by Christopher A. Ferrara
September 2, 2016
Almost two thousand years ago, God Incarnate launched His Church on its saving mission with these words: “Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned.” The Catholic Church’s divine commission could not be simpler: convert the world to Christianity for the salvation of souls.
Two thousand years later, however, in the midst of the worst crisis of faith and discipline the Church has ever experienced, we are now presented with this description of the Church’s mission:
In all her being and actions [!], the Church is called to promote the integral development of the human person in the light of the Gospel. This development takes place by attending to the inestimable goods of justice, peace, and the care of creation. The Successor of the Apostle Peter, in his work of affirming these values, is continuously adapting the institutions which collaborate with him, so that they may better meet the needs of the men and women whom they are called to serve.
These are the opening words of Pope Francis’ apostolic letter Humanum Progressionem, which announces a continuation of what seems to be a theme of this pontificate: the Novelty of the Week. This time it is the creation of a new “Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development,” which will absorb and thus abolish the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers.
So, according to Francis, the Church is not called to preach the Gospel to all men and baptize them for their eternal salvation, but rather “to promote the integral development of the human person” by “attending to the inestimable goods of justice, peace, and the care of creation.” The “light of the Gospel” is thus merely an aid to the promotion of justice, peace, and the care of creation.
But what about the salvation of souls? Humanum Progressionem abrogates Articles 142-153 of Pastor Bonus, the Apostolic Constitution of John Paul II, which created the four Vatican departments Francis has just abolished. Tellingly, Pastor Bonus begins with these words: “The Good Shepherd, the Lord Christ Jesus (cf. Jn 10:11, 14), conferred on the bishops, the successors of the Apostles, and in a singular way on the bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, the mission of making disciples in all nations and of preaching the Gospel to every creature.”
Pastor Bonus then proceeds to mention salvation no fewer than eleven times, including the phrases “means of salvation,” “ministry of salvation,” “salvation of souls,” “the work of salvation in the world” and the “mission to work for the eternal salvation of the people…”
Humanum Progressionem, on the other hand, says not one word about salvation, the means of salvation, or the Church’s salvific mission in its declaration of what the Church is called to do in this world. Francis, the Vicar of Christ, does not even mention Christ.
At the very beginning of his pontificate Francis declared: “The Church is not an NGO” — meaning a Non-Governmental Organization engaged in secular charitable work. But what is one to think of a Church whose mission is being reformulated before our eyes to the following: “Go forth and promote integral human development, attending to the inestimable goods of justice, peace, and the care of creation.”
The “light of the Gospel” to which Francis refers is certainly not the light of salvation, without which souls are lost for all eternity. It is something else entirely; something that employs traditional language to express revolutionary new meanings. And it is the continuing, immensely destructive revolution in the Church that this pontificate has taken to a whole new level, no doubt hastening the day when God will intervene — in a most dramatic fashion — to bring the unparalleled crisis we now witness to an end.