Myths About the Catholic Church

Distinguishing Fact From Fiction

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, NOV. 16, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Much of the hostility towards the Catholic Church is based on ignorance and prejudice. This is the argument of Christopher Kaczor in his recent book, “The Seven Big Myths About the Catholic Church,” (Ignatius Press).

A professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Kaczor started by pointing out that the Church is made up of both saints and sinners and that mistakes in governance can indeed occur.

Nevertheless, misinformation and myth abound in reference to some issues, he added.

The first myth examined by the book is the idea that religion and science are in conflict with each other. Historically, this is demonstrably false, Kaczor argued, pointing to the numerous examples of Catholics and priests who played major roles in scientific discovery. Priests such as Gregor Mendel, the founder of genetics, and Georges Lemaitre, who proposed the Big Bang theory were just a couple of examples offered by Kaczor.

He maintained that faith and science are complementary and not in conflict. Science plays an important role, and faith helps us answer other vital issues that science cannot deal with, such as what we should do and what we can hope for.

The second myth is that the Church opposes freedom and happiness by saying no to a number of actions. Sensual happiness, Kozcor argued, is very transitory and is incapable of addressing issues such as the search for meaning in life. While various studies have demonstrated that large sums of money do little to increase people’s feelings of happiness.

True happiness

The Church, he explained, teaches that happiness comes about in the practice of love of God and neighbor. Therefore, it does not oppose true happiness, but a false conception of happiness that limits itself to riches, power or pleasure.

The idea that the Church hates women is another myth addressed in the book. The causes for this opinion range from the Church’s opposition to abortion and contraception to the restriction of the priesthood to men.

Kaczor started by pointing to various Gospel passages in which Jesus demonstrated his high regard for women and his refusal to be bound by the cultural and ritualistic laws of the time regarding women.

In his Letter to Women John Paul II, Kazcor explained, did admit that in some historical contexts not a few members of the Church offended the dignity of women and apologized for this.

In Christian ethics men and women are subject to the same moral standards, the book continued. Moreover, Christianity offered more support for women than the cultures in the ancient world. In fact, Kazcor noted, throughout the history of the Church there are more women converts and women active in Church life than men. This would not occur if the Church were pervasively misogynistic.

The issue of homosexuality, and the argument by some that the Church hates homosexuals, is another myth dealt with by Kaczor.

God loves everyone, he affirmed and the Church’s teaching on sexuality does not focus on the identity of some kinds of people, but on their actions. Catholic teaching on sexuality maintains that it should be open to life and within marriage. This holds for all people and does not single out people with same-sex attraction.

Difficult teachings

Kaczor admitted that the struggle of a homosexual person to live according to the Church’s teaching can be particularly difficult, but many other teachings of the Church are also difficult to follow, he added.

Regarding the opposition of the Catholic Church to the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS Kazcor cited research on the situation in Africa that showed reliance on condoms was not an effective way to combat HIV/AIDS. Instead, abstinence, and fidelity within marriage are the most effective methods and ones taught by the Catholic Church.

The argument that celibacy causes the crisis of sexual abuse of minors is another position that Kazcor described as a myth. He quoted research and comments from a variety of experts on the matter of sexual abuse, who maintained that celibacy is not the issue.

According to Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children there are cases of abuse in many religious settings, from evangelists, to mainstream ministers and rabbis.

The 2004 report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found a lower level of child sex abusers among clergy compared to school teachers and members of the general population of men, Kazcor pointed out.

In any case, he continued, a much greater percentage of sexual abuse takes place within families than by clergy of any denomination. A cohabiting boyfriend or a stepfather is much more likely to abuse children than a Catholic priest.

Yet, he noted, the media concentrate their attention on the Catholic Church. In the first half of 2002, for example, the largest newspapers in California ran nearly 2,000 stories about abuse in Catholic institutions. During the same period they ran just four stories about the discovery of a much larger abuse scandal in public schools.

These often little known facts make Kazcor’s book a worthwhile read at a time when many misconceptions persist regarding the Catholic Church.