Islam, Religion of Peace and the Vatican’s Sacred Monkeys

Is it a near occasion of mortal sin to read the news?

By John Zmirak Published on August 18, 2016

By making hundreds of statements such as “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded,” the famous Yankees baseball player and manager Yogi Berra gave his name to one kind of quotable malapropism that tortures logic and makes us smile. It’s called a “Yogi Berraism.”

There really should be an English word for a demonstrably false statement that casts discredit on important truths and institutions, and goads good people toward despair in the service of a short-sighted and self-defeating agenda.

In fact, the appropriate word to describe such a really extraordinary assertion has already presented itself. We should call such a statement a “Swetland.”

That’s in honor of Monsignor Stuart Swetland, president of Donnelly College in Kansas City. This distinguished Catholic educator really earned such an accolade this week, when he scolded author Robert Spencer on the radio and in print for denying that Islam is “a religion of peace.” Indeed, Spencer has spent more than a decade documenting just the opposite in news reports and books such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and Religion of Peace.


It’s not that Swetland simply disagreed with Spencer, and the millions of other Catholics who find such a claim bizarre. No, Swetland went on to say that every Catholic must believe that Islam is a religion of peace, regardless of contrary evidence, on pain of rejecting the Catholic Church’s divine authority. That’s right, Swetlund claimed that the assertion “Islam is a religion of peace” is part of the body of Christian doctrine that the Catholic Church has passed on from the apostles, which it’s a mortal sin to publicly contradict. Hence you are putting yourself outside the Church by saying otherwise, and you might even go to Hell for sinful disobedience.

This isn’t the first time that a major Church figure has invoked the threat of hellfire for disagreeing with Pope Francis’ curious personal views. The head of the Vatican’s science office, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, in 2015 made the same claim about the pope’s take on global warming, telling a Vatican conference that Francis’ statements on climate change are just as binding on Catholics as the Church’s ban on abortion.

The Difference Between the Church of Christ and … Antichrist

Now for you non-Catholics out there this can get a little confusing. You might start to think that the Catholic Church is a pagan cult, which treats the pope like a divinely inspired oracle, who just has to open his mouth to spill out prophetic predictions and mystical insights that we all must cringe at and obey. Or else you could get the idea that the Church is a totalitarian political party like Stalin’s, which claims that its statements are the infallible “voice of history,” and reserves the right to change its party line on a dime, demanding that every Party member do likewise, on pain of expulsion.

If Monsignor Swetland and Archbishop Sorondo were telling the truth about how the Church teaches, you’d be right to have such suspicions. Such a church as they suggest would indeed be both totalitarian and pagan, an outrage against the First Commandment, since it made of its own authority a graven image for us to worship. “Antichrist” would not be too strong a word. Thanks be to God that such a church does not exist and never has.

Swetland was a little more creative than Sorondo, grounding his assertion about Islam not just in Pope Francis’ latest news conference or climate report, but in a document of the Second Vatican Council. As Catholic commentator William Kilpatrick notes, the non-dogmatic Vatican II statement Nostra Aetate contained a passage or two of tactful, misleading happy talk about the Islamic faith, accentuating the positive. It’s on that thin reed that Swetland tries to build the case that every Catholic must believe Islam is a religion of peace, or else be tarred as a rebel whose soul is in mortal danger.

How Christians Know Any Religious Truth Not Contained in the Bible

Again, forgive me, non-Catholic reader, for this dip into inside baseball. But since the current pope and some of his Yogi Berra minions seem determined to use the papal throne as a bully pulpit for bull droppings, it’s important to make this clear. Just as Protestants do not expect to learn every truth of, say, chemistry or botany from the Bible, Catholics do not treat the Church’s apostolic traditions as a magic 8-Ball to answer every question of politics or meteorology.

There are only a few, narrowly circumscribed areas where the Catholic Church claims divine protection from error.

  1. Truths of faith that the apostles received from Jesus, and passed on to their successors. One example is the fact that Jesus is divine, co-equal with his Father. Early on, not everyone read the Bible as implying this, and the Church held multiple councils to clarify and reaffirm this crucial teaching. Some putative “gospels” suggested otherwise, which let the Church’s bishops know they were inauthentic.
  2. Facts of history that are essential to the story of salvation. For instance, that Jesus really existed, and that the Apostles actually knew him personally, followed him, and spoke with him in the flesh after his resurrection.
  3. Instances of divine revelation that were granted to the Apostles during their lifetimes, such as the Revelation to St. John. All public revelation, essential to eternal salvation and hence binding on Christians, ended with the death of the last apostle.
  4. Truths of morality that accord with the natural law that God wrote in the human heart, and which the Church has consistently and universally taught since the age of the Apostles. Hence abortion, adultery, sodomy, and murder are all things we know with absolute certainty to be wrong.

There are various ways in which the Church has historically formulated and asserted truths from each of these four categories: statements by Church councils, official proclamations by popes, or the unanimous testimony of Church fathers and early Christian tradition. (There is no direct condemnation of abortion in the Bible; that didn’t stop Martin Luther from knowing that it was wrong, from the ancient Christian consensus.) There has never been an infallible statement by a Church council or pope condemning incest or murder, for instance; the historic Christian consensus on such issues is so powerful that it never seemed to be necessary.

When a pope or a council of the Church makes a statement about some issue that does not fall into category 1, 2, 3, or 4, it might or might not be true. That depends on how well-informed and intelligent were the men who drafted the document. But it rests on men, on human wisdom and knowledge, and Catholics grant it no special credence, since we know it has no unique divine protection from ignorance, rank stupidity, or error.

Now what about Islam? It didn’t exist in His lifetime, so Jesus didn’t tell his Apostles about it. (So scratch out Category 1.)

The events of Islamic history play no part in the events that led to our salvation. (There goes Category 2.)

Muhammad’s life was 500 years in the future when St. John died, so nothing was revealed about it during the age of the apostles. (That nixes Category 3.)

There is not an unbroken consensus of Christian public witness going back to the apostles that Islam is a religion of peace; nor is that assertion an article of morality knowable by reason or revelation. (And we’re done with Category 4.)

Indeed, those accounts we have of Islam when it did explode in the world are almost uniformly negative: reports by bishops and saints of violent persecution, and attacks upon its anti-Christian teachings, including the Muslim belief that all Christians are idolaters — since Jesus was merely human — who will all be damned to hell along with every Jew.

So where does that leave statements by bishops, popes, and councils about the “true nature” of Islam? In the same category as the pope’s favorite salsa band and most popular salad dressing ordered by bishops at Vatican II: outside the Church’s divine authority.

The assertion that Catholics must believe that Islam is a religion of peace, despite the evident facts of history and Islamic theology, is so outrageously false that it sounds like something a mischievous child might have made up — like the Vatican’s “sacred monkeys,” which Cordelia Flyte invented in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited to tease her sister’s Protestant fiancé. It’s sad that a Catholic college president insists on preaching about such monkeys, and publicly trying to feed them bags of peanuts.

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  • CadaveraVeroInnumero

    Have followed this closely, and commented elsewhere. So this observation:

    The American Catholic Bishops (at least the Latin Rite), over the years, have dog tired themselves out keeping Robert Spencer at bay – poles length distance from any parish hall. If Mr Spencer hasn’t written down the timeline of this disregard and near persecution, I, for one, would be much interested. The hierarchy’s dismissal, of not only his message but also of his person. makes him vulnerable – unprotected, marked.

    • Monica Jane Harris

      In what way? And I doubt that he cares, as he says he knows in 100 years time he will be surely vindicated.

      • pete salveinini

        Oh, it won’t be in 100 yrs. ONCE THE BATTLE IS WON AGAINST VIOLENT MUSLIMS, THEY WILL MOSTLY BECOME CHRISTIAN, beecause they’ll see God was not on their side. Besides, already now Muslims by the tens of thousands are experiencing dreams and visions of Jesus, and some of Mary, after which they find a bible and drop out of attending the mosque. And if there is a WWIII I wouldn’t be surprised if Mecca would be nuked!

        Ps, and have you noticed that Italy supported by French and perhaps some others have JUST NOW ENTERED LIBIYA AND ARE SUCCESSFULLY KILLING VIOLENT JIHADISTS WITH IMPUNITY.?

  • CMSGRET

    Msgr. Swetland has lost all credibility with me, a very faithful Catholic. President of a college? He needs to take a break from the rarified, academia, scholars, talking and the big pretense that he is some sort of intellectual. He vomits up words like a man who has read too much and understood little. Pathetic.

  • Michael Gore

    So I have a couple of questions from a non-catholic to any catholic willing to answer. I’m merely seeking clarity on the issue:

    1. The author lists 4 categories of teachings “where the Catholic Church claims divine protection from error”. So which one of these 4 categories would Catholics consider this very teaching to fall into? Was it taught by Jesus that the church would be infallible when ruling in these areas, was it a historical fact, did one of the Apostles receive this as a divine revelation, or is it a universal moral truth? I’m just interested in the justification for believing this at all.

    2. Is the selection of who the Pope will be something that the Catholic Church considers to be inspired by God? If so, how does that work with people like the current Pope, who seems to differ vastly in his theology from the previous Pope?

    Just curious! Thanks!

    • Zmirak

      Happy to answer, thanks for asking.
      1. We would consider that claim part of Category 1; it would be called “oral tradition,” and would explain why the Apostles thought their first council and subsequent ones had divine protection–allowing them to decide correctly on (for instance) whether gentile converts had to be circumcised, and later on the canon of scripture.
      2. Absolutely not. We claim no divine guarantee that the right man is elected pope. Otherwise, we’d have to explain why God chose the Borgia and Medici popes! God bless!
      John

      • Michael Gore

        Mr. Zmirak, Thanks for the answer.
        1. On this point, given that we are going to come from very different perspectives (Catholic and Reformed), I’m sure you’ll appreciate that we are going to be miles apart on where church tradition would fall on the spectrum of authority. But doesn’t that explanation strike you as a little bit circular? That “the Catholic Church claims divine protection from error” in the area of “oral tradition” being a part of the oral tradition itself.
        In the article the claim was “Truths of faith that the apostles received from Jesus, and passed on to their successors”, now it seems its shifted slightly to be general oral tradition of the church, unless your definition of oral tradition is actually the quote just above, but if that is the case, it wouldn’t cover the deciding of the cannon of scripture, as that was not passed on from Jesus to the disciples, as they wrote the body of documents well after the ascension.

        2. I’m glad to hear that you do not hold to that position! It will save you a fortune in chiropractic bills from having to pretzel up to explain the current popes positions on many issues!

        God bless you as well, thank you for taking the time to respond! ~ Mike

        • Zmirak

          Well, there’s a circular element in accepting the bible because the bible tells you to, isn’t there? We believe that one of the oral traditions contains the promise of protection for the Church’s key decisions–without which, we wouldn’t REALLY know to this day which Gospels are authentic, would we? Cheers,
          John

          • Chip Crawford

            Dead Sea Scrolls et al.

  • Patmos

    “the Catholic Church’s divine authority”

    An oxymoron if there ever was one.

  • Mark Anthony Terra-Thomas

    What about when the Pope speaks from the chair of Peter?

    • Kurt 20008

      Amen. I stand with the Holy Father.

      • Chip Crawford

        I stand with the Holy God and his Holy Word, which lives and abides forever. Jesus said he would lead us into all truth. That actually occurs for those who will take him up on it.

        • Kurt 20008

          Well, may Allah be with you.

          • Boommach

            Are you suggesting he’s moslem?

          • Chip Crawford

            I hope he’s not suggesting the pope is God.

          • Boommach

            I don’t think he believes the pope is god. I’m not certain if he has any idea as to the identity or reality of God.

          • Chip Crawford

            No thanks.

          • Kurt 20008

            Sorry to hear that. You would be better off to via con Dios. But it is your eternal soul.

    • Zmirak

      Ex cathedra statements (there have only ever been eight, last one in 1950) must cover faith or morals, not facts of history that occurred after the end of the age of the Apostles. So even if Francis tried to teach this, or a theory of climate change, or a system of picking stocks, ex cathedra, he couldn’t

      • Chip Crawford

        I recall that after my conversion to living relationship that that “ex cathedra” nonsense was exposed. It is a copy of hearing by the Holy Spirit. That applies to all Believers, not just certain ones. Because man is also flesh, he needs to test that, especially for guidance and it must always agree and not contradict the written word. It is a discipline with the gift. Many would prefer to learn that gobbledegook made up by early Catholics. All must be born again. If Reverend Father or Most Holy Right Reverend Whatever is not, he’ll bust hell wide open. The same for you. Jesus is right.

      • Chip Crawford

        I don’t see the ex cathedra idea supported by scripture, nor a pope, etc.

  • Chip Crawford

    I was raised Catholic, the full Monty, schools, relatives in seminaries, a nun and a priest in the family tree, etc., awful etc. Thanks be to God, a month before my 21st birthday, my two years younger brother came over to my apartment and shared the Gospel with me he had just heard and embraced. The way, the truth and the life opened to me. Now I love truth. I absolutely love truth. There is a Bible, folks – preserved through the Ages, as relative, real, inspired and alive as the day it was imparted from the living God who is love. Forty some years later, I still haven’t gotten over it.

    How can anyone give a nanosecond of consideration to that Catholic farce is beyond me. It is historically revealed that rather than being the one, true apostolic church, as they claim, they are an apostate group, teaching lies and fables and the traditions of men, exchanging the truth of God for a lie. Their Vatican conferences relate their historic displacements of same.

    I just thank God humbly for my deliverance and true salvation, and forgive them for the absolute trash and folly that was imposed upon my young mind and heart. Thank God he is big enough to be about turning on the light for generation after generation of Catholics. Thank God there is more and it is So, So Much Better than that travesty posing as an orthodox religion.

    • jpaYMCA

      “preserved through the Ages”. All right. What about those Christians who lived from the Ascension (Jesus isn’t walking around Jerusalem and environs any longer) until St. John’s death (no living apostle)? Even graver, how about those poor souls who lived in between Pentecost and the composition of one of the gospels? That’s nearly two decades, by many accounts, and remember how scarce “books” were in the First Century – even for the rich – and especially literature that emanated from the Middle East!

      Thank God that he established a Church (confer 1 Timothy 3:15, Matthew 16:16ff, Acts of the Apostles, etc. etc. almost ad infinitum).

      • Chip Crawford

        Thank God he preserved the TRUTH and that he raised up those that would take it forward when the original stewards hid it away to suit their own ends. What we have preserved stands the test of time and science again and again. Dig out the specifics of how yourself, Thomas. It is no doubt an amazing story. I bear witness with the truth that we have the truth.

  • Hmmm…

    Depending on the variance (and it is there) of teaching of Catholic doctrine, you either have Jesus available as your eternal savior, or it is Mother Church and buddy, don’t you slip up anywhere along the way. Even if so, no real assurance of salvation. I have known Catholics with a closeness to the Lord and relationship, but many in that robotic march of rules and regs and essentially a Godless experience. Romans 8:9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. If being Catholic floats your boat, fine, but be sure Jesus is indeed your personal Lord and Savior. I’m not going to hell for any religious system, no matter how entrenched in my lifestyle and thinking. (God can deliver you from that if necessary).

  • TRONRADIO

    I am not catholic but very much appreciate this article. I know many catholics that are extremely disappointed in the present pope–why wouldn’t they be? Good stuff, John Z!

    • Lorenz

      I find this pope to be very disappointing and it this has taken a toll on me as well. With the previous popes one could always take comfort in that no matter how bad the situation was, we knew we had wise and saintly leadership at the Vatican. This is no longer the case. Also, I noticed that this year the enrollment is way down at the Catholic summer camp I send my kids to and that church attendance has dropped at my local parish. Are other serious Catholics being discouraged? Discouraging the faithful and encouraging the enemies: Is this the Francis effect? I think we have to realize that not all popes are saints and as there were bad or corrupt popes in the past there will be more in the future. However, it is sad when it now becomes apparent that the crisis of faith will only continue and worsen and that there will be no end to it in my life time.

  • pete salveinini

    I agree with the article,BUT , I don’t think that’s the real issue with the Pope’s statement.I think it’s this: He’s speaking to MODERATE MUSLIMS, who are genuinely religious, ie have a reverence for the Creator God. His statement brought several of them to thank him for that statement. THEN THE SECOND SHOE DROPS, and the response from the Vatican goes out ASKING HOW DO YOU INTERPRET THE MANY KORANIC SAYINGS THAT STATE VERY HATEFUL THINGS PREACHING VIOLENCE? We Christians can not presume to interpret the Koran for you BUT ,since you are genuinely religious and desire peace, please explain to us how to take all those passages? THUS A DIALOGUE HAS BEEN STARTED. Now we can wait for the reply. (The Pope has said bluntly MANY TIMES
    “ONE CAN NOT USE VIOLENCE IN THE NAME OF GENUINE RELIGION”.
    iow, the Pope is NOT interested in the objective historical facts of the PAST, but in a DIALOGUE that challenges the Muslims that are against interpreting Islam as inherently violent

    As an example of this sort of communication: The Pope publicly praised the Iran- US treaty for seeking peace. Then that ayatollah met with him and thanked him for his words,TO WHICH THE POPE RESPONDED ” now that Iran has been brought back into the family of nations, DO NOT USE VIOLENCE.. The Ayatolla’s response was “Pray for me” (!!!).

    IOW, using ordinary speech to get a dialogue started, which can influence concretely the other person.

  • Jeannine

    Mr. Zmirak, I enjoyed the reference to the “sacred monkeys.” I myself have been wont to say (in reference to the Pope’s pronouncements on climate change) that the globe must be warming spiritually, and we are too sinful to see it.

  • Randal Agostini

    You could use the same title for Catholicism, with the same ambiguity. Understanding that the Vatican has both a secular and spiritual role I am not surprised that they would seek friendly ties with Islam – if just for the good of Christians living in Muslim countries.
    To satisfy my own conscience I would rather re-read 1John:4:7-12, which does not reflect anything Islamic.

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