A few years back, while Pope John Paul was discussing other faiths in the world, made a comment to the effect that God’s truth can be found in these different faiths. I have some good friends that are Evangelical Protestants. They thought that this statement indicated that the Pope was a universalist. I explained that the Pope is not a universalist and that he was only explaining that all of God’s creation senses His existence. It is written in their hearts whether or not they know it explicitly. Can you explain this more clearly from the standpoint of official Catholic teachings? Is the Pope a universalist?
Without the exact comment from John Paul II, I cannot comment on what he did or did not say. However, the idea that non-Christian religions contain religious truth is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life” (CCC 843).
Recognizing that non-Christian religions have some truth is not the same thing as the universalist proposition that all men will be saved no matter what faith they profess. It is simply an acknowledgment that all men, no matter how removed from the fullness of divine revelation given to the Catholic Church, have received some insights into the nature of God insofar as those insights mirror Catholic truth.
The same holds true for non-Catholic Christians, by the way. Insofar as their beliefs mirror Catholicism, the Church believes that there are portions of truth in non-Catholic Christian religions. The closer they are to Catholicism, the truer they are. So, for example: Eastern Orthodoxy is truer than Lutheranism, Lutheranism is truer than Judaism, Judaism is truer than Islam, Islam is truer than Buddhism, etc.
Can Outsiders be Insiders? by Fr. Peter Stravinskas