Indifferentism is the condemned heresy that advances the possibility of salvation in any religion. Apostasy (according to Father Hardon) is the “complete abandonment of the Christian religion and not merely a denial of some article of the creed.” There is a certain inexorable logic — or at least a psychologically coherent dynamism — that facilitates the journey from indifferentism to apostasy. It may take some time — a few generations perhaps, which is a brief span in the life of the Church — but indifferentism will feed the beast of apostasy.
Do we live in a time of widespread apostasy?
In his 2003 post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in Europa (No. 9), Pope John Paul II spoke of the spiritual condition of Catholicism’s heartland: “European culture gives the impression of ‘silent apostasy’ on the part of people who have all that they need and who live as if God does not exist.”
The wording of that last sentence may be somewhat dispassionate, but it is thereby no less utterly cataclysmic in its implications. If the Révolution tranquille in Canada was “quiet,” it was still a revolution against Christ the King. So, too, to speak of a “silent” apostasy of the former Christendom is to make a very loud denunciation of a people who once produced saints but have now forgotten God.
For decades, we here at Saint Benedict Center have warned that, to advance the possibility of salvation for non-Catholics who live and die in their various religions — without the benefits of baptism and without the divine and catholic faith — will seriously harm the Church’s missionary zeal. We have further warned that it will confuse Catholics themselves, who will wonder why they have to live the strict moral code of the Catholic Church when the rest of humanity can apparently be saved without it.
Whatever the details of his own theology concerning these questions, “Pope Emeritus” Benedict has agreed with us that such fears are not only warranted, but, indeed, have also been realized in our day as a “deep double crisis”:
There is no doubt that on this point [of the salvation of “infidels,” i.e., unbelievers] we are faced with a profound evolution of dogma. While the fathers and theologians of the Middle Ages could still be of the opinion that, essentially, the whole human race had become Catholic and that paganism existed now only on the margins, the discovery of the New World at the beginning of the modern era radically changed perspectives. In the second half of the last century it has been fully affirmed the understanding that God cannot let go to perdition all the unbaptized and that even a purely natural happiness for them does not represent a real answer to the question of human existence. If it is true that the great missionaries of the 16th century were still convinced that those who are not baptized are forever lost – and this explains their missionary commitment – in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council that conviction was finally abandoned.
From this came a deep double crisis. On the one hand this seems to remove any motivation for a future missionary commitment. Why should one try to convince the people to accept the Christian faith when they can be saved even without it? But also for Christians an issue emerged: the obligatory nature of the faith and its way of life began to seem uncertain and problematic. If there are those who can save themselves in other ways, it is not clear, in the final analysis, why the Christian himself is bound by the requirements of the Christian faith and its morals. If faith and salvation are no longer interdependent, faith itself becomes unmotivated.
(Italics mine. The full text of the interview from which this comes is online.)
So, according to the Pope Emeritus, the abandonment of the conviction that infidels are lost led to a double crisis of the death of the missions and the questioning, by the faithful, of the “obligatory nature of the faith and its way of life.”
It is the second half of this crisis that led to the “silent apostasy” mentioned by Benedict’s predecessor. It may be summarized in the following rhetorical questions: If Catholicism is not necessary for someone born into a Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist family, why is it necessary for me? If natives of desert islands can be saved by living according to what they know of the law of nature, why do I have to believe something supernatural? If Jews do not need Jesus Christ, His teaching and His Church, why do I?
Ireland’s online newspaper, Independent.ie, recently ran an article entitled, “Bobby Kennedy: the parish priest of the clan.” It gives us a some insight into how indifferentism and apostasy — at least in its beginnings — go hand-in-hand.
Back in his undergraduate days, he joined other Harvard Catholics at lectures by Father Leonard Feeney, an influential Jesuit priest who… preached that only Catholics could be saved. Bobby was embarrassed enough by those diatribes to discuss them with his brother Ted and his father, who arranged for him to meet Archbishop Cushing to convey his concern.
This same Bobby Kennedy, who, as I was told by Brother Francis, argued with Father Feeney that his Protestant friends were going to be saved as Protestants, was not exactly a stickler for the Catholic Faith on other points, as that same Independent.ie article witnesses: “He called it ‘an awful thing’ that the Church taught that babies, his or anyone’s, were born in sin.”
So this indifferentist rejected the doctrine of original sin? At least according to his biographer, Larry Tye, who penned that piece, which is an excerpt from his book, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon.
And that Archbishop to whom Bobby went “to convey his concern” about Father Feeney? He not only persecuted Father Feeney for teaching that there is no salvation outside the Church, but also helped to legalize the sale of contraceptives in Massachusetts.
It should be remembered that Bobby’s brother, John, thought Jesus Christ essentially had no business in politics.
I asked my friend Joe Doyle, frequent SBC conference speaker and Executive Director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, whether there was ever a formal apostasy in the political family. He could not think of one, but sent this informative reply:
Over the course of five generations, the Kennedys have transitioned from being nominal Catholics to being liberal, nominal Catholics, to being dissenting, liberal, nominal Catholics, to being non-practicing, dissenting, liberal, nominal Catholics. To use an accurate phrase disfavored by the post-conciliar church, they are all obstinate and notorious heretics.
Nor should we forget that, as has been said before, when it comes to morals, they not only refuse to impose Catholic teaching on others, they refuse to impose it on themselves.
I am not aware, however, of any formal apostasy, which, of course, will never occur while they continue to seek political power. Even the suicide, David Kennedy, received a Catholic funeral.
The current Kennedy incarnation, Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III, was married to a Presbyterian NARAL lobbyist in a Protestant ceremony in a Congregational church, conducted by his Presbyterian father-in-law minister, but he still identifies himself, in all the political almanacs, as a Catholic.
This is all part of a religious-cultural milieu in which, according to a study by the Pew Center, “The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing.” The hardest-hit Christian body, according to that same study, is the Catholic Church, and, amazingly, “12.9% of American adults are former Catholics.”
If current trends continue, it will soon not be in the least impolitic for a nominally Catholic politician like Joseph P. Kennedy III to repudiate whatever tenuous connections he has with the Church or with the Christian name.
Can we reverse this? Well, God can, but He will only do so if the salt of the earth, by cooperating with His grace, regains it savor. We must return to the fonts of authentic Catholic doctrine, worship, and living.
The Holy See’s Archbishop Guido Pozzo has recently affirmed, in connection with relations between the Holy See and the SSPX, that an immensely popular indifferentist interpretation of Vatican II is wrong. As far as this statement goes, it is wonderful: “For example, there exists today, unfortunately, the view — contrary to the Catholic Faith — that there is a salvific path independent of Christ and His Church.”
Hopefully, we will see much more of this in the months and years to come. Meanwhile, there is much work to be done.