Pope Francis walked back an earlier statement Wednesday on God “willing” a plurality of religions, saying that in reality God only permits the existence of many religions.
In a joint statement with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, Pope Francis said in February that the plurality and diversity of religions “are willed by God in His wisdom,” just as God wills a plurality of colors, sexes, races, and languages.
In a previous interview, this time in Egypt, the Pope has said that though different religions use different paths to approach God, at the end, they all worship the very same God and called Muslims and Christians brothers and sisters.
This Abu Dhabi declaration elicited a wave of criticism from Catholic theologians, who insisted that such a statement seemed to suggest that either God actively wills error, or that all religions are equally valid paths to God. The existence of a variety of colors, races, and languages in humanity is very different from a variety of contradictory claims about God’s identity and way of acting.
Father Thomas Weinandy, for instance, the former head of the U.S. bishops’ doctrinal office, said he found the statement disturbing for its apparent reduction of Jesus Christ to just another guru or religious leader.
“What I find very sad and scandalously troubling” Father Weinandy told Lifesite News, “is that, in the midst of it all, Jesus is being insulted. He is reduced to the level of Buddha or Mohammed when in fact he is the Father’s beloved Messianic Son, the one in whom the Father is well pleased.”
“The only religions that God positively willed are Judaism and Christianity for he himself founded these religions through his own positive divine actions and revelation,” Weinandy said.
According to many scholars, Islam, for example, was born as a Christian heresy — a perversion of Christianity — and it would be odd if God directly willed for heresy to be proclaimed.