Sins and Sinners in the Catholic Church

A dialogue (12-2-96) I had with an evangelical Protestant (his words in blue):

My observation is that the Catholic Church often destroyed dissenting voices and their writings. When writings subsequently surfaced that proved the martyr to be quite orthodox, the Church had the power to suppress them. The only case I have any dates and places for is Savanarola, but I think I could dig up some more.

Persecution was a widespread sin at that time, on both sides, but I will say this: at least in that period most Christians felt at least as strongly about heresy as they did about physical crimes. They felt that a "crime" which endangered souls and helped to cause many of them to suffer eternal hellfire, was at least as punishable and heinous as one which "destroyed the body but not the soul." And I find that to be a substantially true, consistent principle.

Nowadays our Western culture as a whole punishes physical crime, but thinks little of spiritual error, so that I think they have it backwards in a large sense. Not that I condone persecution and religious coercion . . . I just think we need to understand the mindset of the medieval Christian and medieval Church, including the early Protestants. There was indeed a worthy motive behind a lot of the persecution, but it is a slippery slope, which is why subsequent generations have rejected it.

I guess my position is that I see two churches under the name Roman Catholic - one the medieval church/political/power system, that was corrupt as any other political system, and another church within this (where else was there to go) of pious souls seeking God and God's favor.

Well, this is about as far as many Protestants can go, and it is fair enough, I suppose. My position is somewhat similar: I believe in a visible, apostolic, institutional Church, as well as a Mystical Body. God already predicted that there would be wheat and tares in His Church, so that is not surprising to me. Sin, even at high levels in the Church occasionally, does not surprise me in the least. One would be foolish to expect otherwise in any human institution. What is striking to me is how God has used the Catholic Church despite the corruption that has tended to come and go in cycles.

This brings to mind the wry comment about the non-Catholic guy who went to Rome. His Catholic friend was worried to death about what he would find there - corrupt, immoral clergy, etc. But the man came back saying he was convinced of the truth of the Catholic Church. His Catholic friend was dumbfounded, and asked, "how could that be?" And the man answered, "God must be behind the Catholic Church, seeing the type of people who run it. Otherwise it would have died off hundreds of years ago." <GGGGGGG>

This illustrates the Catholic attitude on these things very well. People will fail, but the Church will prevail, not because Catholics are better than anyone else (God knows that's no more true than it was true that the Jews were at all "superior' to their surrounding cultures), but because it is God's will that the "gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church" (Matt 16:18).

The following is a series of exchanges with a Protestant on my Apologetics/Ecumenism list, October-November 1998:

In the good old days, like before Henry VIII broke communion, the Catholic Church seemed to have more guts to back up its teaching.

Is not a pro-life, anti-contraception, anti-homosexual acts, anti-female priests position quite gutsy in this day and age? I think the answer is obvious. If the Church were in a "wimp" mode, they surely would have caved on these issues, like, e.g., the Anglicans, and even the Orthodox (as in the second example).

Now, borderline bishops and rogue priests can openly defy ecclesiastical authorities and not much is done about it.

In a nutshell: a massive disciplinary move cannot be made, lest a huge schism occur, which would be disastrous. I believe this strategy is the best possible one for the long term. The liberals are dying out, and they know it. Meanwhile, Catholic truth is available and "out there" for anyone who is truly seeking it to find.

A layman should be able to trust his priest or bishop to give him the right answers when he asks questions.

I agree, but the Church has been through this sort of thing many times before, as I have also pointed out, whether it was the Arian crisis, or the corruptions (in practice) of the period before the advent of Protestantism, etc. Fortunately today we have widespread literacy, communications, and now even the Internet, so there is less excuse for ignorance, disobedience, and heterodoxy than ever. It was also wrong to blindly depend on Fr. Doe without doing any study on one's own. This was the tendency in the years before Vatican II.

We are all ultimately responsible for our own spiritual development and walk with God - including proper instruction. God gave us minds and the ability to reason and separate the wheat from the chaff, doctrinally speaking. And He gave us the Holy Spirit. If anyone desires to know true Catholic teaching, he can obtain the Catechism, or the Documents of Vatican II, or hit the worldwide web, or watch EWTN. There are any number of ways to do that. The pope knows this full well, and I think that is part of his reasoning for proceeding slowly in the matter of discipline.

Nowadays, you tell us a Catholic needs to read all the encyclicals and be an expert theologian and liturgist because the priests aren't necessarily trustworthy.

No, but you need to do some study on your own. The Internet makes that pretty easy. We don't need to be beholden to a liberal priest who may be teaching error any more than we need to be slaves to the media and their slanted perspective on things.

What the hell good is a priest if he ain't trustworthy?

He dispenses the sacraments, which is his primary duty. The sacraments are valid whether or not the priest is a holy man or completely orthodox (ex opere operato).

Wouldn't it be better to have a trustworthy priest come by once in a while like in the Old West than have to worry about the orthodoxy of priests and bishops who are mucking things up on a daily basis?

I suppose so. I still say anyone who can read can easily determine what the Catholic Church teaches.

Here is an opinion of a Protestant (actually a Ligonier employee) on the RYM forum:

This is a misconception. We didn't condemn anyone to hell before, either. The Church has no power to do that. It can excommunicate, but that is distinct from consigning to hell. I think ecumenism is better than the triumphalism and over-harshness of former ages. We have learned a few things through the centuries, don't you think?

He needs to define "liberal." There is no way that Catholicism can be equated with any liberal Protestant denomination - the comparison is not even close. As I said, the liberals have not succeeded in subverting a single doctrine of the Church. Some revolution, huh? It was a total failure! Problems? Yes. Corruptions in practice? Of course. But the Church is the same; Peter is the same; the Blessed Virgin is the same, our glorious Lord and Savior Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, etc. This, too (like the Clinton Presidency), shall pass . . .

Typical anti-Catholic Protestant claptrap. Rest assured that this same stupid false dichotomy (i.e., Church vs. Jesus, who established it for His purposes) was made before the modernist crisis of our age. I don't believe anything would satisfy this person in his present state of mind. I think he is just using whatever club is available to bash the Church

Lucky for me there are actually some trustworthy (FSSP) priests here in Tulsa. They are faithful to the Magisterium and Vatican II, but they find no need to candy coat anything.

Good. See, you found what you needed. It might have taken some work, but you did it! I have done the same where I live. I don't think I would be accused of "candy-coating" anything, but at the same time I am just as committed to ecumenism and Church unity. Orthodoxy and ecumenism are not mutually exclusive.

The bishops and the Pope have a responsibility.

Yes. This brings to mind an important consideration: the bishop in any particular locale has much more the responsibility in his diocese than the pope, for maintenance of orthodoxy, since every bishop is essentially independent within his own jurisdiction (a lot of people misunderstand this point of Catholic ecclesiology). So if you want to lay blame for liberalism, pick on the bishops involved rather than the pope, who obviously can't keep on top of every problem in every diocese in the world. He does more than his share by proclaiming truth forcefully for all who care to hear it.

Do the folks [in the pews] know that they need to repent?

I suspect that many don't, which is indicative of the gravity of the modernist crisis.

Is Hell a relic of an unenlightened past?

Of course not - unless one reads such "evangelicals" as John Stott.

Is the reality of Hell preached from the pulpit?

Yes; it could be stressed more, no doubt.

There are plenty of people who are not connected to the net, but rely on their priests and bishops.

The Internet is merely the latest of "technological blessings" which make it possible for laypeople to ascertain religious truth (radio and TV being others). My essential argument was that universal literacy (and by extension the printing press) have made this possible on a mass basis. These factors have been present for over 500 years . . . Luther utilized the press in its infancy. Lay Catholics ought to as well. It is time to end this syndrome of the ignorant laity hanging upon every word of liberal priests and bishops. We saw what happened (for this very reason) when they were led astray by the revolutionaries within the Church.

If they had been properly educated and walking with God in spiritual obedience, that couldn't have happened. But people are sheep . . . By and large they don't want to study about matters spiritual, or pray, or read the Bible, or practice sexual purity, or sacrifice at all. Whose fault is that? That apathy can't be completely attributed to liberal priests and bishops (it can to some extent, as they are shepherds of the flock). It is an internal problem; a sin problem.

Some know the truth and ignore it, others are simply victims of the failings of the Church.

There are certainly victims, and a clear failure of catechesis in the last generation. I suspect our differences as to cause would be in where to lay the blame for that, and how it affects one's views of infallibility and "authoritarianism."

Tell me this: do you think that this present liberal crisis disproves that the Catholic Church is what it claims to be? If so, what is your alternative system of Christian authority, and how is it superior to at least our claims - whether or not you accept them as valid? It's easy to pillory the Catholic Church; much harder to present a superior alternative. Is this the consideration that keeps you out of the Catholic Church thus far? That is true for many people. It was for me, until I came to conclude (by means of biblical and historical study) that it wasn't an adequate reason for rejecting the Church itself.

How can I convince my Catholic mom and dad that they really aren't good enough?

Show them the Catechism, Vatican II - any number of things, if they have any respect for Catholic authority at all. There is no reason for confusion. But see, disobedience ultimately resides in the will, not the mind. "A man convinced against his will, retains his original belief still."

I know they have committed mortal sins according to the teachings of the Church. But, they don't believe in sacramental confession, so where does that leave their eternal destiny?

They place their souls in grave jeopardy. Why do they remain Catholic? I have never understood the irrationality and dishonesty of such an allegiance. But then Satan strives on such utter folly for the accomplishment of his ends.

They went to parochial schools in the 50's, so they know better. However, are the liberal clergy warning them and maybe getting through their thick skins?

Who knows? It depends on their particular parish.

Ultimately, my parents have no one to blame but themselves, but there is a great failure in the Church.

In the sense I have described it, yes. I don't think it disproves our claims. This is just one of many, many scandals in the history of the Church (in terms of practice and hypocrisy of individuals). God only has us sinful, rebellious humans to work with. He has His work cut out for Him!

Indeed. This is frightening in its implications, isn't it? The pope certainly has issued such warnings. Many bishops and priests have not, and so have been lax in their duty (to put it very mildly). They will stand accountable before God. The Bible says, "let not many teach . . ." I tremble before that "warning" even in my own very minor capacity as a lay apologist. If I have any serious doubts about any Christian teaching, I don't spread my own unsure opinions around to other people via the Internet.

So far, many have been able to point fingers of disunity by noting the faults of others.

As St. Paul and people like St. Augustine did . . .

Maybe we should consider what is real unity? Is it unity of organization/hierarchy? Is it unity of shared faith? Is it unity of tradition? Is it unity of creed? Is it unity of the Spirit?

Indeed. An excellent consideration, given the extreme emphasis that Jesus and Paul and the Fathers placed on this matter. I shall explore this presently. No one should be surprised by my conclusion. :-)

The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) has members that claim she has true unity. The unity is pointed to by its singular hierarchy with a single patriarch (currently John Paul II) at the top. The RCC also claims to have unity in the faith through the teaching office of the Magisterium.

And don't forget an unbroken line of apostolic Tradition or succession, passed down historically in a developmental fashion, without contradiction. This is our claim, and I think it is demonstrable. In fact (speaking personally for a moment), this very thing was the biggest factor which compelled me to convert.

So far, no Catholic apologist has been able to convince me that only the RCC can make that claim. I'm not an Orthodox apologist, but I think they can successfully make the same claim.

Ours is the most consistent (we never officially adopted heresy en masse, as the East did on several occasions - no pope was ever a heretic), yet we believe that the Orthodox possess apostolic succession as well, and valid sacraments as a result.

When I pinged the list a while back asking if the Orthodox had embraced any heresies since the schism, I got goose eggs back.

Well, if you insist, they are heretical on the papacy. :-) And of course they have departed from ancient precedent and Tradition with regard to divorce and contraception, as I have often noted.

When you get down to the parishioner level, however, the unity is not so clear. Polls of Catholics have been taken to see what they believe, and there are some major discrepancies between the official teaching of the church and the laity. On sexual and gender issues (contraception, divorce, homosexuality, and female ordination), there is a big disconnect. In my humble opinion, many Catholics discount the dogma of papal infallibility which allows their consciences to disregard documents like Humanae Vitae. (Also, many who discount the dogma of papal infallibility misunderstand it thinking it has to do with issues like impeccability.)

The one poll cited on the list that gave a favorable report on Catholic belief on the Eucharist had this to say as a final note: "One reason so many young adults have remained Catholic is they have essentially redefined the faith so much on their own terms there is no point in leaving." This certainly does not seem to be a unity of the faith.

I have argued that one can never judge a communion (and its claimed "unity") by the actual views of its members, by polls and sociological surveys (as with American partisan politics today), because they will always fall short. If this is the proper method, certainly there is no Church on the earth, and none of us want to pessimistically conclude that. You will always find "heterodoxy" (as internally or externally defined) among the masses, so to speak, or the people in the pews, in any and every Christian group.

Jesus assumed this would always be the case, and spoke of it frequently (Mt 13:24-30, cf. 3:12, Mt 13:47-50, 22:1-14, 24:1-13, 25:14-30). St. Paul concurs (Acts 20:17,28,30, 2 Tim 2:15-20). As usual, the biblical writers anticipate what would be a problem and a stumbling-block throughout Church history. Even Judas was regarded as a true Apostle (Mt 10:1,4, Mk 3:14, Jn 6:70-71, Acts 1:17). Sinners (and dissenters) are in the Church, in the true Church. This is the biblical and apostolic teaching, and we must face it, and quit denying it, or acting like it proves anything one way or the other as to which is the true Church.

This being the case, this criterion (which is always bandied about - especially with regard to Catholicism) is ultimately irrelevant (even though the dissent is, of course, troubling and scandalous of its own accord - it just doesn't disprove anything ecclesiologically). The Corinthian church did not cease to be part of the true universal Church in Paul's mind (1 Cor 1:2, 2 Cor 1:1, 11:2), even when he was rebuking it for exceedingly serious and widespread sins (1 Cor 3:1-4, 5:1-2, 6:1-8, 11:17-22, 2 Cor 11:3-4). Nor was it said that there was no institutional Church because of the early controversy over the Judaizers, spoken of in the Book of Acts (see, e.g., Acts 15:5, which refers to believers who were Pharisees). Such problems are always with us. Anyone who thinks they can be totally avoided is living in Fantasy-Land.

Therefore, one can only go by the official teaching of any group (i.e., hopefully the passed-down equivalent of Paul's "gospel" or "tradition": 1 Cor 11:2, 15:1-2, Gal 1:9,12, 1 Thess 2:13, 2 Thess 2:15, 3:6, 1 Tim 3:15, 2 Tim 1:13-14, 2 Tim 2:2, 2 Peter 2:21, Jude 3) and whether or not it institutionalizes and sanctions division and schism. That unfortunate (and I think, unbiblical) practice is what makes us stand out vividly in contrast, and gives us the most legitimate claim to true unity. Everyone else institutionalizes division (in the Protestant world, it is often even positively encouraged).

Nor is this opinion merely a Catholic one. When I was an evangelical counter-cult researcher and evangelist in the early 80s, we always had as one of our bedrock principles (emphasized by people like Dr. Walter Martin) the notion that every group had to be judged by its official teachings, and that our refutations had to grapple with those, not the opinions of Member Joe Blow on the street, of that group, who may or may not know (too often the latter) what his own group teaches. To me, this has been self-evident ever since that time, but I see the misunderstanding of this principle pops up time and again on this list and elsewhere. My Church is shot down on the basis of dissent in practice rather than by what it actually teaches, and has taught consistently, through the ages. I wrote about this in my tract on Catholic liberalism.

The Eastern Orthodox Churches (EOC) claim to have a unity of faith. I do not know of any data to be able to ascertain whether that is true. They do not have as organized a hierarchy as the RCC and they do not have a court of final appeal as does the RCC (the Pope).

Which leads to all sorts of irresolvable disputes and divisions in actuality.

The EOC are structure around "churches" in the plural. This structure is claimed to be similar to the pre-schism church.

But I don't see the early church congregations refusing communion to each other, or denying that the other groups have grace and sacraments, or asserting that they are "heretics," etc. (let alone institutionally dividing). And, of course, the early Church had Peter as a divinely-instituted leader of the Apostles (Mt 16:18-19), and his successors, the popes of Rome, as leaders in the universal Church.

When was the last time someone from the SBC, Pius X, or Pius V took communion in the RCC?

This analogy fails, because those groups don't claim to be in the same group as the "conventional" Catholic Church. This is the whole point about "institutionalization." SSPX denounces the Catholic Church, and claims for itself "remnant" status over against the Church. Extreme separatist groups or renegade self-described "traditionalists" even deny that there is a pope, and/or the validity of Vatican II and the Novus Ordo Mass, or ecumenism. Clearly, the papacy is one of the primary defining marks of Catholicism. So a group denying its current existence, or disobeying its authority can hardly be considered "Catholic" by any stretch of the imagination. Therefore, these groups are schismatics in every sense, just as the Donatists or Novationists (also "rigorists") were. Baptists obviously are of a different Christian communion and principle altogether. We can't take communion with them (excepting Bill Clinton :-) because there is no unity of faith there. But we don't deny that they possess grace to some extent.

With the Orthodox, on the other hand, the warring factions all claim to be in the same group, Orthodoxy. We have seen on this list how the obvious disunity is explained away as non-existent, in defiance of reality. They refuse communion to each other, while all claim to speak for true Orthodoxy. They form new jurisdictions, just like Protestant denominations, yet they are somehow inexplicably "united." People can see through that. Spiritual reality cannot contradict concrete, physical (or historical) reality. So the attempted analogy between that situation and us just doesn't fly.

Often different communions within the EOC do not allow Holy Communion with one another for various reasons (ethnic squabbling, accusations of heterodoxy, accusations of ecumenism). This is a scandal and lessens claims of unity.

Precisely. But note that I don't claim that the false beliefs themselves destroy the claim to unity, but rather, the fact that they are institutionalized, and made the basis of divisions and new jurisdictions. In this sense, Orthodox are just as internally schismatic as Protestants (i.e., in principle - obviously not to the same degree). Schism was always regarded as an extremely serious sin by the early Church and the Fathers.

Finally, if you're looking for complete unity in the church or "a" church, I think you will be hard pressed trying to find it.

If it is defined in any way other than I have defined it, yes, it will be impossible, because sin and false beliefs will not allow it to be possible.

If you want unity of faith, the EOC may be your best bet.

In a very limited sense, perhaps.

If you want unity of a teaching office, then the RCC seems to have that.

In my opinion, we alone have preserved unity of institutional belief, and non-contradictory historically-demonstrable apostolic Tradition.

This, like so many Christian tenets and commands, is an extremely high goal to be devoutly sought after, but of course we always fall short in practice. I would say that the Catholic Church alone has preserved the oneness and unity of Christian doctrine. To the extent that an individual Christian submits themselves to this Church, unity will be achieved, since we believe that we have uniquely preserved the "one body, . . . one faith, one baptism" (Eph 4:4-5) in its fullness and completeness. In my mind, that is the only solution (and the only possible one) to this extremely important command to be united in faith.

In any event, it seems to me that every Christian must grapple with this question and come up with some sort of solution which isn't immediately self-contradictory. Most Protestants I'm aware of will admit that denominationalism as we know it is utterly scandalous, in fact wicked and sinful, but they don't know quite what to do about it (not wishing to become Catholics or Orthodox for many other reasons). Anglicans have their own severe internal problems of schism at the present time. Orthodox (judging from recent posts) simply remarkably deny that they have any "disunity" of faith (when in fact it, too, is easily demonstrable).

The Catholic Church offers (and has always offered) the "solution" I have explicated in this post. I also believe that our own modernist crisis (which many incorrectly adopt as a "reason" for rejecting the Catholic Faith) will markedly decrease in the next two generations (the signs are already all around us), so that the "Catholic option" will stand out even more vividly to the casual observer than it does today. All the more so if we achieve - by God's grace - institutional reunion with our esteemed Orthodox brethren in the near future. If that were to happen, I think we would see the greatest revival in the history of the Church. And that would be because we would be doing in practice what Jesus said the world would see as a "proof" of Christianity and the Incarnation (Jn 17:21,23).

You are correct that no church could withstand the test.

So you are prepared to contend that the Church of Jesus Christ no longer exists in any form?

However, when there is widespread dissension, does it really matter what the "documented" position is?

Yes, if you accept the notion of a visible Church, which you seem to want to accept, if only someone could convince you. See my Biblical Treatise on the Nature of the Church.

Based on data that you probably wouldn't dispute, Catholics do believe in birth control--just not the hierarchy. When there is a huge disconnect, it is hard to take the official claim seriously. For analogy sake, consider a black person living in the U.S. in the second half of the nineteenth century. The official documents said that all men were created equal, however, this man's experience would tell him that that wasn't exactly true.

But this is the distinction between political or civic or legal hypocrisy and divine protection from error (infallibility and indefectibility). It is a very imperfect analogy. Your position cannot consistently be believed without despairing of both the legitimacy of Church history and the biblical revelation, as I will argue in depth below.

The problem is that there is supposed to be a few tares among the wheat, not a few wheat among a multitude of tares. There was one betrayer among many disciples, not one disciple among many betrayers.

I disagree; this is your own surmise, without any biblical support given. I offer that now (NRSV):

1) The parable of the wheat and tares (Mt 13:24-30, 36-43) reads (to me, anyway) as if the tares (weeds) are at least equal in number to the wheat. A moment's reflection on the proliferation of uncontrolled weeds (13:30) in any lawn will bring this point home, I think. This is also apparent in the similar pronouncements about wheat and chaff (Mt 3:12, Lk 3:17): a parable of the saved and the damned. Since every wheat plant has chaff, too (the worthless part of it), then it would seem that we are talking about a 50/50 proposition here. I wouldn't push the analogy too far, as the proportion is not the essential aspect of it, but it does lend itself to an interpretation that the non-believers and dissenters mixed in with the elect and orthodox will be many, not few.

2) Mt 24:10 says "many will fall away." We are not given percentages.

3) In my opinion, Mt 7:21-23 implies that there are many counterfeit believers, since even some of those who "prophesy," "cast out demons," and "do many deeds of power" in Jesus' name will be cast from Jesus' presence at the Judgment, where He will say to them, "I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers." Since most of us are doing far less than acts of this magnitude (which outwardly suggest a commitment to Christ), it stands to reason that there are many people who go to Mass, etc., who will not be saved, and hence are "tares." Cf. Lk 13:25-28.

4) Jesus also said, "when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Lk 18:8). This doesn't present a very rosey picture about great numbers of faithful, or elect.

5) Jesus said "many are called, but few are chosen" (Mt 22:14).

6) "For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Mt 7:14).

7) ". . . The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few." (Mt 9:37).

8) "Someone asked him, 'Lord, will only a few be saved?' He said to them, 'Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.' " (Lk 13:23-24)

9) A straightforward reading of Paul's chastisement of the Corinthians lends itself to the view that these problems were massive: definitely a majority of the believers there, if not a near-unanimity. This church had some heavy-duty problems! :

So we see that in each example I previously gave with regard to the Corinthians, Paul's rebukes are very broad and give no hint that such problems are only affecting a tiny minority. This demolishes your contention. Your objection fails because it is arbitrary and unbiblical.

10) Jesus Himself rebukes six of the seven churches of Asia He addresses. Most scholars think that the Book of Revelation was written no later than 100 A.D. Yet look at all the serious problems we already observe in these apostolic churches, before the last Apostle (John) died:

Not a pretty picture at all. Only Smyrna escapes a stern, sweeping rebuke of Jesus. But this is what God has to work with! The Church then, as now, was riddled with problems: hypocrisy, lukewarmness, heterodoxy, fornication, idolatry; much was "pitiable." Nothing has changed. Sinners are in the Church because we all are prone to sin, as fallen creatures. This should surprise no one.

11) The Apostle Paul has very stern words for the Galatian church as well. None of these congregations "had it all together" spiritually (not even close), as many today seem to arrogantly believe about their own particular fellowships. Again, nothing has changed. The Puritan notion of a "pure" church or denomination is a myth if ever there was one. And it is unbiblical, if the examples of apostolic churches prove anything.

12) Such a view as you present is logically incoherent in the first place, for the simple fact that truth is truth. You seem to take a modern-day, relativistic/pragmatic approach of determining truth by numbers. The absurdity of this is evident upon a little reflection. At what point is your skepticism about any given Christian communion established? When one-third of any given group depart from the teaching? One-half? Or 51%, since that is a majority? Or two-thirds, since the dissenters now outnumber the orthodox 2-to-1? 75%, which is 3-to-1? The truth does not change regardless of how many believe it; even if no one can be found who believes it, it is the same.

Paul passed down the apostolic Tradition, or "deposit" (1 Cor 11:2, 15:1-2, Gal 1:9,12, 1 Thess 2:13, 2 Thess 2:15, 3:6, 1 Tim 3:15, 2 Tim 1:13-14, 2 Tim 2:2, 2 Peter 2:21, Jude 3). The true Church is the one which preserves this deposit pure and undefiled. This is where "unity" presides, because unity must be wedded to truth (as I think we would all agree). We are to be one as the Holy Trinity is one (Jn 17:22). That oneness obviously includes doctrinal agreement. Fallen human beings will never come to total agreement on any doctrine. Yet, nevertheless, that doctrine remains divine and apostolic, and the grounds for unity. And that is why a majority vote of the entire group in order to determine hypocrisy or sin or dissent or selective espousal (in any group) is irrelevant to the consideration at hand. That only works in a relativistic worldview.

However, once again, the problems are supposed to be the minority, not the majority.

Hopefully, yes, but this is not a requirement, and the Bible warns us about far less ideal circumstances, as I have just shown. Therefore, if your criterion is followed, there is no Church on earth.

But the history of Christianity also mitigates against your hypothesis. Now, you say, the majority of the Catholic laity have departed from orthodoxy in the Catholic sense. This is without doubt a huge tragedy, and we readily admit that. But we deny that this alone proves we are not the apostolic Church in its fullness. For there have been times in Church history when the great majority of the bishops departed from orthodoxy, while the laity remained faithful, by and large. The sad episode of Arianism was one such period, in both East and West (excepting the pope, of course :-). Monophysitism - also a Christological heresy - was another, in the East, which underwent massive and almost universal apostatizing of its bishops. If a huge departure of the laity is a disproof of apostolicity or "unity," then why not the same corresponding level of heterodoxy of the episcopacy? Yet if you accept that proposition, again you are left with no Church on earth. John Henry Cardinal Newman writes:

{An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1845, 6th ed., 1878, rep. Univ. of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN, 1989, pp. 319-20, 322, 312}

Where is the evidence that the RCC stands out vividly in contrast to other groups?

I told you already: we have not institutionalized division, or heresy, or moral errors. Everyone else has. We alone have preserved the whole Apostolic "ball of wax" unchanged and undefiled. I hate to sound so triumphalistic, but you asked, and Paul talked this way, too, so if I claim to be following Jesus and the Apostles, I must also, and so must my Church.

Can a person be a good Catholic and not believe in papal infallibility?

No. Can a person be a good five-point Calvinist and deny Limited Atonement? Or a good Wesleyan and deny progressive sanctification? Or a Lutheran and disbelieve in consubstantiation?

What doctrines is the RCC willing to compromise on? The answer is: none.

You got it, and that is our glory (which even you - an outsider - bear witness to). Yet there is some leeway in application of unchanging truths. One such example would be the pope's willingness to discuss how the papal prerogatives could be carried out in a re-unified Church. Another is our flexibility with regard to the filioque. I believe it is true that the pope has recited the Creed without it, while with Orthodox.

Since the belief is that all the doctrines are infallible, how could you compromise on them? How could you expect different from others?

I agree, but what is your point?

I think in the first millenium (or at least first 8 centuries), the See of Rome played a crucial part in church history. Worldly grabs for power diminished respect for the office. Many of the latest Popes have been worthy office holders, especially John Paul II. But it does not prove that you have unity today.

The pope is the principle basis of, and guarantor of unity. Just as it was in the early Church, so it is today. We are the only ones who have not changed.

Heresy was also considered a serious sin. It's what the Orthodox, Protestants, etc. (grab a ticket and get in line) claim against the RCC. I'm not saying that you are guilty of heresy, just that it is a valid reason to divide. But it should not be done as easily as it seems to be done, and without irrefutable reasons.

This gets back to infallibility and indefectibility, which I have discussed in my paper on Indefectibility and Orthodox Claims. If one exercises private judgment and decides to leave the Church which Christ established, which cannot fall into heresy by divine promise, then what can we do? It is a lack of either faith or knowledge, or perhaps a moral lapse and matter of the will, from our perspective. There are widely varying degrees of culpability, of course.

What about the real world, and not the world of theory?

My view is anchored in reality: Scripture, Church history, and reason (as well as original sin and the resultant fallenness of human beings).

Most people don't attend a mass given by Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger, or Bishop Bruskewitz.

That's why the Church long ago decided that sacraments are valid irregardless of the worthiness of the priest administering them (ex opere operato). This is the whole point: when one is receiving Jesus at Holy Communion, who cares (in the final analysis) about the hypocrisy of the priest? Let's get our priorities straight here! God used Balaam's ass to convey His truth, and a muderer and adulterer to make an eternal covenant with (David) and another murderer to be the foremost Apostle (Paul), and a wavering wimp to lead His Church (Peter). Would you receive communion from a former premeditated murderer? Of course it is preferable that the priest is holy, but c'mon'!, this is the real world! And you want me to be in the real world, right?! :-)

If your parish priest was handpicked by [dissenters], odds are the homily might not be so "Catholic."

And I would seek another parish. No one is forced to endure heterodoxy and unbelief, or irreverence. I wouldn't be caught dead in the church at the end of my block (which has no kneelers), so I drive downtown to an orthodox, traditional one (and one of the most beautiful church buildings in the country, to boot - German Gothic, with gorgeous stained glass windows and woodwork and statuary).

Odds are you could get a more "Catholic" sermon from the local ROCOR priest or a conservative Anglican.

Perhaps, but that's only one relatively minor aspect of the whole. The homily is not the central focus of the Mass. Here you betray your Protestant biases.

Are people's allegiance supposed to be to a pro-choice priest, or to an orthodox (small "o") one who happens not to be RCC, or to Jesus Christ?

Again, this is a false dilemma. I don't have to make these choices (especially in a large metro area), and I don't have to drive a wedge between Jesus and His ordained structure of the Church.

Obviously, you disagree with with regard to divorce and contraception. Those could possibly be seen as "development" in the same vane that extra ecclesium nulla salus is seen now to possibly include even animists.

How can a flat-out reversal be a "development?" Divorce is either right or wrong. Same with contraception. The early Church unequivocally condemned both. Orthodoxy now accepts both (even though it - like all other Christian groups - condemned contraception before 1930). This is a departure or corruption, not a development, by any reasonable definition.

Main Index & Search / Church Index

Written by Dave Armstrong (and debating partners) in 1996 and 1998. Compiled 25 November 1998.