Our Popes Before Bl. John the XXIII: Tradition and Ecumenism

It is my understanding that the Popes before Bl. John XXIII were not ecumenical. If this is true, how did they view the other religions and their followers? As false religions and infidels? I have read at least one Pope refer to them as such. Did all the Popes that held tradition hold this view? Your help with this is greatly appreciated!

Good scholarship would not answer this question in black and white for a number of reasons.

Some popes talked the party line against heretics and non Christians. However, in their private dealings with them, they were often very kind and very respectful. There are several great examples. I can’t remember who was pope when, but if you look up the papacy, you’ll be able put them on a timeline.

For example, the Spanish Inquisition was very cruel. The Dominicans and Franciscans complained to the papacy about the treatment of the Muslims and Jews in Spain. The papacy authorized the friars to serve as a buffer. The Muslims and Jews were still exiled, but at least they were not executed.

When the Spanish came to the Americas, the Conquistadores practiced forced baptism. Friar Bartolome de las Casas, the Dominican Prior in the new world and a renown theologian, protested forced conversions. He appealed to the Crown and the papacy, the pope finally did intervene. Again, the Dominicans and Franciscans created a protective barrier around the natives. That’s probably why the percentage of indigenous people in Latin America is much higher than North America. The Protestants were as savage as the natives. They practically ate each other up.

Then we go forward again to the Russian Revolution. Some of the Orthodox were able to escape to the West. The Eastern Catholics received them and the pope turned the other way when the Orthodox were allowed to use Eastern Catholic churches for Divine Liturgy.

We know that during WWII, Cardinal Roncalli (Pope John XXIII) not only rescued about 500 Jewish children who were then held up on a ship waiting for a country who would take them, the Cardinal would go on board the ship and lead the children in the Sabbath prayers on Friday evening and Saturday morning. Pope Pius XII knew and allowed it.

Mother Teresa worked and prayed with Hindus and Muslims since 1946. Every pope knew about it and praised her for her good relations with them and winning their trust through charity.

The Franciscans opened all of our houses in Italy, dressed the Jews up in habits. On Jewish holidays, the friars allowed the Jews to pray in our chapels. Again, Pope Pius XII knew.

Since 1219, the Franciscans were sent to the Holy Land to take over the Christian sites, after a treaty with the Sultan that the friars would not try to convert Jews or Muslims. St. Francis cut the deal and Pope Honorius approved. Later, Pope Nicholas would create the Custody of the Holy Land. By doing so, the friars at the Holy Land answered to the pope on all pastoral matters, instead of the superior general. To this day, they do not try to convert Jews or Muslims, though there have been conversions.

The other reason that I find the question difficult to answer is because we have to keep in mind that the conflicts with non Catholics were not purely about religion. There were political, economic, ethnic, territorial and religious conflicts. The anger and resentment on both sides was intense. It wasn’t until WWII that they found a reason to work together. Finally, when they begin to work together against the Nazis and Communists, those feelings begin to soften. They get to see each other as real people.


Br. JR, FFV :slight_smile:

There was definitely a shift in the Church’s official outreach to non-Catholics after the 1960s. The Church began to promote good relations for its own sake, apart from efforts to bring people into the fold. It is often interpreted by Catholics as a theology of pluralism, rejected by some and welcomed by many. Of course the Church has not changed its beliefs in regard to other religions, but certainly some Catholic leaders have given that impression. In short, it’s a touchy subject on CAF, be careful.

Rich is absolutely correct. The Church remains faithful to its belief in the primacy of the Catholic Church and that the fullness of the Christian Church subsists only in the Catholic Church. What has happened in our leadership, the Holy See and so forth, is a softening of the language.

As I said, during WWII and the rise of Communism, people found more reasons to work together than to fight. Nowt they had a common enemy. They were able to put aside generations of anger and mistrust.

I’m not a sociologist, but my guess is that one of the experiences that has softened the language of popes from John XXIII to Benedict XVI is precisely the fact that they lived through the rise and fall of Nazism and Communism. They saw the importance of people of faith join to fight a common evil.

The hard feelings are still present at the level of the laity on all sides, more so than at the top. I believe it’s because of the experiences that the people of the top went through. Most people at the top are older and still remember. Those under 60 wouldn’t remember, neither would most Americans, since our people were not in the combat zone, where Catholics and others had to work together as brothers in order to survive.

As you can see, there is no black and white answer to your question, because the situation goes beyond religion.


Br. JR, FFV :slight_smile:

Question answered


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