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Debate: Is it ever right to advise someone not to become a Catholic?

Should we always encourage people to convert or can there be good reasons not to cross the Tiber?

By on Friday, 25 March 2011

Fr Josemaría Escrivá, played by Charlie Cox, in the movie There Be Dragons (CNS photo/Motive)

Fr Josemaría Escrivá, played by Charlie Cox, in the movie There Be Dragons (CNS photo/Motive)

Archbishop Antonio Mennini, Apostolic Nuncio to Britain, says in an interview with the Herald this week that he used to advise an Orthodox seminarian “not to become a Catholic”. The archbishop, who was nuncio to Russia for eight years, said:

I would tell him quite often: “You must not become a Catholic. You have to keep your faith in order to better serve your Church. Now you know us you can dream about going to Rome. You can go to Rome one day in order to study but you should remain a Russian Orthodox.”

The blogger Fr Tim Finigan says he finds the comment “disconcerting”: “Surely we can never say to someone that they must not become a Catholic?” he suggests.

Archbishop Mennini was, perhaps, in an exceptional situation: as nuncio to Russia, he was working very delicately to repair relations between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox.

But what about in more ordinary situations? A surprising example comes from the life of St Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei. A Jewish girl told him she wanted to become Catholic but that her parents were against it. He advised her not to make “any gestures of rebellion”: “You will be a good daughter of Christ,” he said, “if you are a good daughter of your parents.”

So, are there ever good reasons not to become Catholic? Or should people always be encouraged to convert?

  • Richard

    As in all things our Father in heaven wants us to take our problems and desires and lay them at His feet. So if through prayer and fasting and discernment It is the will of God for some one to convert to Catholicism it should never be discouraged. As the Blessed Virgin Mary proclaimed at the Annunciation ” be it done according to your word” and again in the perfect prayer that Jesus gave us, the ” Our Father” when we repeat His words ” Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done” we are to be obedient to His call.

  • Edward

    How grotesque to try to spin the clip of St Josemaria as showing him to advise someone not to become a Catholic. Anyone who watches the clip will see that that was not his advice at all; rather, it’s pretty clear that he’s telling the girl to pursue her love of Christ and understanding of the Faith, but to wait until she is no longer a minor/under her parents’ authority before conversion.

    St Josemaria was a staunch defender of the Catholic dogma that outside the Church, there is no salvation. As he wrote in his little book, “In Love With The Church”:

    “Extra Ecclesiam, nulla salus. That is the continual warning of the Fathers. “Outside the Catholic Church you can find everything except salvation”, Saint Augustine admits. “You can have honour and sacraments: you can sing ‘alleluia’ and respond ‘amen’ You can uphold the gospel, have faith in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit, and preach that faith. But never, except in the catholic Church, can you find salvation.” Nonetheless, as Pius XII lamented little more than twenty years ago, some reduce to an empty formula the need to pertain to the true Church in order to obtain eternal salvation. This dogma of faith is at the root of the Church’s co-redemptive activity. It spells out the Christian’s grave apostolic responsibility. Among Christ’s express commandments is the categorical one to incorporate ourselves in his Mystical Body by Baptism. And our Saviour not only commanded that everyone enter the Church, but also established that the Church be the means of salvation, without which no one can reach the kingdom of celestial glory. It is a matter of faith that anyone who does not belong to the Church will not be saved; and anyone who is not baptized does not enter the Church. Justification cannot take place after the promulgation of the gospel, without Baptism or its desire, the Council of Trent established.”

  • Fr Ray Blake

    We do not know more of the story than the Archbishop tells but the Archbishop is a diplomat, though he doesn’t say it, isn’t there a hint that this young man was concerned about money and foreign travel to Rome, possibly these might be reasons to discourage a conversion, or at least to test it.

  • Anonymous

    No:Yes: Next?

  • Anonymous

    No:Yes: Next?

  • Peter

    If someone has it in their heart to become a Catholic, no amount of contrary advice will stop them.

  • Profideboostore

    By all means one should advise the non-Orfhodox Christians to become Catholics, but a devout and liturgically oriented Orthodox should be advised to stay where he is. In view of the present liturgical chaos and widespread doctrinal dissent in the Catholic Church, he is likely to loose more than gain by becoming Catholic.

  • Sandy

    My father,who wanted to be as one with my mother when they married, asked to become a Catholic. However the priest could see his reasons were defective and advised my father to wait and if, in due course, he became convinced of the whole truth of the Catholic Church to then seek acceptance. My father never did, as he could not accept papal infallibility, though he never swerved from his underlying Christian faith, which he practiced within the CofE, and was very supportive of us children receiving the best Catholic upbringing. So, to answer the question, yes.

  • Anonymous

    Benedict XVI, Principles of Catholic Theology (1982), p. 198: “Nor is it possible, on the other hand, for him to regard as the only possible form and, consequently, as binding on all Christians the form this [Papal] primacy has taken in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The symbolic gestures of Pope Paul VI and, in particular, his kneeling before the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch were an attempt to express precisely this…”
    Its 2011 not 1911. Get over it.

  • James

    Extra ecclesiam nulla salus. He has eternal life to gain; most other things – including well-ordered liturgies – pale in comparison.

    (I like the idea that the Orthodox world is free of doctrinal dissent. Trying to get two Orthodox to agree on what constitutes their doctrine is hard enough!)

  • biblebybennett.com

    yes its is. The Catholic Church has decieved itself into believeing that ‘the church” is THE path to heaven when it is not scripturally supported at all. Example: The thief on the cross with Jesus (Luke Ch. 23) says to Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Whic Jesus replies: ” Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
    The thief who did not go to church, clearly a condemned criminal, did not follow Jesus at all, says 9 simple words and Jesus promises him salvation. That was it …nine words!
    Clearly belonging to a huge church and following a slew of rituals, rites, and repeated prayers is for nought if you only need nine words- and believe upon him AS CHRIST.

  • Martin

    Firstly the Apostolic Catholic Church has always been “The Church” that is, the body of Christ. If you are not Catholic but still classify yourself as a Christian, you are still a part of “the Church” but from what i understand not in full communion with it from the Catholic point of view.

    Secondly, what you are quoting as a means to justify your position is pretty weak and disappointing. I dont think anyone would have an issue with the scripture you have quoted and the fact that the individual was saved.

    It wasnt as if he had had a chance (from what we are told) to join a church. The church wasnt really born until the coming of the Holy Spirit at Penticost. How could he join that which didnt exist?

    It is likely that the man was a Jew and therefore a member of the Jewish convenant. He also had a face to face experience and conversion with Jesus that many Seekers are praying for today in order to believe,(although not in the same way). If Jesus says the man is going to be in paradise with him, who’s doubting that?

    As for the Rituals and Rites and Repeated prayers, i am pretty sure your opinion is based on what you have heard rather than personnally investigated with anyone who is a convinced Catholic. Do you pray the Our Father? have you said it more than once? Were you any worse off for saying it or where you led into a deeper understanding. Stop talking rubbish and think about what you write.

    There “is” only one huge Christian church and only one foundation which is Jesus Christ. This Church has alway been and always will be based on the preaching of the gospel as givenby the Apostles, and kept safe through the Holy Spirit, If you are following anything else then you need to rethink your position. (i only mention this because whilst you have knowledge of the scriptures you lack the ability to put the words in context). As such you may be leading people astray.

    If this has offended you in tone, then please accept my appologies, it is just i get frustrated when people put forward enforced arguements that affect people as a whole but are based on folly. God Bless

  • AgingPapist

    Nestorious, Accepting Papal primacy (as opposed to Petrine primacy) as the indispensable ingredient to being a true Catholic and a member of the “true Church” has been fraudulent twisted by the Catholic Church down through the centuries into a concept of feudal dues owed and paid to one’s liege lord, the bishop or Rome. This nonsense no eastern Christian, especially the bishops in the early Church , countenanced for a moment.

    Christians in the east didn’t even pay homage to their OWN patriarch, let alone the bishop of Rome. It was always the whole local community which professed the Faith and safeguarded the deposit received from the apostles, simmering up to the patriarch’s synod (a collection of local communions). A process patiently built up starting from the local church.

    No single member of the hierarchy, east or west, possessed primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church. For that reason, the idea of the pope as “Universal Pastor” is ludicrous and without historical foundation. Orthodox and Protestants alike will never accept this interpretation of papal authority. Something else perhaps in time, but not that.

  • Profideboostore

    Are you suggesting that the liturgical scandals and the false teachings of doctrine are intra ecclesiam and lead to salvation?

  • biblebybennett.com

    Being a former Catholic myself, and watching how this church places the Virgin Mother Mary on the same level of Christ ( and this also means praying to a created human for petition to God though scripture makes it clear that Jesus Christ is the ONLY path to the Lord) I feel I have a little experience to offer into the matter.

  • Martin

    And being a former Protestant Charismatic Baptist i am fully aware of what you have walked into and the majority of viewpoints held within the various denominations. Whilst i can understand the view point that you do not “Need” any intercession other than Jesus, it would be stupid to reject it if it was on offer. The Jews themselves used to cry out and appeal to the merits of Father Abraham in times of trouble as if it would assist in their prayers to GOD the father. As an ex Catholic surely the arguement that if all believers are active in Heaven after physical death then their intercession is not to far a jump to accept? Surely you would be praying for your family if you could? As if to highlight the fact that we are active after death rather than soul sleep we have Jesus himself at the Transfiguration seeing Moses and Elijah did he not? they were fully aware of who Christ was and didnt seem that surprised from what we are told when they appeared to him in order to strenthen him and provide a witness to the apostles. In the book of revelation we also see the active intercession of the saints in heaven. Surely we can accept that we are active in heaven?

    In addition, from what i have read from the apparitions of Mary, she constantly says..and im summing up the thought……that everything that she is offering is a gift from her son Jesus through her. It is not a gift that originates in her, she is leading you toward the same gift that she recieved from her son, salvation through faith in her son. To accept mary as the mother of God is to accept the Gospel of Jesus in that He is God’s Son, born of a Virgin, truely dying on the Cross and raising again. It even confirms penticost as Mary is either listed there or implied in the group of believers. Mary actually strengthens the claim of the Gospel does she not?

    Even the Rosary is a proclamation of the Gospel, i never realised that before investigating the Catholic Church. Mary is much more than the protestants give her credit for:

    The first believer in Jesus as the Messiah.
    The only person to carry God the son within her womb in the history of the world.
    The first to wipe his tears as a child.
    The first along with Joseph to protect the Child and sacrifice their lively hood to move to protect him.
    The first to instigate a miracle through her son.
    The last person to leave her son at the Cross with John.
    Among the first to discover Jesus had risen.
    With the Apostles when the Holy Spirit was given
    And (this is just a thought on my behalf) probably influencing the writing of John in regards to Jesus, having been taken into his home and under his protection. She would be an ideal source of truth would she not?

    I would be interested to hear your other concerns, maybe we can talk them through as we have both probably seen them from different angles. God Bless.

  • Gfred

    The church does not place the Blessed Mother on the same level of Christ., Mary is to be venerated not worshiped. biblebybennett, where did you get this idea? Read the catechism of the church, which is the official teaching of the church. don’t listen to your fundamentalist preacher. BTW Christianity is a mediated religion. Don’t listen to false prophets.


  • Ratbag

    The Ave Maria (Hail Mary) is a combination of what is written in the Gospels ‘Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou AMONGST women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.’

    I understand that Protestants have these words in their New Testament, too.

    This notion that Catholics (or Orthodox Christians) worshiping Mary is totally ridiculous.

    I emphasised with capital letters the word AMONGST.

    If Mary was a deity she would be above everything, not just women.

    We don’t ask a deity to ‘pray for us’ – that would be farcical!

    …and the following line in the Hail Mary is a prayer asking Mary to ‘PRAY FOR US sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen’ which was added by the Church.

    It was Mary who turned to Christ at Cana and said to her Son: ‘They have no wine’.

    When we ask her for a favour, she turns to her Son who then goes to the Father and pleads for us at His Right Hand. We could replace the word ‘wine’ with our own needs e.g. they have no jobs, they have poor health etc.

    From the cross, Christ said to Mary: ‘Behold your son’ and to Saint John: ‘Behold your mother!’

    When Christ was saying those things to Mary and St John, He said those words to US – Mary is OUR mother, the Mother of the Church.

    When you were young, wouldn’t you talk to your mum about something you want and she’d say to you: ‘I’ll have a word with your dad.’? Then your dad might say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to what you want for whatever reason that he has a right to decide upon. She’s asked him because it’s best coming from her.

    There are times in our life when what we want to ask for is best coming from someone else? To put a good word in? It’s not out of fear. Perhaps we get tongue-tied. Jesus, Mary and the saints are our friends and know our problems, joys and sorrows.

  • Privateppplease

    With all due respect, for any Catholic to tell someone not to become Catholic is completely insane.

  • biblebybennett.com

    I do not intend to offend here as The Virgin Mother Mary is such a delicate subject to all Catholics, but it seems to me that you are putting far too much importance in her- even moreso than Christ himself had done in his lifetime on Earth.
    While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and
    his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.

    Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren
    stand without, desiring to speak with thee.

    But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my
    mother? and who are my brethren?

    And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said,
    Behold my mother and my brethren!

    For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven,
    the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. (Matthew Ch 12)

    The whole blessed virgin thing doesn’t seem to be so important to Jesus in this case, does it?

  • Dr Russell J Berry

    Dear Profidebookstore

    Sometimes you write and give every impression of thinking a load of rubbish – I say that not to offend you but in an effort to tell you how I inerpret some of your contributions. Then, out of nowhere, come your words of clarity and good sense. What you have written is very well said and makes very good sense, may I say? Yours is sound advice, on this occasion.

    In Christ


  • Dr Russell J Berry

    I see no suggestion that the person in question was out for a good time. It is not just of you to suggest it. Suspicious minds, Father, suspicious minds…….

  • Dr Russell J Berry

    The Blessed Virgin Mary is infinirely inferior to her Son who is God.

    If you have not grasped that then, well, perhaps you really are better off somewhere else…

    Pax et Bonum, nonetheless, biblebybennet….oremus et pro invicem….good idea??

  • Dio

    Well, if your father wasn´t convinced of the truth of catholicism, no amount of external conversion could make him a catholic. I think your case is a case apart, no?

  • Dio

    LOL – what a load of dross. Yah, well, I guess that´s what you get, when you prefer the bible by Bennet to the teachings of Our Lord as brought to us by the Holy Spirit through the Magisterium and tradition. Sad, really. Another case of catholic upbringing gone wrong…

  • Poulettictac

    Quite so, sadly.

  • Martin

    I dont think you mean it personnally so no, i dont take any offense. Either way, it wouldn’t be me i would be concerned about offending.

    When you say that Mary didn’t seem so important to Jesus, in this case you are again taking 1 single scripture and hanging your entire case on it.

    If mary had refused to allow the Holy Spirit to overshadow her, we would not have had Jesus! When the angel gabriel appeared to mary, heaven must have been holding its breath, the entire plan of salvation was now subject to the freewill of one single girl! how much more important than that can you get!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! if she had said no. It doesnt really bear thinking about.

    Let me suggest to you the context of the scripture that you quote.

    Historically Mary had been told that Jesus was to be the saviour of the world. She had presented him in the temple and been amazed at the prophecies about him, she had found him in the temple teaching elders, she was watching and waiting, she was also aware that a sword was about to pierce her heart.

    Jesus in the chapter you quote had just declared himself Lord of the sabbath, He had healed a mans hand, and in sheer rage, the parisees were looking for ways to kill him. Next he moved up a gear and started healing on a large scale. he even starts exocism and ends up begin accused of being satan! He was really winding people up! It got to the point where Jesus says that those who is not with me is against me. He was drawing lines in the sand. The last thing he does is condemn the people for constantly asking for signs and says that they will end up being condemned!

    Holding all this in mind, you have Jesus in another meeting driving points home to yet another crowd!

    His step brothers, who dont believe in him and are probably older than him, are either out of family responcibility or sheer contempt intending to take Jesus home. He has gone too far. Mary on the other hand, knows this is bound to happen and probably out of love and protectiveness wants to guard him. Dont tell me that she didnt believe in him like his step brothers because after her song to elizabeth and the events that had happened in her life that she treasured up in her heart she knew he was to be special.

    It was this frustration that Jesus (in my opinion) was bringing to bear to his hearer. I think you could sum it up as “You have to be in this with me as one family and if you are, you are my sister, brother and Mother! You are everything to me”.

    Do you lower your opinion of peter because he got it wrong on a good number of occasions when trying to follow Jesus? Do you lower your opinion of Jonah for instance who ran away from God?

    Jesus wasnt lowering his opinion of mary, she had just let her motherly heart overcome seeing what Jesus was trying to achieved. She was at the forefront of his mind on the cross as he handed her over to John, This was totally beyond what was normal. I.e staying in the protection of your extended family. He only wanted what was best for her. He always has.

    We can rightfully say, that in Mary’s case, Blessed art thou amongst women!

  • biblebybennett.com

    Well, let’s not forget that James, the brother of Jesus, did actually participate in Christ’s ministry and was accounted as having been executed for the witness of Christ. Though information is scant it is generally accepted as such.
    As any good Catholic would, you tend to see Mary through rose-colored-glasses when her relationship with Jesus was actually quite contentious at times, such as in John Ch 2:

    And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.

    Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.

    His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

    Clearly, aside from knowing that he was born of divine origins, Mary understood Jesus to have supernatural powers, but to ask The Lord to provide a service for a wedding like he was somekind of magic genie kinda lowers Mary’s image somewhat. Jesus himself is a little peeved at her for suggesting it, too.
    So, “blessed art though amongst women?” Sure, but not divine and certainly not on the nbest of terms with her own son.

  • Poulettictac

    ‘certainly not on the nbest (sic) of terms with her own son.’, you say? I am afraid I cannot agree with that. families have ups and downs. there is a tension in the dynamic between poarent and child. Christ was perfectly human and perfectly divine so we can know that he experienced all the human emotions – I am aware that there are some rather precious brethren who balk at the ‘all’ but, pace, if i am wrong then let me be so for the purposes of this posting. I am sure Christ was, from time to time, somewhat less happy with his relations than he would have wished but he was human, too. I cannot accept what you say and i see naught in the greek NT that might suggest it. If you do, please let us know.

  • Martin

    BBB, good to hear from you again.
    Not to sound like you keep using scripture out of context, you are now arguing that Mary knew that Jesus had supernatural powers at the time he changed water into wine????

    I find your comment amazing, this was the FIRST miracle that Jesus EVER performed. How do you understand that mary knew he could perform the impossible?

    Note that this was how Jesus’s disciples started to put their faith in him. This was new.

    It was likely that she meant for him to sort out the situation in a perfectly normal way, i.e buy/get/request some more. Jesus as always often took normal speech and saw within it and teach through it the spiritual.

    Id be interested to see how you can argue otherwise.

    You also take the Woman title out of context here, it was a title of honour such as in “Good Woman”.

    Who is calling Mary Divine (god/godess) by the way? She was a Jewish girl, no Catholic that i am aware of says she is divine. Please provide evidence from an authentic Catholic source if possible? That would be non trinitarian and totally wrong.

    Nearly forgot, i have no issue with James being refered to as the brother of Jesus, he was after all his step brother through Joseph. AND before we start a Yes he was No he wasnt arguement. What seals it for me was that at the time of his crucification jesus handed mary over to John. He couldnt and wouldnt have done this if James had been her Flesh and Blood son, it wouldnt have been right (my opinion).

    I look forward to hearing

  • J Kang

    Whilst I am very enthusiastic about discussing Catechism and Catholic doctrine on some social issues with my non-Catholic friends, I usually feel compelled to tell them that it really is not an easy road, that everything about them has to radiate Catholicism and that they will be given immense graces but will still be a rugged road. That they will constantly feel the guilt of failing to become like Christ, for they will see every aspect of Christ and get to love Him. Much to sacrifice for the materialist modern man, even for the infinitely more rewards to come.

  • What Word

    1. Because they will not sin mortally and need a priest to absolve them since they surely had perfect contrition
    2. Because it is not a humongous grace to receive Jesus in the form of bread
    3. Because it is not nice to have last rites
    4. Because they can stay in schism when they know Christ founded the Catholic Church and that’s okay with God.
    5. Because they want to deny Christ and the trueness of His Church in front of others

    ….this is all the opposite obviously.

  • What Word

     In our day that is no longer an excuse. You can get pages and pages of proof of papal infallibility by going to faithful internet resources.

  • What Word

    Warning: A lot of Protestant spam below.

  • No name Jane

    If someone is not baptized or at least has a desire for baptism they cannot get into heaven according to the catechism and VATICAN II in #7 of it’s decree Ad Gentes

  • No name Jane

    If you hate the person it’s worldly (not religiously) right to want them have a higher chance of damnation. They can go around unbaptized or in mortal sin with only imperfect contrition and if you hate them that’s wonderful. It will make it so you don’t have to talk to them in heaven.

    That said “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to go nothing.”