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NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan (ChurchMilitant.com) - On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Pope Francis did not mention Jesus even once in his seven-minute address to an interfaith assembly in Kazakhstan.
Instead, the pontiff demoted Jesus to one of the ways leading to the "Divine," substituted "human fraternity" for the Holy Trinity and emphasized that it is "fraternity that unites us as children of the same Heaven."
Using circumlocutions for God borrowed from pluralist theologians like John Hick and Paul Knitter, Francis spoke of the "mystery of the infinite that transcends and attracts us."
The pontiff also used more generic designations like "the Almighty" and "the Divine" in his attempt to be inclusive of the Islamic and Indic understandings of God.
The pope never once cited the Bible but quoted the Kazakh poet and theologian Abai Qunanbaiuly extensively in his speech at the seventh Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan.
Over 500 words of the pope's 2,730 words spoken in Italian (one-fifth of Francis' address) were dedicated to quoting moralizations from Abai — whom the pope called "the country's most renowned poet and the father of its modern literature."
Francis praised Abai — a theologian and philosopher belonging to the orthodox Sunnī Islamic Hanafi Māturīdī school — for his "writings that are steeped in religious devotion and reflect the noble soul of this people."
"The religions remind us that we are creatures; we are not omnipotent but men and women journeying towards the same heavenly goal," Francis remarked, using a theological trope now rejected by current modernist theologians for its "religious imperialism."
Scholars like Mark Heim regard the understanding of different religions moving towards "the same heavenly goal" as a fundamental category error that is insulting to all religions, because different religions have completely different goals.
In his groundbreaking book Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion, Heim points out a central flaw in the pluralist hypothesis: By insisting that different religions point to the same "ultimate goal," pluralism fails its own test of plurality.
Theologian Jonathan Wong slams attempts made by pluralist theologians to "patronizingly offer concessions to these other faith traditions" by seeing "all faiths as equally valid and equally salvific."
"Yet if we are honest, we must ask, 'Does this insistence on pluralism become yet another form of imperialism?'" Wong asks, critiquing "the immensely arrogant claim of one who sees the full truth which all the world's religions are only groping after."
The "seemingly 'neutral' approach of pluralism is thus revealed to be just as arrogant," since it "embodies the claim to know the full reality which relativizes all the claims of the religions and philosophies," Wong concludes.
In comments to Church Militant, British writer and deacon Nick Donnelly offered a theological analysis of Francis' approach to other religions vis-à-vis Catholicism:
From the start, Pope Francis has promoted the error of indifferentism — that is, that all religions are the same. In Evangelii Gaudium (2013), he advocated a version of the Jesuit Karl Rahner's infamous "anonymous Christian" notion, claiming non-Christians were "justified" by God's grace if they followed their consciences.
He did not explain this but somehow associated them with the Paschal Mystery of Christ. He even bizarrely linked non-Christian rites with sacramental sanctifying grace (Evangelii Gaudium, §254).
Pope Francis doubled down on his indifferentism in 2019 when he declared that God wills "the pluralism and the diversity of religions." This bears the hallmarks of Jesuit Jacques Dupuis' religious pluralism, condemned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2001 for obscuring the truth that Jesus is the one and only savior of mankind.
"How many souls has Pope Francis denied the saving grace of baptism by his misguided indifferentism?" Donnelly, a lecturer who has been granted an episcopal mandatum to teach theology, asked.
Attacking a "throwaway culture" and the sanctity of all life "born and unborn," the pontiff also quoted the Roman stoic philosopher Seneca's Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium: "Homo sacra res homini" (Man is a sacred thing to man).
Francis did not, however, cite the key biblical text from Genesis which undergirds the entire Christian view of the sanctity of human life: "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Genesis 1:27)
In an apparent contradiction of his own actions, Francis concluded, "May we never aim at artificial and conciliatory forms of syncretism, for these are useless, but instead firmly maintain our own identities, open to the courage of otherness and to fraternal encounter."
Later on Wednesday, Bishop of Astana, Athanasius Schneider — an outspoken critic of "interreligious dialogue" — attacked the congress as conveying the impression of "a supermarket of religions" that diminished the definitiveness of the Catholic Church.
"There is only one true religion, which is the Catholic Church founded by God Himself," Schneider told reporters at the cathedral in Astana. The traditionalist bishop told Church Militant that his views on the topic were known in the interviews he gave to others.
Schneider has articulated his position substantively in his book Christus Vincit: Over the Darkness of the Age, a series of interviews with Vatican correspondent Diane Montagna.
Since Vatican II, "one of the greatest dangers inside the Church has arisen out of interreligious dialogue," Schneider stresses, explaining how such a discourse relativizes both the "biblical truth" of Christ as the only savior and the "obligation and indispensable mission of the Church to proclaim this truth clearly to all non-Christians."
The bishop, who rejects the term "interreligious dialogue" because it is "confusing," laments how today's clerics are committing "a great sin of omission in neglecting to proclaim Christ to all non-Christians as the Apostles did."
Such dialogue "creates the impression that we are all on parallel tracks to the same God and will all reach the same end and that we don't have to be bothered if there are still people of other religions who do not know or do not accept Christ," Schneider notes.
Pope Francis presided over a celebration of Holy Mass at the EXPO grounds in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, concelebrated by Bp. Schneider and other bishops and priests.
In 2020, the Vatican was criticized after it failed to mention God, Jesus Christ, Church, gospel, Bible or sacraments even once in a 4,000-word document on the Wuhan virus pandemic, Church Militant reported.
The Pontifical Academy for Life defended the omission, claiming that it had dropped God in order to reach "the widest possible audience" and "to communicate it in an accessible way to everyone."
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