Can Catholics Kill Protestants?
& Other Fables
Responding to Anti-Catholicism on the Internet
There are some charges beyond ridiculous. One of these is that the Canon Law of the Catholic Church advocates the killing of Protestants. Again, the anti-Catholic loves sensationalism and scare tactics. The Church is not only blamed for the Dark Ages and the Inquisition but probably for everything from bad breath to smelly feet. Instead of pictured as a loving mother, the anti-Catholic calls the Church of Rome a "monster." He cannot tolerate her authority or the possibility that there is a claim to truth beyond his control. Such a belligerant stance often puts the anti-Catholic bigot in the embarassing position of castigating even those policies and persons with whom he would have an affinity, if he truly loves the Lord. Thus, he takes public positions against pro-life endeavors which he favors, all because they originate with the Catholic Church. He also suggests that the likes of Mother Teresa is burning in hell because she did not espouse fundamentalist propositions; indeed, she closely associated the Eucharist with her charity endeavors. He becomes the very thing he says he hates about the Catholic Church, intolerant and dishonest.
EXCOMMUNICATION - Turning his attention to this subject, the anti-Catholic denies the Church any authority to discipline her membership. However, he ignores the fact that many Protestant communities shun and expell those who do not follow the party line. In ancient days banishment was preferred to taking the life of an unbeliever. Communion in the Catholic Church implies a uniformity in worship and belief. If such a unity is imperiled by heresy and/or irregular worship, the Church has the obligation to protect the integrity of the faith. One critic compared this policy to the work of Hitler or the Red Scare. However, there is no comparison. The substance of what is being protected is the truth, not a big lie as in totalitarianism. Further, one may still dissent, but one may not do so on a serious matter and pretend to still be a Catholic Christian. The two matters which bring automatic excommunication are harming the person of the Pope and deliberately procuring an abortion. Would the anti-Catholic argue contrary for violence or for excusing the murder of babies? I hope not.
PROSCRIPTION FROM OFFICES - This only pertains to ecclesiastical offices these days as most governments in the West are secular. Should a person continue as a pastor of souls if he is leading them into error or causing scandal by his conduct? I think not. In ancient days, this concern was tied up with the tension with kings over authority and interference in Church matters. While this point is now more historical than current, the Pope has insisted that Catholic priests and male and female religious not hold political positions in civil governments. Would the anti-Catholic who feels this infringes upon private rights really want a Catholic clergyman as his Senator or President? I doubt it. He makes a lot of noise for nothing!
CONFISCATION OF GOODS - This notion is quite archaic and no longer applies except in cases where goods belonging to the Church have been illicitly procured. Would the anti-Catholic want a disgruntled pastor to sell his church from under him or leave it to children with no interest in religion? No. It was the same issue with the Catholic faith. The temporal goods of the Church belong to the People of God. I would readily compare the few hundred dollars a month most of our priests get to the high salaries of many evangelical and fundamentalist ministers any day! Who is it who is really getting rich on religion? On top of this most priests have to maintain their own car, pay insurance, and pay the same taxes as all the rest of us. Religious clergy even take a vow of poverty. Mother Teresa's sisters only possessed two habits each and a bucket to wash them in. Millions upon millions go to charity and the Vatican often suffers a short-fall in funds. Where is this rich Vatican government that anti-Catholics shout about? Should the Church sell off her holdings of art to private collectors and deprive the world of what she safeguards for all humanity? The argument of the anti-Catholic bigot on this score is a tumbling house of cards.
EXECUTION - The anti-Catholics play this theme for all they can get out of it. Again, nations, Protestant, Catholic, Moslem, and Secular have often used religion to their own ends. The complicity of certain ones in the membership (or in leadership) is not grounds for damning the entire Church fellowship. In ancient times, the people themselves would often drag out and lynch heretics. The Church encouraged the rule of law to bring order and justice to the situation. Oftentimes confiscation of property and banishment was the punishment. However, over time the death penalty did encroach upon the scene. Further, until recent times, the Papacy actually retained a substantial territory, the Papal States. Consumed by the Italian unification movement, all that remains is the small Vatican City. The civil legislation of the old Papal States must be reckoned on the same level as other nations. Countries in the past and in the present have sometimes allowed the death penalty for threats to society. Records indicate that such executions in papal lands dealt with capital crimes like murder. Today, the Church has discerned a development in doctrine that would rescind this right of the state to take life since it adds to the current culture of death. Incarceration and rehabilitation are preferred avenues for criminals. However, this is again in reference to what we would all discern to be crimes against society. The irony here is that while many funadamentalists side with Catholics against abortion, they are frequently strong advocates of capital punishment in our own nation. This brings us back to the ludicrous assertion that Catholics are given liberty to kill Protestants. It just is not so. Alongside fundamentalists who want free access to the peoples inside the old Soviet Union, the Catholic Church has joined her voice in defending the right of conscience and religious liberty as a constitutive right of the human person.
Development along these lines does not impinge upon the charism of infallibility regarding faith and morals given the Church. While the Church is holy because of the abiding presence of Christ, her members are always sinners in need of their redeemer, Christ. Regarding matters of science and practical matters of government, the Church has had to feel her way through time just like other organizations. The Church may be infallible, but she is not always impeccable. Anti-Catholics often fail to make this distinction.
One anti-Catholic had to go all the way to Gratian's Decretals of the 12th century (one of the earliest attempts to codify the laws of Christendom) in order to discredit the Catholic Church. His own denomination did not yet exist, indeed, the Protestant Reformation had not yet happened. Nevertheless, he belittles the Church for oppressing his compatriots during that time.
Utterly desperate to show that Catholics can kill Protestants with impunity, one anti-Catholic bigot cites the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre. The king's sister, Margaret of Valois, married an important Protestant leader, Henry of Navarre. Her mother and her family secretly arranged for his assassination. When it failed, they convinced the king that there would be a Huguenot reprisal. They decided to strike first but the government could not retain the violence. Religious war broke out and upon his conversion to Catholicism, Henry of Navarre became king, himself. Unfortunately, another reliious war would follow. The anti-Catholic bigot gives few of the facts and condemns the whole Catholic Church for what was a French civil war.
The bigoted anti-Catholic's views
which I have largely reviewed here end with a terrible bluntness. He says
that unless one leaves the Catholic Church, one must be damned to hell.
He tells the Catholic to run, but only gives him a religion which judges
itself by its hate of Catholicism. That is no choice. The Catholic should
stay home and explore his own spiritual roots. Our history may have some
blemishes, but it also contains many jewels. It is the Church of the saints
and the family of God established by Jesus.
Prepared on December 8, 1997
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