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Criticism of the Roman Catholic Church subsumes critical observations made about the current or historical Roman Catholic Church, in its actions, teachings, omissions, structure, or nature; theological disagreements would be covered on a denominational basis. Criticisms may regard the concepts of papal primacy and supremacy, or aspects of church structure, governance, and particular practices. Since the Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian church representing over half of all Christians[1] and one sixth of the world's population,[2] these criticisms may not represent the majority view of all Christian believers.

Criticism of the Roman Catholic Church in previous centuries was more closely related to theological and ecclesiological disputes. The Protestant Reformation (16th century in Europe) came about in no small part due to abuses of church practices by corrupt clergy in addition to these same theological disputes.[3]

Political disputes compounded the theological grievances between Protestants and Catholics and to this day the debate begun at the Reformation has been reflected in the diversity of Christian denominations. Contemporary criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church have tended to come from outside of Christianity, relating more to concepts in philosophy and culture e.g., Christianity vs. humanism. For this sort of criticism, see Criticism of Christianity.

Criticism of Roman Catholic beliefs

Opposition to teaching on Biblical grounds

Some Protestants charge that many Catholic teachings are unbiblical.[4]

Scripture and tradition

Protestants critical of the Catholic Church have questioned its reliance on what was referred to as "Sacred Tradition" (of which Sacred Scripture is a subset) by the Church.

Others countered that the notion of "Sacred Tradition" did not mean custom. Traditio is that which is handed down from God. — Catholics believe that the whole "deposit of faith" (including Sacred Scripture) was given by Christ to the Apostles. Sacred Scripture as a subset ofSacred Tradition must be interpreted in the context of the community founded by Christ.

The Catholic notion of traditio refers to what is passed down, and it is generally considered that the Church predates the Bible.[5]

Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide

Protestants who have questioned the Roman Catholic Church's reliance on tradition cite the doctrines of sola scriptura (Scripture only) and sola fide (faith only). These scholars have held that the position of the Reformers regarding justification was pronounced as anathema by the Roman Catholic Council of Trent in 1547.[6][7]

Some opponents of Sola Scriptura argued that, rather than being a return to fundamental Christianity, it was actually more of an innovation than traditional Roman Catholic belief. For example, the "salvation through faith alone vs. faith and works" controversy depends on how one reads the Epistle of James. Roman Catholics hold the Epistle of James as important. In the earliest edition of his translation of the Bible, Luther wrote his now famous comment: "The St. James Epistle is really an epistle of straw compared to [St. Paul's letters], for it lacks this evangelical character."

In response to these charges, Dave Armstrong argued that, far from straying from the Bible, Roman Catholicism is biblical. He asserted that Roman Catholicism is the only Christian denomination that is in full conformity with what the Bible clearly teaches. To demonstrate this, Armstrong (a former Protestant campus missionary) focused on those issues about which Roman Catholics and Protestants disagree the most: the role of the Bible as a rule of faith, whether believers are justified by faith alone, whether doctrine develops, what the Eucharist really is, veneration of Mary, requesting intercession of the saints, the existence of [purgatory], the role of penance in salvation, and the nature and infallibility of the papacy. (See "A Biblical Defense of Catholicism" by Dave Armstrong with foreword by John A. Hardon, S. J.)

Protestants including Confessional Lutherans respond by claiming that the Bible, including the whole context of the Epistle of James, clearly teaches that "good works are a result of justification, not a cause".[8] Protestant apologists further states that:

"It would also be correct to say that Catholics teach salvation by works since in Galatians Paul makes it clear that salvation by faith and works is really a form of salvation by works since salvation does not happen without the works...No Protestants that I am aware of say works don't matter. They do say that works do not have a role in obtaining forgiveness."[8]

Lutheran apologists elaborate that according to the verses in the Epistle of James, "we are justified/declared righteous by people when they see the good works we do as a result of our faith and they conclude that our faith is sincere."[9]

Confessional Lutherans conclude:

"The Lutheran church strongly teaches good works, but not as a cause of our forgiveness. We do works not to be forgiven, but because we have been forgiven. St. Paul strongly teaches the importance of good works, but he also clearly says that salvation is by faith not by works. The Catholic church denies this and teaches that salvation is by faith and works. This teaching denies the most important teaching of the Bible. This is another teaching for which the Council of Trent damned the Lutheran church. Read Paul’s letters to the Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. All of them clearly teach salvation is by faith not by works"[10]

Other Protestant apologists examine:

"Paul clearly teaches that we are justified by faith and not by works (Rom. 1:17)....James declares, 'Was not Abraham our father justified by works' (2:21)....James and Paul would be contradictory if there were speaking about the same thing, but there are many indications in the text that they are not. Paul is speaking about justification before God, while James is talking about justification before humans. This is indicated by the fact that James stressed that we should 'show' (2:18) our faith. It must be something that can be seen by others in 'works' (2:18-20). Further, James acknowledged that Abraham was justified before God by faith, not works, when he said, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousnes' (2:23). When he adds that Abraham was 'justified by works' (v. 21), he is speaking of what Abraham did that could be seen by people, namely offer his son Isaac on the altar (2:21-22)....Paul is stressing the root of justification (faith); James is stressing the fruit of justification (works) as the proof of faith."[11]

Religious exclusivism (One true Church)

Section 8 of the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium stated that "the one Church of Christ which in the Nicene Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic" subsists in the Roman Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. (The term successor of Peter refers to the Bishop of Rome, the Pope; see Petrine theory).

Protestants have rejected the pope's statement that Jesus established "only one church" (Roman Catholic Church.)[12] They also rejected the remark by the Pope that only the Roman Catholic Church could be called church.[13] The Pope said that Protestant denominations are not even churches "in the proper sense."[14] Protestants argued that the Pope is wrong, and that they were churches as well.[15]

Although the Roman Catholic Church establishes, believes and teaches that it is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church,[16] it also believes that the Holy Spirit can work through and make use of other churches to bring people to salvation. In Lumen Gentium, the Church acknowledges that the Holy Spirit is active in the Christian churches and communities separated from itself and is called by the Holy Spirit to work for unity amongst all Christians.[17]


The pope has laid out a plan to halt the growth of sects, for example, during his trip to Brazil.[18][19][20] The term "sect" here is a pejorative, but is not the same as a "cult", as sometimes used by Protestants.

The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia (superseded in 1967 by the New Catholic Encyclopedia) used the term "sect" or "Protestant sect" when referring to any non-Catholic belief[21][dubious ] including the following: Unitarians,[22] Waldensians,[23] Adventists,[24] Pentecostals[25][26] and Evangelicals[27] often blaming them for anti-Catholicism.[28]

Protestant Churches reject being characterized as sects, claiming that they are churches or denominations which should not be branded as sects. Evangelicalism, for example, includes Protestant denominations that are among the largest and most important in many nations, and includes denominations that are Calvinistic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, or Methodist.[29]

"However, it has a destructive effect on ecumenical relations if one church deprives another church of the right to be called a church. It is just as destructive as if one Christian denies another Christian the right to be called a Christian."[30]

Opposition to teaching on modern ethical grounds


Proselytism is the practice of attempting to convert people to a religion. The Church is criticised, especially by the Russian Orthodox Church of continuing aggressive proselytism, mainly by the Eastern Catholic branches of the Church.[31][32] The Church maintains that it "has a duty to evangelize; it is also its inalienable right",[33] thereby implicitly asserting the claim that it is the one true Church referred to above. The historical missionary activities of the Church in many areas have been criticised on a number of grounds.

Interactions with other religious groups

Jewish criticism

Some claim that antisemitism is endorsed by the Vatican.[34] Defenders say this criticism is exaggerated. In 1998, Pope John Paul II apologized for past actions by Christians that caused suffering to the Jewish people, calling them our "elder brothers" in the faith.[35]

Critics reply that Pope Benedict XVI was a member of Hitler Youth, a paramilitary organization of the German Nazi Party, as all German youth at that time were forced to do. He and his brother skipped meetings; the Nazis executed their cousin with Down's Syndrome. Benedict's father hated the Nazis.

There are also concerns about Pope's Benedict's endorsement of the Tridentine Mass. Concern by some groups is now focused on the Good Friday liturgy according to the Tridentine missal, which contains a prayer "For the conversion of the Jews". The prayer then refers to Jewish "blindness" and prays for them to be "delivered from their darkness."[36] After protest, Roman Catholic Church acted by deleting a reference to their "blindness".[37] However, Jewish leaders are still disappointed about the revision.[38]


In 2006 Muslims objected to Pope Benedict XVI quoting the 14th-century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II who wrote "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."[39] The Pope emphasized that he was quoting the emperor, and he neither agreed with nor disagreed with the statement.

There was considerable response to the pope's quote.[40] Islamic political and religious leaders expressed their concerns about his speech.[41] There were protests in much of the Islamic world, including Turkey, the West Bank of the Jordan,[42] Indonesia, Iran, and especially from terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda.[43]

Turkey's ruling party likened the pope to Hitler and Mussolini and accused him of reviving the mentality of the Crusades, while Malaysian PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that "The pope must not take lightly the spread of outrage that has been created".[44]

The pope responded "In the Muslim world, this quotation has unfortunately been taken as an expression of my personal position, thus arousing understandable indignation. I hope that the reader of my text can see immediately that this sentence does not express my personal view of the Qur’an, for which I have the respect due to the holy book of a great religion. In quoting the text of the Emperor Manuel II, I intended solely to draw out the essential relationship between faith and reason"[45]

Position on Freemasonry

The Roman Catholic Church has long been an outspoken critic of Freemasonry, and has continually prohibited members from being Freemasons since In Eminenti Specula in 1739. Since the early 1700s, the Vatican has issued several papal bulls forbidding Catholics from becoming Freemasons under threat of excommunication. The Church argues that Masonic philosophy discourages Christian dogmatism, and that it is anti-clerical in intent.[46][47]

The Catholic Church's most recent statement on Freemasonry was released in the 1983 document Quaesitum est, written by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by Pope John Paul II. This document remains the most current standing reference on the Church's policy on Freemasonry.[48] Quaesitum est states:

"The faithful, who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion...."

The 1983 Code of Canon Law did not explicitly list Masonic orders among the secret societies that it condemns.[49] This omission prompted some Catholics and Masons to question whether the ban on Catholics becoming Freemasons was still active, especially after the perceived liberalization of the Church after Vatican II and a number of Catholics became Freemasons assuming that the Church had softened its stance.[50] Quaesitum est addressed this misinterpretation of the Code of Canon Law, clarifying that:

...the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden."

These "irreconcilable principles" include a "deistic God",[51] naturalism[52] and religious indifferentism.[53]

Separation of church and state

Throughout much of the history of Western Civilization, the Roman Catholic Church has exercised many functions in Catholic countries that are more usually associated with government today. Many functions like education, healthcare, and a judicial system covering religious and some social areas were begun and undertaken by the Church. Certain bishops acted as secular rulers in small states in Italy and the Holy Roman Empire, notably the Papal States, although these were always unusual. The full separation of church and state in Catholic Europe and Latin America was a gradual process that took place over time. The church openly opposed the abuses of Spanish and Portuguese authorities over their colonies during the Age of Reason and took steps to operate outside of these authorities in spite of protests from the various monarchs.[54]

The Roman Catholic Church has tried to influence governments to preserve Sunday as a day of worship, to restrict or, as in Ireland and Italy, forbid divorce, abortion and euthanasia. It has also pressured governments to restrict or not to promote the use of contraceptives.

Catholic Social Teaching advocates a living wage, proper work hours and treatment of workers. Freedom to practice one's religion is one of the basic human rights the Church has been noted in defending especially in Communist countries around the world.

Human sexual behavior and reproductive matters

Some criticize[who?] the Church's teaching on sexual and reproductive matters.[55] The Church requires members to eschew homosexual practices,[56] artificial contraception,[57] and sex out of wedlock, as well as non-procreative sexual practices, including masturbation. Procuring or assisting in an abortion can carry the penalty of excommunication, as a specific offense.[58]

Although some[who?] charge that the Roman Catholic Church rejects sex for purposes other than procreation, the official Catholic teaching regards sexuality as "naturally ordered to the good of spouses" as well as the generation of children.[59]

Some criticize[who?] the Church's teaching on fidelity, sexual abstinence and its opposition to promoting the use of condoms as a strategy to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS (or teen pregnancy or STD) as counterproductive. The Roman Catholic Church has been both praised and criticized for its stauch pro-life efforts in all societies. The Church's denial of the use of condoms has provoked criticism especially in countries where AIDS and HIV infections are at epidemic proportions. The Church maintains that countries like Kenya where behavioral changes like abstinence are endorsed instead of condom use, are experiencing greater progress towards controlling the disease than those countries just promoting condoms.[60]

Opposition to contraception

The Roman Catholic Church maintains its opposition to birth control. Some Roman Catholic Church members and non-members criticize this belief as contributing to overpopulation, and poverty.[61]

Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the Church's position in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (Human Life). In this encyclical, the Pope acknowledges the realities of modern life, scientific advances, as well as the questions and challenges these raise. Furthermore, he explains that the purpose of intercourse is both "unitive and procreative", that is to say it strengthens the relationship of the husband and wife as well as offering the chance of creating new life. As such, it is a natural and full expression of our humanity. He writes that contraception "contradicts the will of the Author of life [God]. Hence to use this divine gift [sexual intercourse] while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will."[62]

Supporters of birth control argue that economic growth which allows for a high population density without poverty is a direct function of the availability of birth control, as it leads to smaller families (as is the case in all nations which allow birth control), which in turn have more purchasing power to support themselves and provide their children with education, which is universally recognized as necessary for sustainable growth.

The Church counters this argument stating that "Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good," it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it —in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong."[62]

The Church stands by its doctrines on sexual intercourse as defined by the Natural law: intercourse must at once be both the renewal of the consummation of marriage and open to procreation. If each of these postulates are not met, the act of intercourse is, according to Natural Law, an objective mortal sin. Therefore, since artificial contraception expressly prevents the creation of a new life (and, the Church would argue, removes the sovereignty of God over all of Creation), contraception is unacceptable. The Church sees abstinence as the only objective moral strategy for preventing the transmission of HIV.[63][64]

The Church has been criticized for its opposition to promoting the use of condoms as a strategy to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, and STDs. Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, has stated that Pope Benedict XVI asked his department to study the question of condom use as part of a broad look at several questions of bioethics.[65] However, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, in an interview reported by Catholic News Agency on May 4, 2006, said that the Church "maintains unmodified the teaching on condoms", and added that the Pope had "not ordered any studies about modifying the prohibition on condom use."[66]

Restrictions on homosexual behavior

The Roman Catholic Church requires homosexuals to practice chastity in the understanding that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered" and "contrary to the natural law."[67] All unmarried persons who have sex outside of marriage commit adultery according to basic Christian belief. Homosexual acts are considered one form of adultery that harms both the soul of the person who commits adultery and their relationship with God.

It insists that the only appropriate expression of sexuality is within the context of marriage, which by definition is permanent, procreative, heterosexual, and monogamous. The Church describes homosexual tendencies as "a trial" and stresses that people with such tendencies "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity."[67] In reference to the possible ordination of homosexuals to the priesthood, distinguishing between "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" and those that are "only the expression of a transitory problem", the Vatican requires that any homosexual tendencies "must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate."[68]

The Vatican has reiterated the standing instruction against ordaining gay candidates for the priesthood.[69]

Criticism of Roman Catholic prayer and worship


Catholics have venerated Mary and other saints for supplication, or requested help of some sort. Some Protestant Christians argued that in order for Mary and the saints to actually hear all the prayers directed to them, they would by necessity be required to possess the attributes of omniscience and omnipresence, thus allowing them to know all the requests made by either ultimate knowledge or by actually being present with each supplicant simultaneously. Many Protestant churches have not traditionally called on the saints or apostles as intermediaries as do Catholics, citing 1 Tim. 2:5[70] to support this view..

Catholics answer that when they have prayed to a saint they have asked the saint to pray to God for them, not to have the saint do something for them personally. For Catholics, belief in the "Communion of Saints" means that death does not separate believers and requesting prayers of a saint is the same as asking any friend. They also say that Christians have historically believed that only material beings occupy time and space: as spirits, saints and angels do not occupy space.[71] This, they argue, would suggest that angels and saints do not need to be omnipresent or omnipotent to answer prayers.


For the critics of the traditional role of women in Latin America, see: Marianismo.

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, asserted "The issue of Mary remains one of the hottest debates on the Protestant/Roman Catholic divide, and new proposals for Marian doctrines are likely to ignite a theological conflagration. At stake is not only the biblical understanding of Mary, but the integrity of the work of Christ."

Use of Latin

Before the reforms from Vatican II in the late 1960s the Roman Catholic Church was best known outside the church for the Tridentine mass, said mostly in Latin with a few sentences in Ancient Greek and Hebrew.

During the Reformation the Protestants almost totally rejected the use of Latin as "hocus pocus".

The French Catholic Church in the 18th century adapted vernacular missals in some dioceses. In 1794 the Synod of Pistoia, firmly influenced by Jansenism, rejected the use of Latin and demanded the use of the vernacular. In the 19th century the "Old Catholic" anti-primacy movements adopted the vernacular liturgy along with other reforms. In 1962 the encyclical Veterum sapientia of Pope John XXIII instructed priests and seminaries to hold to the all-Latin Mass and to promote studying the Latin language. While the Second Vatican Council for the first time allowed the use of the vernacular in the liturgy of the Mass, it also demanded conservation of the use of Latin and stimulated Latin Gregorian chant. The new, 1970 edition of the reformed Roman Missal allowed for a worldwide use of the vernacular in the Eucharist for the first time.

Traditionalist and sedevacantist Roman Catholics

Traditionalist Catholics see the Church's recent efforts at reformed teaching and (liturgical) practice (known as "aggiornamento"), in particular the Second Vatican Council, as not benefitting the advancement of the Church. Some groups[who?], claiming the Church has betrayed the core values of Catholicism, have rejected some of the decisions of the Holy See that they see harmful to the faith. They have in common the firm adherence to the Tridentine Latin Mass that was used, with some changes, for 400 years prior to 1970.

Others[who?], a numerically minor group, have characterized the current Pontiffs of the Roman Catholic Church as heretics. Several groups, known as sedevacantists, claim that the current Pope (as well, perhaps, as some of his immediate predecessors) were not legitimate. Sedeprivationists claim the post-conciliar Popes were still materially Popes, but formally non-Catholics due to formal personal and public heresy.[clarification needed]

Another tiny, extreme group of Vatican II opponents, known as conclavists, have appointed papal replacements: see list of conclavist antipopes. These groups were estimated to comprise not more than a few hundred Catholics worldwide.

On the other hand, some non-Catholic[who?][dubious ] historians have seen a clear continuity of the teachings of the Church throughout the centuries, a "handing over" (traditio) of "living faith" which according to George Weigel "inspires innovative thinking."

Criticism of Roman Catholic organization

Papal infallibility

In Roman Catholic theology, Papal infallibility was the dogma that the Pope is preserved from error when he solemnly promulgated, or declared, to the Church solely on faith or morals.

This doctrine has a long history, but was not defined dogmatically until the First Vatican Council of 1870. In Catholic theology, papal infallibility was one of the channels of the Infallibility of the Church. Papal infallibility does not signify that the Pope was divinely inspired or that he was specially exempt from liability to sin.

The Old Catholic Churches, organized in the Union of Ultrajectine independent Catholic Churches, resisted Papal infallibility along with the First Vatican Council's dogma of Papal primacy of universal jurisdiction.

Clerical celibacy

The Roman Catholic Church's discipline of mandatory celibacy for Latin-Rite priests (while allowing very limited individual exceptions) is criticized for differing from Christian traditions issuing from the Protestant Reformation, which apply no limitations, and even from the practice of the ancient Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, which, while requiring celibacy for bishops and priestmonks and excluding marriage by priests after ordination, do allow married men to be ordained to the priesthood and diaconate (Catholicism also permits married men to be ordained as deacons). Some[who?] also claim that mandatory priestly celibacy appeared only in the Middle Ages.

Some[who?] have argued that abolishing the rule of celibacy and opening the priesthood to women would update the Church's image as more relevant to modern society, and would help solve the problem of an insufficiency of candidates for priesthood in Western countries.

Many[who?] contend that maintaining the tradition in the modern age is unrealistic. In July 2006, Bishop Emmanuel Milingo created the organization Married Priests Now!.[72] Responding to Milingo's November 2006 consecration of bishops, the Vatican stated "The value of the choice of priestly celibacy... has been reaffirmed."[73]

In the wake of the clergy sexual abuse scandals, some critics[who?] have charged that priestly celibacy was a contributing factor. (see below)

Protestant apologists further state that clerical celibacy violates the Biblical teaching in the First Epistle to Timothy:[74]

"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving"[75]

However, the Church's tradition of celibacy traces its beginnings to both Jesus, who encouraged his apostles to be celibate if they were able to do so, and to St. Paul, who wrote of the advantages celibacy allowed a man in serving the Lord.[76] Thus, from the Church's beginnings, clerical celibacy was "held in high esteem" and is considered a kind of spiritual marriage with Christ, a concept further popularized by the early Christian theologian Origen.[77] Clerical celibacy began to be enforced in papal decretals beginning with Pope Siricius (d. 399).[77] In 1074, mandatory celibacy of the clergy became canon law as part of pope Gregory VII's effort to eliminate several forms of medieval church corruption.[78]

Women's rights

For the critics of the traditional role of women in Latin America, see: Marianismo.

The Church had been praised by many historians[who?] as having raised the dignity of women relative to their treatment in pagan societies (e.g. the Roman paterfamilias had at least theoretical legal authority over women in his family). Women were treated by medieval knights as ladies, a custom characterized by gentleness and reverence inspired by the Roman Catholic Church's veneration for a woman, Mary, as the greatest of all saints. This notwithstanding, the church has been criticized for certain stances which are considered by some to deny women certain rights.

Ordination of women

In recent times, the Roman Catholic Church's exclusion of women from the ordained clergy, and so from many of the most important decisions, was seen by some[who?] (including some Catholics) as unjust discrimination (at a time when feminist and other movements have advocated equal access for women to traditionally male professions).

As a result of feminism and other social and political movements that have removed barriers to the entry of women into professions that were traditionally male strongholds, in the latter quarter of the twentieth century many women in a handful of countries sought ordination into the Roman Catholic priesthood. The Church is convinced that it is not free to change this practice, which the Church traced back to Jesus himself, and has declared the matter closed for discussion.

The Roman Catholic position (as well as that of the Orthodox and, arguably, other ancient churches), is that this has been the clear teaching of the Church since the time of the Apostles. As the Priest is acting 'in persona Christi' (that is, in the Person of Christ) and Christ took the body of a man, the priest must be a man: "Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination. Paragraph 1577 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognises herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible."[79]

On May 22, 1994, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (on Priestly Ordination) which reaffirmed the traditional position, and concluded:

Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Luke 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.[80]

Within Roman Catholicism itself, debate on the subject now largely focuses on whether this statement is meant to invoke extraordinary papal infallibility (see the concept of the extraordinary magisterium) and raise the rule that women cannot be Roman Catholic priests to the level of dogma (thus unchangeable) of the Roman Catholic Church. That disagreement as to the status reached to the heart of the Church. However, its infallibility was asserted by the CDF in its Responsum Ad Dubium on October 28, 1995, when they responded to a Bishop's inquiry with the following:

"This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.
The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved this Reply, adopted in the ordinary session of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published."

Critics[who?] accused some of those attached to the Congregation of trying to make the document sound infallible to try to kill debate, in effect spinning a fallible document as infallible. Such an accusation has been made in the past, notably concerning Pope Paul's encyclical, Humanæ Vitæ

Those criticisms are based on what some Catholics consider to be a faulty understanding of the doctrine of infallibility. Others say that what is missed by those who make these criticisms is that "what has always been taught" is, according to Catholicism, as infallible as a solemn definition that springs from something which the pope declares to be infallible. That which has always been taught by the Church is a part of its Universal Magisterium, which is as infallible as such solemn definitions as that used to define the Assumption of Mary. A mere layperson is considered to be infallible when he would simply repeat what the church has always taught.

Criticism of Roman Catholic actions in history

This section, organized chronologically, covers historical actions for which the Western church and the Roman Catholic Church, have been criticised.

Persecution of Heresy and Heretics

See also: Catholic response to heresy

Before the twelfth century, the Great Church[81] gradually suppressed what it saw as heresy usually through a system of ecclesiastical proscription and imprisonment. During this time in history, an accusation of heresy could be construed as treason against lawful civil rule, and therefore punishable by death, though this penalty was not frequently imposed, as this form of punishment had many ecclesiastical opponents.[82][83] Later those convicted of heresy were often handed to the state for execution under state laws.


The Crusades were a series of military conflicts of a religious character waged by much of Christian Europe against external and internal threats. Crusades were fought against Muslims, pagan Slavs, Russian and Greek Orthodox Christians, Mongols, Cathars, Hussites and political enemies of the popes.[84] Crusaders took vows and were granted an indulgence.[84]

Elements of the Crusades were criticized by some from the time of their inception in 1095. For example, Roger Bacon felt the Crusades were not effective because, "those who survive, together with their children, are more and more embittered against the Christian faith."[85] In spite of some criticism, the movement was still widely supported in Europe long after the fall of Acre in 1291. From that time forward, the Crusades to recover Jerusalem and the Christian East were largely lost. Later, 18th century rationalists judged the Crusaders harshly. As recently as the 1950s, Sir Steven Runciman published a highly critical account of the Crusades which referred to Holy War as "a sin against the Holy Ghost".[85]

The Crusades and Inquisitions of Medieval Europe were partially born out of the effort to drive Muslims out of Europe, an effort that was ultimately successful but that did not improve relations between these religions. Later popes like John Paul II and Benedict XVI have worked for improved relations between these religions by holding ecumenical discussions and trying to find common ground on certain issues.

Medieval Europe consisted of a hundreds of small states and principalities. Simultaneously, Europe faced encroachment of Muslim military forces from both the East via the Balkins and the West via Spain and North Africa. The Roman Catholic Church, representing all of Western Christendom, encouraged crusades against Islamic controlled territories in Europe and in the Holy Land from 1095 through 1272 after Islam had conquered most of the Byzantian empire, including the Holy Land.

The Inquisition

During the Inquisition Spain (and Italy, and sometimes France) pursued those Christians who disagreed with what were believed to be key doctrines of the Catholic Church. Believing that the souls of those deemed to be heretics were in danger of being consigned to hell, the authorities used whatever means they considered necessary to bring about a recantation. Although the Church originally condoned these proceedings, it eventually got out of hand and the Pope called for an end to it. It was still widely considered in Europe to be the most merciful judicial system in Europe at that time, as evidenced by records of people blaspheming in secular courts intentionally for them to be brought before the Inquisition for a more just and fair trial.

Anti-semitism in medieval Europe

In the Middle Ages, religion played a major role in driving antisemitism. Though not part of Roman Catholic dogma, many Christians, including members of the clergy, have held the Jewish people collectively responsible for killing Jesus, a belief originated by Melito of Sardis.

As stated in the Boston College Guide to Passion Plays, "Over the course of time, Christians began to accept... that the Jewish people as a whole were responsible for killing Jesus. According to this interpretation, both the Jews present at Jesus’ death and the Jewish people collectively and for all time, have committed the sin of deicide, or God-killing. For 1900 years of Christian-Jewish history, the charge of deicide has led to hatred, violence against and murder of Jews in Europe and America."[86]

The Fourth Council of the Lateran, summoned by Pope Innocent III with his papal bull of 19 April 1213, approved ‘Canon 68’. It required Jews and Muslims to wear special dress or badges to enable them to be distinguished from Christians, ideas borrowed from Muslim countries. They were also forbidden to hold any public offices.


The Protestant Reformation (16th century in Europe) came about in no small part due to abuses of church practices by corrupt clergy in addition to these same theological disputes.[87]

Before the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church had a uniquely powerful position in the political order of medieval western Europe; its clergymen occupied a privileged location in the social class structure; and, theologically, it claimed to be the only legitimate Christian Church. Because Protestantism emerged from within the Roman Catholic Church, and began as a protest (hence the name ‘protest-ant’) against Roman Catholic worldly practice and religious doctrine, the Papacy and Catholic rulers felt compelled to deal with Protestantism as a dangerous, destabilising influence in politics and society, as well as characterising Protestants as heretical and schismatic.

Within a few decades after the Reformation, governments in most of Europe sought to impose a particular religion, whether Catholicism or a variety of Protestantism, on all the population they ruled. Apart from outright war, members of the "wrong" church were often persecuted or driven into exile. In Catholic countries, the Spanish Inquisition and the Council of Troubles in the Habsburg Netherlands were among the bodies pursuing persecution by judicial means. In France, the French Wars of Religion included numerous massacres, most notoriously the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572. After a long peace following the Edict of Nantes in 1598, Louis XIV reopened the issue in the late 17th century, and the persecution known as the Dragonnades was followed in 1685 by the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the expulsion of all French Protestants. Religious refugees from both sides were common in many parts of Europe. The Vatican long remained opposed to the limited religious toleration that gradually became accepted in many parts of Europe.

With the consolidation of Protestantism, the extirpation of 'heretics' became a much broader and more complex enterprise, complicated by the politics of territorial Protestant powers, especially in northern Europe. Persecution of Protestant groups ended only as Europe's rulers tired of fighting each other, despite the objections of the Pope, especially with at the end of the Thirty Years' War.

Asian subcontinent

Sisters of Mother Teresa's order were imprisoned on proselytism charges in India. Church officials reply that the nuns were illegally imprisoned and that they do not proseltize the dying AIDS patients they are caring for.[88]

Russia and Eastern Europe

After the end of communism in Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church experienced a resurgence. The recent expansion of the Catholic population in Russia strained the Catholic-Russian Orthodox relationship. Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow has demanded that the Vatican curb "proselytism" by Catholic clerics in Russia and eastern Europe.[89] Catholic officials have replied that their efforts in Russia were not aimed at Orthodox believers, but were reaching out to the vast majority of Russians who are not churchgoers.[89]

According to Roman Catholic Church CDF document called "Doctrinal Note on some aspects of evangelization", the Church doesn't see that as proselytism but rather as evangelism, although it's converting Orthodox Christians (at least nominally) to Catholicism.[90]

Sexual abuse controversy

In 2002, allegations of priests sexually abusing children were widely reported in the news media. It became clear that the officials of various Catholic dioceses were aware of some of the abusive priests, and shuffled them from parish to parish (sometimes after psychotherapy), in some cases without removing them from contact with children. It is estimated that up to 3% of U.S. priests were involved.[91]

Some of these reassignments were egregrious, the worst leading to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law from the Boston archdiocese. Victims of such abuse filed lawsuits against a number of dioceses, resulting in multimillion-dollar settlements in some cases. Similar allegations of abuse in Ireland led to the publication of the Ferns report in 2005, which stated that appropriate action was not taken in response to the allegations.

In response, the Vatican focused on the issue of homosexuality within the clergy, mainly because over 90% of the sexual abuse victims were teenage boys rather than girls or prepubescents.

Pope John Paul II's apology

In May 1995, Pope John Paul II apologised for whatever offences had been committed by members of the Catholic Church. Again, as part of the Church's desire for reconciliation at the turn of the millennium, in 2000 he asked publicly for pardon "for the sins of Catholics throughout the ages".[92][93]

See also

Blason ville fr Villejust (Essonne).svg Crusades portal
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  • Roman Catholicism's links with political authorities
  • King-James-Only Movement
  • Anti-Protestantism
  • Anti-Christianity
  • Anti-clericalism
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