Appeared in Fall 1995, Vol. XXI, No. 3 Download PDF here.

The material of the present essay is part of a much largerproject designed to discover the place of Mary in the proselytizing efforts of Fundamentalists.1This was done in such a way as to provide an overview of several related areas which are usually treated in isolation, if at all: the theology and history of Fundamentalism; the place of Mary in classical Fundamentalism;2the methods and psychology of proselytism; the role of Mary in Fundamentalist proselytizing of Catholics. Each topic could form the substance of a dissertation in its own right; the contention of the work was that only viewed together will a significant answer emerge to provide a holistic approach to understanding and combatting such Fundamentalist incursions. This study was embarked upon in a spirit of ecumenism, which seeks to initiate a dialogue and inform that conversation with facts rather than myths, if at all possible; barring that development, at least to make clear the deleterious nature of attacks on Catholicism which are false, unfair, and at times even scurrilous. The unity of Christians desired by Our Lord can only be advanced when all believers are grounded in the truth which sets men free and by a willingness to love one another after the example of the Master Himself. These goals obviously have implications for dogmatic and pastoral theology alike, offering the potential for a healthy synthesis of faith and life.

Status Quaestionis:

It is generally acknowledged that Fundamentalism, which began in response to the liberal Protestantism of the Rationalist era and continued in the United States as a relatively despised group (both socially and intellectually), has risen to great prominence on the American scene as a religious phenomenon (being the only branch of Protestantism to experience increased membership) and as a socio-political force (e. g., in garnering support for the enactment of laws reflecting traditional and family values or at least in providing a climate favorable to such legislation or policies). Equally acknowledged is that Fundamentalism in the past two decades in this country (and also in Latin America) has relied largely on disenchanted Catholics as the primary target of their proselytizing program. This fact is attested in their own sources and in objective surveys, but also in statements of various bishops, national hierarchies (in North and South America alike, and increasingly, on other continents as well), and even in documents of the Holy See.

The massiveness of the theological and pastoral situation for the Church comes across in the alarm sounded by the bishops of Latin America meeting in Santo Domingo in 1992: “El problema de las sectas ha adquirido proporciones dramaticas y ha llegado a ser verdaderamente preocupante sobre todo por el creciente proselitismo.”3  

What Is Proselytism?

Proselytism is not a new phenomenon in religion, but it is certainly causing concerns to surface in the Catholic Church at every level, from the local parish to regional groupings of bishops, to entire episcopal conferences and the Holy See itself. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines the verb from which “proselytism” comes thus: “to induce someone to convert to one’s faith; to recruit someone to join one’s party, institution, or cause.”Needless to say, the word always bears a negative connotation because it implies “sheep-stealing” and less-than-full knowledge and/or freedom on the part of the recipient of the campaign.4

The methods used in “proselytiz[ing] aggressively” include personal contact, house to house visitations, distribution of literature, preaching in public places, and massive recruitment campaigns.5Proselytism involves dishonest techniques and the luring away of persons from one creed to another. It is not sufficient, however, for the Catholic Church to decry the action as “poaching in a field to which it has perpetual and exclusive rights.”6Rather, the Church must look at the religious, psychological and socio-political factors involved. For example, many sociologists of religion question the strong influx of immigrants into sectarian groups. British research on this development has revealed that “the degree of felt deprivation

At the same time, one must admit that spiritual elements are surely operative in many instances, particularly among those who express “dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church or its teachings.11A reason common to both young and older dropouts was inadequate emphasis placed on the study and reading of the Bible. The Most Reverend Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces identified part of the reason Catholics are susceptible to Fundamentalist advances, saying that Catholic “people are sacramentalized, but not evangelized.”12In many instances now it is not possible to presume even a basic catechetical foundation which supports and explains Catholic teaching.13 The failure of the Church, however, to impart her own teachings unambiguously cannot be blamed on the Fundamentalists, a point stressed by Pope John Paul II in his 1992 opening address to the bishops of Latin America. While not hesitating to refer to the proselytizers as “rapacious wolves,” the Holy Father very bluntly locates the burden of responsibility on the shoulders of those who should exercise a shepherd’s care:

As many of you have pointed out, the advance of the sects highlights a pastoral vacuum, often caused by a lack of formation, that leads to the undermining of Christian identity. A further effect is that large masses of Catholics who are without adequate religious attention-among other reasons because of a shortage of priests-are at the mercy of very active sectarian proselytizing campaigns. It may also happen, however, that the faithful do not find in pastoral agents that strong sense of God that such agents should be transmitting in their lives.14

Jose Valderrey has studied the question of proselytism from a Central American vantage point, but several of his conclusions apply equally in North America. He cites the following weaknesses in Roman Catholicism:

*Priestly and religious vocations have declined.

*The laity have scarcely been given any role to play in pastoral work.

*Clergy and religious are exposed to “abstract” training.

*It is due to “widespread popular piety that Protestant sects proliferate successfully.”

*”Attention to sensitivity or emotion” is not sufficient. *”Deep splits within the Catholic Church” have surfaced, especially in the wake of Vatican II15

The Reverend Juan Diaz Vilar summarizes the state of the question thus:

Proselytism is offensive for these reasons:

Proselytism impedes the road to ecumenism and unity and  makes it difficult to achieve these goals.

Proselytism attempts to divide and further fragment Christian unity. Furthermore, proselytism not only separates but rejects: Those who do not belong to the sect are considered to be evil, and only the members of the sect can attain salvation.

Proselytism wants to impose itself, not to engage in constructive dialogue. It does not respect members but instead puts pressure on them. It is aggressive, generally criticizing rather than preaching.

Therefore, in the final analysis, the practice of proselytism is in complete opposition to the wish of Jesus for unity…. 16

Is Proselytism Successful?

The urgent tone of the following passage gives the response of the episcopal conference of Latin America to the title question of this section:

En el cuadro de este proceso historico surgen en nuestro continente fenomenos y problemas particulares e importantes: la intensificacion de las migraciones y de los desplazamientos de poblacion del agro hacia la ciudad; la presencia de fenomenos religiosos como el de la invasion de sectas, que no por aparecer marginales, el evangelizador puede desconocer el enorme influjo de los Medios de Comunicacion Social como vehiculos de nuevas pautas y modelos culturales; el anhelo de la mujer por su promoci6n, de acuerdo con su dignidad y peculiaridad en el conjunto de la sociedad; la emergencia de un mundo obrero que sera decisivo en la nueva configuraci6n de nuestra cultura.17

The problemhas also hit Africa where, we are told, “everywhere on the continent the proliferation of sects is of great concern.”18This is also an increasingly major issue in the former Soviet Union, highlighted by Pope John Paul II during his 1993 pastoral visit to Lithuania as he “took particular exception to evangelical Protestant movements that the Vatican calls sects luring young people away from the Catholic Church.” He wenton to argue that those who do become involved with sects “leave themselves open to great disillusionment.”19

A Gallup study in 1988 estimated that there are 15 million inactive Catholics in the United States, with Catholic defections “50% higher than that of Protestant denominations.”20This lack of practice makes these individuals more likely to defect to a Fundamentalist sect. The success of proselytism can be seen in the growing number of Fundamentalist churches and the size of their congregations. The Willow Creek Church claims as members 12,000 former Catholics of a total membership of 25,000.21Similarly, the Calvary Church of Santa Ana estimates that 30% to 50% of its members between the ages of 18 and 35 are former Catholics.22 The emphasis on “What do I get out of this church?” when choosing among competing sects is important for Evangelicals,23which causes an attractionfor disenfranchised Catholics who see the Church as irrelevant in daily life. The success is closely linked to a portion of the strategy which emphasizes heavy doses of popular, emotionally satisfying religious experiences, as Pope John Paul II noted in his 1990 message for World Migration Day.24

Where do former Catholics go when they leave the Church in the United States? “Thirty-nine percent say they have now no religious affiliation.” Twenty-three percent are now “moderate Protestant,” with 9 percent belonging to “liberal Protestant” communities, another 9 percent having joined “conservative Protestant” denominations, and a full 17 percent belonging “to groups described as ‘other’.”25But this is not unique to this country, although the hemorrhaging of Hispanic Catholics is especially severe and well-known,26at least 20 percent of the Catholics of Latin America are supposed to have switched to some kind of Protestantism in the past generation, with as many as one million Catholics in the Philippines doing the same.27David Stoll reports that:

In Brazil, as long ago as 1973 the newspaper Estado Sao Paolo argued that there were more `real’ Protestants in the country (ten million) than `real’ Catholics. The thirteen thousand Catholic priests in Brazil were said to be outnumbered by seventeen thousand ordained Protestant pastors and thirteen thousand non-ordained ones.28

Several “traditionally’ Catholic countries” in the Caribbean are also experiencing significant growth in evangelical adherents: “the Dominican Republic (in the 2 to 7 percent range), Haiti (15 to 20 percent), and Puerto Rico (7 to 30 percent).”29

Particularly vulnerable targets, however, are immigrants, as already noted. Hence, Finke and Stark assert that “sects arise to satisfy the needs of those less fortunate in pursuit of the world’s goods.”30

Trabold, in an unpublished master’s thesis, observes that a special difficulty for Caribbean immigrants lay in the fact that great numbers of them arrived without their clergy, and therefore, became “sheep without a shepherd,” frequently ready to accept spiritual nourishment from almost any source31Because of the necessity of an ordained ministry in Catholicism (preceded by extensive schooling),32this has been a recurring problem for Catholic immigrants throughout the ages when they have not been accompanied by their priests; this was a major cause of heavy losses among certain ethnic groups in the last century or among the pioneers who trekked westward and remained cut off from the Church’s sacramental life over a prolonged period of time. One can easily be a Baptist without a minister; being a Catholic without a priest is a somewhat different story.33

The Southern Baptists, who have no real tradition for ethnically oriented work, have come to see that their converts “do not have to be `Americanized’ to become Christians.”34This insight assuredly contributes to the fact that “today Southern Baptists are probably five to ten years ahead of most other denominations in perceiving the true spiritual needs of Americans who are unmelted.”35Conversely, in post-conciliar Catholicism in the United States, one often finds that:

our parishes are more interested in Americanization… than evangelization.There also exists a very strong ‘anti-national parish’. . . phobia. This phobia affects the majority of our priests, I believe. It is only beginning to change as we see the majority of our non-English speaking peoples joining the various non-Catholic churches.36

Wagner maintains that “new church-planting is the single most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.”37Procedures are carefully planned:

A high profile without putting up sectarian barriers was the ideal in these ventures, at least at the start. In an Assemblies of God text on how to plant churches, evangelist David Godwin stressed the importance of keeping the crusade as open as possible to newcomers. For example, a good way to start out was by reciting core doctrines shared with the Catholic Church; campaigning against the Catholic clergy was to be avoided at all costs.The model evangelist, according to Godwin, even tried to avoid prematureclassification as a new religious group. Construction of a church building was to be put off as long as possible, for up to several years, to avoid erecting walls that would discourage people from wandering into the festive meetings.38

Ironically enough,not infrequently one encounters resistance to this notion of “church-planting” among the very Catholics most ideally situated to perform works of charity and evangelization in tandem:

I find your interest in the pastoral care of our new immigrants most encouraging. Our Protestant brothers and sisters do all that they possibly can to encourage refugees to become members of their churches. This interest begins right in the camps in Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, etc. Anyone who shows an interest in the Seventh Day Adventist church would be directed to a community of Seventh Day Adventist people. Our Catholic agencies are more interested in social services than in evangelization. In fact, many offices of the USCC would bend over backwards to make certain new immigrants are not connected with churches in a pastoral sense. Perhaps the idea is always to appear `professional’ and not repeat the mistakes of some, and only some, of our separated brothers and sisters in Christ.39

Pope John Paul II seems to concur:

The new religious movements base their recruiting efforts on two weak points: precariousness and uncertainty. That is what they use in their strategy for making overtures. By offering [migrants] care and a number of indispensable services they seek to make the migrant abandon the faith which he or she professes and join a new religious group. Presenting themselves as the only ones who possess the truth, they assert that the religion which the migrants belong to is false and demand that the migrant make a sharp and immediate change of course. No one is blind to the fact that this constitutes real and true moral aggression, which is difficult to shake off in a polite fashion, since their ardor and insistence are harassing.

Yet again, he says:

The Catholic migrant, whatever his or her destination, is an integral part of the local church. He or she is an effective member of that church, with all the consequent rights and duties.The welcome which the local church accords these people is a witness and a proof of her catholicity. In the Church there are no strangers…. The community must lay claim to them as members, not so much in order to assert its rights but rather to offer a service to the humble.40

Fundamentalist sects also succeed because they offer “an attractive coherent package.” Furthermore, they “have considerable financial resources at their disposal, including radio and television programs…. [some] have built enormous places of worship capable of holding 25,000 people.”41

The question of finances requires a bit more attention. Where do the sects get their money? Although most of these denominations subscribe to some sort of tithing policy, there may be more than meets the eye. Stoll asserts that “much of the money, planning, and organization behind their growth came from the behemoth from the north,” that is, the United States, leading him to say that “inevitably, the question arose of whether North American missionaries were serving their country rather than Christ.”42Just what is his point? It has been alleged, with varying degrees of assuredness, that much of the Fundamentalist effort in Latin America was coordinated by American government agents, to counter-balance some of the more extreme elements of Catholic liberation theology, with its Marxist connections.43Indeed, “the Brazilian bishops sent the Vatican a report suggesting that behind sectarian infiltration in Latin America stood the Central Intelligence Agency.”44 How much of that can be proven remains to be seen.

Yet another group to consider consists of those Catholics who have been “approached by alternative [i.e.,non-Catholic] groups for proselytism.” Some of the principal findings of the Reverend Roberto Gonzalez and Michael LaValle include:

*78.8% of the sample population have, in fact, been approached;

*English-speakers, females and those in upper-income brackets were approached more frequently than Spanishspeakers, males and those in lower-income people.

*Among those who had joined a sect at one time, Hondurans, Guatemalans, Peruvians and Puerto Ricans were more likely to have been members than Cubans, Mexicans, Ecuadorans and Spaniards. English-speakersmore than Spanish-speakers; males more than females; and highest- and lowest-income people more than those from the middle seem to have dallied with such associations.

*The divorced and widowed were also more likely to have been involved with the sects than those married in the Church.

*About 37% of the survey participants have a favorable attitude toward the proselytizers, especially among those born in Ecuador and Puerto Rico.45 

These data are important, of course, since they provide information about who are of most interest to the proselytizers and who are the most willing subjects, and thus most in need of pastoral care to guard against such efforts.

What is the “holding power” of these groups? The situation is too recent to have hard data available in most cases. Some information exists on the results of Mormon missionary activity. Roy Rivenburg says: “The most explosive gains are abroad-in Africa and South America. Almost half of the church’s 8 million followers lie outside North America. Many drop out, however,within five years. Sociologists report that about 40 percent of members are inactive.46Do these people return to their former religious homes, or do they remain permanently unaffiliated? Once again, only speculation is possible at this stage of the development.47    

What Are the Strategies of the Proselytizers?

The methods of proselytism are many: preaching in public places; distribution of literature on the streets; house-to-house canvassing with literature and an invitation to attend services; visitation of the sick, including praying with and for them; and crusades at the local, regional and national level.48Interestingly enough, most of these approaches are not unknown to Catholicism and have been used with varying degrees of success in our history.49

Just as important as the method, however, is the content, which emphasizes:

*The vision of a lost world without Christ, bolstered by ample, memorized biblical texts.
*The imminent Parousia and need for preparation, necessarily encompassing conversion and acceptance of Jesus as one’s personal Savior.
*An invitation to the audience to accept Jesus, along with the solicitation of names and addresses of participants, and immediate follow-up.

*Personal witness talks given in simple, concrete language in a style which is warm, welcoming, and emotional.50

Beneath the surface, one finds elements which are less attractive:

*Biblical fundamentalism and literalism; *Manichean dualism;

*Apocalyptic pre-millennialism;

*Individualistic morality;

*An almost exclusively “other-worldly” spirituality; *Social non-involvement.51

The last characteristic might be found in Latin American Fundamentalism, but would surely not be so in the United States. It is important to expose these disagreeable aspects of Fundamentalism in a manner which is clear, convincing, concrete and charitable, as does the Guatemalan episcopal conference: “Ofrecen espacios de participacion activa a sus miembros; emplean masiva, tecnica y planificadamente todos los medios avanzados de comunicaci6n; manipulan los textos biblicos; utilizan dinamicas de grupo y tecnicas psicol6gicas de lavado cerebral.”52

One biblical scholar has remarked that Fundamentalism employs a “static, non-developmental, non-contextual approach to life and Scriptures. It puts the Word before life.” However, he goes so far as to declare that there are “no ultimate answers,”53the very hook used with such consistent positive results by the Fundamentalist sects who believe and proudly assert that there are absolutes, and they are more than willing to impart them.

As can be readily imagined, massive evangelistic endeavors must be well orchestrated and demand the involvement of many-and not only in an isolated cultic or liturgical framework. Once the sects obtain their converts, they give them something to Wagner has suggested that “denominations that require college and seminary for ordination will not be able to move ahead rapidly in planting churches in most ethnic groups.”54 This need not be so if personnel are utilized in such a way as to incarnate the Vatican II principle of “a diversity of members and functions.”55 Where a revival is taking place in Latin America, for instance, it is happening because Catholics-and youth, in particular-have been turned “outward to the world.”56They have been made conscious of their Christian obligations and have accepted them. Is it hard to envision not a few of these apostolically minded youth committing themselves as clergy and religious? Over the long haul, this style of evangelization and catechesis should prove far longer-lasting. In all likelihood, this is what Pope John Paul II has in mind when he writes:

Other reasonswhich can lead to an acceptance of the tenets of these new religious movements are the poor consistency with which many of the baptized live out their Christian commitment and also their desire for a more intense religious life which they hope to experience within a certain sect. This arises when the community which they attend is inactive.57

A key quality essential for one engaged in proselytism is confidence. Stoll recounts a conversation he had with one such person:

`Latin America is a Catholic region,’ church-growth planner Jim Montgomery of O. C. (for Overseas Crusades) Ministries conceded, `but there’s no reason to assume that this need always be so. It could become an evangelical region at some point in time. I believe that if…Guatemala becomes the first predominantly evangelical nation in Latin America, it will have a domino effect.’

Of course, our emphasis is not political or to destroy the Catholic Church,’ Montgomery continued, `but we have succeeded in gaining their attention. Many negative things are being written, and the evangelicals are accused of trying to take over the country. Unfortunately, the battle lines are drawn, although it’s not our objective to be at war with the Catholic Church.’ Montgomery was the author of Discipling a Whole Nation (DAWN orAmanecer in Spanish), a churchgrowth scheme tested in the Philippines before being taken to Central America.58

An interesting irony in all this is that ecumenism can be seen as at least partially responsible for Fundamentalist incursions, particularly in Latin America. Stoll explains it thisway:

Loyal Catholics who had never felt free to associate with evangelicals were now visiting their services and finding out what they believed; some became converts. The Catholic Church wished to interpret ecumenism like a ‘comity’ agreement between two missions, in which each confines itself to a certain sphere to avoid trespassing on the work of the others. In exchange for being tolerated, Evangelicals were to refrain from further poaching.59

Obviously, that did not happen. Beyond that, the process of proselytism often gets ugly, as Bishop Ramirez describes it:

It is unfortunate that recruiting approaches by Protestant groups to our people often include attacks on elements of our Faith and traditions. Bishops are concerned that even mainline Protestant groups are actively recruiting members to their churches from among Hispanic Catholics. Neither the proselytism that is going on nor the attitude of some of our bishops creates a healthy climate for dialogue nor for united efforts and collaboration in issues of common concern….

One bishop explained to me that perhaps there are different ways of looking at ecumenism. For us Catholics, he explained, ecumenism means dialogue; for some of our Protestant brothers and sisters, it means permission to recruit from among Hispanics.60

The bishops of Latin America have also taken cognizance of considerations related to ecumenism and religious pluralism:

Muchas sectas han sido, clara y pertinazmente, no soloanticatolicas, sino tambien injustas al juzgar la Iglesia y han tratado de minar a sus miembros menos formados. Tenemos que confesar con humilidad que en gran parte, aun en sectores de Iglesia, una falsa interpretaci6n del pluralismo religioso ha permitido la propagacion de doctrinas err6neas o discutibles en cuanto a fe y moral, sucitando confusion en el Pueblo de Dios.61

Sects will prosper to the extent that their adherents are prepared [to] “escuchar, repetir, pero no pensar.” They are “muy accesibles al momento de entrar, pero es muy dificil salir de ellas.”62 This is certainly a harsh evaluation, but unfortunately, one all too accurate in reality. Richard Yao, the founder of Fundamentalists Anonymous, alleges that “involvement in Fundamentalist churches is a threat to mental health.”63 Although this may be true in some or even many cases, Catholics ought not be too quick in getting onto what is often a secularistic bandwagon of critics who might be just as negative in their estimation of Catholicism, especially as that is filtered through the lenses of fallen-away Catholics or former clergy and religious. The Holy See’s document on proselytism summarizes the attraction of the sects in their venturing forth into these areas:

*Providing a sense of community;

*Giving theoretical and practical answers; *Forming cultural identity;

*Recognizing individuals and opportunities for participation and involvement;

*Stressing transcendence;

*Rendering spiritual guidance and strong leadership; *Conveying a clear vision.64


Not unrelated were the findings of Dean Kelley:

It is ironic that religious groups which persist in such `unreasonable’ and `unsociable’ behavior shouldbe flourishing, while more `reasonable’ and `sociable’ bodies are not. It is not only ironic, but it suggests that our understanding of what causes a religious group to flourish is inadequate. Some dynamic seems to be at work which contradicts prevailing expectations.65

He spells out the dynamic in three simple propositions: “Strong organizations are strict. . . the stricter, the stronger.”66Further, “a strong organization that loses its strictness will also lose its strength.”67Finally, “strictness tends to deteriorate into leniency, which results in social weakness in place of strength…. Traits of strictness are harder to maintain in an organization than traits of leniency.68

The more recent research of Finke and Stark confirms Kelley’s assertions: “Religious organizations are stronger to the degree that they impose significant costs in terms of sacrifice and even stigma upon their members.”69Directly echoing Kelley, they say:

People tend to value religion according to how much it costs-and because `reasonable’ and `sociable’ religion costs little, it is not valued greatly. It seems appropriate here to explore this thesis in greater depth, invoking recent work on the micro-economies of religious commitment.70

Finally, “the demanding sects speak of `conversions’, `being born again,’ and `submitting their lives to the Lord.’ The less demanding churches refer to affiliations that are seldom life-altering events. Sectarian members are either in or out; they must follow the demands of the group or withdraw. The `seductive middle-ground’ is lost.”71

In short, the winning combination for conversions to sects is: basic human needs for community and social exchange; heavy doses of popular, emotionally satisfying religious experiences;72 religious ignorance;73and skilled proselytism.74The formula is quite simple and presents the Catholic community with a ready-made program of action, both in anticipation and in response.75

Distinguishing Evangelization from Proselytism

“Jesus Christ, the Good News of God, was the very first and the greatest evangelizer,” wrote Pope Paul VI76“The Church exists in order to evangelize,” says the same Pontiff,77merely reflecting the self-understanding of the Church down the ages and underscored by Vatican II’s Ad Gentes: “The Church on earth is by its very nature missionary.”78But what is involved in the process of evangelization? Perhaps a good beginning would note what is not involved, namely, coercion. Pope John Paul II has stressed the need to safeguard freedom of conscience and immunity from all pressure, respecting the dignity and freedom of all to whom the offer of salvation is made.79

In a more positive vein, the Bishops of Texas teased out some of the significance of evangelization thus:

Evangelization implies outreach to those who do not yet know and love Jesus Christ or realize how much He knows and loves them. It implies enthusiasm and apostolic zeal in the proclamation of the Gospel, a passionate desire to help people fall in love with Jesus and commit themselves to Him forever. More than a program, evangelization is an attitude. It is a mentality of sharing, of inviting, of welcoming people into the joy of communion with Jesus Christ.80

Who should be a part of the Church’s workof evangelization? The obvious answer is: “Everyone,” but certain individuals and techniques suggest themselves in a particular manner. The family, writes Pope Paul VI, should be “the evangelizer of many other families, and of the neighborhood of which it forms a part.”81He also envisioned a special place for small ecclesial communities “which come together within the Church in order to unite themselves to the Church and to cause the Church to grow.”82The peer-dimension and personalism of these two avenues have been tapped with great success by the proselytizers. And what should such “evangelization teams” do?

[Their] main responsibility will be to reach out to the unchurched, to welcome newcomers, to invite back to the Church those who, for whatever reason, have become alienated from it, and to promote the growth and extension of Church into the homes and neighborhoods of the parish. Such teams, in cooperation with pastors and parish pastoral councils, will also help those already Catholic to develop a love relationship with Jesus Christ through retreats and conferences on mission-consciousness. These parish evangelization teams will engage in home visitationand will regularly bring Catholic neighbors together to build community among one another and to pray for one another.83

An unspoken but valid assumption in all this is that if Catholics are evangelizers they will not fall into the ranks of the proselytized.

The reader will likewise see that the primary emphasis is on dealing with those who are already members of the Church. Why so? The Reverend Avery Dulles reminds: “A second evangelization, or re-evangelization, is required in areas where large groups of Christians have lost a living sense of the Faith and no longer consider themselves members of the Church.”84Bishop Karl Lehmann as both a theologian and a pastor of souls offers the following observations:

The clearly necessary second evangelization must rekindle the original freshness and timeless novelty of the Christian Faith. How can this be accomplished in a world both hardened and quickly given to prejudice? In a situation such as this, it will no longer suffice merely to administer existing structures and traditional value, as if we owned them. Neither will it be a matter of expanding the institutional dimensions of the Church; rather, all the structures must be evaluated in accordance with their ability to enable the faithful to witness their faith. Every plan, every investment must be designed to serve the principal cause, that is, to prepare people to bear witness to the world. This does not call for an increase in the number of specialists and experts; rather,the goal of new evangelization is to promote the infectious testimony of every individual Christian. This can never be accomplished solely with the help of institutions or professionals. Moreover, parish council members must determine for themselves where their attention is most urgently needed: Must not emphasis be placed on the ever-increasing living witness to faith, hope, and love within the congregation?85

It is obvious that Bishop Lehmann is proposing something much more radical than “institutional maintenance” and that he sees re-evangelization most especially as falling within the ambit of the apostolate of the laity.

Similarly, Pope John Paul II has stressed the importance of the involvement of the laity in combatting the indifference which fails to recognize that the Faith is the only valid response to the problems of the present world. In Christifideles Laici, he exhorted the laity to narrow the gap between faith and cultures86and went on in Redemptoris Missio to note that “the witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission.”87Words are not sufficient for evangelization, just as they are never used in isolation in proselytizing. “Missionary dynamism,” according to the Pope, “is not born of the will of those who decide to become propagators of their faith. It is born of the Spirit, Who moves the Church to expand, and it progresses through faith in God’s love.”88This is the essential difference between evangelization and proselytism.

While the “new evangelization” generally seeks to “bring back” those who have strayed from the Catholic flock or have grown indifferent to their Catholic identity and evangelization in general is concerned with preaching the Gospel in new climes, one potential audience for Catholic outreach is frequently forgotten or ignored: the Fundamentalist proselytizers themselves. John Mark Reynolds presents some interesting ideas in this regard. He believes that Catholics should rally to the defense of the Fundamentalist whenever possible because he “is the Protestant who doctrinally comes closest to the confessions of the historic Church.” “One can criticize the Fundamentalist,” he says, “for the way he fought the battle, or for failing to be Catholic, but in splitting with Modernism, the Fundamentalist was right.”‘ He continues: “The Church should, perhaps, defend the weaker brethren where she can without supporting the error which distorts the truth the Fundamentalists hold.” And then in exploring an interesting angle, he writes:

In reaching out to theological liberals, the Church often alienates the religiously conservative, whose numbers are growing.The Catholic Church, with her overwhelming resources, is appealing to the wrong audience. While the Church tries to woo vanishing liberal Protestants, who question every command of pope and Scripture, millions of Americans accept every word of the creed, but perish for lack of a shepherd.90

Taking account of some fascinating changes within Catholicism and Fundamentalism, Reynolds asserts: Liberal Catholics decry the Church’s stand on birth control while more and more Fundamentalists come to accept the Church’s position. Persons who used to view the Church as the `whore of Babylon’ now march in her vanguard at prolife demonstrations.91

While taking a somewhat excessively irenic view of Fundamentalism, Reynolds’s points are well taken. But how should Fundamentalists be approached? They “can be convinced by thoughtful argument that is not accompanied by derision.” What else can be done? “The answer is to be more Catholic, to reaffirm the full-throated faith of Pius XII and not just the softer voice of John XXIII. Fundamentalists love to hear the great truths of the Faith.” He likewise encourages Catholics to defend Fundamentalists who are unjustly pilloried in the secular media.9zFinally, he asks if the Church “wish[es] to gain highly motivated converts.” To do so, “she need only affirm orthodoxy, keep the historic Faith, and act with charity toward the Fundamentalists.”93    

In the final analysis, in order to have the Christian Faith, a full-bodied catechesis is necessary, which is both cognitive and affective in scope. The process is most fruitful in the individual who has encountered Christ. Dulles expresses it thus:

Too many Catholics of our day seem never to have encountered Christ. They know a certain amount about him from the teaching of the Church, but they lack personal familiarity. The hearing of the gospel, personal prayer, and especially the reception of the sacraments should establish and deepen that saving relationship. When Catholics regard religious worship as a mere matter of duty or routine, they become an easy prey for sectarian preachers who, not withstanding their incomplete and distorted understanding of the Christian message, give witness to a joyful encounter with the Lord.94

The outcome of study and prayer should be a desire to communicate the saving truth revealed in and by Our Lord to others. Such an exposition must always respect the freedom of the one hearing the message and should not seek to use cultural and sociological problems to exploit that individual. Without realizing that evangelization is primarily the work of Christ-and one that we are invited to share-it can slip very easily into a negative campaign which does not have the Truth at its core. The Church must respond to the spiritual needs of the day by re-evangelizing with the message of hope and not through proselytizing-a point which many other Christian groups need to take to heart. Proselytism, then, “should not be confused with evangelization or conversion, which is carried out with respect, with dialogue, by sharing, not by imposing, by helping, not by conquering.”95

Finally, it is legitimate to ask what the relationship is between the work of evangelization and dialogue of an ecumenical or interreligious nature. In RedemptorisMissio, Pope John Paul II contends that there is no opposition between these two realities. Dialogue among Christians is necessary, he holds, because “the division among Christians damages the holy work of preaching the Gospel and is a barrier for many in their approach to the Faith” (n. 50). Furthermore, he reminds all of the communion-albeit imperfect-which already exists among all the baptized and then calls on all disciples of Christ to work toward the full unity to which the Master beckons us (cf. n. 50).

In regard to non-Christians, the Pope declares that the Church sees no conflict between proclaiming Christ and engaging in interreligious dialogue; in fact, he considers them to be but two sides of the same coin (cf. n. 55). He stresses the need for all involved in dialogue to be faithful to their own proper religious convictions and to seek to discover the “seeds of the Word,” a “ray of that truth which enlightens all people; these are found in individuals and in the religious traditions of humanity” (n. 56).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church deals with ecumenical dialogue and interreligious relations in much the same way as Redemptoris Missio. Thus, in regard to other Christians, we read:

La mission de 1’Eglise appelle 1’effort vers l’unitE des c{zreltiens. En effet ‘les divisions entre chretiens empechent 1’Eglise de realiser la plenitude de catolicite qui lui est propre en ceux de ses fils qui, certes, lui appartiennent par le Bapteme, mais se trouvent separes de sa pleine communion. Bien plus, pour 1’Eglise elle-meme, devient plus difficile d’exprimer sous tous ses aspects la plenitude de la catholicite dans la realite meme de sa vie’ (emphasis in original).96

Similarly, for non-Christians, we find:

La tache missionaire implique un dialogue respectueux avec ceux qui n’acceptent pas encore l’Evangile. Les croyants peuvent tirer profit pour eux-memes de ce dialogue en apprenant a mieux connaitre `tout ce qui se trouvait deja de verite et de grace chez les nations comme par une secrete presence de Dieu.’ S’ils annoncent la Bonne Nouvelle a ceux qui l’ignorent, c’est pour consolider, completer et elever la verite et le bien que Dieu a repandus parmi les hommes et les peuples, et pour les purifier de 1’erreur et dumal `pour la Gloire de Dieu, la confusion du demon et le bonheur de 1’homme’ (emphasis in original).97

Ecclesiastical Responses

That proselytism is being taken as a threat to authentic pastoral ministry is witnessed by the number of studies and articles treating the subject at various levels. Pope John Paul II laid the necessary groundwork for the response in issuing the encyclical, Redemptoris Missio. There it is affirmed that the Kingdom of God as we know it from revelation cannot be detached either from Christ or from the Church98and that the Spirit, “Who was at work in the world before Christ was glorified. .. is the same Spirit Who was at work in the Incarnation and in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and Who is at work in the Church.”99The Holy Father also addressed the topic in the extraordinary consistory of the College of Cardinals, 4-7 April 1991. The communique from that body observed that the Church “is faced not only with the urgent task of reaching those who have never known the Gospel, but also with the phenomenon which leads numerous Catholics to get involved in religious communities which are alien to their tradition and contrary to their membership in the Church.”100The nature of the Church’s missionary activity has been restated in Redemptoris Missio and provides the foundation for authentic evangelization. Francis Cardinal Arinze, of the Holy See’s Council for Interreligious Dialogue reiterates, however, that “it is not enough to supplypeople with intellectual information. Christianity is neither a set of doctrines nor an ethical system. It is life in Christ which can belived at ever deeper levels.”101The Bishops of Texas have picked up on this, too:

In fact, the biggest task may very well be that of inspiring active Catholics to fall in love with Jesus, to be converted to Him, to make Him central in their lives, to imitate Him, and to share their experience of Him with others. After all, our greatest resource is our own Catholic people, and so much of evangelization is encouraging one another to appreciate the breadth and length, the height and depth of the Catholic experience of Jesus Christ.102

Nowhere is the seepage from Catholicism probably greater than in Latin America, and David Stoll has documented the process most accurately. The first response of the bishops there seems to have been a “non-response”:

For some fifteen years after Vatican II, nonetheless, Catholic authorities usually refrained from complaining about evangelicals in public. The informal gag rule seems to have originated in Rome, anxious to avoid further accusations of religious persecution. Local clergy trying to defend parishes against sectarian intruders resented their superiors’ cool, distant attitude. But by the early 1980’s,alarm over Protestant growth was once again respectable in