The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.
Pope Francis, we now learn, has affirmed to Archbishop Schneider that he was referring here to the permissive* (rather than the positive) will of God. If that is the case, then he expressed himself in an ambiguous, not to say slovenly manner.
Religion is here seen as comparable with ‘colour, sex, race and language’. But there is no equivalence. Sexual differences are clearly positively willed by God, as is apparent from scripture both in Genesis 1 and 2. ‘Race’ and ‘language’ are neither part of the positive, nor the permissive will. They derive (as implied by Genesis 11) from the punishment for hubris which God meted out to the builders of Babel.
Francis was deploying here a cliché of post-Enlightenment liberalism, which asserts that sexual differences are socially constructed, and that differences of colour, race and language are negligible beside the affirmation of common humanity. Such a view is incompatible with both scripture and the tradition.
It is clear from the Cairo formula that Francis (whatever he now says to the contrary) did not intend that ‘religion’ should be viewed separately from ‘sex, race and language’. There would be no point to the claim if that were the case. He reveals his real intention in the second part of the declaration: ‘willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings’. Diversity of religion is being portrayed as the necessary corollary of the created diversity of humankind.
*Diligent readers might amuse themselves by compiling a list of other things – from infanticide to misogyny – which are subject to the permissive will of God.