Proselytism is downright nonsense; it doesn’t make any sense

According to the Oxford Dictionary ‘proselytize’ means ‘convert or attempt to convert someone from one religion […] to another,’ while ‘proselyte’ means ‘a person who has converted from one opinion, religion […] to another.’ Ever since the time of Jesus, the Church – as guardian of the truth – has given special importance to attracting all people to its midst, thus leading them toward salvation. In other words, it employs a proselytism for the good, in the full sense of the word. However… perhaps other methods are more pleasing to God.


Proselytism is downright nonsense; it doesn’t make any sense. We need to learn to understand each other, listen to one another, and increase our knowledge about the world around us. It often happens that after one meeting I want to have another one because new ideas emerge and new needs are discovered. This is what is important: to know one another, to listen to one another, broaden the range of thought. The world is full of streets that converge and diverge; the important thing is that they lead to the Good. (Interview with Eugenio Scalfari, October1, 2013La Repubblica text)

Note 1: The authors of this study are aware that the Press Office of the Vatican has denied the interpretations that some media sources have attributed to certain affirmations contained in the interviews of Pope Francis with Eugenio Scalfari. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that some of these sources are still published on the Vatican website (found by clicking on the links of the articles), lending an official air to their content, seemingly with the approval of Pope Francis himself. In the midst of all the turmoil and confusion caused, we always feel that a presentation of the true doctrine be made with clarity, together with such affirmations. We must not forget that the majority of the public read only the titles that the media publishes, and, as we know, the latter frequently manipulate the truth. Consequently, it appears that a mere declaration that the content of these interviews does not correspond with the textual words of Pope Francis, is simply not sufficient. As such, we publish this article with the intention of clarifying and orienting the faithful, who have always been the principle objective of this page, as we had expressed in our letter of presentation. In this way, each one can make a correct judgment, having beforehand attained knowledge of the truth.

Should you go and convince someone else that he should become Catholic? No, no, no! Go and encounter him, he is your brother! And this is enough. And go and help him, Jesus or the Holy Spirit will do the rest. (Video-Message on the feast of Saint Cajetan, August 7, 2013)

But Paul, too, was ‘aware that he must evangelize, not proselytize’. Paul teaches what the path of evangelization should be, to follow with courage. And ‘when the Church loses this apostolic courage, she becomes a lifeless Church. Orderly, perhaps — nice, very nice — but barren, because she has lost the courage to go to the outskirts, where there are so many people who are victims of idolatry, worldliness, and weak thought.’ In order to curb the fear of making a mistake, you have to realize that you can rise and continue to move forward. ‘Those who do not walk for fear of making a mistake’ — concluded Pope Francis — ‘make the most serious mistake.’ (Morning Meditation in the Chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae, May 8, 2013)

I am also delighted to know that in recent years, it has been possible to restore several Christian shrines in Algeria. By welcoming everyone as they are, with benevolence and without proselytism, your communities manifest the desire to be a Church with open doors, one which ever ‘goes forth’ (cf. Evangelii Gaudium no. 46-47). (Address to the Bishops of North Africa, March 2, 2015)

[Eugenio Scalfari] One day, at one of our meetings, he spoke to me of that mission which concerned also unbelievers. “The missionary Church” — he said to me — “does not proselytize, rather attempts to engender in people the search for good in their own souls.’ (Conversation with Eugenio Scalfari, La Repubblica, March 15, 2015)

Teachings of the Magisterium

Table of Contents

John Paul II
– Today conversion is seen as ‘proselytizing’ – overlooking each person’s right has to hear the Good News
– The Pope has the power to teach, govern and sanctify with the authority of Jesus Christ himself

Sacred Scripture
– One should evangelize regardless of the obstacles
– Paul fears for himself if he does not preach the Gospel

Gregory XVI
– Uprightness alone, when separated from the Church, does not gain salvation

Pius IX
– Conciliators are enemies of the Church

– One who seeks to satisfy a heretic, grows closer to him

Vatican Council II
– The duty of the Church and the faithful is to teach and fulfill all that Christ commands

Paul VI
– In dialogue with others, we should guard ourselves from the contamination of their errors

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
– The relativism of our days is not a motive to cease the Church’s evangelizing activity

John Paul II

  • Today conversion is seen as ‘proselytizing’ – overlooking each person’s right has to hear the Good News

The proclamation of the Word of God has Christian conversion as its aim: a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith. Conversion is a gift of God, a work of the Blessed Trinity. It is the Spirit who opens people’s hearts so that they can believe in Christ and ‘confess him’(cf. 1 Cor 12:3); of those who draw near to him through faith Jesus says: ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him’ (Jn 6:44). From the outset, conversion is expressed in faith which is total and radical, and which neither limits nor hinders God’s gift. At the same time, it gives rise to a dynamic and lifelong process which demands a continual turning away from ‘life according to the flesh’ to ‘life according to the Spirit’ (cf. Rom 8:3-13). Conversion means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple. […] Nowadays the call to conversion which missionaries address to non-Christians is put into question or passed over in silence. It is seen as an act of ‘proselytizing’; it is claimed that it is enough to help people to become more human or more faithful to their own religion, that it is enough to build communities capable of working for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity. What is overlooked is that every person has the right to hear the ‘Good News’ of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ, so that each one can live out in its fullness his or her proper calling. This lofty reality is expressed in the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman: ‘If you knew the gift of God,’ and in the unconscious but ardent desire of the woman: ‘Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst’ (Jn 4:10-15). (John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, no. 46, December 7, 1990)

  • The Pope has the power to teach, govern and sanctify with the authority of Jesus Christ himself

The Roman Pontiff in fact has the ‘sacra potestas’ to teach the truth of the Gospel, administer the sacraments and pastorally govern the Church in the name and with the authority of Christ. (John Paul II, Address to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, no. 8, January 21, 2000)

Sacred Scripture

  • One should evangelize regardless of the obstacles

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. (2 Tim 4:1-2)

  • Paul fears for himself if he does not preach the Gospel

If I preach the Gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!  (1Cor 9:16)

Gregory XVI

  • Uprightness alone, when separated from the Church, does not gain salvation

Now we consider another abundant source of the evils with which the Church is afflicted at present: indifferentism. This perverse opinion is spread on all sides by the fraud of the wicked who claim that it is possible to obtain the eternal salvation of the soul by the profession of any kind of religion, as long as morality is maintained. Surely, in so clear a matter, you will drive this deadly error far from the people committed to your care. With the admonition of the apostle that ‘there is one God, one faith, one baptism’ (Eph 4:5) may those fear who contrive the notion that the safe harbor of salvation is open to persons of any religion whatever. They should consider the testimony of Christ Himself that ‘those who are not with Christ are against Him’ (Lk 11:23), and that they disperse unhappily who do not gather with Him. Therefore ‘without a doubt, they will perish forever, unless they hold the Catholic faith whole and inviolate’ (Symbol of St. Athanasius). Let them hear Jerome who, while the Church was torn into three parts by schism, tells us that whenever someone tried to persuade him to join his group he always exclaimed: ‘He who is for the See of Peter is for me’ (St. Jerome, Epistle 57). A schismatic flatters himself falsely if he asserts that he, too, has been washed in the waters of regeneration. Indeed Augustine would reply to such a man: ‘The branch has the same form when it has been cut off from the vine; but of what profit for it is the form, if it does not live from the root?’ (St. Augustine, Epistle 166). (Gregory XVI, Encyclical Mirari Vos, August 15, 1832)

Pius IX

  • Conciliators are enemies of the Church

In these times of confusion and disorder, it is not unusual to see Christians, Catholics – even within the secular clergy and cloisters –who constantly have a word of conformity, of conciliation and negotiation on their lips. Very well! I do not hesitate to declare: these men are in error, and do not consider them to be the lesser enemies of the Church. We live in a corrupt and pestilent atmosphere and we must know how to preserve ourselves from it. Let us not allow ourselves to be contaminated by false doctrines, which lose all things under the pretext of saving all.  (Pius IX, Speech in the Church of Aracoeli, September 17, 1861)


  • One who seeks to satisfy a heretic, grows closer to him

Therefore if a man does not want to be, or to be called, a heretic let him not strive to please this or that man…but let him hasten before all things to be in communion with the Roman See. If he be in communion with it, he should be acknowledged by all and everywhere as faithful and orthodox. He speaks in vain who tries to persuade me of the orthodoxy of those who, like himself, refuse obedience to his Holiness the Pope of the most holy Church of Rome: that is to the Apostolic See. (Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, no. 13, June 29, 1896)

Vatican Council II

  • The duty of the Church and the faithful is to teach and fulfill all that Christ commands

Therefore the Church announces the good tidings of salvation to those who do not believe, so that all men may know the true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, and may be converted from their ways, doing penance (Jn 17:3; Lk 24:27; Acts 2:38). To believers also the Church must ever preach faith and penance, she must prepare them for the sacraments, teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded. (Mt 28:20), and invite them to all the works of charity, piety, and the apostolate. For all these works make it clear that Christ’s faithful, though not of this world, are to be the light of the world and to glorify the Father before men. (Vatican Council II, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 9, December 4, 1963)

Paul VI

  • In dialogue with others, we should guard ourselves from the contamination of their errors

The apostle’s art is a risky one. The desire to come together as brothers must not lead to a watering down or subtracting from the truth. Our dialogue must not weaken our attachment to our faith. In our apostolate we cannot make vague compromises about the principles of faith and action on which our profession of Christianity is based. An immoderate desire to make peace and sink differences at all costs is, fundamentally, a kind of skepticism about the power and content of the Word of God which we desire to preach. Only the man who is completely faithful to the teaching of Christ can be an apostle. And only he who lives his Christian life to the full can remain uncontaminated by the errors with which he comes into contact. (Paul VI, Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, no. 88, August 6, 1964)

 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

  • The relativism of our days is not a motive to cease the Church’s evangelizing activity

The Church’s commitment to evangelization can never be lacking, since according to his own promise, the presence of the Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit will never be absent from her: ‘I am with you always, even until the end of the world’ (Mt 28:20). The relativism and irenicism prevalent today in the area of religion are not valid reasons for failing to respond to the difficult, but awe-inspiring commitment which belongs to the nature of the Church herself and is indeed the Church’s ‘primary task’ (cf. Benedict XVI, Homily during the visit to the Basilica of Saint Paul outside the Walls (25 April 2005): AAS 97 (2005), 745) ‘Caritas Christi urget nos – the love of Christ impels us’ (2 Cor 5:14): the lives of innumerable Catholics bear witness to this truth. Throughout the entire history of the Church, people motivated by the love of Jesus have undertaken initiatives and works of every kind in order to proclaim the Gospel to the entire world and in all sectors of society, as a perennial reminder and invitation to every Christian generation to fulfill with generosity the mandate of Christ. Therefore, as Pope Benedict XVI recalls, ‘the proclamation of and witness to the Gospel are the first service that Christians can render to every person and to the entire human race, called as they are to communicate to all God’s love, which was fully manifested in Jesus Christ, the one Redeemer of the world’ (cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the participants in the International Conference on the 40th anniversary of the conciliar Decree ‘Ad gentes’ – 11 March 2006: AAS 98 (2006), 334). The love which comes from God unites us to him and ‘makes us a ‘we’ which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is ‘all in all’’ (1Cor 15:28). (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of the Evangelization, no. 13, October 6, 2007)

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