The Catholic Church was conceived in political, not spiritual, expediency and was birthed in chauvinism and oppression. Prior to the formation of a “Catholic” or universal unification, the Christian movement was diverse and a center of lively, vibrant debate.
Prior to this “universal” standardization, there were many diverse sects, from the Gnostics to the Johannine Community to the Pauline conservatives who would eventually form the core of Catholic unification. They had many differing gospels and other scriptural accounts; the New Testament was not standardized into the consistent collection until after unification was completed. At that time, many of the other gospels and texts not accepted into the canon of scripture by the Catholic Church were destroyed. We know many of them only through references about them in other texts that have survived. We have found a few of them, including Gnostic gospels of Mary Magdalene, Peter, Phillip and even Judas Iscariot that were included in the discoveries of ancient texts preserved as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Origins of Modern Christian Theology
It is ironic that, today, many conservative and Evangelical Protestant sects regard Catholics as not being true Christians.
Primarily, this is the result of Catholics’ determination to reconcile (and deny) the contradictions between Jesus’ teaching of salvation through universal compassionate love expressed in deeds, and Paul’s doctrine of salvation is through faith apart from deeds. The Protestants, basing their views on the teachings of John Calvin that would not be developed until many centuries later, simply throw out the teachings attributed to Jesus, after whom they call themselves, and accept fully the teaching of Paul, who never even met Jesus and got his start as a persecutor of Christians. To whatever extent the Catholics at least try to maintain some inclusion of Jesus’ teachings (along with the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others whose status as legitimate Christians is also challenged by the Evangelicals), then in the contradiction between Jesus and Paul they are at least coming down on the side of their nominal founder whom they regard iconically as the “Son of God” and “Lord and Savior” while rejecting much of what he actually taught. The problem for all of them, however, is that they all deny any such contradiction exists in the first place.
What is further amazing is that many of the sects that deny Catholics their status as legitimate Christians wholly embrace the early creeds (Nicene, Athanasian, Apostolic) which were developed by none other than those very Catholics, after they had come together to form a unified, universal Church.
And these same Protestants have adopted almost exactly the same selection of ancient writings that these same Catholics (led initially by Eusebius in the early 4th century) decided of the widely-used early texts were to be considered the canonical Word of God, and they have rejected as scripture the same works that were rejected by these Catholics.
In large part, the rejected texts consisted of the Gnostic Gospels, and the Gospels of Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and even Judas, which presented dissenting views of what would become the male-dominated dogma centered around the letters of Paul and the gospels that could be most easily reconciled with Paul. (As noted in the more detailed article on the contradictions between Paul and Jesus, the letter from Jesus’ brother James, written to defend his dead brother, directly contradicts Paul, and there was great discussion over whether or not to include it, but it barely got accepted because the idea of rejecting a letter from the brother of Jesus was too much even for these protectors of male supremacy and the Pauline dogma.)
For a movement so quick to question the right of others to call themselves Christians (because they share the common belief in Jesus as Son of God and Savior), these Protestants have certainly been quick to build the entire core of their theology upon the foundations bequeathed to them by these very “heretics” they disparage.
That said, while it is important to understand the critical role of the Catholic unification in the establishment and proliferation of modern Christianity — and to acknowledge that, however different, Catholics are indeed Christian — there are some specific and problematic points of difference that apply to Catholics separately from other Christians.
It is also extremely important to recognize the difference between engaging in a philosophical discussion about the rational and intellectual merits of the theological claims of Catholicism as a religious tradition, and attacking Catholic people or engaging in anti-Catholic hate speech.
Every organization or institution of human origins, especially if it is has existed over a lengthy period of time, will have been plagued by dark chapters in its history, and faulty leadership of its fallible mortal leaders. Identifying such human failings is not meant to denigrate individual members who are loyal and faithful and sincere in their beliefs, or to ridicule sacred rituals and observances or to undo the many great and noble achievements of the organization. The point is to note that these human foibles demonstrate that the Catholic Church is an institution of human origins and guidance; it is not instituted or ordained by an omniscient, omnipotent or all-worthy deity. It is not God’s instrument on earth; it is the fallible mortal effort of fallible mortal humans. The litany of special problems for Catholics could not exist in an institution created and overseen by an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-worthy and all-loving inerrant and infallible deity.
Official Historical Injustices
The fact of centuries of official historical acts of social and individual injustice is well -known and, with apology, even recognized by the Church. Many consider that these are “old news” and deal with problems that have been corrected. The willingness of the Church to recognize past error and reform is admirable (if not almost always greatly tardy), but this does not justify sweeping old items under the rug.
The Catholic Church claims to be God’s Church on Earth. It ascribes infallibility to its leader, the Pope, the “Father” of God’s Kingdom on Earth. It is a matter of ecclesiastical integrity that a Church that claims infallibility for its leader and Divine Authority, should have the capacity to maintain a higher standard of integrity than an institution comprised of and operated by admittedly fallible humans. Because of the human element, it might not be realistic to expect absolute perfection, but the awesome scope of violence, corruption, murder and pure evil is astounding.
Because these crimes and sins have been acknowledged by the Church and, for the most part, rectified (with apology) it is not necessary to rehash all the details in depth. But it is important to list them all in a single place, take a close look at them, and ask if it is at all seriously possible to believe that the organization instituted on Earth to reflect God’s will for the betterment of his creations, could be allowed to go so far as to commit some of the following atrocities:
Inquisition & Crusades: Massive, widespread genocide against Jews and other non-Christians, and the initiation of unprovoked military invasions of distant, non-threatening nations for purely religious reasons.
Persecution of Jews: In addition to the genocidal Inquisition, there has been long-standing persecution of Jews in pogroms and other harassment for many centuries prior to and following the Inquisition.
Persecution of Science: The Catholic Church opposed most scientific knowledge, long after it was widely known and generally accepted on a consensus basis among experts, including the knowledge that the Earth was round (dating back to calculations by Eratosthenes in 260 BC), to the discovery of planetary motions by Galileo and Newton and the discovery by Copernicus that the Earth moves around the sun, to evolution, and to many other scientific truths. In most cases, the Catholic Church was eventually forced to admit its error and adopt scientific reality, often after hundreds of years of having taken the opposite positions.
Witch burning: Joan of Arc, executed for heresy in 1431 at the age of 19, was but one of many who were burned at the stake or waterboarded or hanged because someone suspected an independent young woman or and eccentric older woman or bold, free-thinking woman of any age who was seen as being just a little too odd (or politically dangerous) for their tastes.
Genocide, Enslavement and “Convert-or-die” forced conversions of Aboriginal Peoples: Catholic nations of Spain and Portugal, under agreements adjudicated by Papal decree, conquered by brute force and then killed or enslaved entire populations of aboriginal, indigenous peoples in their defeated colonies, primarily in Latin America and the Philippines and then, even after these populations obtained independence and the official end of slavery, perpetuated their continued economic oppression in two-tiered economies in which the native populations remained impoverished laborers creating wealth to support the opulent lifestyles of the wealthy descendants of the European conquerors.
History of Papal Corruption: In the 14th and 15th centuries, the papacy and hierarchy of cardinals became increasingly corrupt, selling indulgences, dealing in financial bribes, and extensive sexual misbehavior, including multiple mistresses and Popes having sex with children, including in the case of the infamous Borgia popes, their own children (hey, why is a Pope having children anyway?). It was the expansion of this corruption that led to the protests by Martin Luther and others that resulted in both the Protestant Reformation and internal efforts to reform the Church. It can hardly be believed that the level of perversity and widespread, open corruption could possibly have represented God’s church on earth.
Modern Historical Injustices
World War II Nazis and Pope Pius XII
Pope Pius XII reigned as Pope from 1939, as war was breaking out in Europe, until his death in 1958 at age 82. With the Vatican in a location surrounded by an Italy under Mussolini’s Fascist rule and aligned with Hitler in Nazi Germany, a powerful institution such as the Catholic monolith (but with virtually no military resources) had to walk a delicate balance in order to avoid being repressed by forcible, hostile military action.
Certainly it is understandable that the fledgling Papal administration of Pius XII would seek some measure of caution. At the same time, as a much more courageous Pope of the future, Pope John-Paul II (himself as a Pole having witnessed the oppression of World War II dictators), would demonstrate, while Popes may not command military divisions, they command moral authority. All of Mussolini’s Italy, and much of the land under German occupation, was religiously Catholic, including some of the world’s most devout followers. A word of moral authority on human rights, genocide or human dignity could have created a moral groundswell that could have toppled dictators and prevented the Holocaust.
By ending his predecessor’s ban on the virulently anti-Semitic organization Action Française in 1939, in the first month of his administration, Pius XII signaled to many an eagerness to exert hostility toward the Jews.
In June of 1939, still new in office, Pius XII worked with Brazilian emissaries to tighten Brazilian standards for issuing immigration visas, implementing standards that made it increasingly difficult for Jews and other non-Christians to obtain visas, preventing many from escaping the Holocaust.
Pius XII disregarded advise of many cardinals and other close advisors as to oppression and persecution of Jews, and refused to follow recommendations that could have reduced such atrocities. He repeatedly refused to publicly denounce the Nazi violence against Jews, despite encouragement from his advisors to do so.
In 1942, during the height of Japanese military aggression, Pius XII established diplomatic relations with the Japanese Empire, allies of the Nazis and Fascists.
There were many opportunities to stand up against violence toward Jews, but the “infallible” Pope seems to have forgotten that Jesus, the purported founder of the seat from which he reigns, was himself a Jew and, if Jesus had been living in the 1940’s instead of almost two thousand years earlier, he likely would have died in a gas chamber instead of dangling on a cross.
Protection of Child Abusers
While Popes and others at the top of the Catholic hierarchy have long given lip service to opposing child sexual abuse, my position would be that it is a long-standing official policy of the Catholic Church to endorse and support this reprehensible and disgusting practice, which is otherwise universally and vehemently opposed by all other persons of decency. In fact, I wrestled with whether or not to include this with historical or modern injustices since it has been going on for so long, but since the section on ancient wrongs deals with subjects that no longer apply today, and child abuse by priests is a current issue, I am treating it as a modern issue.
One cannot just dismiss the child sex abuse scandals as aberrant behaviors by a few perverted lone wolves acting in individual betrayal of their faith and vows. All institutions that deal with children, such as public schools, Boy Scouts, Big Brothers and Sisters, summer camps, and churches of other denominations have had to face the rare tragedies of such betrayals, yet they have not been tarnished by the same taint as the Catholic Church.
The reason for the difference is that other institutions do not have official policies to promote and encourage such disgusting practices. In the rare cases where abuse of any kind is even hinted at, other institutions react immediately and with the full force of law enforcement, firing, and openly and aggressively separating themselves from the perpetrators. They do not move the perpetrators to new areas with new victims; they cooperate with law enforcement quickly and aggressively.
In contrast, the Catholic Church has had official policies of covering up the abuse, protecting the abuser instead of the victim, and reassigning the perpetrators to new assignments, where they are exposed (in all meanings of the word) to a fresh supply of new victims. The Council of American Bishops’ report by their National Review Board, on February 27, 2004 officially acknowledged with apology their failings and their role in the scandal because of these widespread, official practices. Furthermore, after the American Bishops passed a “zero tolerance” policy to repent and change the course of these immoral policies, the Vatican rejected the Americans’ action, leaving pedophiliac abuse as still the official policy of the Catholic Church. And after Cardinal Bernard Law (outlaw?) of the Boston archdiocese faced possible charges for criminal complicity in abetting known abusers, the same Catholic Church that had abetted the perpetrators also protected him. Pope John Paul II, one of the most beloved of Popes, transferred him to hiding (openly) and protection in Rome.
The Church claims that it was unaware of the magnitude of the abuse, but this is simply dishonest. It is now revealed that in one archdiocese alone, Los Angeles, California, more than 200 priests were involved, and detailed records of the problem were maintained. And it is nothing new. As far back as 1759, 250 years ago, the French philosopher Voltaire wrote to identify and oppose this terrible offense against decency in his masterpiece Candide.
When Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of the Los Angeles Diocese, ceases his years-long obstruction of justice and refusal to cooperate with authorities (which has not occurred as of this writing), and when the Vatican ceases harboring of Cardinal Law, only then will they begin to have a modicum of credibility in their denial of official policies to harbor the criminal child rapists.
Ongoing denial of Equal Rights for Women and those those in the LGBT Community: The ongoing denial of equal rights for women to full participation in Church leadership and government, as well as freedom to control their own reproductive self-determination, is well known, as is their denial of full equality for lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgendered persons. The Church does not deny these official policies of oppression, but openly embraces them as official Church doctrine.
Issues of Doctrine, Ritual and Observance
Idolatry and Graven Images
The Second Commandment (from the Ten Commandments) says: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything…” [Exodus 20:4]
That is pretty explicit. The Moslems, who also claim to be descendants of Abraham through Ishmael, also have a variation of this Commandment in the Koran (Qur’an), in Sûrah 6:103 and 42:11, which for many centuries they interpret so literally as to forbid any images or statues of any kind, including photographs, though recent technological advancement has relaxed this to some extent, though images of God or their prophet Mohammed, especially in ridicule, still evoke tremendous negative reactions.
In clear violation of this, Catholics (as well as some Protestants), maintain elaborate statues of Jesus, Mary and many of the apostles, and often pray to these. What is even more degrading is that many of these depict Jesus at his worst, hanging lifeless upon an implement of capital punishment, and many even wear miniature versions of these ghoulish accolades to the death of their “Lord” around their necks, some with the bloody corpse still dangling on the cross!
While I do understand that this has become commonplace to the point of numbing normal, decent human sensibilities among the faithful, please try to understand how this might look to someone from the outside.
Elaborate, Opulent Lifestyles, Costumes, Rituals
Jesus lived a simple life and honored the poor. He washed the feet of his apostles, and touched and ministered to those considered unclean: the lepers, the prostitutes and the hated enemies from Samaria, the Samaritans.
In stark contrast to all that Jesus lived and died for, the hierarchy of the Catholic church lives and functions in elaborate cathedrals and chapels, with ornate artworks, bedecked in elaborate costumes, performing complex rituals completely unknown to Jesus, with no scriptural basis, and which are not only beyond anything Jesus actually practiced, but out of character with Jesus’ entire persona and ministry.
Oppression of Women; Male Domination; Celibate Priests
As noted earlier in this article, the early efforts to unify the many early sects of Christianity, with their competing doctrines, dogmas and even scriptures, came down to a political difference between those seeking to base their teachings on the words of Jesus, recorded by those who knew him best such as Mary Magdalene, Thomas — even Judas — with their egalitarian perspective of uplifting the poor, meek and disenfranchised (such as women) and the male-dominated followers of the Pauline teachings.
Of course, it is the Pauline authoritarian view that won out and, as a result, despite its complete lack of support in scripture, a tradition began of limiting the role of women. Women would not be allowed key roles in ecclesiastical leadership, and priests would not even be allowed to marry them, much less count them among their ranks.
Celibate priests: Forbidding women in Priesthood may be consistent with the traditions of the sexist culture out of which Judeo-Christian dogma arose, but forbidding priests to marry at a time when the church is desperate for more priests is not only a poor strategy for cultivating dynamic, vibrant leadership, but also a direct contradiction to scripture!
The same church that considers Peter to be the first pope disregards scriptural reference to the fact that the first Holy Father was … married! Matthew 8:14 makes reference to the mother of Peter’s wife.
Even Paul warned that forbidding marriage should be seen as a sign of apostasy from his true church [I Timothy 4:3].
The requirement of celibacy deters many vibrant, quality men, and many of those remaining, who are willing to at least live under the pretense of celibacy, are those who do not fit comfortably with the narrow range of traditional family options permitted by those who, admittedly, have the least experience with the subject.
A person who is attracted to those of the same gender is not welcomed into a loving, stable, appropriate family relationship and, shunned, may find refuge in the very clergy that has created a standard impossible for them to live up to. A condition of same-sex attraction, that might have afforded a perfectly normal, stable, family lifestyle if permitted to be enjoyed openly, is perverted by this tragic policy into something hidden, dirty, and which creates guilt and tensions that can build up until what could have been a happy, joyous expression of normal love and commitment, becomes manifest instead into inappropriate attempts at relationships.
Similarly, those who are attracted to children or other objects of affection that, because of the incapacity for valid consent or any semblance of equitable relationship, could never be appropriate, may also seek refuge in the dark shadowy corners of an institution where the normal, healthy relationships that should be encouraged are shunned.
Aside from being contrary to scripture, counterproductive toward the goals of expanding a vibrant, dynamic clergy, and putting clergy in a position where they are required to give counsel on areas of life they have no experience with, the policy promotes a tragic perversion of relationships in ways that are wholly unnecessary.
Many of the same issues that apply to other conservative denominations of Christianity, which often oppose Jesus more than follow him, even on many key points of ethics, morality, theology, doctrine, law and justice, also apply to the conservative social views of Catholics. For a more specific discussion of how conservative Christian (including Catholic) views on social issues such as abortion, contraception, premarital sex, women’s rights, same-sex equality, separation of church and state, general public policy perspectives and even the imaginary “war on Christmas,” I have discussed these in greater specific detail on the page at:
Contributing to Overpopulation and Disease While Ignoring It’s Consequences
While hard-working Catholic immigrants from Ireland (including some of my ancestors), Poland, Philippines and Latin America, have contributed to economic and cultural richness of this country working in conjunction with the Protestant, Jewish and other assorted contributors to our multi-cultural admixture. However, I also note that if you look at the modern nations of the world that have grown out of the colonies established by Catholic Spain (Latin America, Philippines) you will find that the hierarchical power structures, forbidding of population control, and concentration of wealth in the hands of the Spanish conquerors and their descendants and the virtual enslavement of the indigenous populations, has resulted in a legacy of these nations being among the most impoverished of any in the world, especially in comparison with the former colonies of Protestant English, Dutch or German colonizers.
Opposition to abortion, but especially birth control (Latin America, Philippines and other predominantly Catholic countries are among poorest and most backward in world) is an example of how Catholicism has not blessed the existences of the “least of these,” but rather has magnified the suffering of god’s beloved poor.
Forbidding even the use of condoms to prevent AIDS while also doing very little to constructively address the issue further exemplifies the contempt for the real needs of the poorest of the poor, while doing too little too late to react to the symptoms of poverty and disease that are the direct results of Catholic institutional policies.
It is possible that the elevation of Cardinal Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina to become Pope Francis, the first ever Jesuit to attain the papacy, that there might be reason to hold some optimism for future limited reforms, especially in the areas of social and economic issues and a turning back from some of the opulence and excesses towards a simpler, more humble papacy.
However, Francis’ past writings and statements do not suggest any reason for optimism in matters of equal rights for women or gays/lesbians, or for reforms such as softening the rigid adherence to a celibate clergy, or easing the harsh demands for increased procreation and the poverty it breeds. But when one considers the realistic range of choices for a successor to Pope Benedict, who was one of the most corrupt pontiffs in centuries and the chief architect of the official policy of protecting and harboring child rapists, and that so many of the voting cardinals had been appointed by him, there were certainly none that were less conservative on social issues, and none that were more liberal on issues of social and economic justice. The elevation of Pope Francis certainly does not dissolve all the issues of the Catholic church, but surely it is a refreshing breath of fresh air and may represent a small step towards much-needed reform.
To restate, it is important to understand that these criticisms are offered by way of rational discussion as to the theological claims of the Catholic Church to be God’s ordained and established institution on Earth.
This litany of failings is not meant to disparage sincere, faithful believers, or to undermine the many programs by which the Church does do much good in the world. It is also not intended to lose sight of the fact that any large institution with thousands of years of history will have had its dark chapters and shady characters, but that is the point: it is the best effort of sincere but fallible mortals, and not something instituted by an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving inerrant or infallible deity.
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