4. On Criticisms of the Catholic Church and its Hierarchy

I often hear pejorative comments about the Catholic Church based on facts that, while they may be true, do not merit at all the generalization that the comments involve, let alone the damage they do.

Surprisingly, many people do not distinguish between church and hierarchy, they do not know that the church is the congregation of the Christian faithful by virtue of baptism, currently about 1,600 millions, while the ecclesiastical hierarchy is the gradation of subordination of persons or dignities that governs relations within the clergy. This is the ensemble formed by the pope, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests and deacons. Likewise, it is also forgotten that both lay and secular members of the Church are human beings and therefore they make mistakes. To judge and condemn the whole church for an error of any of its members is wrong, as would it be to sanctify all the members for the goodness of any of them.

Throughout history we see examples of actions, decisions and ideas of members of the hierarchy that are difficult to justify and, in my opinion, clearly wrong. The pedophilia of thousands of priests, unjustified and erroneous attacks on scientific truths (Galileo), (abuses of) The Inquisition, are some of the larger-scale examples. In the same way we find religious who adopt in the classroom and publicly political positions, or who threaten «the wrath of God,» or who speak with the «domain of truth,» forgetting among other things, both the limitations we all have, and the errors of the hierarchy through the centuries.

There are also Christian groups, not Catholics, in clear disagreement with some principles of Catholicism. Many of these disagreements are based on different interpretations of the holy book and adopted principles. I find it unfortunate not that there are differences in thinking, but the way in which they are sometimes expressed. Particularly because the essence of Christianity resides in the words of our Lord at the Last Supper: «Love one another as I have loved you,» and no one has ever loved as He did. From this principle that all Christians believe and accept as our guide, shouldn’t our differences be negligible or in any case kindly expressed?

I think it appropriate to comment on those different interpretations of paragraphs from the Bible that, for several years, I attended a Christian breakfast of about 10-12 faculty members from different departments at the University of Akron where I taught. I clarify that I was the only Catholic, the others were Protestants of different denominations, whom I respected because I knew of their Christian dedication to see them often handing out free gospels to students and giving other kinds of testimony. At every breakfast, a paragraph from the New Testament was read, and we all commented on what it suggested. I think we all accepted that no one has mastery of the truth, and that the thoughts of others enriched us. As far as I am concerned, those meetings helped me to deepen my faith, to grow spiritually, and to feel united with all my brothers and sisters in Christ. I learned a lot in general, but something that caught my attention especially was to observe how the same paragraph suggested such spiritually diverse thoughts among the attendeesI understood that God speaks differently to each of us, perhaps because of our varied backgrounds, our spiritual level, and our circumstances at those times in our lives. I have always remembered this, particularly when I hear arguments about the «exact» meaning of a paragraph in the Bible. I also remember that on one occasion I commented on how, as knowledge advances, and other interpretations of words of the time are found, new meanings of some biblical passages are opened; and that advances in science also help us to understand the figurative meaning of some biblical expressions. I specifically mentioned two examples, that of the days of creation, not as extensions of 24 hours, but as periods of time in which what is described occurs; and that of the universal flood that for me covered the known earth, not the entire planet. To my surprise, one of my colleagues disagreed with the second comment, he talked about whether there was evidence that the whole earth was covered with water, and the next day he brought me a book that argued that at that time there were rings of ice around the earth that when melted produced the general flood. After seeing the book, I told him that I did not see the current scientific evidence to support the thesis of this, and that for me the lesson that the flood taught us was independent of the amount of land that the waters covered, so, if one day it were scientifically established that the waters did cover the whole earth, The lesson of this passage would not change. We disagreed amicably.

I believe in the Bible, but I do not forget that it was written thousands of years ago for human beings whose knowledge was minimal compared to what we know today, and for our descendants who in 100 years will know absolutely more than we now know, so rather than taking each paragraph literally, I think we need to look at the essence of what it tells us.

Criticism of the universal church often forgets the testimony of hundreds of thousands of Christians, both seglar and missionaries, in our neighborhoods and in many third world countries who live in precarious conditions, risking their lives at times, and helping their congregations in any way they can. Likewise, there are millions of religious of numerous orders, and priests who dedicate their lives to the service of others and to prayer with admirable self-denial. How many schools and hospitals has the hierarchy founded over the centuries in all regions of the world? Without going any further, it is not common knowledge that more than 6,000 Catholic priests and religious have stayed in Ukraine during this terrible war to give shelter, food, heal the wounded, spiritually sustain and administer sacraments.

As Pope Francis has said: «To point out the errors of the church, it is of a good son, to accuse without love is of the devil.»

I think in general that when we are surprised by the mistakes of others, it is important to remember our own. Often, many of us do not objectively and frequently analyze our behavior, considering the principles we claim to profess. I believe that acknowledging our own mistakes helps us understand those of others; I clarify that not necessarily to condone or accept them, but to avoid absurd generalizations that in turn create new errors.

Por Antonio R Quesada

A esta altura de mi vida reconozco que lo que creo saber es ínfimo comparado con lo que desconozco. Usando mis experiencias, trato de profundizar en algunas ideas espirituales básicas que comparto con toda humildad a fin de animar a otros a que hagan lo mismo. Agradezco de antemano cualquier sugerencia o corrección que reciba. ________________________________________________________________________________ At this time of my life, I acknowledge that what I think I know, is minimal compared to what I don’t know. Using my experiences, I try to deepen on some basic spiritual ideas that I share with all humility, with the purpose of encouraging others to do the same. I thank you in advance for any suggestions or corrections that I receive. ________________________________________________________________________________ Dr. Antonio R. Quesada, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at The University of Akron. Ohio Teaching Fellow. Director of Project AMP. T^3 International Emeritus Professor.

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