Does the Catholic Church approve of forced conversions?


Full Question

Does the Catholic Church approve of forced conversions?

Answer

No. In his encyclical Mystici Corporis, Pope Pius XII stated,

It is absolutely necessary that conversion should come about by free choice, since no man can believe unless he be willing. . . . That faith without which it is impossible to please God must be the perfectly free homage of intellect and will.

Should it therefore at any time happen that, contrary to the unvarying teaching of this Apostolic See, a person is compelled against his will to embrace the Catholic faith, we cannot in conscience withhold our censure.

Vatican II’s decree on religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae, reaffirmed this:

Although in the life of the people of God in its pilgrimage through the vicissitudes of human history there has at times appeared a form of behavior which was hardly in keeping with the spirit of the gospel and was even opposed to it, it has always remained the teaching of the Church that no one is to be coerced into believing.

Have Catholics always practiced what they’ve preached in this regard? No. There have been overzealous Catholics who’ve tried making converts using not just the carrot but the stick. But Protestants, too, have been guilty of not always respecting the freedom of conscience. (One example: John Calvin had Michael Servetus burned at the stake in Geneva.) Even atheists and secularists have used force to make converts to their positions. Consider the millions of people who were been killed by or suffered at the hands of communism in the 20th century.

Christianity has always affirmed freedom of conscience, even if Christians haven’t always lived up to this teaching. Atheism and secularism, by denying the existence of God, claim there’s no one to answer to and, therefore, nothing to answer for.

 


Catholic Answers Staff