Question: Last month we heard that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops declared Baptism unnecessary for the salvation of Jewish people, but then seemed to change their mind. How can this sort of thing happen? Will the Pope do anything to correct the Bishops?
Answer: The significant parts of the Bishops' statement follow:
Of course, the Bishops' reply prompts reasonable people to ask: "If you didn't mean it, why did you say it? And if it represents your 'state of thought,' isn't that the same as saying that you do mean it? And what must have been the reaction of the Jewish participants in your 'dialogue'?" Perhaps the supreme question is "Doesn't the Catholic Church know whether or not Baptism is required for everyone's salvation?"
About ninety-five years ago, Pope Saint Pius X warned the Church to be prepared to repel the infiltration of Modernism. In his encyclical, Pascendi, the Holy Father wrote:
While Cardinal Keeler's statements on converting Jewish people is an extremely good example of what Pope Saint Pius was writing about, it will be useful to distinguish three different kinds of Modernists; (a) the philosophical Modernist, (b) the self-gratifying Modernist, and (c) the purposefully destructive Modernist.
The philosophical Modernist (a) is a Modernist because he holds to the false philosophy of existentialism. That is to say that he actually believes that all truth is relative; there are no fixed essences, doctrines, or moral teachings. Instead of the Catholic understanding that these things exist in an unchanging manner in the mind of God, the existentialist believes that they come into being only through human activity. For the existentialist, the "acting person" defines his own essence, truth, and morality; and society arrives at a consensus of what is true and moral for it at the present moment in time. The existentialist actually believes that with enough "dialogue," people of divergent beliefs can bring about a new truth that suits all parties concerned. The philosophical Modernist, therefore doesn't see anything wrong in ascribing equal value to contradictory ideas. A good example of philosophical Modernism may be seen Pope John Paul II's encyclical Ut unum sint. The existentialism can be clearly seen by contrasting paragraph #18 which speaks of unchanging truth, with paragraphs #79 and #95-96, which call for dialogue with non-Catholics about all of the major truths of the Faith! Don't miss paragraph #28, which could have been written by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin or John-Paul Sartre, calling "dialogue" with those not of the Faith -- "an indispensable step along the path toward human self-realization, the self-realization both of each individual and of every human community."3
The self-gratifying Modernist (b) is primarily concerned with re-arranging the Church to fit his own desires. He may or may not have any philosophical convictions, but his controlling motivation is to make things as comfortable and pleasurable for himself as possible. If recent accounts are to be believed, the Church has admitted a significant number of such people to positions of leadership, and a lot of money has been tossed around to satisfy their yearnings. So far, the action against this type of Modernism has been taken only when the civil law has been violated and the victims have been able to prove their case. It may well be that the philosophical Modernists view the self-gratifying Modernist position as just another contradiction that must become part of the consensus through dialogue.
The purposefully destructive Modernist (c) is one who wants to destroy or use the Church in order to achieve his political ends. More than the stuff of "conspiracy theories," the purposefully destructive Modernist can actually be observed among the liberation "theologians" leading Marxist revolutions in third world countries, and in left-wing political activities in the first world. Although it is only a novel, AA-1025 is worth reading to understand how such Modernists have been introduced into the Church.4
Pope Saint Pius spoke of Modernism as "the sum of all heresies." Which is to say that no matter why one is a Modernist -- whether it be for one of the three reasons give above, or, perhaps, for another -- it is the attack of the Devil on truth itself. Once a man deludes himself to think that truth is some how "flexible," he has taken the first step toward believing any and all errors.
One still might wonder why Modernists would not only publish contradictory statements, but, as in the Keeler case, back down so quickly. After all, most people understand that there is order in the universe and truth cannot be changed just by talking about it.
But Cardinal Keeler did not back down. In effect, he did nothing other than grant an "extension of time." Catholics don't have to believe this new doctrine right now . . . but they ought to be prepared for it some day. Perhaps more to the point, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux is said to have cautioned his disciple Bd. Pope Eugene III about innovators: The first time we hear of some innovation against the Faith we are shocked by it, precisely because it is an innovation -- but every time after that, even though we are careful to reject it, the idea will no longer shock us -- it will sound less and less like an innovation, because we have heard it before.
Since the Ascension of our Lord into heaven, the command to "believe and be baptized" applies to all who seek salvation5 -- but don't hold your breath waiting for those who say otherwise to be punished any time soon.