Opinions Expressed in "Rants," while informed by Catholic doctrine, are merely the opinions of the author.

Sometimes the Church is Wrong


I can’t believe you just said that Father Mike?  How can you dare say that?

The truth is, I’m saying it both for the sake of all of its members, so that they won’t be scandalized when, INEVITABLY, leaders in the church make mistakes, and for the sake of the Church itself, who could never live up to the standard that so many people put it on. 

It’s not FAIR TO THE CHURCH to expect it to be perfect.  How many Catholics have left the church because they expected it to be perfect, and it didn’t live up to their expectations?  LOTS.  If our expectations aren’t so high, we won’t so easily be disappointed.

But no doubt there are still doubters out there, squirming at the thought that I, a priest, would dare suggest that the Church could ever be wrong.  So I’ll list a few historical examples where there is no doubt, the Church was wrong.

1.  The Crusades.  The Church sanctioned a holy war against Muslims, to get them out of the Holy Land – it claimed religious reasons for doing so, and even promised indulgences for those who went to the Holy Land and killed – of course, the REAL motivation was political, but there’s nothing like a religious fervour to whip up some good Christian soldiers into a frenzy. Check out some of the writings of St. Bernard of Clairvaux on the crusades.

2.  Galileo.  He was a scientist, who with his newly invented telescope, managed to show definitively that the Earth revolves around the Sun.  The problem is, the Bible has one verse where it says that the Sun stood still in the sky (I believe it’s in the book of Joshua), so based on that verse, the Church concluded that the Sun revolves around the Earth – that Galileo was wrong – and he was even threatened with being burned at the stake if he didn’t recant his views.

3.  The Inquisition.  Motivated by fear of disunity in Europe, the Church permitted and promoted outright persecution against anyone not holding to orthodox Catholic teaching, even on pain of torture and death. 

Pope John Paul II, who was one of the greatest popes in history, will likely be named a Saint here right away, who worked miracles while he was pope bringing down the Communist Soviet Union, and I have no doubt is in heaven – yea, he apologized for the above three examples during his Pontificate.  One of the truly great things that he did. But while we’re talking about him…

4.  South America.  JPII completely dropped the ball in South America.  South America has been the scourge of tyrants and dictators for generations, many of whom have been supported by American corporations.  Recently there have been grass-roots protests against such dictatorships, some violent, some non-violent.  Because these protests are essentially against Capitalist interests, some of them have been blanket-labelled as Communist.  Well, one of these protestors was a guy named Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was DEFINITELY a Saint.  He was protesting the Salvadoran death squads – who raped nuns, killed children, unspeakable horrors – and he went to Rome to implore the Pope’s support – and was reprimanded by John Paul II for encouraging Communism.  Recall that JP II himself had lived under Communist oppression in Poland all his life, so was a little hypersensitive on the subject – anyway, Romero left the Pope in tears; he was later assassinated while celebrating mass.  The result of this lack of support for the freedom movements in South America, fearing they are Communist, and a general Church policy of not getting involved politically, has alienated the populace there.  Many there have left the church altogether.

5.  Limbo.  For years, for CENTURIES, many priests and bishops and even popes have taught that there is a place called Limbo, where unbaptized babies go – a relatively happy place (compared to hell), but forever removed from the presence of God.  There was no EVIDENCE that such a place existed – it was a theological extrapolation – see, if you need to be baptized to go to heaven, then unbaptized babies can’t go there – it is unfathomable that a merciful God would send them to HELL (although St. Augustine believed he did), so there must be another place that they go – we’ll call it Limbo.  And that was that.  While this was not OFFICIAL Church doctrine, it was widely taught throughout the Universal Church. It never occurred to them that maybe unbaptized babies go to heaven – why? – because that didn’t fit into their system, their MAN MADE theological explanation, that they regarded as divinely revealed.  Talk about a case of taking “human traditions and regarding them as doctrines” (see Mark 7). Just recently, the Pope has stated that, truth is, Limbo probably doesn't exist at all - in other words, we've changed our minds, thought it through and realize that it was a mistake. But some people can't deal with the idea that the Church can change its mind.

6.  Guitars.  This one is sort of hear-say, but its worth noting.  It was brought to my attention not too long ago that Pope Benedict XVI has ruled that the only music that is appropriate for Church worship are traditional hymns, which are sung by traditional choirs, using traditional instruments, like organs.  Guitars are out.  This just doesn’t make any sense.  The Church is nearly 2000 years old, and is all over the world.  To suggest that the only music that is appropriate for worship, for the UNIVERSAL Church, is music that was written in Europe between the 12th and 17th centuries, is absolutely ridiculous.  Benedict is a smart guy.  I don’t believe he actually said this at all – I think it was one of his lackies, who tried to use his power to promote their own agenda.

7. and 8. For some really interesting reading, look up the Pontificates of Pope Alexander VI, and Pope Leo X.

So, our Church leaders are sometimes wrong.  Some of us are REALLY MAD at them for being wrong - so angry that they leave the Church.  Some of us are REALLY MAD at ME for saying that they’re wrong - so angry that they want me kicked out of the Church.  These are just two sides of the same coin – having unrealistic expectations of an institution that was made BY GOD, but is populated entirely by a bunch of jam tarts.

Why should we expect more of our current Church leadership than of St. Peter?  The Bible went to great lengths to show us how imperfect our first Pope was, even AFTER the resurrection; he still argued with St. Paul all the time.  He wasn’t perfect.

What WAS perfect – is the fact that Christ can continue to be present, and can continue to do his work, through dumb-asses like St. Peter, and dumb-asses like Father Catfish.  St. Peter would be the first to affirm this too.

This is what infallibility means by the way – NOT that the Church is perfect – but that Christ, by Christ’s OWN power, IS perfectly present in the Church, EVEN THOUGH the church is NOT perfect. In other words, the Bible and the Sacraments WORK, they bring us Christ, no matter how bad we get.

It's okay with me that the Church isn't perfect. I can still believe in it, still worship in it, still have access to God through it. Because GOD HIMSELF has made it so - JESUS HIMSELF promised that he'd be with us to the end of time.

After all – if the Church were perfect, it wouldn’t need Jesus at all, would it?

The Church has been wise enough to consider Biblical Fundamentalism as heretical.  Biblical Fundamentalism is where we take everything in the Bible completely literally – doing so makes the teachings of the Bible confusing, self-contradictory, absurd – the Church has been wise enough to realize and affirm that the Bible needs to be interpreted.

The same thing HAS to be said of Church teaching – to regard everything that the Pope says, or that the Vatican says, as straight from the mouth of God himself – is just a form of Catholic Fundamentalism.  This is NOT TO SAY that we shouldn’t obey the Church – I think we should - I'm not giving everyone permission to decide for themselves which Church teachings we listen to and which ones we ignore – but our obedience should be INFORMED, DISCERNED obedience, not BLIND obedience – and we also have to allow for the possibility that some day, there might come a time, where the Church just might be wrong.

So – bottom line is: we have to take the Church off the pedestal.  If we don’t, we’re actually worshipping the Church – putting the Church IN THE PLACE OF GOD – and you know what folks?  That’s a form of idolatry, a violation of the FIRST Commandment.

Tune in for next weeks entry - AND Sometimes the Church is Right