Korey Maas presented a thoughtful article in The Federalist regarding Catholics who remain with the church despite the latest abuse scandals. He did not so much argue against their decision as express dissatisfaction with the reasons prominent Catholics have given publicly.
In the wake of the latest scandal, which now involve even the holy father himself, many prominent Catholics have come out declaring that their reasoning for remaining Catholic is that it is all about Jesus. Maas understandably responds by asking, If that’s your whole reason, then isn’t that also true of Protestant denominations and the Anglican and Orthodox churches?
I don’t particularly like getting into inter-denominational debates with Protestants, mostly because I think all Christians today face much bigger problems than each other. However, as the question has been raised, I feel it my duty to answer it, and I will answer both his direct challenge – Do you believe Protestants have Christ? – and the question of why I will never jump the Bark of Peter.
In the first place, Maas is perfectly correct, as far as it goes, when he says, “If the Christian faith is ultimately and essentially about trust in Jesus Christ and him alone, and if one attends church to hear the word of God in scripture, why not choose to hear that word and have that trust cultivated in a less compromised environment?” (Although judging from that he apparently is unaware of the immense sex abuse problem in Protestant churches, which I do not bring up to deflect from the Catholic problem, but in response to his description of Protestant denominations as a “less compromised environment.”)
More importantly, he misses the rather crucial fact that, for Catholics, one does not primarily attend church to hear the word of God in scripture, but to adore and receive the Eucharist. The sacraments and apostolic succession essentially derail his argument entirely, at least as regards the Protestant denominations. (It is more complicated regarding the Orthodox, Anglican, and similar churches. However, it would take too long to adequately delve into them here.)
He is also gravely mistaken if he thinks “Christ alone saves” is in any way complicated by Catholic doctrines regarding the Blessed Virgin or the Papacy, as if they had any independent glory or worth outside of Christ. The absolute sovereignty of Christ and the necessity of his saving act are at the very heart of Catholic doctrine. Everything else, from Mary and the saints to the church hierarchy, is derived from and directed to that end.
But now I will answer his question directly. The Protestant asks: “Do you believe Protestants have Christ?” The Roman answers: “Not as we do.”
You Protestants have him as a distant voice; we Romans have him body and soul and majesty and divinity. We feed upon his body and drink his blood. We hear, with our bodily ears, his voice through his anointed ones saying, “Your sins are forgiven you” and, “This is my body.” We touch the bones of his saints and venerate the wood of his cross. And yes, we hear his written word in scripture as well. We have him not only as Protestants do, but also in a way that can be seen and and touched and tasted.
Christ is not words on paper or high lessons. He is a man, solid and real. A man who tromped the Earth with his feet, struck people with his hands, and sweat and bled from his body. He is hard, brute, unmistakable Reality, and his bride the church is no different. She is no invisible collection of believers, but men and women bound by words spoken aloud under the same law and the same doctrine: doctrine that means one thing and not another. A visible, objective entity upon Earth, just as he was and is.
You Protestants do not have that. You have pieces that you tore off and carried away. We are original: you are derivative. You have an echo or an image or a dream of Christ. By the grace of God, that may be enough to bring you to salvation, but it is a poor substitute for the real thing. So, that would be my answer to Maas’s question. I hope that makes the issue a little clearer.
I am afraid Protestant readers may find all that a little harsh, but, well, I was asked. Also, so that we are clear, please note I am not speaking of anyone’s personal piety or faith, but of what the different denominations are and contain.
Now that that is all said, you probably have a fair idea of why I remain Catholic. To paraphrase St. Peter, to whom else should I go? The Roman Catholic Church is the bride of Christ, instituted by him and descended from the apostles. There is no other.
As John Newman put it, it is not a question of whether anyone can be saved outside the Catholic Church; it is a question of whether I can be saved outside her. If, knowing what I know of her, granted the gift of being raised in her fold, and seeing her current plight, would God forgive me if I abandoned her now because I am disgusted by the treason of her ministers?
To take the same issue from another side, I do not see that the present scandals have made the teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin a whit more convincing, nor those of ThomasAquinas and Robert Bellarmino a whit less. Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura still seem to me incoherent and illogical propositions, and no one’s behavior can change that.
The difference between truth and falsehood, what the substance of the faith is and has been, what reason dictates, and what the church fathers did and did not teach are all matters wholly irrelevant to whether the pope and a large portion of the hierarchy are good or bad men, faithful or unfaithful. In short, the same things that have in the past convinced me of the truth the Roman Catholic Church’s claims have not been changed in the least by this scandal.
Finally, there’s simply the fact that this nightmare is not the church’s alone. As I noted above, Protestant denominations have a similar problem, although their decentralized nature makes it harder to tell the extent of it, as do Jews. Outside the religious sphere, just about every area of our society from Hollywood to public schools (estimates are that one in ten public school students are sexually abused by an educator, which doesn’t count what students do to each other) to professional sports to medicine suffer epidemics of sexual abuse.
Again, I am not saying any of this to downplay the problem in the church: I am saying it convey an idea of just how massive and nightmarish this problem really is. We live in a sexual cesspool, and it wasn’t the Catholic Church that put us into it.
On the contrary, the Catholic Church was one of the few institutions that saw this coming. Pope Paul VI in “Humanae Vitae” predicted many of the exact same consequences that have arrived. He was roundly ridiculed for it and a large portion of the clergy and laity have spent the intervening half-century trying to downplay his warnings. What we are seeing is not the result of the Church’s teachings: it is what happens when those in the Church neglect her teachings in order to appeal to the world around them.
In summary, therefore, I remain a Catholic because the Roman Catholic Church is the body of Christ, because I do not think I could be saved if I abandoned her, and because, quite frankly, in this day and age the last thing I would ever want to do is step away from Christ, from the saints, and from the sacraments. The Church of Rome may be a compromised fortress with its gate left wide open, but it is a fortress nonetheless, and the only one we have left. And outside it is growing very, very dark.