Pope Benedict says conscientious agnostics may be closer to God than ‘social’ Catholics

During his homily at Freiburg Pope Benedict, reflecting on Matthew’s Gospel about prostitutes and tax-collectors being closer to the Kingdom of God than those hard of heart who rejected John the Baptist and himself, updated the parable to refer to conscientious agnostics and Catholics who only participate in the Church out of social convention:

‘The Lord concludes his parable with harsh words: “Truly, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him, and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him” (Mt 21:32).

Translated into the language of our time, this statement might sound something like this: agnostics, who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart but suffer on account of our sin, are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is “routine” and who regard the Church merely as an institution, without letting their hearts be touched by faith.

The words of Jesus should make us all pause, in fact they should disturb us. However, this is by no means to suggest that everyone who lives in the Church and works for her should be considered far from Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Absolutely not! On the contrary, this is a time to offer a word of profound gratitude to the many co-workers, employees and volunteers, without whom life in the parishes and in the entire Church would be hard to imagine’

Protect the Pope comment: Far from being a strident polemicist Pope Benedict’s words reveal his thoughtful understanding of the complexity of peoples’ struggles with ultimate questions behind such labels as ‘agnostic’.

The contrast between the Holy Father’s thoughtful words and the insults and caricatures of many protesters hawked around the world by the media during his State Visit to Germany couldn’t be more striking.


16 comments to Pope Benedict says conscientious agnostics may be closer to God than ‘social’ Catholics

  • fd

    It’s been an awesome and inspiring visit, hasn’t it ? I couldn’t follow it closely as much as I would have or I have done on other occasions but I did listen to some of the Pope’s inspiring words and I got a glimpse of the large enthusiastic crowds made up of his faithful German countrymen.
    I liked today’s Marina Corradi editorial on Avvenire who said: ” the Pope’s voice in Germany has been a kind one, he has knocked on the doors of his countrymen and of its homecountry kindly and without making noise. He has made it clear that he doesn’t want to make people listen to him, they can decide not to open their doors as some have done but he has made clear he will always come knocking, yet in a very gently and quiet way and , in the end, he has won the people who were fascinated and inspired by his wise gentle yet firm words”

  • fd

    BBC NEWS WEBSITE HEADLINE : Pope warm welcome fails to disguise Church Crisis.

    My sum up and interpretation of the Pope visit: Pope visit to Germany clamorously fails the BBC’s and most of the media’s dire expectations once again.

    Who summed up best the visit ? Me or the allegedly best television network in the world ? :)

  • fd

    Hi can I add an off-topic comment? Today Cardinal Scola, former Archbishop of Venice has become the next Archbishop of Milan,the largest archdiocese in the world and arguably the most complicated diocese in Italy because whereas there are very many Catholic lay groups (including a group of lay women who are engaged in helping other women NOT to abort in various ways)and very many oratori (Catholic youth centers which are all over Italy in villages and cities alike) , (and Milan lest we forget is also the city where important Catholic movements such as Communion and Liberation started ), regardless all of this Milan is -truth be said, a more and more secularised city, where skyscrapers are now higher than the famous Duomo ,where people run and are always in a hurry and never stop to think or to reflect,where there is a great work ethics(Milanese traditionally look down on Romans and are convinced their city is the true Italian capital, but many of them are too money-oriented, a city where drugs flow in abundance in the evening,a city where the southern Mafia does business, a city which is tough ,too tough ,as the former Archbishop beloved Tettamanzi said.
    And 2012 will be an important and challenging year for the Archdiocese of Milan because NEXT JUNE MILAN WILL BE HOSTING THE WORLD MEETING OF FAMILIES AND ON THAT OCCASION POPE BENEDICT WILL PAY HIS FIRST VISIT AS POPE TO THE CITY … I hope some of you and your families will come !! I ‘ll post more details on this in the coming year
    Anyway today Archbishop Scola celebrated his first Mass in Milan’s Duomo and was given a warm welcome…at least 30.000 people took part in the cerimony including the center left mayor who said it was an honour for him to welcome the news Archbishop and hopes they will cooperate for the poor of the city
    I didn’t go because I don’t actually live in Milan, I live further north, north than lake Como, in the Diocese of Como.
    Here are the photos of today’s welcoming celebration of the Archbishop and Mass from the daily La Repubblica.
    In the first photo the new Archbishop (the one with glasses) hugs the former Archbishop of Milan Tettamanzi who is now retiring.


  • Pardon the off-topic post, but I thought I would show this.




    The Pope’s words about relinquishing worldly power would seem to invalidate the calls that some people (like those in the Society of Pius X) make for a confessional state.

    • ms catholic state

      Brian…..if everybody relinquished power….who would be the rulers and administrators?! Someone’s gotta do it. It’s just better when those that do so….do so in Christ’s name and render unto God that which is God’s.

      Otherwise you are practically saying that only those who do not acknowledge any greater power than their own….can rule. And as we know to our cost…that is a very dangerous situation. I’m sure that’s not what the Pope means.

  • Lisa

    I am planning to go to the Families Meeting. Let us know the details! As for Pope Benedict’s message, great message, challenging message once again. We are very lucky to have him.

  • Pedro

    I’m assuming that Pope Benedict is using the word “agnostic” in it’s true sense, i.e. someone who thinks full knowledge is impossible, and not in the more popular sense of a fence sitting atheist.

    Atheism is of course a label referring to belief, whereas agnostic refers to knowledge. It’s perfectly possible to be an agnostic atheist: one who doesn’t believe but thinks full knowledge is impossible (my guess is that most atheists fall into this category), or indeed a religious agnostic: one who does believe but also doesn’t think full knowledge is possible.

    • Leopold

      Semantics aside, I make no assumptions. Belief is an axiomatic state. It is not a decision. A questioning mind is a natural state. When confronted with disparities in personal knowledge and dogma it is only expected that uncertainty or doubt arises. The pope in his wisdom seems to have to courage to acknowledge this. As the Church faces a loss of stature in the world that has largely been due to issues of integrity it must respond appropriately or die a slow death. The failure to acknowledge the shift in global mindset is certain to result in individuals leaving the support and basic values that the Church has long provided it’s members. The fantasy of infallibility should by now be behind us. A gradual awakening of both members and leaders alike will result in a progressive reshaping of the Church to align itself with the real world. What was once accepted without question is no longer valid. A gradual honing of tradition is required in a truly living Church. An admission of uncertainty is essential in the search for the Truth. If this is agnosticism then let us all be agnostic.

  • ms catholic state

    The Pope has done a great job. He has brought hope to Germany. A hope none of our secular leaders or secular doctrines can provide. As Lisa said….we are lucky to have him. We definitely are :)

  • Karla

    I think the Pope is saying that an agnostic who is searching for God is closer to God than those social or lukewarm Christians who don’t practice their faith and don’t care at all.

  • spesalvi23

    That visit was a true kick in the butt!!
    The episcopate was kicked – in a BIG way!! The gigantic professional church aparatus was kicked!! The protestants were kicked – or better, there hopes were ‘dismissed’! Our politicians were kicked!!
    All in a fatherly, gentle, kind and humble way – but also in a VERY unmistakeable way.
    The usual suspects are reeling with anger and the media is picking it up!
    I was shocked by the bluntness he presented his points with! From the very beginning of his speeches.. not at them end as some type of extra point.
    He gave us a choice: take the bitter medicine; heal and convert your hearts!! Or drift along in comfortable numbness / neglect your responsibility.
    Rock solid.

  • Fr. Gene Barrette

    Pope Benedict’s words about Agnostics may very well be a first stone in building a new edifice called “Institutional Church in the Modern World” – and writ large on that stone is the word “Credibility.” His words recognize the truth of our “experience.” His statement does much to chip away the tragic process of dissimulation that has led and continues to lead so many thinking, adult, mature people away from the “apparatus” of the institutional church. Bravo – Benedict is manifesting himself as our true Shepherd – being lifted up more and more on the wings of the Pure White Dove.

  • Ed

    Nice work putting words in the Pope’s mouth, all of you.

  • Jeanne

    Agnostic is how I identify.

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