A Brief Dialogue on The Pope's Interfaith
Prayer Meetings at Assisi


N. B.  The following is an epistolary exchange between Mr. Likoudis and a traditionalist Catholic who questions Pope John Paul II's Interfaith Peace and Prayer Meetings at Assisi. It was originally published as an article on the World Wide Web by "TCR Catholic Reflections & Reports ©" ( www.tcrnews2.com)

Dear Mr. James Likoudis,
President-emeritus Catholics United for the Faith

As a catholic, I'm having a hard time with some of the pope's more extreme ecumenical gestures. I don't see how it's right to invite people like the "high priest of Voodo" to Assisi for the purpose of encouraging him and other enemies of God to pray. Robert Sungenis' article is hard to answer.

Best wishes,
Mr. _______

Dear Mr. _______

A bunch of pseudo-problems have been created by those who, in fact, appear to resist the teachings of the Second Vatican Council on religious liberty, ecumenism, and efforts to establish friendly contacts with non-Christians.

  1. Ecumenical efforts are with baptized Christians, not others, and it is an Ecumenical Council which has relaxed the stricter discipline prohibiting closer contacts such as common prayer with dissidents (which was a feature of the Counter-Reformation period and its polemical context). This relaxed discipline is not a break with Tradition but with certain traditions (canonical and liturgical) which were considered necessary for the times of Counter-Reformation religious warfare.

  2. Interreligious dialogue with theists (Jews and Muslims) was also furthered by Vatican II as a step toward evangelization of these peoples in a world undergoing remarkable cultural changes after a century of Mass-Murders.

  3. I see nothing regarding a break with Tradition in asking Voodoo Witch doctors, cannibals, or idolaters to pray at the deepest level of their being; all sincere prayer signifies an opening to God the Creator and his graces (whether those so praying are conscious of that God or not). Asking them to pray in the gesture of respect for their human dignity and highest aspirations for world peace, social harmony among people, and removal of such evils as terrorism – is not an act of Catholics capitulating to syncretism or joining in pagan idolatries, or accepting false religious beliefs. One gets the impression from some of the criticisms of extreme traditionalists and Calvinist evangelical-Protestants that idolatrous pagans are automatically damned, that pagans have no communion whatever with God, that they receive no graces as sinners (not even actual graces), and that Christ in taking upon himself human nature did not unite Himself in some mysterious way with every man born of woman. It could very well be that some of those Voodoo priests at their best may not be "far from the Kingdom of God", though lacking explicit knowledge of so many truths of Divine Revelation and the Catholic Faith. Pope John Paul II has made clear on many occasions that Assissi encounters do not involve religious indifference but rather Peter casting his net as a beginning step towards the evangelization of pagan peoples who may be stimulated by contacts with Catholics to be attracted to Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Much more could be said, but I offer these considerations. One should avoid the rigidity of attitudes stemming from the desire to cling to older canonical disciplines which are no longer relevant to modern times and which actually inhibit the mission of the Church to evangelize and to assist others to help build a civilization of love (which should not be confused, however, with the spread of the Kingdom-Church itself throughout the world).

In Christ,
— James Likoudis

P.S. Did I send you previously a notice concerning my book which deals further with Ecumenism with the dissident Eastern Orthodox churches?


Thanks for the information about your book. I think with respect to these things the fact is if you looked at all the relevant Scripture and church documents, there would be much more against Assisi than in support. (I haven't read all the documents, to be honest.) Take the New Testament: it talks much more about separation from sin and unbelievers than it does about "the unity of mankind." I can't agree with your statement:

"I see nothing regarding a break with Tradition in asking Voodoo Witch doctors, cannibals, or idolaters to pray at the deepest level of their being; all sincere prayer signifies an opening to God the Creator and his graces (whether those so praying are conscious of that God or not)."

What about Romans 1? [***] Don't pagans "worship the creature, not the creator." Some pagans might be saved, but should we encourage them to find consolation in their religions by prayer? I doubt the Voodo priests came back from Assisi thinking they were risking hell. In fact, the unbelief of pagans is seldom described as a sin. (Not surpisingly, we even have Cardinals who say Jews don't need to convert to be saved. The effects on evangelization haven't been too impressive, from what I can tell.) If you aren't familiar with the series: "John Paul's Theological Journey to the Prayer Meeting of Religions at Assisi" by Dormann, I recommend it. It's a bit one-sided, but it is quite informative.

Best wishes,
Mr. _______

Dear Mr. _______

You have the unfortunate tendency to pay too much attention to those with a very rigid and narrow view of Tradition, who ignore the special charism of the Successor of Peter in guiding the Church into the much changed world of the Third Millennium, and who are intent upon mixing oranges and apples (thereby combining different doctrinal and disciplinary issues which should be separated for evaluation). Dormann is a schismatic and is hardly a reliable authority to be trusted with his irresponsible charges of heresy against Pope John Paul II. Schismatic "Trads" like him judge the Pope as contradicting their own private and "scholarly" understanding of Tradition just as Protestants judge the Pope as contradicting their own private and literalist understanding of Scripture.

For example, to accuse Pope John Paul II of violating Pope Pius XI's teaching against the Catholics of his time seeking a "One World Religion" is ludicrous. Pope John Paul II has made it quite clear that the Catholic Church is Our Lord's true Church, constitutes a "One World Religion" that already exists, and whose missionary work to the pagans of today is an essential part of its Catholicity. The Church's message of salvation cannot be sacrificed to modern errors that pagans are already "anonymous Christians" and that there is no need today to say with St. Paul: "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel". Certainly, no other Pope in the history of the Church has travelled world-wide to be witnessed by millions of pagans as preaching Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and noting the Church as necessary for salvation and whose teachings are essential for the human development of the human person. The Church presses on for the unity of mankind in Christ and the Church, but it does not ignore the Church's subsidiary role in contributing to respect for human dignity and elevating human culture and civilization.

There are texts in Scripture which condemn formal idolatry, but there are other texts indicating God's love for idolaters, and as Fr. Morselli has stated in following St. Thomas Aquinas, their religious practices can be said to reveal obedience to the natural law of God to practice the virtue of religion, and an implicit faith in God the Creator of all men. Moreover, it is hardly a sin for the Pope to invite unbelievers to pray! As Fr. Morelli notes, the Pope has never said, "Pray to your false god", but "Pray as best as you can" in following your conscience which can always be further illuminated by the true God. Fr. Morselli makes an excellent point in noting that "the invitation to unbelievers to pray is NOT a formal participation in an act of false religion, but it is a formal invitation to be religious, to follow natural law." Moreover, as all good missionaries know, "the first step to conversion is the observance of natural law." Particularly downplayed by the Pope 's detractors is the truth (denied by Mr.______ and those attributing to unbeliving pagans a total malice and corruption of heart) that the negative unbelief of pagans in good faith may not be culpable before God and is not a sin. In such pagans, therefore, their collaboration with the Church in working for such natural goods as "world peace and justice" can well be a "sort of natural preparation to receive grace" – and especially the grace of faith in Christ and His Church. I conclude on this note. The Pope's acts (however at first troubling to you and others) can well be justified by a long theological tradition in the Church which has noted the seeds of natural religion and supernatural grace operative among pagans of good will. It is a dangerous thing to twist Scriptural passages with their severity concerning pagans who are culpable for their positive unbelief as equally applicable to the "good pagans" for whom "the Light of Christ will always shine where, simply, the windows of the soul are open." (St. Hilary of Poitiers).

The Fathers of the Church for all their severity against culpable schismatics, heretics, and apostates did not understand Scripture or the Tradition of their predecessors as the Pope's present critics do. To paraphrase a great modern theologian, I would note:

"Deep in human nature (and so in every man) the image of God is imprinted, that is, a quality that constitutes in it -and even without it- a kind of secret call to the object of the full and supernatural revelation brought by Christ... It follows immediately (from the truth that in the Incarnation the Word assumed all human nature) that every man, Christian or not, orientated towards God or not, whatever his knowledge or lack of it, has an organic link with Christ — and has it in such a way that he cannot lose it. But this primordial relationship is altogether different from that uniting the members of the Mystical Body [the visible hierarchical Catholic Church] with their Divine Head. They alone are the beneficiaries of this latter union who have received Christ and have made Him welcome, in an explicit or implicit manner. In other words, by virtue of the assumption of all human nature by the Word Incarnate, a primordial, essential and inalienable bond unites all men to Christ. This is what is sometimes called the 'inclusion' of all humanity in Christ. And this must be carefully distinguished from the visible unity characterizing the members of the Mystical Body, the Church. The mere fact of being man who may be living in the state of supernatural grace does not entail being members of the One Church of Christ, i.e., those who acknowledge in an explicit manner their Divine Savior. But the Church has always recognized that there have always been secret operations of the Spirit of Christ among the pagan peoples, and has confessed in Vatican II that 'By her action, the Church brings it about that everything of good that is sown in the human heart and mind, in the rites and cultures of peoples, not only does not perish but is purified, uplifted and consummated, for the glory of God, the confusion of the devil and the happiness of mankind.'(n.17) The Church respects both natural and supernatural goods and furthers both. The Pope' s present critics and detractors do not, and prefer to fall back on narrow theological perspectives which the Church has found inadequate in understanding the fullness of Catholic Tradition regarding the salvation of souls."
— James Likoudis

Dear Mr. Likoudis,

As I said, I don't agree with everthing in the Dormann books, nor do I agree with some of the rhetoric in magazines like the publication I mentioned. However, the question is: does that mean these people are in "schism?" I don't know what principle of theology that says that people who believe the pope has gone "too far" in ecumenical/interreligious events are somehow in schism with the Church. Is that what you think? Concerning JP II, I don't think he is a heretic, but I have to conclude that some of the language in "Redemptor Hominis" is reckless or unclear. I have read what Fr. Morelli posted, and I think Sungenis provides a good response. I believe it is a sin to encourage non-Christians to pray. First, they are praying to a different god. Second, when they pray they are finding consolation in what they believe, which (although it may contain some truth) is on the whole false. As I pointed out, when the religious "leaders" came back from Assisi, they were no doubt comforted in their beliefs and probably felt that the Pope was endorsing their beliefs. I don't agree with the "show biz" papacy of JP II, but he certainly has a lot of credibility in the eyes of many non-believers. Yes, there is some truth in pagan religions (and in just about any other system of thought) . But our message to them shouldn't be "pray as best as you can, " but rather "repent and believe in the Triune God." Also, we should encourage people to follow the natural law, but being "religious" is not necessarily a good thing. It is leading them to harden their hearts. I'm sure CUF does many good things, but blindly supporting the Pope isn't what the Church needs now.

Best wishes,
Mr. _______

Dear Mr. _______

It is not enough to say you do not agree with the Dormann books nor with all the rhetoric of the publication I mentioned. Dormann is definitely a schismatic whose books are dangerous to faith, and you have yet to come to grips with the publication I mentioned, [and with] writers who reveal more than just "rhetoric" but, in Dave Armstrong's words, a "quasi-schismatic mentality" which:

"allows one to criticize Pope, Mass, and Council alike all day long, with never-ending moaning and groaning and breast-beating, sometimes in conspiratorial, apocalyptic, Chicken little proportions. I don't think it is very helpful for the life of the Church, and in some respects it is as bad or worse than being a schismatic, for it is still within the Church, adversely affecting the faith and outlook of others".

This attitude falls short of being a faithful and obedient Catholic. It is now a favorite shibboleth of those betraying a "quasi-schismatic mentality" to accuse faithful Catholics of "blind obedience" and "papolatry". The same accusations were hurled at the defenders of Blessed Pius IX in the midst of Vatican I by those on the verge of schism and heresy, and now the same cries are heard defaming Catholics defending Pope John Paul II against misinterpretations of his acts and teachings.

Much can be said concerning Sungenis' views which have proved to be very disappointing as I have much admired his work. I will simply once again note the danger of taking in a rigid literalist manner Scriptural quotations and pitting them against the fuller theological tradition of the Church as found in the best theologians and clarifications of the Magisterium. For example, Sungenis declares baldly that "God does not hear the prayers of sinners" (quoting Holy Writ). St. Thomas Aquinas, however, declares with a better understanding of God's ways:

"If sinners pray because of some good desire coming from their human nature, then God does hear them, not as a manner of justice, because sinners do not deserve this but out of sheer mercy, and provided certain conditions are met, i.e., provided it is a prayer made for oneself, for things necessary for salvation, made piously and perseveringly."

I seriously suggest that you go to Dave Armstrong's website [click on the link or type following address as it appears including letters in capital ] ( http://ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ389.HTM ) and read his articles on "Traditionalists-Schismatics" which constitute an excellent antidote to the "hermeneutics of suspicion" which have shaped your views on problems in the Church and the Pope's guidance of the Church as it goes into the Third Millennium. For myself, I thank God that CUF from its very beginnings has avoided the Anti-Papal Complex which has marked the schismatic St. Pius X Society and its "quasi-schismatic" sympathizers who have done so much damage to Catholic Unity.

Sincerely yours,
— James Likoudis

© James Likoudis, 2002. All Rights reserved.

For Mr. Likoudis' reply to Robert Sungenis click here

[***] TCR Note: Romans 2: 12-16 says that pagans also have the Law written on their hearts –a grace in itself– "either accusing them or excusing them," according to their works, as God, Who alone can judge the human heart and conscience, knows in perfect truth, justice and mercy.


Regarding the interpretation of tradition see: Catechism of the Catholic Church Pt 1, sec 1, III

The Magisterium of the Church

§ 85 "The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ."[47] This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

§ 86 "Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith."[48]

§ 87 Mindful of Christ's words to his apostles: "He who hears you, hears me",[49] the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.

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