The Secret of
Pope John Paul II’s Success
by John Vennari
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said in 1974, “We live in a sensate age. We are no longer governed by Faith, we are no longer governed by reason. We are governed by feelings.”
The outpouring of naked emotion at the death of Pope John Paul II proves these words true. It is expected that Catholics worldwide would grieve and pray for the departed Pontiff, as it is a fitting expression of filial piety. But the effusion over John Paul II was a good bit more. Cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and laity vied with each other to canonize him as “John Paul the Great”. Politicians and non-Catholic religious leaders praised him for his humanity and for his outreach to other religions. He was praised for his leadership, praised for his popularity with youth, praised for his travels, his poetry, his writings. He was praised for his trail-blazing style, his being a man of the people. his “theology of the body”, his media savvy, his evangelizing, his charisma, his humor. The pop-star Bono lauded John Paul as the “funky Pontiff”, calling him “the best front-man the Church ever had.”
Yet nowhere in this tsunami of sentiment did I see anyone praise him for achieving the primary purpose of the papacy: unswervingly fidelity to the teachings and traditions of the Catholic Church as taught and practiced throughout the centuries. Nowhere did I see him praised for preserving the purity of doctrine and the maintenance of discipline in the Church worldwide. Pope John Paul II was not praised for this because he did not achieve it. And for a Pope to fail in this area is to fail mightily.
True, Pope John Paul II held the line on the Church’s teaching against women priests, married priests, and spoke consistently against divorce, abortion and euthanasia. He is hated by liberals for maintaining these teachings, and this is to his credit.
But for the most part, amidst the seemingly endless adulation over Pope John Paul II after his death, no one seemed to judge his papacy by the only measuring rod that counts: the infallible and immutable Catholic Faith of all time. All was sentiment, all was emotion, all was feelings.
There are many reasons why Pope John Paul II was so loved by the modern world. The core reason, in my opinion, is because of a central aspect of his New Evangelization — a new approach that cut him loose from the one hard truth that made all pre-Vatican II popes unpopular. Unburdened by this fundamental truth, he could easily mix with men of all religions, and of no religion, with little fear of invoking their displeasure.
The New Approach
On the day of Pope John Paul II’s death, I received a phone call from a young lady in New Zealand, a friend of the family. She presently works in a situation where she interacts with Muslims and Hindus. When she tells these non-Catholics, with gentleness and charity, they must convert to the one true Catholic Church to save their souls, the Muslims and Hindus laugh at her. “Your Pope doesn’t believe that”, they cackle, referring to John Paul II, “Your Pope doesn’t teach that. Your Pope’s interfaith actions don’t convey that. Your Pope prays with the Dalai Lama and with Hindus. Your Pope visits mosques and kisses the Koran. You are out-of-step with your own Pope. Why should we listen to you?”
Two Catholic young men of my acquaintance, debating with a Protestant Minister, were likewise laughed to scorn when they in-formed the Protestant he must become Catholic to be saved. “What?”, said the Protestant, “You obviously don’t read the writings of your own Pope. He prays with Protestants. He praises Martin Luther as a man of ‘deep religiousness’. He calls Protestants ‘disciples of Christ’. He never says it is necessary to become Catholic for salvation.”
Brother Roger of the ecumenical Taize Community, a place that was dear to Pope John Paul’s heart, said that during the Papal visit to Taize on October 5, 1986, John Paul II suggested a path of “communion” to the community. The Pope said, “By desiring to be yourselves a ‘parable of community,’ you will help all whom you meet to be faithful to their denominational ties, the fruit of their education and their choice in conscience ...” Pope John Paul II thus encouraged Protestants to be faithful to false creeds solemnly anathematized by the Council of Trent. There is no mention of the need to convert to Christ’s one true Church for salvation.
The day after Pope John Paul II’s death, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League issued a press release praising the departed Pontiff for his relations with the Jewish people. Foxman wrote of John Paul, “Most importantly, the Pope rejected the destructive concept of supersessionism and has recognized the special relationship between Christianity and the Jewish people, while sharing his understanding of Judaism as a living heritage, of the permanent validity of God’s covenant with the Jewish people.”
Foxman thus applauded John Paul II for rejecting the truth found in Scripture and in the defined dogmas of the Catholic Church, that the New Covenant superseded and made obsolete the old Judaic Covenant. Foxman rejoices in the error that members of today’s Jewish religion have their own covenant with God, and need not accept Jesus Christ nor convert to the Catholic Church for salvation. And Foxman praises John Paul II for championing this falsehood.
Here, then, is the secret of Pope John Paul II’s success with the world and with false religions — one of the main reasons he is loved by the multitudes, why almost all doors were open to him. Pope John Paul II was the man who, in effect, told the inhabitants of the world that everything is suddenly changed, that the “triumphalism” of the Church is passed, that they need not convert to the Catholic Church to save their souls. The eclipse of the infallible dogma, “Out-side the Church there is no salvation” is the defining mark of his Pontificate.
Sadly, this is no sign of greatness, but a collapse into the spirit of the age. It is a concession that any Pope in history could have made were he willing to dismiss the truths of the Faith.
The Scorn of Liberals
The abandonment of the doctrine “Outside the Church there is no salvation” did not start with the reign of John Paul II. The dogma was hated by liberals for centuries, particularly by the dark forces of the Masonic Enlightenment. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the apostate encyclopedist of the French Revolution declared:
“Whoever dares to assert that outside the Church there is no salvation should be driven out of the state.”
Liberal Catholics through-out the 19th Century undermined the dogma “outside the Church there is no salvation” in word and writing, as is evident in the 19th Century Popes’ repeated condemnation of religious indifferentism. Modernism, in effect, denied this central dogma, and neo-modernist theologians, in the decades leading up to Vatican II, sought to subvert this truth in various ways.
Two star progressivists who undermined this dogma were Father Henri de Lubac and Father Yves Congar. Both were proponents of the New Theology that taught religion must change with the times. Both were considered theological misfits by Pope Pius XII’s Vatican. Both had their writings and activities curtailed under Cardinal Ottaviani’s Holy Office. Yet both Yves Congar and Henri de Lubac, along with other progressivist theologians, emerged as leading lights of Vatican II, and of the post-Conciliar period, without ever changing their heretical views.7
The young Bishop Karol Wojtyla from Poland sided with these progessivists during the Council. Father Ludvik Nemec, a conservative, wrote in 1979 in praise of John Paul II, “Bishop Wojtyla took a progressive stand” at Vatican II, and he “interacted with progressive theologians” at the Council. Years later, Pope John Paul II would make Congar and De Lubac Cardinals, despite the fact that neither rejected their un-orthodox ideas. Henri de Lubac, in fact, was a stalwart defender of the pantheist evolutionist, Teilhard de Chardin. Thus John Paul II rewarded red hats to two modernist theologians whose pre-Vatican II writings — and post-Vatican II writings — undermined the doctrine, “Outside the Church there is no salvation”.
Convergence Replaces Conversion
The landmark event that removed this dogma from circulation was the Second Vatican Council. It was at Vatican II that this dogma was buried alive, and Catholic churchmen have been dancing on its grave ever since. True, nowhere in the documents does one find the sentence, “The dogma ‘outside the Church there is no salvation’ no longer holds”, but the entire ecumenical thrust of Vatican II implied it countless ways; particularly through the calculated use of ambiguous language in the Council documents. After the Council, Catholic churchmen in the highest places, by their words and actions, continued to transmit the false idea that this central dogma is now a thing of the past.
The documents of Vatican II were, by the admission of their drafters, drawn up to favor the new ecumenical spirit. Father Joseph Ratzinger, a liberal Council peritus, explained one of the many ways in which Vatican II undermined this core truth.
In his 1966 book Theological Highlights of Vatican II, Father Ratzinger, said that the Council document Lumen Gentium was purposely constructed along ecumenical lines to lay the foundation for Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism. Father Ratzinger says that according to Lumen Gentium:
“The Catholic Church has no right to absorb the other Churches… [A] basic unity — of Churches that remain Churches, yet become one Church — must replace the idea of conversion, even though conversion retains its meaningfulness for those in conscience motivated to seek it.”
Father Ratzinger wrote this book during the Council. As a co-worker with Father Karl Rahner, he was heavily involved in drafting the documents. He is in a position to tell us what were the true intentions of the architects at Vatican II. And he declares that the true teaching of Vatican II, according to its authors, was that conversion is an option. The non-Catholic need not convert to the true Church for unity and for salvation. The principle of conversion of non-Catholics is replaced with the new principle of convergence with non-Catholics.
Everything since the Council follows this new model; the principle of conversion of non-Catholics is replaced by the new notion of convergence with non-Catholics.
Father Edward Schillebeeckx, another liberal Council peritus, likewise celebrated Vatican II’s modernist orientation. He said, “At Vatican II, the Catholic Church officially abandoned its monopolies over the Christian religion.”
Dr. Robert McAfee Brown, a Protestant observer at Vatican II, was quick to praise this new approach. Dr. Brown is well aware of the traditional Catholic teaching against Protestantism, and rejoices in the drastic change of attitude that Vatican II wrought. In his 1967 book, The Ecumenical Revolution, he applauds the Council’s Decree on Ecumenism:
“The document makes clear how new is the attitude that has emerged. No more is there talk of ‘schismatics and here-tics’ but rather of ‘separated brethren’. No more is there an imperial demand that the dissidents return in penitence to the Church who has no need of penitence; instead there is recognition that both sides are guilty of the sins of division and must reach out penitentially to one another. No more are Protestants dismissed merely as ‘sects’ or psychological entities alone; instead it is acknowledged that there is a measure of ‘ecclesial reality’ to be found within their corporate life.”
This is a revolutionary approach to false religions that every Pope before Vatican II would rightly condemn. The Catholic Church had always dealt with Protestants as individual heretics. It never recognized them as a valid religious group, because their so-called “church” or “ecclesial community” is actually a fiction. A group of Protestants is simply a gathering of individuals who have become interiorly convinced of their salvation in Christ. They do not really constitute a “church”.
In September of 1868, just before Vatican I, Blessed Pope Pius IX issued a public letter entitled Iam vos Omnes that was addressed “to all Protestants and other non-Catholics”. He was not inviting them to the Council, but urged them to consider the event of the Council as an opportunity to convert to the one true Church. Pius called the letter “To All Protestants ...” He chose that title purposely. He addressed them as individuals.
Commenting on this text in 1959, the renowned American theologian Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton pointed out that Pius IX chose these words deliberately because Protestant groups “are not Christian churches” but are actually “heretical assemblies”.