Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Becoming What They Oppose

(The Reformation for Armchair Theologians, p11)
While commonly claimed by anti-Catholics, the Church neither taught “buying salvation” (impossible) nor sold indulgences—though some corrupt individuals in the Church made it sound that way

Reviewing some accounts about the Protestant Reformation from the Protestant point of view, I notice there are some problems that pop up consistently. They are:
  1. Claiming that the Catholic Church taught things that it not only never taught, but actually rejected.
  2. Claiming that an abuse which the Church opposed was seen as morally acceptable.
  3. Claiming that whatever contradicts their view is proof of error.
These things were used to justify breaking away from the Catholic Church. The basic argument was that the Catholic Church couldn’t be the true Church if these things were found within. From that came the non sequitur that the Church was doctrinally in error and the leaders of the Protestant groups held the real Church. Countless [#] denominations couldn’t agree on what the truth was except that they believed the Church must be wrong.

This is relevant because these things are used—especially by anti-Catholics—to justify the split of Christianity by demonizing the Church. The problem is, if false claims are used—even if sincerely believed—they actually do harm, by leading people to go against what God wills while believing that they do good. Yes, abuses in the Church existed. But the Church never taught they were morally licit. Rather, they were given too much toleration, and embraced by some.

The false claims and misrepresentations were accepted as true by later generations and left unquestioned to the point that challenges were seen as irrational or willful blindness. So today we see people who literally believe Catholics think they can buy salvation, or that we worship statues, even though both are untrue.

However, before my Catholic readers go into a triumphalistic mode, or my non-Catholic readers become defensive, let me reveal my secret intentions. This article is not an anti-Protestant polemic [~]. Rather, I am using the existence of those past falsehoods to draw parallels to the current crisis in the Church.

The abuse scandal in the Church today is, of course, something that must be rooted out along with other corruptions. It is demoralizing to learn that, despite the 2002 policies, the coverup of past abusers from the 1940s [§] to 1980s continued. For whatever reason, things that should have been dealt with as they happened were swept under the rug and festered to the point that it will take major effort to repair.

But, similar to the falsehoods about teachings and misrepresentation of scandals spread against the Catholic Church by those seeking to justify breaking away in the 16th and 17th centuries, we are seeing Catholics using similar falsehood and misrepresentation to justify dissent from the teaching authority of the Church when the Church teaches differently than they want.

In these times, the attacks are made by those who oppose the Pope. Whatever they dislike going on within the Church or whatever teaching goes against their political views is considered to be “proof” of the Pope teaching error. Like the past attacks, these current accusations fall under the same categories. The Pope is accused of teaching something he actually rejects (like remarriages after divorce or same sex “marriage” for example [@]). He’s accused of covering up to “protect” active homosexuals among the clergy. He’s condemned for emphasizing Church teachings that go against the popular politics of a faction and his words are seen as “proof” that the Church needs to be reformed because it is becoming “political.”

Notice the parallels. The accusations against the Church today have different motivations than the past attacks, but the tactics are the same. Those who disagree with the Church rely on false attacks to claim that it lacks the authority to teach against them. 

Here’s the irony. Many of the people who make these attacks are also openly contemptuous of Protestants. You might think that the people who do this—claiming to defend the Church—would abhor anything that undermines the authority of the Church. But they emulate the tactics instead of avoiding them.

Hypocrisy is defined as “behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel.” If one claims to be faithful to the Church, they must offer submission of intellect and will (canon 752) to the teaching authority of the Church, trusting God to protect it from teaching error. If one behaves in a way that contradicts this claim of faithfulness, then the claim is hypocrisy.

The dissenting Catholic must consider this. The modern Protestant is not guilty of schism or dissent against a Church they never believed was authoritative (see the Catechism #818). But the Catholic who professes to believe in One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church is guilty if he or she refuses to obey the Church (Luke 10:16, Matthew 18:17).

If we want to save the Church from the corruption (and it exists) and sin, we must become like the saints who remained faithful and obedient when restoring the Church. If we think faithfulness to the Church requires disobedience to the living magisterium then what we do is not a reformation of the Church. It is breaking with the Church... something that contradicts our profession of faith.


[#] I’ll avoid the controversy over the claim of “20,000+ denominations.” It’s hotly disputed by Protestants and the exact number is irrelevant. Even the existence of two denominations claiming to be guided by the personal interpretation of Scripture while contradicting each other shows the problem of that theology.

[~] I am, of course a Catholic by conviction. I do believe that the fullness of truth subsists in the Catholic Church and do not accept what contradicts her teachings as put forth by the magisterium. Therefore I cannot accept that the Protestant Reformation was justified. However, I don’t bear ill will towards Protestants. As the Catechism teaches:

[§] I assume that investigations only go back to the 1940s because with crimes prior to that, most of the parties involved (victims, perpetrators) are dead.

[@] This accusation comes up before every synod. The fact that every post-synodal exhortation rejects it has not stopped the accusers.

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