Ask Anything: Catholic Church: God’s Plan or Instrument of Satan?

Q: I grew up Catholic and when I got older my soul was hungry for more.  With all the money, corruption and sexual abuse cases how does the Catholic Church fit into God’s plan?  Is it an instrument of Satan?

A: The short answer is simple:  the Catholic church is not an instrument of Satan, it is one of God’s churches in which the Sirit of God dwells and works.

Throughout history on a large scale, the Catholic church has provided service to the lost and least and a rich theological tradition. Protestant Churches (the stream of Discovery’s tradition) would differ from Catholic theology in a few key areas (role of Mary, praying to Saints, confession system and the teaching of heirarchy of sin, Pope), but we see Catholics as our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We have much to learn from their tradition and example among the poor.

Any simple statement about a large, long term entity will fall short, but here are a few statements I know to be true:

— I have personally benefitted tremendously from some Catholic theological tradition.  Catholic Scholars such as Luke Timothy Johnson and Ray Brown provide excellent scholarship. Catholic authors such as Henri Nouwen and Richard Rohr have few equals in the Protestant Church.

— Catholics have much to teach Protestants in their commitment to the poor, solidarity among the poor and their tradition of lifelong dedication to Christ, including celibacy.  The Protestant church has little equivalent in this area.

— I have friends who are practicing Catholics who are genuine followers of Jesus and who’s Catholic experience connects them with a rich spirituality in Jesus.

— I also have friends who found the Catholic approach in their specific parish to not connect them to rich spirituality in Jesus.  Others who came away from their particular experience with a belief that God is distant and angry.

— The same can be said for any number of Protestant Churches including ones just like Discovery.

Regarding the history of scandals and abuse, they are simply inexcusable: both the abuse and the cover up of the abuse.  Tragically, the Catholic church has not dealt with these matters well, although with the current Pope, I believe the tide is turning.  Nothing can make up for the tremendous harm caused by some religious leaders and the Catholic Church must look at not only individual perpetrators, but the system in place that allows abuse.  The damage is unspeakably powerful.

HOWEVER, I don’t know a single Catholic who is not grieved by the incidents and finds them appalling.  While I don’t see any theological precedent for a Pope in Scripture, the current Pope appears to be an amazing example of a follower of Jesus who is bringing needed reform.

So the answer is not simple.  The Catholic Church must change some practices and polity to have a zero tolerance policy on abuse.  At the same time, it leads the church in some areas of following Jesus that the rest of us could learn from.  Of course, as a Protestant, I see valuable change that came with the Reformation, including some needed theological change, but the Catholic church contains many genuine, life giving followers of Jesus as well as some who use the system to abuse and perpetrate crime.

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