Certain Accusations Against the Church: Part 8

Fr. W. Devivier, SJ
Edited by Bishop S.G. Messmer, DD, DCL
Bishop of Green Bay, Wisc.
Imprimatur, 1903


One of the charges made against the holiness of the Church is: the Church has not always been a school of morality, since its very heads have disgraced the pontifical chair.

After what we have said previously, the answer to this question presents no difficulty.

The Church labors unceasingly for the sanctification of her children: this is her mission. But the grace offered to man to enlighten his intelligence and strengthen his will in no way constrains him. He may refuse this grace and make his conduct contradict his belief, but he does so only by stifling his conscience, by trampling under foot a religion which unceasingly calls him to his duty, exhorts him to the practice of virtue, and threatens him with most terrible punishments if he persists in his evil-doing. Hence there have always been sinners in the bosom of the Church; side by side with great virtues we find vice and disorders, the effects of the weakness and malice of man's heart.

The Popes themselves, notwithstanding their high calling and their grave obligations, are men: if they are infallible in their doctrinal teaching, they are not impeccable. They may fall, as St. Peter himself fell, but their sin is the act of the man and not of the Pontiff; these stains, wholly personal, in no way mar the holiness or the authority of the Holy See. [2] This is a case for the application of Our Saviour's words: Do what they tell you and not what they do. (Matth. xxiii. 3)

REMARKS.----1st. History shows us from St. Peter to Leo XIII 259 Popes, all of whom, with very few exceptions, were irreproachable, and a great number of whom were men eminent for their knowledge, their wisdom, and their virtues; Is not this a spectacle as worthy of admiration as of respect? Where shall we find in the civil order a dynasty comparable to this series of the heads of the Church of Rome?

2d. They cite, it is true, a few Popes who seem to have been an exception, particularly Stephen VI and John XII in the tenth century, Benedict IX in the eleventh, and Alexander VI at the end of the fifteenth century. But, first of all, this number is very small; it is hardly perceptible in the multitude of the others. Would it be just to protest unceasingly against magistracy because a few magistrates failed in their duty, or against printing because there are writers who abuse the invention?

3d. Moreover, it is proved that many of the facts alleged against the Popes have been, if not malicious inventions, greatly exaggerated or falsely represented. Witness the absurd tale of the female Pope Joan, who, it was alleged, occupied the chair of Peter under the name of John VIII, after the death of Leo IV, in 855. This fable, which was current for a long time, is now recognized as one of the most flagrant historical lies by Protestants themselves, and by unbelievers, such as Dumoulin, Bayle, and Basnage. [3] The memory of more than one Pope unjustly defamed by writers hostile to the Church has been completely restored, and, what is more, by Protestant historians. This was the case, for example, in regard to Gregory VII and Innocent III. [4]

4th. We must further observe that no Pope, whatever his private life, ever issued a decree contrary to the purity of faith and morals; nor has one ever taught or instituted anything for the purpose of legitimizing his disorders. Certainly we cannot say as much for the heads of Protestantism. They desired nothing so much as to abolish celibacy and monastic vows. In the facts which we have stated above we recognize a striking proof of the assistance which God unceasingly grants His Church. [5]

In regard to special charges against certain Popes we may consult ecclesiastical histories or special works, such as those by Pastor and Mann.


THE author takes up in the present chapter certain accusations against the Church taken from her history. But in a countless variety of forms she is also charged with "false immoral, and blasphemous" doctrines and practices, charges to which the Catholic apologist must give a solid reply. This, however, would demand another volume. Hence it must suffice here to tell the reader where he may find comparatively full answers to those vain accusations.

Dr. Ryder's "Catholic Controversy" is undoubtedly the best popular manual of this kind. Bishop England (his works, vols. i., ii., iii.), Card. Gibbons (Faith of Our Fathers), Gother (The Papist Misrepresented), Searle (Plain Facts), Conway (The Question Box), and Arnold's Catholic Dictionary take up most of the subjects mentioned under the following four heads:

1. The Doctrines of Confession (Hunter, III.; Melia; Spalding, J. M., Miscell., II., n. 2!; C. T. S. xxxiv.), Indulgences (ib., also Bp. Hedley, O. S. B.); Probabilism and Casuistry (M. xliii. 185, Dec. 1901; Rickaby, essay 3), Lying and Equivocation (11. B. Jan. '9.5; Rickaby, essay 4; Jones, S.J., Dishonest Criticism), Tyrannicide (A. C. Q. xxvii.; Hergenroether, C. Ch., II., p. 233 iI.; Gerard Antidote) Intention in the administration of Sacraments (Bp. England, L, p. 474 ff.; c. T. S. xxiv.; Hunter, III., n. 683; Doi3worth, Popular Delusions and Objections, etc., p. 54). See also Newman,, Development, p. 381 ff.
2. The practice of Simony in giving money for Masses and Sacraments (Ryder, p. 239; Searle, p. 221), for indulgences (Green; Bp. England, III., p. 13 ff.), for dispensation from Fastlng (.e. g. Balla cruciata, Bp. England, III., p. 191 iI.) and mamage Impediments, for ecclesIastical , appointments and promotion to clerical orders (C. W. xxxiii. 245, xxxv. j 738). See also Gerard; Dodsworth; C. T. S. vii., xi.
3. The practice of Superstition and even Idolatry in worshipping the  Sacred Heart of Jesus (Manning, Miscell., II., p. 1; Hunter, II., n. 536; .. Dalgairns, Devotion to the S. H., Introd.; C. W. May 1901), the Bl. Virgin Mary the Saints and Angels, holy relics and images (Br. W. Vlll. 117 iI.; Bp. England, II., p. 96 iI.; C. T. S. XVlll. xxx.; A. E. R. Oct. 1902) in using blessed articles, e. g., scapulars, medals, beads, and the crucifix; in offering prayers for the Dead (Bp. England, I., 265 ff.). See also Br. W. vi. 337 ff., 380 iI.; Newman, 1. c., 398 ft.; Hunter, III., n. 842; De Trevern; Bagshawe, Threshold; Segur, Short and Familiar Answers; C. T. S, iv., v., xiv.; M. June 1898, May 1902; Garside.
4. Useless and injurious Observances, e. g. Celibacy (C. T. S. xli.; J. C., Why Should Priests Wed?; M. May 1898), Religious Vows and life in Convents (Br. W. viii. 219; St. Thomas, Apology for Religious Orders; Feasey; C. W. March 1901; M. Dec. 1899; D,R., Old Ser. xxx. 467; C.T. S. xix., xlvii.), Communion in one kind (Garside, p. 125), Fasting (Butler, Feasts and Fasts, Tr. 5; Gaume, Catech., IV. p. 319 ff.); External Ceremonial (Tyrrell; Bridgett; Bagshawe, Credentials, p. 258; Chatard, Truths, n. 8; Burke, Reasonableness of Catholic Ceremomes; C. W. June, 190]), Latin language in public Service (C. T. S. ix.; Bp. England, II., p. 50 ff.).
5. On Scandals and Abuses in the Church see Allnatt, The Church and the Sects, 1. 1; Searle; Dodsworth; Ricards, C. Ch., p. 94 f.; Spalding, J. M., History of Reform., I., ch. 3.


1. Murphy, ch. 37; Bp. England's Works, vol. ii., p. 436 ff.; D. R. Old Ser. xxxviii. 1; C. W. xliv. 215, 365; Burnet, Path, ch. 9; Spalding, Evid., lect. 7, n. 9.
2. "I maintain that if the ancestry of Judah's royal line, magnificent as it was and destined to be the forerunner of Him of Whom St. Paul had many and great things to declare, could yet include some of the worst sinners, why might not the apostolical succession, in which was, individually or collectively, naught so holy as He to Whom all the prophets bore witness, in Whom was seen on earth all the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth?" Purcell's Debate with Campbell, p. 157. See also the excellent remarks ib. p. 156.
3. Doellinger, Fables; Parsons, Studies, II., ch. 2; C. W. ix.l.
4. Dr. O. Brownson, replying in C. W., April '69, to an attack on the Popes by Harper's Magazine, states that he has studied the history of the Roman Pontiffs with great care and diligence, both as an antipapist and as a papist, with an earnest desire to find facts against the Popes and with an equally earnest desire to ascertain the exact historical truth. As a result of his investigations he lays down the rule "that everything that reflects injuriously on the character of a Bishop of Rome is presumptively false, and to be accepted only on the most indubitable evidence." Br. W., xiii., p.147.
5. "Nothing gives me more faith in the genuineness and truth of our holy religion than when, in reviewing the history of these disgraceful enormities, I find the Church, in the very midst of scandal enough to blacken and overthrow any earthly institution, still supported and upheld by the almighty hand of God; a Church that has stood through all that the gentleman has laid to the charge of the merely mortal men who have presided for a season over its destinies. A few of them have erred in morals, but none of them in faith; sound doctrine and sound morals were seen and admired, during these sad eclipses, and infidel nations were, during that passing obscurity in Rome, rejoicing in the beams of the orient Sun of justice heralded by Catholic missionaries." Purcell's Debate, p. 145.