Saturday, February 27, 2016


Christians helping migrants should not try to convert them, says cardinal

My comments first: When I was growing up in the pre-Vatican II Church, my very pre-Vatican II, law and order father, did not like being proselytized and taught us not to do so. We should witness to our Catholic Faith by how we live our lives especially in good works (love/charity).

In fact, my father who sent Christmas Cards to everyone, Catholic or not, would not send religiously themed Christmas cards even to Catholics. He didn't want to come across as "holier than thou" or offend people with his Catholic Faith.

So when I read what the Catholic Herald printed below, I thought that Cardinal Müller sounded a lot like my father back in the 1950's!


Cardinal Müller says proselytism 'is practically a manipulation of the conscience'

Christians assisting migrants should love them “without hidden intentions” and not try to convert them, the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith has said.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller said said that proselytism “is practically a manipulation of the conscience” and that the church’s mission is to help mankind relate to and love those escaping war and persecution.

The cardinal was speaking at an international conference at the Vatican organised to reflect on Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, on charity (“God Is Love”) and the relevance of the Christian perspective of love in today’s world.

Cardinal Müller also said that the Church must assist with more than just material needs. He said: “The mission of the church is to give witness to Jesus Christ. It would be a way of despising someone if I said: ‘You only have material needs.”

Jesus’ commandment to love one’s neighbour, he said, is a call for Christians to manifest God’s love to others, particularly through works of charity. However, in addressing the needs of migrants, Christians are called to help “without hidden intentions.”

“We must not use the charity we practice and transform it into an instrument of proselytism,” he said. “An expert Christian knows when it is time to speak about God and when it is best to keep quiet. Sometimes a silent witness is the best witness of the love of God.”

The cardinal noted that in his native Germany, where thousands of migrants from Muslim-majority countries have been received, the authentic witness of love through charity has caused migrants to inquire about the Christian faith without imposing one’s beliefs on them.

“There are among these migrants, the majority of whom are Muslim, who ask, ‘Why are Christians — and not our fellow Muslims — helping us?’ The love of neighbour is a starting point to the love of God because God, through Jesus Christ, is the cause and essence of our love toward our neighbour,” the cardinal said.

The commitment of charity and love toward one’s neighbour, he said, must be sustained by prayer or risks becoming “blind activism and a fanatical desire to reform the world.”

Using religious differences as a pretext to exclude others is contrary to faith because “God does not exclude anyone,” he added. Excluding others “builds a wall that separates us from God; this is the original sin.”

Cardinal Muller said that instead, the church’s mission is “to help overcome these walls” that only serve to exclude humankind “from both God and neighbour.”


Anonymous said...

Faith or lack of it in the absolute, in God, is an existential reality that determines all human relationships. Social peace, coexistence of humans becomes impossible when people living in close proximity to each other do not share their religion or lack of it. Even Christian sects find living together difficult, Muslim shias and sunnies massacre each other on a daily basis. Proselytism is not a fashionable idea but in the long run it prevents human conflicts of fearful proportions.

Rood Screen said...

No one should be coerced into conversion, and refugees are especially vulnerable to coercion. But this ongoing Vatican fear of proselytism puzzles me, because I almost never encounter a Catholic who even bothers to invite anyone to experience the True Faith, much less coerce anyone into it. You would think the See of Peter would be more concerned about the need to announce to the world these words of Saint Peter: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins".

There are many Moslems in Europe, but they are not filling RCIA programs.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Dialogue, Proselytism is always bad, but not evangelization which you are describing. All our social apostolates, our schools and other religious institutions evangelize, but we don't proselytize, not even in pre-Vatican II times and not now; there is continuity.

However, when parents use our schools and others use our hospitals, they will get Catholic prayers, teachings and ministry. But no one is forcing them into using these ministries.

If they attend Mass, God willing, they experience Catholic worship as the law of prayer is the law of belief.

But you are correct, I do not know of any Catholics apart from perhaps Evangelical Protestants who have become Catholic, who proselytize or desire this form of cohesion.

My experiences in the south of be proselytized by evangelicals was not so much from their good works, but because they despised the Catholic Church, put her down, tried to turn me against the Church and our leaders and make me make an impromptu, emotional acceptance of Jesus Christ for the first time.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Perhaps, too, as Pope Francis would know from first hand experience, to condemn proselytism in the Catholic Church which really is almost non existent is a back door way to condemn other Christians who are using this technique, especially in South America.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Also, given the history of Islam and Christianity and both forcing the other to convert, and Islam still stuck in that mentality of forced conversions or death, this is a way to challenge Islam over proselytizing in a coercive way.

The Church is trying to set an example for Muslims by condemning proselytizing.

John Nolan said...

Where does one draw the line between evangelizing (good) and proselytizing (bad)? After all, the term proselyte, from the Greek 'proselytos' meaning a stranger or newcomer, simply means a convert. One can win converts by example, or precept, or both. So if we preach and live the gospel with the aim of turning people to Christ, we are proselytizing whether we like it or not.

I can find no definition of 'proselytize' (to convert or attempt to convert) which connects it to forced conversion. It would need to be qualified to have this meaning. There is a tendency to use a neutral or even positive term pejoratively without qualifying it in order to give it a different, and exclusively negative meaning. A good example is 'discriminate' and its noun.

This isn't pedantry. We cannot express our ideas clearly, nor construct a rational argument if we use language carelessly or inaccurately. 'Well, you know what I'm getting at' simply will not do.

Rood Screen said...

John Nolan,

Good question. If people with advanced degrees in theology cannot point to a clear, official answer to your question, then why does the Holy See think the public will understand these statements?

Anonymous said...

“The term proselytism originated in the context of Judaism, in which the term proselyte referred to someone who, coming from the gentiles, had passed into the Chosen People. So too, in the Christian context, the term proselytism was often used as a synonym for missionary activity. More recently, however, the term has taken on a negative connotation, to mean the promotion of a religion by using means, and for motives, contrary to the spirit of the Gospel; that is, which do not safeguard the freedom and dignity of the human person.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization, 3 December 2007) [The Sovereign Pontiff Benedict XVI, in the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect [Levada] on 6 October 2007, approved the present Doctrinal Note, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this Congregation, and ordered its publication.]

Clear and Official.

Rood Screen said...


Adultery--"whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another, commits adultery".

Clear and official, and yet...

Rood Screen said...

"More recently, however, the term has taken on a negative connotation..." Among whom? I never see the term used except in Vatican documents.

John Nolan said...

Anonymous @ 2:59

Your quotation is not from the Doctrinal Note itself, but from a footnote referring to that passage in the text which refers to the conversion of non-Catholic Christians: 'In such a case it would not be a question of proselytism in the negative sense that has been attributed to this term.' Note the qualification. Not proselytism as such, but some people's take on it. This is explained in the footnote which goes on to say: 'It is in this sense that the term proselytism is usually understood in the context of the ecumenical movement' By way of example, it cites 'The Challenge of Proselytism and the Calling to Common Witness', a study document produced in September 1995 by a 'joint working group between the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches'.

If you look up this document you find the authors choose to define, or rather re-define, the term in a purely negative sense in order to advance a particular agenda. In fact the Doctrinal Note (which is indeed official, and reasonably clear), when read in its entirety can be seen as implicitly critical of some of the assumptions of the 'ecumenical movement' which by 2007 was running out of steam anyway.

rob said...

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...
"Dialogue, Proselytism is always bad but not evangelization which you are describing. "

1: The act of becoming or condition of being a proselyte : conversion
2: The act or process of proselytizing
1: to induce someone to convert to one's faith
2: to recruit someone to join one's party, institution, or cause

Father, I'm having a hard time reconciling your comment with Matthew 28:19
I'm not understanding how proselytizing is bad, given the context of the definition of the word and Our Lord's command in Matthew.


Anonymous said...

Proselytism, "as such," doesn't exist. The idea that a word has a meaning that never changes is risible. It is also an ineffective defense against modernity.

Words have no meaning in themselves. There is nothing in the word CAT that contains or expresses the reality of the being a Maine Coon, an Abyssinian, or a British shorthair. If we chose, instead, to call them RIDDLES or PYLONS or BRIMS, that would be perfectly acceptable. We give them their meaning and we can, and do, change those meanings over time.

Whether the Church's teaching comes from a footnote or from the body of the text is inconsequential.

John Nolan said...

In fact the 'ecumaniacs' not only defined proselytism in purely negative terms, they also narrowed it down to mean 'poaching' Christians from other denominations by, inter alia, offering 'inducements'. They seem to have been successful in their redefinition as far as ecclesiastical circles are concerned, hence the presumption that 'proselytism is always bad' which on the face of it is nonsense. However, they have not convinced lexicographers to accept their interpretation. Merriam-Webster is not alone.

Then in 2009 the biggest inducement imaginable was offered by the promulgation of Anglicanorum Coetibus. The Archbishop of Canterbury was very much put out, and there was dismay in the ranks of the English Catholic hierarchy. One English newspaper remarked that ++Cantuar was so concerned with the issues of gay clergy and women bishops that he failed to notice that the Pope had parked his tanks on the lawn of Lambeth Palace.

John Nolan said...

Anonymous, you talk b******s. I hope you're neither a lawyer nor an historian since your forensic and analytical skills are nugatory. The only things that are inconsequential are your perverse ramblings.

If you want to refer to a cat as a pylon, then go ahead, although no-one will know what the hell you're on about. Come to think of it, they don't anyway.

George said...

Anonymous @8:00AM :

Said Humpty to Alice.

Words,terms,and names, which have come into common use as to what they mean, do serve their good purpose. For one thing, their use and purpose has the intended effect of being understood by others when we are conversing with them. It keeps us from having to use pantomine to convey to others what we are trying to communicate to them. Being understood by others does have its advantages.

Anonymous said...

John - Resorting to vulgarity, the dowager Countess Grantham would say, is no substitute for wit.

We chose to call a cat a cat. We could just as easily have called it a pylon - and could at some time in the future.

Here's a list of words - since you are ignorant of the fact - that have changed meaning over time:
Myriad: used to mean 10,000
Buxom: used to mean obedient
Dapper: used to mean heavy-set
Brother: used to mean a low-life
Matrix: used to mean the womb
Artificial: used to mean full of artistic and/or technical skill

So you can wax vulgar - doubtless, I am sure, due to your upbringing - all you want about words with eternally fixed and unalterable meanings. But that doesn't alter the facts. Cheers!

Unknown said...

We chose to call a cat a cat

That's not languages work.

Rood Screen said...


The point here, which you seem to miss, is that there appears to be no popular shift in meaning for this term. So, why does the Holy See now use it with an altered meaning, but without an accompanying definition? Since even dictionary editors have missed the change in meaning, this is a reasonable question.

John Nolan said...

Anonymous is up to his old tricks again. Half-digested Derrida-esque deconstruction masquerading as argument. To object to words being twisted and redefined by a small group of people to suit their own ends is not to deny the obvious fact that words do indeed change their meanings over time, but not to the extent that would make (say) Shakespeare unintelligible. This even applies to Latin; the word 'sacramentum' did not mean the same to St Thomas Aquinas as it had to a soldier of Julius Caesar's time, although St Thomas would have been aware of its derivation.

For someone who is always bleating that others put words into his mouth, he is not averse to doing the same to others, with breathtaking effrontery - 'since you are ignorant of the fact' and 'all you want about words with eternally fixed and unalterable meaning' being two examples of inferences based on no evidence whatsoever.

To reduce someone's argument to an unrecognizable caricature in order to counter it (the straw man technique) is so obviously dishonest that anyone with a conscience would surely repudiate it.

And, as Flavius points out, some knowledge of linguistics is handy.

Jusadbellum said...

Our Lord gave the mandate to his apostles to "go make disciples of all the nations".

So we have our marching orders: make disciples, with the further command that we teach them all Jesus' commandments and ensure that these disciples endure and hand on this full truth likewise so that we may remain with Christ "always".

I've never understood people who don't 'get' that Christianity is about bringing people to know and fall in love with Jesus. How is that something negative? How is that some imposition?

Anonymous said...

John Nolan is up to his old tricks again, claiming to have secret knowledge about the motivations of people he has never met, let alone gotten to know.

He says, "To object to words being twisted and redefined by a small group of people to suit their own ends..." "Twisted" and "redefined" Oooh! These Vatican higher ups must SURELY have base, ulterior motives. Ooooh! They are probably members of the 1) Gay Vatican Mafia, 2) Masonic Vatican Mafia, 3) Modernist Vatican Mafia, or whatever the scapegoat groups of the day is.

Such baseless accusations are "so obviously dishonest that anyone with a conscience would surely repudiate it."

It is also an old trick to make claims based on his own limited, experience. "I don't think that there is any chance that, among the hundreds of millions of English speakers around the world, anyone understands the word proselytism as certain Vatican officials seem to understand it."

John Nolan said...

Anonymous, a small group of ecclesiastical and lay people working with the WCC hardly represent a mafia of any sort, let alone an imagined Vatican one. I make no claim to secret knowledge; I simply read the 1995 paper, took it at face value and was suitably enlightened. The authors have no base or ulterior motives, and I did not impute any to them. It merely confirmed what the Doctrinal Note had implied, namely that in ecumenical circles the term proselytism is not just used negatively, but also in a restricted sense; and on their own admission this was not how it was understood until recently.

So you can 'Ooooh' as much as you like about Gays, Masons and Modernists; they certainly exist but the question of what influence, if any, they have in the Vatican I shall leave to those who have more inside knowledge than I.

I don't know where you got that last quotation from - it's certainly not from me. And if you actually read what I write on this blog you will know that I do not make the mistake of arguing from the particular to the general and I don't make claims that I can't substantiate.

If you think I do, then by all means give an example, rather than making one up.

Anonymous said...

John Nolan - When you said that the meaning of proselytism had been TWISTED, you most certainly did impute base motives to those you accuse.

I didn't Ooooh! about gays, Masons, or Modernists. I Oooohed about you and your baseless accusations.

John Nolan said...

Anonymous, you are assuming too much. Language is malleable, and terms can be redefined or twisted simply for convenience, without any base motives. I happen to deplore the tendency since in my opinion it impoverishes the language. The events of 1938-9 have given a negative connotation to the word 'appeasement' to the extent that its positive connotation has been all but buried; in more recent times 'discrimination' has suffered a similar fate. I would have thought that this could have been avoided by adding a qualifying adjective to the noun, e.g. 'abject appeasement' or 'wrongful discrimination'. Journalists, who like to speak in a form of short-cut English, have a lot to answer for.

I have never referred to 'Gay/Masonic/Modernist Vatican Mafias' so on what basis do you assume that I see conspiracies everywhere? It was Pope Francis who referred to a 'gay mafia' during one of his airborne interviews. I know that tilting at straw men is a lot easier than engaging in rational discourse, but do you really want to be shown up on this blog as someone who does so?

Anonymous said...

Rational discourse doesn't include "b*******." It also doesn't include the notion that, when someone uses a word in a way that you 1) don't like or 2) disagree with, you accuse them of twisting the meaning.

If you are not ascribing base motives to those who, in your singular opinion, have twisted the meaning of proselytism, what positive motive or motives might you ascribe to them.

Do you even entertain the possibility that their usage is, given the fact that "Language is malleable," entirely correct and you entirely wrong?

John Nolan said...

Anonymous (sigh, this is becoming tedious):

In answer to your first question - what positive motive or motives might you ascribe to them - surely it's obvious; they think that a common calling in faith is more important than point-scoring or trying to 'poach' members of other Christian denominations. To an extent I agree with them.

In answer to your second question, emphatically no. We're back to Humpty Dumpty again. The fact that language is malleable doesn't give any individual or group the right to wield the hammer (Lat. malleus) and impose their singular interpretation on everyone else.

And I agree that talking bollocks (as you do most of the time) doesn't contribute to rational discourse. Either engage on the same level or desist. I suspect you are incapable of the former, so I would strongly recommend the latter.

George said...

John Nolan, just like others who post here,is just offering his opinion.
I find in his comments that he is well informed and very knowledgeable, especially so when it comes to the liturgy and rubrics of the Mass. One can disagree without being or coming across as disagreeable.

What's with all the contentiousness?

Anonymous said...

"Either engage at the same level or desist" is as tedious as "rational" discourse gets. You set yourself up, on your own authority, as the arbiter (late 14c., from Old French arbitre or directly from Latin arbiter "one who goes somewhere (as witness or judge)," in classical Latin used of spectators and eye-witnesses, in law, "he who hears and decides a case, a judge, umpire, mediator;" from ad- "to" (see ad-) + baetere "to come, go." The specific sense of "one chosen by two disputing parties to decide the matter" is from 1540s. The earliest form of the word attested in English is the fem. noun arbitress (mid-14c.) "a woman who settles disputes.") of what constitutes rational discourse. Isn't that terribly convenient...? Guy

Like all who think so highly of themselves, you cannot even imagine that your haughtiness might be more that a little tiresome. At least it is occasionally laughable.

No one tried to "impose" anything on you. You make that, again, baseless accusation simply because Cardinal Levada and Pope Benedict didn't quite see eye to eye with you linguistically.

John Nolan said...

Anonymous, you have degenerated into incoherence. You are not concerned with the substance about which others write, since you think that you know their own minds better than they do.

I'm not surprised that you refuse to identify yourself. You need to address your own issues before casting aspersions.

End of conversation.

Anonymous said...

No, John, I have not descended into incoherence. I simply pointed out that your position is "My Way or the High Way."

If Cardinal Levada and Pope Benedict disagree with your linguistic preferences, then they are "twisting" the meaning of the word proselytism. You can comment on their motivations, you cam claim to know there minds, but heaven help the person who does the same toward you.

You, being the arbiter of all that is linguistically pure and correct have spoken.

How do you put up with the rest of the English speaking world?


John Nolan said...

Anonymous, I can put up with most things and most people, but with arseholes like you I have no time. I said end of conversation, I meant it. Either identify yourself or, to use a north American colloquialism, butt out.

Anonymous said...

Demand away, John, and see what good it does. And by the way, you've HAD time now for a good while. When you come to the ad hominem end of your rope, you're wise to throw in the towel.

I suspect Card. Levada and Benedict XVI are quite secure in their understanding of "proselytism" and don't give a tinker's darn what the omniscient linguist John Nolan thinks.


John Nolan said...

Anonymous, since you refuse to identify yourself and insist on having the last word, I infer that you are a woman. It's at least as valid as the ridiculous inferences you draw. So it's 'ad mulierem', is it?

Anyway, you can have the last word if it makes you happy. I've better things to do than try to explain the obvious to someone with the logical facilities of a retarded child.

Anonymous said...

More ad hominem remarks simply show the vacuity of your arguments. You denounce those who infer anything from your own comments, but then infer what you want about others.


You've not attempted to "explain" anything. You're simply asserted that you are right and Card. Levada and Pope Benedict are wrong.