while I have intended to write something on Pope Francis’ harsh comments in his informal chat related by the atheist newsie Eugenio Scalfari about proselytism.

The Pope smiles and says: “Some of my colleagues who know you told me that you will try to convert me.”

It’s a joke I tell him. My friends think it is you want to convert me.

He smiles again and replies: “Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”

Some people are worried about this, as if Francis is saying that the Church should not try to convert people to Christianity, to formal membership in the Catholic Church.

That would mean that Francis directly contradicted John Paul II in Redemptoris missio 47:

The Church calls all people to this conversion, following the example of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Christ by “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4), as well as the example of Christ himself, who “after John was arrested,…came into Galilee preaching the Gospel of God and saying: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel'” (Mk 1:14-15).

Nowadays the call to conversion which missionaries address to non-Christians is put into question or passed over in silence. It is seen as an act of “proselytizing”; it is claimed that it is enough to help people to become more human or more faithful to their own religion, that it is enough to build communities capable of working for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity. What is overlooked is that every person has the right to hear the “Good News” of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ, so that each one can live out in its fullness his or her proper calling. This lofty reality is expressed in the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God,” and in the unconscious but ardent desire of the woman: “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst” (Jn 4:10, 15).

Some of you are going to run around in circles with your hair on fire now saying that “FRANCIS IS AGAINST JOHN PAUL II!”

I remind the honorable readership that none of the statements that Francis made in either interview are complete statements.

Furthermore, there is no indication that Francis thought that what he was engaged in was more more than a conversation.  There is not the slightest shred of evidence that Francis thought he was teaching officially in his role as Successor of Peter.

The “proselytism” that Pope Francis scorns is not to be equated with “evangelization”.

Surely what Francis scorns is the crude proselytizing à la Pentecostals and Mormons in Latin America. That is the sort of proselytism with which Francis would be familiar.  That is the sort of proselytism that we will probably be accused of when we engage in any kind of evangelization.

Is Francis breaking with his predecessors or is he simply stressing some different aspect of the same issues as his predecessors?

Let’s read Francis through Benedict.

Benedict XVI spoke about proselytism when he was in Aparecida in 2007, a gathering of CELAM which had a great impact on then-Card. Bergoglio.

Benedict said:

The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by “attraction“- just as Christ “draws all to himself” by the power of his love, culminating in the sacrifice of the Cross, so the Church fulfills her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord.

We don’t proselytize.  The Church “attracts”.  She attracts especially through spiritual and corporal works of mercy performed through true charity.

I don’t see a lot of daylight between Francis and Benedict on this point.

Finally, putting on my Cato the Elder cap for a moment, as I wrote after having read the Scalfari chat:

  • abortion is still murder,
  • gay marriage is still no marriage,
  • we’re going to jaw-jaw with nonbelievers,
  • we’re still going to be a minority,
  • Former-Fr. – Mister Reynolds is still excommunicated!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Benedict XVI, Francis, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, Reading Francis Through Benedict and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Bosco says:


    Thanks for your take, Father Z.,

    The Sensible Bond Blog to which reference has earlier been made in your own blog, Father Z., has an interesting analysis on this same topic, i.e. “Proselytism, conversion and the problem of spiritual poverty” (see link above)

    It makes a thoughtful read too.

  2. Rich says:

    Thanks for the spot-on post, Fr. Z. Out of all the statements made by Pope Francis lately, this is the one which I have tried reconciling the most.

  3. Bosco says:


    This too is an informative read (one must always be wary) from Sandro Magister published in the 02 October 2013 edition of La Repubblica.

    Although unattributed, I wondered at this particular remark of Magister’s:

    “The ban imposed by pope Bergoglio on the congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate against celebrating the Mass in the ancient rite has been an effective restriction of that freedom of celebrating in this rite which Benedict XVI had guaranteed for all.

    It emerges from conversations with his visitors that Ratzinger himself has seen in this restriction a “vulnus” on his 2007 motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum.”

    [Good grief. This again? Shades of the pure bunk and rapidly denied “mystical experience” rumor that was going around in the Italian press about why Benedict resigned. Again, we have Italians quoting nameless sources about something that is so far-fetched (that Benedict would comment at all on this point) as to be ridiculous. Silly rabbit hole closed.]

  4. mamajen says:

    Dictionary meanings aside, I have never heard the term proselytize used in a positive way. I think we all know what it means in common usage, and I think we have all experienced other religions trying to do it. I’ve even experienced fellow Catholics trying to proselytize me, a Catholic. It’s a major turn-off. People don’t like to be tricked with ulterior motives, nor do they like a show-off. We need to be genuine.

    I’m a little confused as to why that particular statement sent some Catholics into a tailspin. Were people truly offended because they consider proselytization a great thing? Hard to believe, but then I’m not very involved with traditionalists other than on this blog. In any case, we should remember who he was speaking to.

  5. mamajen says:

    Reading through this again, it seems that all three popes are on the exact same page regarding the term proselytism–it’s a negative term. To say that Pope Francis contradicts Pope John Paul II is just ridiculous.

  6. Supertradmum says:

    LifeSiteNews, one of the best sites ever, on facebook, is calling for a nationwide prayer and fasting day for the Pope on his name day tomorrow. Check it out. I shall try and do both and I am old…..

  7. lana says:

    From Dr. Mirus: “(proselytism is undue or unfair pressure in making converts, and it is very wrong)”

    The rest of the analysis I thought was very good, as usual.


  8. Gretchen says:

    I understand. As long as Pope Francis is merely engaging the world in a conversation and not speaking officially in his teaching role as Pope, he can say whatever he wants, however he wants.

    Assuming the word ‘proselytism’ in Spanish/Latin/English/Italian/Urdu/Japanese…means the same thing across the board.

    Oh, nevermind.

  9. Bosco says:

    @Father Z.,


  10. lana says:

    I think the following gives some more light on the Pope’s view on proselytism. I think it also explains some of the ‘who am I to judge’ comment that is troubling a lot of people.

    This is from ‘On Heaven and Earth’.

    p. 114 On the section ‘on same-sex marriage’ (which, by the way, he opposed publicly when it was being discussed in Argentina, which earned him the enmity of the President)

    “The religious minister, at times, draws attention to certain points of private or public life because he is the parishioner’s guide. However, he does not have the right to force anything on anyone’s private life. If God, in creation, ran the risk of making us free, who am I to get involved? We condemn spiritual harrassment that takes place when a minister imoposes directives, conduct, and demands in such a way that it takes away the freedom o fthe other person. God left the freedom to sin in our hands. One has to speak very clearly about values, limits, commandments, but spiritual and pastoral harassment is not allowed.”

  11. Cosmos says:

    The anxiety caused by this article is not technical and theological. It is caused by the impression it will create. If the intention is for the Pope to speak to the man on the street, it seems like a man-on-the-street reaction is appropriate.

    Scalfari: “My friends think it is you want to convert me.
    Pope: “Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us.”
    * * *
    Scalfari: “Your Holiness, you said that you have no intention of trying to convert me and I do not think you would succeed.”
    Pope: “We cannot know that, but I don’t have any such intention.”

    The implication is that the desire to want to convert people = Proselytism = pious nonsense. The implication is created by the context. The Pope transitions from (and seemingly connects) a desire to convert with Proselytism. He contrasts the desire to convert with the desire to “get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us.”

    Therefore, progressive (especially CATHOLICS) will feel emboldened in shutting down or condemning evangelism efforts that go beyond “get[ting] to know each other, listen[ing] to each other and improv[ing] our knowledge of the world around us.” They will have quotes from the Pope to back them up.

  12. lana says:

    The above is not about proselytism itself, but just gives his general thoughts on coercion of any kind.

  13. Choirmaster says:

    But why did the Holy Father make the jump from the “conversion” that the reporter asked about to “proselytizing”?

    That is not what the subject of the conversation seems to be at the time. The discussion is about whether or not the two of them are trying to convert one another.

    So the problem I have with this exchange is not a semantic discomfort with the word “proselytize” (which the interviewer never mentioned or even hinted at), but rather that when the question of conversion was raised, the Holy Father instead condemned a tangential idea, and then went on to endorse something about crossing roads and a desire to speak further with someone after a previous conversation sparked new thoughts and ideas.

    The journalist asked the Pope if the Pope would try to convert the atheist journalist. Does the Holy Father’s response amount to “yes” or “no”?

    This has nothing to do with how many Popes have agreed on the definition of the word “proselytize”.

  14. lana says:

    If he said just said ‘yes’, his quarry would elude him, so he changed topics.

    I just found this on p. 234 of “On Heaven and Earth”: “Evangelization is essential, but not proselytism; that today — thanks be to God– is crossed out of the pastoral dictionalry. Pope Benedict XVI has a very beautiful expression: “The Church is a proposal that is reached by attraction, not by proselytism.” It is about an attraction through testimony. “

  15. mamajen says:

    Okay, I’m understanding where some of the confusion is now. It makes sense to me, but I’m frustrated that I can’t explain it.

    My husband was Anglican when we married. A year later he decided to become Catholic. I did not convert him. Our priest would not say that he converted him, either. Pope Francis knows that the atheist’s understanding of conversion is wrong. It’s not something that we can just sit down and do to another person. Attempting to do so is proselytizing. As Father Z said, proselytizing and evangelizing are two different things. We can evangelize with the hope that conversion takes place, we cannot convert.

  16. lana says:

    Let me amend that: “My _guess_ is that if he had said ‘yes’, his quarry would elude him, so he changed topics.”
    This morning I was upset by someone who wrote about what Pope Francis’s intentions are, in a very negative way. How could anyone know what Pope Francis is thinking? I just caught myself making the same mistake, in the other direction.

  17. Cosmos says:


    There is no doubt all people are ultimately converted by the Holy Spirit, and many–if not most–were not converted based on an direct attempt at Evangelization.

    Nonetheless, some people–a lot of people–are actually convinced by people that engage them directly on an intellectual level. There is a long tradition of this sort of evangelism that goes all the way back, through many great saints and theologians, to the Great Commission. It cannot be brushed aside so easily.

  18. Patrick-K says:

    I feel like I should point out that this question “Are you trying to convert me?” is a hostile one. It’s a trick. If the pope simply says “yes” then he falls right into the trap and looks forward and clumsy and like he only cares about increasing membership numbers instead of individual people. And if he says “no” then well he looks like he’s unserious and simply discussing a matter of taste. So what really is the correct answer?

  19. mamajen says:


    Nonetheless, some people–a lot of people–are actually convinced by people that engage them directly on an intellectual level.

    I think that is exactly what Pope Francis was doing–that’s why he did the interview. And I think that’s what all of us should try to do. I didn’t see him brushing evangelism aside, or contradicting himself when he said he wasn’t trying to convert.

  20. Johnno says:

    The problem is that everyone has a different definition of what ‘proselytism’ means.

    To Pope Francis it means forceful conversion.

    To the secular world it means trying to force people to believe marriage is between a man and a woman and that abortion is murder.

    To everyone else it means simply stating that the Catholic Church is somehow priveledged to be the correct and true religion instead of saying all religions are teh same and we should all be freemasons is proselytism.

    To your inept neighbor it means that having a statue of the Virgin mary on your front lawn or putting up a nativity for all the neighborhood to see and feel threathened by is proselytism!

    Some misguided Catholics (and trut me they exist in droves!) take Pope Francis’ words to mean that we don’t need to convert anyone because its wrong and therefore we also can belong to any religion so long as we follow our conscience!

    Pope Francis must therefore ALWAYS take care to be explicit about what he is saying. DO NOT give the secular world the benefit of the doubt! Do NOT speak carelessly, he cannot afford to! If we can’t hear the explicit truth from the successor of Peter, then who can we listen to? Why should the mistaken world listen to you, me or Fr. Z about what the Pope really says? Who are we to have to interpret what he says? Why shouldn’t they listen to Obama? Isn’t Fr. Z.’s interpretation of Francis’ words in itself proselytism to force one to interpret the words of Francis according to… *gasp*.. Catholicism?

  21. Woody79 says:

    Words have definitions and they mean what they mean. Everyone can SPECULATE as to what the pope means but this man is no spring chicken. He is educated. He has been around the block a few times. I will not take the position that he doesn’t know what words mean to people here or there or any where else. According to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, “proselytize” means “to convert or attempt to convert as a proselyte; recruit.” A “proselyte” is defined as “a person who has changed from one opinion , religious belief, sect, or the like, to another; convert.” “Proselytism” is defined as follows: “1. The act or fact of becoming a proselyte; conversion; 2. the state or condition of a proselyte; 3. the practice of making proselytes.” So, here’s my take on what he meant, substituting definitions for the words he used:” [The act or fact of becoming a [person who has changed from one opinion, religious belief, sect, or the like, to another] is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense.” The pope thinks to convert people to Catholicism is nonsense. Just my reading of what words mean.

  22. Christbearer316 says:

    The Orwellian Doublespeak with regards to proselytizing is simply astounding. Let’s start with the actual definition shall we? I pulled this from the Oxford Dictionary:

    Proselytize: convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another

    Two points need to be made here. The first is concerning Doublespeak. It seems everyone likes to use their own definition for this word which makes it very easy to condemn. Take the example given above that proselytizing is “undue or unfair pressure” to convert. I think we all agree that no one should be browbeaten into conversion but that is not what proselytizing is. When we substitute our moral relativist culture’s definition (which the overwhelmingly vast majority have been taught is true) for the actual definition, then of course, “it is solemn nonsense.” It still cannot be stressed enough that that is simply not what proselytizing is. For those who don’t know what Orwellian Doublespeak is, it “is language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.”

    The second point is that I have yet to hear a single, solitary, logical argument from any Catholic why, given the actual meaning of the word, we are not all called to “convert or attempt to convert” the world. Again, without substituting a subjective definition for the actual definition, I don’t understand how anyone in their right mind can expect evangelism , let alone the amorphous “New Evangelisation,” to succeed unless our ultimate goal is to convert the world to the Catholic Church. I’m sure some will say that that IS our ultimate goal but if that is the case, it could not be more unclear or vague. All we have had since VII is dialogue with every false and evil religion under the sun and yet the number don’t lie: the number of converts as well as cradles are shrinking. This is not coincidence. If we expect the people to convert simply by dialoguing, then we are deluding ourselves.

    A dear friend of mine tackled this issue back in May on his blog and I’ll link to it here: http://theoldevangelization.com/2013/pope-francis-proselytizes.html

  23. lana says:

    @Gretchen – I understand. As long as Pope Francis is merely engaging the world in a conversation and not speaking officially in his teaching role as Pope, he can say whatever he wants, however he wants.

    For my part, I am actually learning a lot by watching _how_ Francis evangelizes. Since (in addition to prayer and sacrifice) I have not yet converted anyone with either of my previous methods

    1) my coercive, proselytizing (sp?) methods

    or more often, due to the miserable failure of the above

    2) silence, hoping they will notice how HAPPY I am ;)

    maybe a change of tactics would help. What Francis is doing in that interview seems do-able.

  24. lana says:

    @Woody – Thank you for posting the definition. I was hoping someone would. I agree words ought to be precise. But – for what it is worth, two Popes use the same word in a negative sense which does not match the definition you posted.

    Archbishop Bergoglio: Evangelization is essential, but not proselytism; that today — thanks be to God– is crossed out of the pastoral dictionary. Pope Benedict XVI has a very beautiful expression: “The Church is a proposal that is reached by attraction, not by proselytism.” It is about an attraction through testimony. “ (From On Heaven and Earth)

  25. Woody79 says:

    My Webster’s dictionary is for the English language. It states that on the cover. I do not know what dictionary Pope Francis or Pope Benedict XVI used. Perhaps that is the problem. We need to know what dictionary they have at the Vatican.

  26. Sissy says:

    My patron saint, St. Edith Stein, said “If anyone comes to me, I want to lead them to Him.” That is the sense in which I think about my own efforts to help convert others. What is apologetics and evangelization for if not to help lead someone to Christ (recognizing that conversion if chiefly the work of the Holy Spirit)? In the quote, I can’t tell whether Pope Francis is merely criticizing what he sees as an unsuccessful, extreme form of coercive behavior (proselytizing) or if he is making a blanket statement about all attempts to lead others to Christ. The latter doesn’t seem very likely, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Unfortunately, I find that I must give him the benefit of the doubt on an almost-daily basis now. I want to put the most positive interpretation possible on the Holy Father’s statements. But he’s making it difficult.

  27. lana says:

    @Christbearer – From reading lots of turn-of-the-century books, I can see that the public perception on the necessity of conversions and missionary activity was _already_ changing, long before Vatican II.

    I think the documents of Vatican II tried to correct this tendency by documents such as Ecclessia Sanctae III (Decree on Missionary Activity, it has all the details on things that should be done that are not just dialogue) and to correct misconceptions, the following from Lumen Gentium 16: “But very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and served the world rather than the Creator. (Rom 1:21, 25) Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair. Hence to procure the glory of God and the salvation of all these, the Church, mindful of the Lord’s command, ‘preach the Gospel to every creature’ (Mk. 16:15 takes zealous care to foster the missions.”

    I hope this answers your question as to why we should evangelize the whole world. It seems clear to me.

  28. lana says:

    Hmm. ‘public perception’ should be ‘general Catholic perception’

  29. lana says:

    And one last word – I don’t think the ‘New Evangelization’ is amorphous and vague. It is the concept that we don’t have to think we need to go to the middle of Iran to be missionaries and evangelize. Those who need evangelization are right in our midst. I got that very clearly. And Pope Francis is showing us a) that it is important “Evangelization is essential” and b) how to do it.

  30. Cordelio says:

    I would like to believe that it is possible for an educated Catholic to charitably engage an educated non-Catholic – particularly where the educated Catholic is in a position of authority and realizes that his words will be widely reported – in a manner that does not involve presenting the Catholic position ambiguously.

    I agree with Father Z that there is little daylight between Pope Francis and Pope Benedict on this point, but that is far from a source of solace to me. To try to understand the significance of their comments on proselytism, I would tend read both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis through the lens of the current circumstances.

    If Pope Saint Pius V had said to those following in the footsteps of the conquistadors in the 16th century that the Catholic Church doesn’t proselytize, I would understand that as a teaching that you catch more flies with honey.

    I might attach the same significance to the statements of the past few Popes, as well, were a species of overzealous proselytism a present evil. But how many bishops and priests are actually going around saying things like, How are we going to convert all these non-Catholics before they go to Hell? Let’s coerce them using the secular power of all of these Catholic States! On the other hand, how many prelates have very explicitly endorsed a false ecumenism and dialog whose object is expressly not conversion?

    It is within this larger context that Pope Benedict and Pope Francis made their public comments about the Church not proselytizing.

    Whether correct or not, it is quite ironic to suppose that Pope Francis is expressing scorn for “the crude proselytizing à la Pentecostals and Mormons in Latin America.” The crude proselytizing of these groups, saying that Catholics need to convert, has resulted in a greater than tenfold increase in the number of Pentecostals and Mormons in Latin America. We Catholics certainly wouldn’t want to proselytize like that.

  31. Quanah says:

    In all this dissecting of the Pope’s comment the most important piece seems to be continually left out: “but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.” We all know who the Good is. It is plain to Whom the Pope believes all this should be leading. And remember he’s engaging in evangelization by talking to an atheist. That’s a whole different level of play from catechesis and mystagogy with believers.

    On another note, the word proselytism has a negative connotation in contemporary Western culture regardless of the definitions in Webster and Oxford. To induce or recruit someone to your religion brings about an image of persuasion (understood in the negative sense of peer pressure) rather than freely following. To make myself clearer, if someone converts because I keep winning all the arguments their hearts have not necessarily changed and they do not necessarily have a true assent of faith. If however we continually engage someone and help them to be open to promptings of the Spirit Who is the only One that can truly convert someone, then they do have a true change of heart and will give a true assent of faith.

  32. Gretchen says:

    lana, I appreciate what you are saying. I hear you. I have also tried to glean what I can of the Pope’s method.

    That said, I came out of a milieu of Charismatic, Pentecostal, Evangelical and mainline Protestant traditions (I was the quintessential seeker). I’ve seen a lot of evangelizing methods. Basically, the Pope’s method is one I would identify with the mainline Protestants. I would be surprised if it proves successful. It has not proven so with Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and the typical modern Catholic parish.

  33. Cordelio says:

    Excellent point, Gretchen.

    Thank you.

  34. Jet41815 says:

    “Do you need to convince the other to become Catholic? No, no, no! Go out and meet him, he is your brother. This is enough. Go out and help him and Jesus will do the rest.” Pope Francis, August 7, 2013.

    Care to explain that one away?


  35. Palladio says:

    Re “the Pope’s method,” there is no method, for the simple reason that, in the interview, in the newspapers, Pope Francis is not endorsing a method. Moreover, Catholicism is neither a method nor a system, so it is hard to imagine why proselytizing would be a method at any event, least of all for a Pope. The fact is that little to nothing has ‘worked’ for protestantism, since by its very nature fragmentation is inevitable. Its numbers are small and shrinking.

  36. McCall1981 says:

    It’s strange for me to be defending him, since he is causing me a pretty major crisis in faith, but I actually think that quote you sighted is ok because it includes “… Jesus will do the rest”. I think he’s saying that if we witness Christ through our faith and actions it will draw that person towards the Faith and Jesus will take it from there. It’s the Jesuit/Franciscan style of evangelization. That being said, I don’t think he’s communicating it very well, and I don’t think it’s a good “strategy” to choose for our time period, but it is a legitimate, orthodox way of evangelizing.

  37. jhayes says:

    Jet41815 wrote “Do you need to convince the other to become Catholic? No, no, no! Go out and meet him, he is your brother. This is enough. Go out and help him and Jesus will do the rest.” Pope Francis, August 7, 2013. Care to explain that one away?

    Benedict wrote “As we are taught by Guardini, the essence of Christianity is not an idea, not a system of thought, not a plan of action. The essence of Christianity is a Person: Jesus Christ himself. That which is essential is the One who is essential. To become truly real means to come to know Jesus Christ and to learn from him what it means to be human.”


    In other words, we evangelize people by showing how our relationship with Jesus Christ has affected our relationship with them – rather than starting with teaching the Catechism, the Code of Canon Law and papal encyclicals.

    As the original Francis is often claimed (perhaps incorrectly) to have said “Preach the Gospel always – use words if necessary” [but the evidence of your own life should make words unnecessary]

  38. lana says:

    @ Gretchen – Well, I thought one part of his method of evangelization was like St. Paul’s. ‘I can see that you are a very religious people. You even have a statue to an unknown God. I know this God of whom you speak.’ He takes as a starting point the small point of truth in the other person’s worldview and starts from there. So when the interviewer goes into the New Age stuff, Pope Francis replies with the pieces of truth that align with the Catholic faith, and starts from there.

  39. jhayes says:

    Address by Pope Francis, today at a conference on the fiftieth anniversary of Pacem in Terris

    Let’s move somewhat ahead. What are the consequences of recalling the divine origin of man, of society and of authority itself? Pacem in terris focuses on a basic consequence: the value of the person, the dignity of every human being, to be promoted, respected and protected always. And it is not only the principal civil and political rights that must be guaranteed, affirms Blessed John XXIII, but each one must also be offered the possibility of accessing effectively the essential means of subsistence – food, water, house, health care, education and the possibility of forming and supporting a family. These are the objectives that have absolute priority in national and international action and are a measure of goodness. On them depends a lasting peace for all. And it is also important that room be given to that rich gamut of associations and intermediate bodies that, in the logic of subsidiarity and in the spirit of solidarity, pursue such objectives. The encyclical certainly affirms objectives and elements which have now been acquired by our way of thinking, but we must ask ourselves: am I really in this reality? After fifty years, do they find confirmation in the development of our societies?

    Pacem in terris did not intend to state that it is the task of the Church to give concrete pointers on subjects that, in their complexity, must be left to free discussion. On political, economic and social matters it is not for dogma to indicate the practical solutions, but rather for dialogue, listening, patience, respect for the other, sincerity and also willingness to rethink one’s own opinion. Fundamentally, John XXIII’s appeal for peace in 1962 sought to orient the international debate in keeping with these virtues.


  40. mr205 says:

    In pre-cana recently, they told us if one parent is too lax, human nature is for the other parent to over compensate by being too strict. That got me thinking…if the orthodox clergy start feeling the Holy Father is giving the faithful the wrong impression, will they shift to a more strict style in their homilies in an attempt to correct a misperception? My homily on the rich man and Lazarus after the first big interview was basically: the sin of omission, why the rich man went to hell. This was a normal NO parish that I attend. Just a thought. 

  41. lana says:

    @ Gretchen – by the way — I’m glad you found your way home!

  42. mr205 says:

    On another point, I think context is so important. I think we all need to also read more than just the stories that bring headlines. We need to read Pope Francis’s homilies to get a better idea of his thinking. It really does seem that he uses a different style for different audiences. For example, in his recent talk to Catechists:

    Catechesis is a pillar of faith education and we need good catechists! Thank you for your service to the Church and in the Church. …

    This is fundamental for us: God is always ahead of us! When we think about going far away, to an extreme outskirt, we may be a bit afraid, but in fact God is already there. Jesus is waiting for us in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, in their wounded bodies, in their hardships, in their lack of faith. But can I tell you about one of the “outskirts” which breaks my heart? I saw it in my first diocese. It is children who don’t even know how to make the sign of the cross. In Buenos Aires there are many children who can’t make the sign of the cross. This is one of the “outskirts”! And Jesus is there, waiting for you to help that child to make the sign of the cross. He’s always there first.

    That doesn’t sound like someone who doesn’t care about bringing people to the Church or about what the Church teaches to me. I think he recognizes that Rome has become overwhelmingly Atheist. I think further the he takes his job as Bishop of Rome seriously. Thus, he does an interview with an Italian, atheist journalist. I think he wants to establish a relationship with these people, because he believes that once they see God loves them, they will want to come back to the Church and listen to what She says. Almost like a sneak attack. While we might disagree with this strategy, I think its a little too early to question our faith in the indestructibility of the Church, which it seems many are for some reason. I think we just need to get used to he style.

  43. Gretchen says:

    Thanks, Lana. I’m glad to be home.

  44. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Fr, Z,

    Thank you for posting on ‘proselytism’ and for the quotations from John Paul II and Benedict XVI!

    It is interesting that in 1990, in Redemptionis Missio, Pope John Paul II places “proselytizing” in quotation marks: this is so, too, in the Italian text, which I suppose is the original, with “proselitismo”. Why does he do this? Is it not probably in recognition of the fact that a perfectly good word is too often illegitimately being used in a negative sense, as if that were its only, true sense?

    In discussing the Scalfari interview, Jimmy Akin says, ” in recent decades a new, technical meaning for ‘proselytization’ has emerged in ecclesiastical circles” and refers (giving a link) to “the 2007 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith titled Instruction on Some Aspects of Evangelization”, quoting where it speaks of “proselytism in the negative sense that has been attributed to this term” and further from footnote 49.

    This footnote seems rapidly to go from saying “the term proselytism was often used as a synonym for missionary activity” – with an ominous use of the past tense – and noting “More recently, however, the term has taken on a negative connotation”, to ending by saying, “It is in this sense that the term proselytism is understood in the context of the ecumenical movement: cf. The Joint Working Group between the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches, ‘The Challenge of Proselytism and the Calling to Common Witness’ (1995).”

    Note the forms of expression: “has been attributed”, which soon ominously becomes “has taken on”, and then “is understood”.

    Who has “attributed” it, and why has that usurping, eclipsing attribution been taken up and endorsed?

    lana said, “two Popes use the same word in a negative sense” – and this is precisely a big part of the problem, in that they do so without making clear that it is a negative sense and that there is a perfectly good positive sense.

    Benedict, for example, could so easily have said, ‘The Church does not engage in proselytism in any negative sense which some have attributed to this term’ – if John Paul’s quotation marks alone did not (any longer) seem a sufficient warning. But he did not. And some five months later he approved the “Doctrinal Note” signed by Cardinal Lavada and Archbishop Amato which would seem (I say under correction) to be ‘selling the fort’ even further.

    The passage lana quotes from p. 234 of “On Heaven and Earth”, “Evangelization is essential, but not proselytism; that today — thanks be to God – is crossed out of the pastoral dictionary. Pope Benedict XVI has a very beautiful expression: ‘The Church is a proposal that is reached by attraction, not by proselytism.’ It is about an attraction through testimony“, can leave one wondering if Pope Francis as Cardinal Bergoglio in conversation with Rabbi Skorka had not already gone further and lost sight of the fact that there is a proper positive sense, or even ‘gone whole hog’ in rejecting that as a fact.

    I think Christbearer316 is good about what has happened.

    And it is very disheartening that the last two Popes have gone along with it, in whatever degree, rather than clarifying the situation and defending a proper positive use of the word and explaining what proper activity it described.

    It seems bizarre that this abusive hijacking of the term – what is admittedly only “proselytism in the negative sense” – should be (as it seems) so supinely elevated to ‘the’ sense, to what Mr. Akin calls “a new, technical meaning”. Is this indeed what has happened? Has the whole Hierarchy including the last two Popes swallowed a usage exemplified by a “Joint Working Group” in 1995?

    McCall1981 apeaks of “the Jesuit/Franciscan style of evangelization” but does not mean one that has characterized Franciscans and Jesuits historically (think of the first Franciscan martyrs, for one example): when did it become their style, if indeed it has.

    lana also quotes from p. 114 of “on Heaven and Earth”: ” If God, in creation, ran the risk of making us free, who am I to get involved? We condemn spiritual harrassment that takes place when a minister imposes directives, conduct, and demands in such a way that it takes away the freedom of the other person. God left the freedom to sin in our hands. One has to speak very clearly about values, limits, commandments, but spiritual and pastoral harassment is not allowed.”

    This seems even more worrying than failing clearly to defend proper proselytism properly understood and practiced. What did/does he mean by or include under “spiritual and pastoral harassment”?

    And if so, what is to be done?

  45. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    “And if so…”should follow the fourth-last paragraph.

  46. amenamen says:

    This may be of interest:

    Gloss: Gentile convert (to Judaism), transliterated as proselyte
    Definition: pr. a newcomer, a stranger; in NT a proselyte, convert from paganism to Judaism

    The word proselyte is used 4 times in the New Testament

    Mt. 23:15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel over land and sea to gain a single convert (proselyte) …
    Acts 2:11 “… Jews and proselytes …
    Acts 6:5 “… so they chose Stephen … and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch
    Acts 13:43 “… many Jews and devout converts (proselytes) followed Paul and Barnabas

  47. pigg0214 says:

    I would really like someone to simply ask the pope the below question. I think his answer would make things a little clearer.

    Do you believe naturally good people who practice false religions such as Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Atheism, and are of the age of reason and have heard the Gospel of Christ sufficiently proclaimed in both word and action, will be saved even though they go to their grave rejecting the salvific gift of Jesus Christ made only possible through the Catholic Church?

    Answer: Yes or No.

    And let’s keep in mind that Scalfari was/is? Catholic and even admits to being very familiar with Catholic doctrine. I am saddened by the fact that our pope did not express his deep concern for the soul of Scalfari when asked if he was trying to convert him. I can’t imagine any of the Apostles responding in this way. Some have mentioned St. Paul in Athens but this is a deficient comparison since we have no reason to think those in Athens heard the Gospel of Christ prior to St. Paul. When St. Paul wrote to the Christian churches in the Epistles who were struggling with the faith to some degree, I don’t remember him speaking so indifferently, so ambiguously, so sanguine. The post conciliar sanguine approach, snuggling up to the world, has not worked and it seems like all we are doing is doubling down on a move that has proven itself to be unwise.

  48. Minnesotan from Florida says:

    In this thread there are suggestions that a more “showing, inviting, suggesting” approach to evangelization may in recent times have been more or less successful than a more “hellfire-threatening, [possibly] browbeating, collar-grabbing” approach supposed (rightly or wrongly) to have been used before the Second Vatican Council. On this question there is one simple set of facts that may be relevant. What is the number of adult new members (“converts”) received into the Church in various times and places in the last 70 or 100 years? For the United States, at least, these facts should be ascertainable with reasonable ease.

  49. Rachel K says:

    Mama jean, “My husband was Anglican when we married. A year later he decided to become Catholic. I did not convert him.” Hey! Me too! Exactly the same, except my Mother in Law is convinced that I did it ;)! Then his brother, only sibling, converted too! God is good.
    I totally agree that you can’t make someone become a Catholic, after all, faith is a supernatural gift.
    We can encourage and inspire and give good example and sow seeds of interest. I think this is what the Holy Father is getting at. We do the spadework and God does the spiritual bit. My husband was well on the route to the Catholic faith before I met him and the tipping point for him was the ordination of women.
    My understanding of the word proselytise is of a coercive type pressure to convert, sometimes using the bribe of material benefits. I have ever heard it used in a positive light. An example I came across is the use of Christmas boxes by Evangelical Christians for children in non-Christian countries. Reception of the box was on condition that the child agree to attend a series of instructions on the Christian faith given by the Evangelicals. Clearly this is wrong in so many ways.

  50. jhayes says:

    Piggo214, as Rachel K said, faith is a gift of God. It’s not enough to have “heard the Gospel of Christ sufficiently proclaimed in both word and action”

  51. cajuncath says:

    I’m not clear what is meant by a distinction between proselytizing and evangelizing. The Apostle Peter called Jewish pilgrims to conversion as necessary for their salvation and that their Judaism would not be salivific.

    Are we no longer to call non-Catholics to conversion for their salvation and in service to the truth? Or we can only if they have no current religious affiliation? Or we can if we’re super nice and friendly about it? Or we’re not supposed to at all, and rely solely on good works and setting a good example to attract people?

    I’m not questioning that Pope Francis is on the same page as the two previous popes. But perhaps the page itself is what needs to be questioned.

  52. TimRohr says:

    Isn’t the real question: What possessed to the pope to auto default to “proselytism” upon hearing the word “convert”? What would have been wrong with the pope replying: “Yes, I would love for you to one day know the truth and beauty of the one, true, Church. Count on me to be your friend and guide should you ever feel moved to inquire.” Or something of the sort.

    And let us remember, while we ourselves auto default to bashing proselytism, it is in fact the proselytizing “churches” which are “attracting” members at the greatest rate while Catholic churches continue to crumble from disuse.

  53. mamajen says:

    Rachel K,

    I’m sure my mother-in-law feels the same way :) In fact, I don’t think she’s given up on me yet. Talk about proselytization LOL

    Your example of the Christmas boxes is a good (and sad) one. I think very often proselytization (as we know it) is connected with pride, money, or other wrong-minded priorities. That’s the problem. We shouldn’t be looking to increase our stats for bragging rights, or trying to pad the Church’s coffers, or trying to attain that personal validation we feel when someone wants to follow in our footsteps. Our faith isn’t something we should turn on only when others are watching, and we certainly shouldn’t exploit it for personal satisfaction.

    Sure, other religions might be great at recruitment, but so what? They’re luring people in based on false premises. I’d rather have a handful of good Catholic converts than hundreds of people who were tricked, guilted or otherwise pressured into joining.

    If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13

  54. mamajen says:


    Look at the way the atheist used the term “convert”. That’s not what Catholics do.

    And let us remember, while we ourselves auto default to bashing proselytism, it is in fact the proselytizing “churches” which are “attracting” members at the greatest rate while Catholic churches continue to crumble from disuse.

    And a very large number of those new members are former Catholics. We’re not retaining Catholics. That is the problem. Using Protestant tactics to bring people into the Church is not going to build numbers that will stick around. It worked just swimmingly with the liturgy, didn’t it? Think about it…do you really want to suggest that everything that attracts people in large numbers is good and what we should be doing?

  55. TimRohr says:

    Hmmm. As I seem to recall, the likes of John the Baptist, a voice crying in the wilderness, shouted “Repent! Make the pathways straight” and all that. I can’t seem to recall anything like, “let’s get to know each other first.”

    However, I see that you did not engage my central question: Why not invite someone to engage the investigation of the truth and beauty of the Catholic Church? What a fantastic teaching moment that would have been for the whole church. Instead we got “a mess”. But then the pope himself said that this is what he wanted.

  56. mamajen says:

    Why not invite someone to engage the investigation of the truth and beauty of the Catholic Church?

    I think that’s precisely what he did.

  57. cajuncath says:


    What is wrong with informing people that they are sinners, that they are in need of salvation, that they need to repent, that they need the sacraments, and that Catholicism is the one true faith that embodies the multifaceted elements of man’s nature, man’s problems, and man’s destiny, and that all other religions and worldviews are false?

    Was the Apostle Peter guilty of proselytizing?

  58. StWinefride says:

    This is interesting, from Fr Tim Finigan – Hermeneutic of Continuity:

    The other day, the Holy Father, in his interview published in La Repubblica, said that that he did not have any intention of converting the atheist Eugenio Scalfari. This has rather puzzled some of the faithful on account of the command of Jesus in Matthew 28.19 and elsewhere. One of my brother priests today offered me humorous explanation. He said that Pope Francis is a Jesuit and he was making a “mental reservation”. Although not intended as a serious explanation, it seems to me more pleasingly parsimonious than blaming the translation or saying that La Repubblica didn’t report the interview accurately”.


  59. cmarshg says:

    I guess FULTON SHEEN was, by Pope Francis’ standard, a proselytizing fanatic:[CHECK THE 1: 10 MARK] http://youtu.be/XkG8cwrlQZg

  60. joan ellen says:

    Fr. Z says: “The “proselytism” that Pope Francis scorns is not to be equated with “evangelization”.”
    1. Thank you Fr. Z for helping us keep clear in our hearts and minds the heart and mind of Pope Francis.
    2. Some words/definitions attributed to Pope Francis, even in Catholic media, are not his.
    3. Some in my small circle, Catholics and non-Catholics, are more open/thoughtful/talkative in the last 6 months than ever before. I attribute that to Pope Francis. He’s getting the job done. People relate to his heart and know his mind is with the Church.
    4. The 3 Aves daily from each of us that Pope Francis asked for surely must be helping him, the Church, us.
    5. Pope Francis and his relationship with the Blessed Mother will assure him that she will not abandon him. The more we support him, the more we will not be abandoned. The more we learn from his ways and practice his ways, the more the Church will benefit…with conversions and strengthened faith.

    Conversions are happening, little by little, whether we are with him, not with him, or just pray. Even though our brains may be ‘half pickled’ from the last 40-50 years of ‘stuff’ in the Church…Catholic continuity, in Truth and Tradition, is there. We can be grateful for Pope Francis and his way of evangelizing though he may not be using our words.

  61. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Rachel K says she cannot recall having “ever heard it used in a positive light.” Yet the 2007 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization, clearly says, “the term proselytism was often used as a synonym for missionary activity” – and is that past tense justified (as exclusive)? The official current Oxford Dictionaries online have not caught up with that, if so!

    cajuncath asks, “Are we no longer to call non-Catholics to conversion for their salvation and in service to the truth? Or we can only if they have no current religious affiliation?”

    That second question addresses one of the negative senses given to ‘proselytize’ I (seem to) remember encountering: ‘picking off’ people who already belong to a church (or religion). Like mamjen’s example that “a very large number of those new members are former Catholics.”

    I have not yet tried to look up The Joint Working Group between the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches, ‘The Challenge of Proselytism and the Calling to Common Witness’ (1995), and do not know how exactly they define the negative sense they apparently insistently give the word.

    Can anyone shed any light on how many distinct negative senses there are, and their history? And how did negativity gain such an ascendency – so far as I can see, a completely unfair one?

    When Our Lord says, “ut faciatis unum proselyteum: et cum fuerit factus…” (St. Matthew 23:15) He seems to be suggesting that it is indeed possible to “make” proselytes, but it is not obvious that by picking an example of it being done with a bad result, He suggests it cannot be well done. If that is so, what has changed?

    And why are obviously intelligent, well-meaning people (including both Popes now living) not distinguishing and defending the proper ‘usus’, since ‘abusus usum non tollit’?

  62. Jeff says:

    I’ve been reading Lumen Fidei lately, and I think it’d be wise to point out, that just a couple of months ago, Pope Francis signed his name to this encyclical. I’m finding it incredibly hopeful reading this, especially in light with this interview (yes, I had the same knee-jerk reaction as everyone else has had with some of the comments).

    If you have read LF, you’ll know that it mentions that the only true faith to have is in Christ. I would personally put more faith in this encyclical than I would in the interview.

    Now I just need to write up a competent analysis that goes point by point.

  63. The Cobbler says:

    “If we don’t preach Christ, we preach the Devil.”
    ~Pope Francis just about every day for the first couple weeks of his pontificate

  64. mamajen says:


    Acts 2 is a good example of evangelism vs. proselytism. St. Peter’s words moved people to ask what they could do and then he told them.

    I have not said, and don’t believe, that we should not preach the truth. I do think that the approach (not the truth) needs to vary depending on whom we are dealing with.

  65. mamajen says:

    Another thought re: Acts 2…

    It was the apostles’ speaking in each person’s own language that first piqued their interest and captured their attention. “Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” “ Acts 2:13

    Sounds familiar.

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