Pope Francis is getting a lot of heat, and grief, for describing proselytism as “solemn nonsense.”
He’s not the first pope, though, to reject it.
It’s worth noting what others have had to say on the subject:
“The Church respects the freedom of individuals to seek the truth and to embrace it according to the dictates of conscience, and in this light she firmly rejects proselytism and the use of unethical means to gain conversions.” — Blessed John Paul II, in Sri Lanka, 1995
” The word ‘proselytism’ has a negative meaning when it indicates a way of winning followers which does not respect the freedom of those to whom a specific kind of religious propaganda is directed. The Catholic Church in America is critical of proselytism by the sects and, for this reason, rejects methods of this kind in her own evangelizing work. Presenting the Gospel of Christ in its entirety, the work of evangelization must respect the inner sanctuary of every individual’s conscience, where the decisive and absolutely personal dialogue between grace and human freedom unfolds.” — Blessed John Paul, Ecclesia in America, 1999.
“Charity, furthermore, cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. Love is free; it is not practised as a way of achieving other ends. But this does not mean that charitable activity must somehow leave God and Christ aside. For it is always concerned with the whole man. Often the deepest cause of suffering is the very absence of God. Those who practise charity in the Church’s name will never seek to impose the Church’s faith upon others. They realize that a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love. A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak.—Pope Benedict, Deus Caritas Est, 2005
“We impose our faith on no one. Such proselytism is contrary to Christianity. Faith can develop only in freedom. But we do appeal to the freedom of men and women to open their hearts to God, to seek him, to hear his voice. ” — Pope Benedict, Munich, 2006.
“I feel it is helpful to reaffirm that the Church does not impose but rather freely proposes the Catholic faith, well aware that conversion is the mysterious fruit of the Holy Spirit’s action. Faith is a gift and the work of God. For this very reason every type of proselytism that forces, induces or entices someone to embrace the faith by unworthy devices is strictly forbidden (cf.Ad Gentes, n. 13). A person can open himself to the faith after mature and responsible reflection and must be able to achieve this intimate inspiration freely. This is not only for the individual’s benefit but indeed for that of the whole of society, for the faithful observance of the divine precepts is helpful in building a more just and supportive coexistence.” —Pope Benedict, to the ordinaries of Central Asia, 2008.
Meantime, on Facebook, Louie Verrechio notes:
“It is a pathetic spectacle indeed to witness Catholic bloggers who seem to sincerely believe that quotes from JPII and Benedict against “proselytism” is somehow proof that Francis is saying “nothing new.” Since when are the “Assisi popes” models of tradition when it comes to the mission of converting the world to Christ? Both of these popes were ecumenical train wrecks. Do these poor fools really believe that the Church was born in 1962?”