Where Does the Road to Rome Lead Ch. 5
The appearance of unity among Catholics is misleading. There is actually a wide variety in their beliefs and practices. A few examples follow.
Protestant denominations openly admit their differences. Their names and statements of faith make it obvious. In contrast, Catholic groups who have have serious disagreements still call themselves by the same name (Roman Catholic), and they still say that the Pope is their leader. This gives a false impression of unity.
As we saw in Chapter 2, there are some Catholic priests and monks who combine the religious beliefs and practices of Catholicism with those of Hindus, Buddhists, and/or Muslim mystics (Sufis).
In spite of verbally saying that the Pope is their leader, there are some Catholic priests and theologians who openly defy the Pope’s authority.1 There are also some feminist nuns who openly deny Catholic doctrine and defy the Pope’s authority.2
As we will see, some Catholic priests and nuns teach things which are clearly contrary to Catholic doctrine and foundational Christian beliefs, such as the Atonement. Yet they are still allowed to teach in the name of the Catholic Church, and to hold positions of influence and authority.
There are some conservative Catholics who want to go back to the way that things were done before the Second Vatican Council. (1962-1965) This includes having Mass be said in Latin. Some traditionalists believe that the Council promoted heresies, and that Pope John XXIII and every Pope since him has been a heretic.3
There are some Catholic theologians who teach liberation theology. This equates salvation with armed revolution, calls Jesus Christ an armed revolutionary, and says that Mary is the mother of all revolutionary heroes.4
In Latin America, there were gun-toting Catholic priests who fought alongside communist guerillas, working for communist revolution. Jesuit and Maryknoll priests were members of the Sandinista leadership in Nicaragua.5
I first heard about revolutionary Catholic priests from a Latin American friend who personally witnessed the destruction and confusion which they caused. He had some Nicaraguan friends who came to the United States seeking refuge.
Catholic doctrine teaches the sanctity of human life. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, abortion and euthanasia are morally wrong.6
Georgetown University is run by Jesuit priests. It is the home of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, which is headed by a Jesuit priest, and has some faculty members who are also Jesuit priests.
The Kennedy Institute of Ethics actively promotes abortion and euthanasia. It is also working to have “death” be redefined to include people in “irreversible” comas, so that doctors can get better quality organs for transplants. This is documented in the book Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America.7
The Kennedy Institute of Ethics trains doctors, nurses, lawyers, legislators, teachers, and hospital administrators. It also has an annual summer “Intensive Bioethics Course” which is attended by people from around the world. It has branches in Asia and Europe. According to the woman I spoke with, it has the most comprehensive library of bioethics literature in the world.
Another area of diversity is the approach toward some old fashioned Catholic “devotions .” I will illustrate this with one example.
Can Catholics be sure of getting into Heaven if they wear a specific religious item showing devotion to Mary? Modern Catholic theologians and apologists will probably tell you, “Of course not!” However, as we will see, there are many Catholics who believe that Mary will give them “fire insurance” if they follow her directions.
According to tradition, on July 16, 1251, the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Simon Stock, holding a Brown Scapular (two pieces of brown cloth attached by strings). She promised him, “Whoever dies clothed in this [the scapular] shall not suffer eternal fire.” This promise is for people who belong to the religious order of the Carmelites, or who are associated with them. Catholics can be “enrolled” into the “family of Carmel” by any Carmelite or authorized Catholic priest. In 1965, Pope Paul VI encouraged Catholics to wear the Brown Scapular and pray the Rosary.8
The Catholic priest who gave me my brown scapular warned me never to take it off, not even in the shower. He said that in order to be sure of going to Heaven, I had to wear it at all times. And he didn’t speak about anything other than physically wearing the scapular. He said nothing about required prayers, or good behavior, or lack of sin. I wore the brown scapular for years, just as I prayed the rosary for years. But one day, I felt that it just wasn’t right to do that. So I stopped praying the rosary and I got rid of my brown scapular.
There are other Catholic devotional practices which have promises attached to them. They often involve the use of medals, rosaries, pictures, different kinds of scapulars, and specific prayers. Some popular ones are the Miraculous Medal, the Saint Christopher Medal (for travelers), the Saint Benedict Medal (for protection), the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary (also called the Sacred Heart of Mary).9
There is a “five way medal” which consists of a cross with medals at the end of each of the four arms. This enables people to wear a cross and four different medals at the same time in a neat and orderly way. (Five items on five separate chains could become quite tangled.) There are also “four way medals” which have four medals in the general shape of a cross. Sometimes the medal is enclosed in a circle. Some of these medals are solid gold, and quite expensive.10
I have known Catholics with a wide range of approaches to these “devotions .” Some considered them to be old fashioned, or even superstitious. Others took them quite seriously. I knew one woman who was so devoted to praying the rosary that even when she was carrying on a conversation, her rosary beads were going through her fingers.
Roman Catholic seminaries have a wide diversity of teachings and practices. Some of them teach traditional Catholic doctrines, behavior, and piety. However, many do not.
Michael Rose is a devout Catholic and a professional investigative reporter. He wrote Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church.11
Rose interviewed over 150 people. His book only shows the tip of the iceberg, because many people were afraid to let him write about their experiences. Others allowed him to write about them, but insisted that he change their name in order to protect them.
Chapter 5 (“The Heterodoxy Downer”) tells of seminary faculty members who deliberately undermined the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Some were openly disdainful of traditional Catholic doctrines, and mocked seminary students who believed them. Some seminary textbooks openly deny basic Catholic doctrines such as transubstantiation (the belief that Jesus Christ is literally present—body, blood, soul and divinity—in consecrated communion wafers and consecrated wine). This doctrine is the basis for the Mass, and for the Catholic priesthood. One seminarian threatened to sue his seminary for consumer fraud because it misrepresented itself as teaching Catholic doctrine
But it goes much farther than this. Some seminary faculty members deny doctrines which are absolutely foundational to Christianity. And they teach things which are clearly opposed to Christianity. Following are some examples from Chapter 5 of Goodbye, Good Men.
Seminarians who reported problems to their superiors were often reprimanded or ignored. Even appeals to bishops were ignored. The lack of response by people in authority is a recurring theme throughout the book.
This kind of doctrine and behavior is clearly contrary to what is taught in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. It demonstrates the wide variety of beliefs held by Roman Catholics.
Years ago, I had a friend who was a seminarian. He told me that he was going to leave because he was afraid that his seminary would destroy his faith and his morals.