Pope Francis will preside over the 5th meeting of religions at Assisi. We examine the meetings' history and the SSPX response to each:
The interreligious meeting on September 20, 2016 will be the fifth Assisi meeting attended by a pope. John Paul II presided at three of them: the first took place on October 27, 1986, on the occasion of the International Year of Peace promoted by the United Nations; the second in 1993, during the war in the Balkans; the third, planned in 2001 in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States, was held on January 24, 2002. Pope Benedict XVI convened a meeting of religions for peace, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first meeting, on October 27, 2011.
For thirty years, following Leo XIII, who condemned the Parliament of the World’s Religions (September 11-27, 1893), following Pius XI in his Encyclical Mortalium animos “on the unity of the true Church,” dated January 6, 1928 (see subsection 1), and the Instruction of the Holy Office “On the Ecumenical Movement” dated December 20, 1949 (see subsection 2), the Society of Saint Pius X has opposed this “spirit of Assisi” which destroys the missionary spirit of the Church that had been in force until Vatican Council II.
On August 27, 1986, two months before the first Assisi meeting, Abp. Marcel Lefebvre sent a letter to eight cardinals in which he declared:
He who now sits upon the Throne of Peter mocks publicly the first article of the Creed and the first Commandment of the Decalogue. The scandal given to Catholic souls cannot be measured. The Church is shaken to its very foundations. If faith in the Church, the only ark of salvation, disappears, then the Church herself disappears. All of her strength, all of her supernatural activity is based on this article of our faith.
“Is John Paul II to continue ruining the Catholic faith, in particular at Assisi, with the planned procession of religions in the streets of the town of St. Francis and assignment of religions to the various chapels of the basilica with a view to practicing their worship for the intention of peace as conceived by the United Nations?”
On January 21, 2002, Bp. Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X, issued a communiqué on the third interreligious union in Assisi which was to take place three days later. In it he set forth the precise reasons for the indignation of Catholics who are devoted to Tradition.
The problem does not lie in the object of the prayers: peace. To pray for peace and to seek to establish and strengthen peace between peoples and nations is a good thing in itself. The Catholic liturgy is full of beautiful prayers for peace. We pray these prayers with all our hearts. Moreover, given the fact that the angels announced, on the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, peace on earth to men of good will, it is totally fitting to ask the faithful to implore the One True God to grant us a gift of such great value at this stage in the year.
“The reason for our indignation lies in the confusion, scandal and blasphemy that result from an invitation from the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, sole mediator between God and man, to other religions to come to Assisi to pray for peace.
“It has been stated that to avoid any syncretism, those attending will not be praying ‘together’, but that each religion will pray in separate rooms in the Franciscan convent at Assisi. Cardinal Kasper went so far—and rightly so—as to affirm that ‘Christians cannot pray with members of other religions.’ (L’Osservatore Romano, January 5, 2002). However, this affirmation is not enough to dissipate the dreadful uneasiness and confusion caused by the event; it cannot be denied that all kinds of religions will be praying ‘each in their own camp’ to obtain from these prayers said at the same time, but in different locations, the same result: peace. The fact that all have been invited to pray, at the same time and in the same town, for the same intention is clear proof of the desire for unity. On the other hand, the fact that the prayers will be offered in separate locations betrays the contradictory and impossible nature of the project. In reality, the distinction is false, even though, thanks be to God, it avoids a direct communicatio in sacris. However, the syncretic nature of the operation is obvious to all. Recourse to deceitful words has made it possible to deny the painfully obvious reality. But words do not mean anything any more: we will be going to Assisi, not to pray together, we are going there together to pray … no syncretism, etc.”
In the same statement the Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X neatly distinguishes between legitimate diplomatic negotiations to obtain civil peace and the scandalous public interreligious prayers asking for peace from different divinities: “The establishment of civil (political) peace between nations by congresses, discussions, diplomacy, with the intervention of influential persons of different nations and religions, is one thing. It is another to claim to obtain the gift of peace from God by the prayer of all (false) religions. Such an initiative is completely inconsistent with the Catholic faith and goes against the first commandment.…
It is in keeping with the Masonic plot to establish a grand temple of universal brotherhood above all religions and beliefs, ‘Unity in diversity’, a concept so dear to the New Age and to globalization. We were excommunicated by Clement XI in 1738 because of our interdenominational principles. But the Church was definitely in error, if it is true that, on 27 October 1986, the present Pope gathered together men of all religious confessions in Assisi to pray for peace. What else are our brothers looking for when they gather together in temples, than love between men, tolerance, solidarity, defense of the dignity of the human being, considering themselves equal, above political and religious beliefs and the color of their skin?’ (Grand Master Armando Corona, of the Grand Lodge of the Spring Equinox, Hiram, mouthpiece of the Grand Orient of Italy, April 1987)”
Two years later, in January 2004, the Society of Saint Pius X published a study entitled “From Ecumenism to Silent Apostasy” which it forwarded to all the cardinals. This title repeated the expression “silent apostasy” that John Paul II had used to describe the state of the Church in Europe in his Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa (July 20, 2003):
Considered from the pastoral perspective, we are forced to conclude that the ecumenism of the last decades leads Catholics to a ‘silent apostasy’ and dissuades non-Catholics from entering into the one ark of salvation. One must therefore deplore ‘the impiety of those who close to men the gates of the Kingdom of heaven’. Under the guise of a search for unity, ecumenism disperses the flock; it does not carry the mark of Christ, but that of the divider par excellence, the devil (no. 43).
“As attractive as it may seem at first glance, as spectacular as its ceremonies may appear on television, and as numerous as the gathered crowds may be, the reality remains: ecumenism has made of the Holy City that is the Church a city in ruins. Pursuing a utopian ideal—the unity of the human race—this pope has not realized to what extent this ecumenism for which he has so labored is truly and sadly revolutionary: it inverts the order willed by God” (no. 44).
To conclude with a quotation from Abp. Lefebvre:
We wish to be in perfect unity with the Holy Father, but in the unity of the Catholic faith, because it is only this unity that can unite us, and not a sort of ecumenical union, a sort of liberal ecumenism; because I believe that the crisis in the Church is best defined by this liberal ecumenical spirit. I say liberal ecumenism, because there does exist a certain ecumenism that, if it is well defined, could be acceptable. But liberal ecumenism, such as it is practiced by the present Church and especially since the Second Vatican Council, includes veritable heresies” (no. 47, citing a conference given on April 14, 1978).
On January 9, 2011, when the fourth Assisi meeting was announced, which was to take place on October 22 of that year, with Benedict XVI presiding, Bp. Fellay gave a conference in Paris during which he declared:
Assisi has become a symbol. Saying that one is going to celebrate the 25th anniversary of this symbol, even if one attempts to clean it, to correct it, will not remove the meaning of the symbol. There is a message behind Assisi, and the only way to delete this message would be for the Vicar of Christ on earth to say, on this occasion, to all other religions: ‘There is only one Name under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved, and it is Our Lord Jesus Christ. Convert!’ If that is done, well then yes, we agree!”
(Sources: DICI/Archives – DICI no. 340 dated September 9, 2016)
SUBSECTION 1: Pius XI, Mortalium animos:
“That false opinion which considers all religions more or less good and praiseworthy”
“Since they hold it for certain that men destitute of all religious sense are very rarely to be found, they seem to have founded on that belief a hope that the nations, although they differ among themselves in certain religious matters, will without much difficulty come to agree as brethren in professing certain doctrines, which form as it were a common basis of the spiritual life. For which reason conventions, meetings and addresses are frequently arranged by these persons, at which a large number of listeners are present, and at which all without distinction are invited to join in the discussion, both infidels of every kind, and Christians, even those who have unhappily fallen away from Christ or who with obstinacy and pertinacity deny His divine nature and mission.
“Certainly such attempts can nowise be approved by Catholics, founded as they are on that false opinion which considers all religions to be more or less good and praiseworthy, since they all in different ways manifest and signify that sense which is inborn in us all, and by which we are led to God and to the obedient acknowledgment of His rule. Not only are those who hold this opinion in error and deceived, but also in distorting the idea of true religion they reject it, and little by little turn aside to naturalism and atheism.”
(January 6, 1928)
SUBSECTION 2: Instruction of the Holy Office on the ecumenical movement:
“clearly and without ambiguity”
The bishops “shall also be on guard lest, on the false pretext that more attention should be paid to the points on which we agree than to those on which we differ, a dangerous indifferentism be encouraged, especially among persons whose training in theology is not deep and whose practice of their faith is not very strong. For care must be taken lest, in the so-called ‘irenic’ spirit of today, through comparative study and the vain desire for a progressively closer mutual approach among the various professions of faith, Catholic doctrine—either in its dogmas or in the truths which are connected with them—be so conformed or in a way adapted to the doctrines of dissident sects, that the purity of Catholic doctrine be impaired, or its genuine and certain meaning be obscured.
“Also they must restrain that dangerous manner of speaking which generates false opinions and fallacious hopes incapable of realization; for example, to the effect that the teachings of the Encyclicals of the Roman Pontiffs on the return of dissidents to the Church, on the constitution of the Church, on the Mystical Body of Christ, should not be given too much importance seeing that they are not all matters of faith, or, what is worse, that in matters of dogma even the Catholic Church has not yet attained the fullness of Christ, but can still be perfected from outside.
“They shall take particular care and shall firmly insist that, in going over the history of the Reformation and the Reformers the defects of Catholics be not so exaggerated and the faults of the Reformers be so dissimulated, or that things which are rather accidental be not so emphasized, that what is most essential, namely the defection from the Catholic faith, be scarcely any longer seen or felt. Finally, they shall take precautions lest, through an excessive and false external activity, or through imprudence and an excited manner of proceeding, the end in view be rather harmed than served.
“Therefore the whole and entire Catholic doctrine is to be presented and explained: by no means is it permitted to pass over in silence or to veil in ambiguous terms the Catholic truth regarding the nature and way of justification, the constitution of the Church, the primacy of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, and the only true union by the return of the dissidents to the one true Church of Christ. It should be made clear to them that, in returning to the Church, they will lose nothing of that good which by the grace of God has hitherto been implanted in them, but that it will rather be supplemented and completed by their return. However, one should not speak of this in such a way that they will imagine that in returning to the Church they are bringing to it something substantial which it has hitherto lacked. It will be necessary to say these things clearly and openly, first because it is the truth that they themselves are seeking, and moreover because outside the truth no true union can ever be attained.”
(December 20, 1949)