The Council of Florence, the 17th Ecumenical (and hence “infallible”) Council of the Roman Catholic Church, said the following:
It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church. (Denzinger 714).
Yet, section 841 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1993) says:
The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”
In a similar way the Pope seemed to be in line with section 841 when he said,
VATICAN CITY, SEP 9, 1998 (VIS) – At today’s Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope spoke on the theme of The Spirit of God and the ‘Seeds of Truth’ in non-Christian Religions. The ‘seeds of truth’, said John Paul II, are ‘the effect of the Spirit of truth operating outside the visible confines of the Mystical Body’, the wind ‘which blows where it wills’. The Holy Father explained that in all authentic religious experiences, the most characteristic manifestation is prayer. … Every true prayer is inspired by the Holy Spirit, Who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person. Through the practice of what is good in their own religious traditions, and following the dictates of their consciences, members of other religions positively respond to God’s invitation and receive salvation in Jesus Christ, even though they may not recognize Him as their Savior. The attitude of the Church and of individual Christians with regard to other religions is characterized by sincere respect, deep kindness, and also, where it is possible and appropriate, cordial collaboration. This does not mean forgetting that Jesus Christ is the only Mediator and Savior of the human race. Nor does it imply lessening the missionary effort to which we have an obligation, in obedience to the command of the Risen Lord: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. This attitude of respect and dialogue, concluded John Paul II, represents a due recognition of the ‘seeds of the Word’ and of the ‘groans of the Spirit’. It also prepares the proclamation of the Gospel in awaiting the time when the Lord shows his mercy.
Yet, scarcely two years later, we encounter a Papal encyclical Dominus Iesus, which reads in part,
4. The Church’s constant missionary proclamation is endangered today by relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism, not only de facto but also de iure (or in principle). As a consequence, it is held that certain truths have been superseded; for example, the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ, the nature of Christian faith as compared with that of belief in other religions, the inspired nature of the books of Sacred Scripture, the personal unity between the Eternal Word and Jesus of Nazareth, the unity of the economy of the Incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit, the unicity and salvific universality of the mystery of Jesus Christ, the universal salvific mediation of the Church, the inseparability — while recognizing the distinction — of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ, and the Church, and the subsistence of the one Church of Christ in the Catholic Church.
5. As a remedy for this relativistic mentality, which is becoming ever more common, it is necessary above all to reassert the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ. In fact, it must be firmly believed that, in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6), the full revelation of divine truth is given: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him” (Mt 11:27); “No one has ever seen God; God the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has revealed him” (Jn 1:18); “For in Christ the whole fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9-10).
For this reason, the distinction between theological faith and belief in the other religions, must be firmly held. If faith is the acceptance in grace of revealed truth, which “makes it possible to penetrate the mystery in a way that allows us to understand it coherently”, then belief, in the other religions, is that sum of experience and thought that constitutes the human treasury of wisdom and religious aspiration, which man in his search for truth has conceived and acted upon in his relationship to God and the Absolute.
This distinction is not always borne in mind in current theological reflection. Thus, theological faith (the acceptance of the truth revealed by the One and Triune God) is often identified with belief in other religions, which is religious experience still in search of the absolute truth and still lacking assent to God who reveals himself. This is one of the reasons why the differences between Christianity and the other religions tend to be reduced at times to the point of disappearance.
Hence, those solutions that propose a salvific action of God beyond the unique mediation of Christ would be contrary to Christian and Catholic faith.
But, only a few months later, we get this:
Wednesday 6 December 2000
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The theme of our General Audiences during this Great Jubilee Year has been the glory of the Trinity, and today we ask what we must do to ensure that the glory of the Trinity shines forth more fully in the world. In essence, we are called to be converted and to believe in the Gospel. We are to accept the Kingdom of God in our hearts, and to bear witness to it by word and deed. The Kingdom indicates the loving presence and activity of God in the world, and should be a source of serenity and confidence for our lives. The Gospel teaches us that those who live in accordance with the Beatitudes – the poor in spirit, the pure of heart, those who bear lovingly the sufferings of life – will enter God’s Kingdom. All who seek God with a sincere heart, including those who do not know Christ and his Church, contribute under the influence of grace to the building of this Kingdom. In the Lord’s prayer we say: “Thy Kingdom come”; may this be the hope that sustains and inspires our Christian life and work.
Do you really think Rome clarifies the issues of the gospel, or does she muddle them?