Criticism of the Catholic Church

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Criticism of the Catholic Church includes observations made about the current or historical Catholic Church, in its actions, teachings, omissions, structure, or nature. Theological disagreements are covered on a denominational basis. Criticisms may regard the concepts of papal primacy and supremacy, or aspects of church structure, governance, and particular practices. Since the Catholic Church is the largest Christian church representing over half of all Christians[1] and one sixth of the world's population,[2] these criticisms may not necessarily represent the majority view of all Christian and non-believers.

Criticism of the Catholic Church in previous centuries was more closely related to theological and ecclesiological disputes. The Protestant Reformation (16th-century Europe) came about due to abuses of church practices by corrupt clergy in addition to these same theological disputes.[3] Political disputes compounded the theological grievances between Protestants and Catholics and to this day the debate begun at the Reformation has been reflected in the diversity of Christian denominations. Some contemporary criticisms of the Catholic Church relate to philosophy and culture e.g., Christianity vs. humanism.

Criticism of Catholic beliefs[edit]

Paganized Christianity[edit]

Some dissenters believe that the early Church, especially in Rome, was influenced by pagan rituals and beliefs from the Roman imperial cult, Hellenistic philosophy, including Neoplatonism, and Gnosticism.

As one example, some Protestants criticize the Catholic Church because they believe that the latter allowed the Roman traditions back into the church.[4][5] They have stated that to conciliate the Pagans to nominal Christianity, the Catholic Church took measures to combine the Christian and Pagan festivals [6] so pagans would join the church; for example, the Protestants believe that Easter as a 'substitute' for Passover, though no record of Christian celebrations have necessarily yet been found that indicate that the celebration of Easter was observed as importantly before the second century.[4][5][7][8]

Scripture and tradition[edit]

Protestants and other biblical scholars critical of the Catholic Church have questioned its reliance on what is referred to by the Church as "Sacred Tradition"—the foundational authority of the Church. The Church says that sacred tradition is handed down from God, citing verses of 2 Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 2:15) "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught by us, whether by word, or our epistle."[9]

The Church says that Christ handed down the "Sacred Scripture", which was written by holy men who were inspired and directed by God.[10] As a subset of Sacred Tradition, the Sacred Scripture must be interpreted in the context of the community founded by Christ.[clarification needed] Protestants say that no biblical evidence supports this.[11]

Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide[edit]

Protestants and biblical scholars who have questioned and criticize the Catholic Church's reliance on tradition cite the doctrines of sola scriptura (Scripture only) and sola fide (faith only). The Catholic Church has historically taught that through faith and good works one can be saved. The Church has followed the teaching of Epistle of James (James 2:24-26) and other scriptural references.[12][13] The Catholic Church disagrees with the Lutheran interpretation, adopted by most Protestants, including the sola scriptura and sola fide.[14]

Catholic Church – One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church[edit]

Section 8 of the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium stated that "the one Church of Christ which in the Nicene Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic" subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter the apostle and by the bishops in communion with him (the term successor of Peter refers to the Bishop of Rome, the Pope; see Petrine theory). Likewise, Mystici Corporis explicitly states "the Catholic Church... is the Church of Christ".

Other Christian denominations, notably Protestants have rejected the Catholic doctrine that Christ established "only one Church" and that that one Church is the Catholic Church. Protestants also rejected the remark by Pope Benedict XVI that only the Catholic Church could be properly be called "the Church".[15] Pope Benedict XVI issued the papal document Dominus Iesus which stated that Protestant denominations are not churches "in the proper sense."[16] A general Catholic belief that supports the Catholic Church is Matthew 16:18, where God tells Peter that the church which he established, and what became the Catholic Church, would not be overcome by anything done against it or to anything done against God, yet this verse is ambiguous at best and says nothing of the traditions of the papacy.

Opposition to teaching on modern ethical grounds[edit]


Proselytism is the practice of attempting to convert people to a religion. The Catholic Church has been criticised, by the Russian Orthodox Church of continuing aggressive proselytism, mainly by the Eastern Catholic branches of the Catholic Church.[17][18] The Church maintains that it "has a duty to evangelize; it is also its inalienable right".[19]

Interactions with other religious groups[edit]

Jewish criticism[edit]

In 1998, Pope John Paul II apologized for past actions by Nazi 'Protestant Christians' that caused suffering to the Jewish people, calling them "our elder brothers" in the faith.[20]

Critics reply that Pope Benedict XVI was a member of Hitler Youth, a paramilitary organization of the German Nazi Party, although membership was required by law for all 14-year-old German boys after December 1939.[21]

There was also controversy over Pope Benedict allowing a wider sue of the Tridentine Mass in the 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. Concern was focused on the Good Friday liturgy in the Tridentine missal, which contained a prayer "For the conversion of the Jews" referring to Jewish "blindness" and prays for them to be "delivered from their darkness."[22] The American Jewish Committee (AJC) stated in a press release:

We acknowledge that the Church's liturgy is an internal Catholic matter and this motu proprio from Pope Benedict XVI is based on the permission given by John Paul II in 1988 and thus, on principle, is nothing new. However we are naturally concerned about how wider use of this Tridentine liturgy may impact upon how Jews are perceived and treated. We appreciate that the motu proprio actually limits the use of the Latin Mass in the days prior to Easter, which addresses the reference in the Good Friday liturgy concerning the Jews," Rosen added. "However, it is still not clear that this qualification applies to all situations and we have called on the Vatican to contradict the negative implications that some in the Jewish community and beyond have drawn concerning the motu proprio."[23]

In response to such complaints, Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 replaced the prayer in the 1962 Missal with a newly composed prayer that makes no mention of blindness or darkness. However, Jewish leaders were still disappointed by the revision.[24]


In 2006 Muslims objected to Pope Benedict XVI quoting the 14th-century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II who wrote "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."[25] The Pope emphasized that he was quoting the emperor, and he neither agreed with nor disagreed with the statement.

There was considerable response to the pope's quote.[26] Islamic political and religious leaders expressed their concerns about his speech.[27] There were protests in much of the Islamic world, including Turkey, the West Bank of the Jordan,[28] Indonesia, Iran, and especially from terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda.[29]

Turkey's ruling party likened the pope to Hitler and Mussolini and accused him of reviving the mentality of the Crusades, while Malaysian PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that "The Pope must not take lightly the spread of outrage that has been created".[30]

The Pope responded "In the Muslim world, this quotation has unfortunately been taken as an expression of my personal position, thus arousing understandable indignation. I hope that the reader of my text can see immediately that this sentence does not express my personal view of the Qur’an, for which I have the respect due to the holy book of a great religion. In quoting the text of the Emperor Manuel II, I intended solely to draw out the essential relationship between faith and reason"[31]

Separation of church and state[edit]

Throughout much of the history of Western Civilization, the Catholic Church has exercised many functions in Catholic countries that are more usually associated with government today. Many functions like education, healthcare, and a judicial system covering religious and some social areas were begun and undertaken by the Church. Certain bishops acted as secular rulers in small states in Italy and the Holy Roman Empire, notably the Papal States, although these were always unusual. The full separation of church and state in Catholic Europe and Latin America was a gradual process that took place over time. The church openly opposed the abuses of Spanish and Portuguese authorities over their colonies during the Age of Reason and took steps to operate outside of these authorities in spite of protests from the various monarchs.[32]

The Catholic Church has tried to influence governments to preserve Sunday as a day of worship, to restrict or, as in Ireland, Italy, the Philippines, and Latin America, forbid divorce, abortion and euthanasia. It has also pressured governments to restrict or not to promote the use of contraceptives.

Catholic Social Teaching advocates a living wage, proper work hours and fair treatment of workers.[33] Freedom to practice one's religion is one of the basic human rights the Church has been noted in defending especially in Communist countries around the world.[34]

Human sexual behavior and reproductive matters[edit]

The Church teaches the practice of chastity. It interprets this to mean that believers should eschew fornication,[35] and that no persons inside or outside of marriage may practice masturbation, sodomy and homosexual practices (The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches "They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" and that "Homosexual persons are called to chastity"),[36] artificial contraception,[37] coitus interruptus[38][39] sterilization, and the procurement of or assisting in an abortion.[40]

The official Catholic teaching regards sexuality as "naturally ordered to the good of spouses" as well as the generation of children.[41]

The Church teaches fidelity, sexual abstinence and opposition to the use of condoms as counterproductive.[42] The Catholic Church has been criticized for its pro-life efforts in all phases of society. The Church's denial of the use of condoms has provoked criticism especially in countries where AIDS and HIV infections are at epidemic proportions. The Church maintains that countries like Kenya where behavioral changes like abstinence are endorsed instead of condom use, are experiencing greater progress towards controlling the disease than those countries just promoting condoms.[43]

Opposition to contraception[edit]

The Catholic Church maintains its opposition towards artificial means of birth control.[44][45] Some Catholic Church members and non-members criticize this belief as contributing to overpopulation and poverty.[46]

Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the Church's position in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (Human Life). In this encyclical, the Pope acknowledges the realities of modern life as well as the questions and challenges these raise.[44] Furthermore, he explains that the purpose of intercourse is both "unitive and procreative", that is to say it strengthens the relationship of the husband and wife as well as offering the chance of creating new life. As such, it is a natural and full expression of our humanity. He writes that contraception "contradicts the will of the Author of life [God]. Hence to use this divine gift [sexual intercourse] while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will."[44]

Supporters of birth control argue that economic growth which allows for a high population density without poverty is a direct function of the availability of birth control, as it leads to smaller families (as is the case in all nations which allow birth control), which in turn have more purchasing power to support themselves and provide their children with education, which is universally recognized as necessary for sustainable growth.

The Church counters this argument with its claim that "Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good, it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it —in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong."[44]

The Church stands by its doctrines on sexual intercourse as defined by the Natural law: intercourse must at once be both the renewal of the consummation of marriage and open to procreation. If each of these postulates are not met, the act of intercourse is, according to Natural Law, an objective mortal sin. Therefore, since artificial contraception expressly prevents the creation of a new life (and, the Church would argue, removes the sovereignty of God over all of Creation), contraception is unacceptable. The Church sees abstinence as the only objective moral strategy for preventing the transmission of HIV.[47][48]

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers, has stated that Pope Benedict XVI asked his department to study the question of condom use as part of a broad look at several questions of bioethics.[49] However, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, in an interview reported by the Catholic News Agency on May 4, 2006, said that the Church "maintains unmodified the teaching on condoms", and added that the Pope had "not ordered any studies about modifying the prohibition on condom use."[50]


The Church has been criticized for its opposition to promoting the use of condoms as a strategy to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, and STDs. Church officials deny that their teaching against condom use is followed by those same people who flout Church teaching on illicit sexual activity, such as its absolute condemnation of anal intercourse between men.

The Catholic Church emphasizes "education towards sexual responsibility", focusing on partner fidelity rather than the use of condoms as the primary means of preventing the transmission of AIDS.[51] This stance has been criticized as unrealistic, ineffective, irresponsible and immoral by some public health officials and AIDS activists.[51] Some evidence suggests that abstinence-only sex education does not work, and comprehensive sex education should be used instead.[52][53][54]

Criticism of Catholic prayer and worship[edit]

Sacrifice of the Mass[edit]

Amongst the gravest of criticisms made by non-Catholic Christians of the Catholic Church surround those criticizing the central Catholic worship service: "The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass", also called Holy Communion. For Catholics it is the centre and summit of Catholic worship and the greatest of the seven sacraments of the Church. Protestants almost universally criticize the idea that the Holy Communion as celebrated in Catholic churches has the nature of a sacrifice; that is, Christ becomes wholly and really present in substance under the forms of bread and wine, and He is offered by the Catholic priest for the remission of sins, by means of the "kenosis". This doctrine states that the sacrifice of Christ is completed at the moment the bread and wine are consecrated separately, indicating that Christ's body and blood have become separate, which is a form of "self-emptying" or abasement essential to the concept of a sacrifice.[55] According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: "...the act of sacrifice (actio sacrifica), veiled in the double consecration, must refer directly to the sacrificial matter — i.e. the Eucharistic Christ Himself — not to the elements of bread and wine or their unsubstantial species...the sacrifice of Christ must somehow result in a kenosis, not in a glorification, since this latter is at most the object of the sacrifice, not the sacrifice itself..." and also refers to the so-called "mystical slaying" of Christ by the Priest.[56] This doctrine is strongly reflected in that part of the Pre-Vatican II Tridentine Mass called the Offertory, where the Priest offers the bread (the Host or "hostia", meaning "victim") with the following prayer: "Receive...almighty and everlasting God, this spotless Host, which I thine unworthy servant now offer unto thee... for my countless sins, wickedness and neglect; and for all those here present, as also for all the faithful in Christ, both the quick and the dead, that it may set forward their salvation and mine, unto life everlasting. Amen."[57] He likewise offers the wine using similar language.

The German Reformer Martin Luther strongly criticizes this belief: "They [Catholics] made the sacrament which they should accept from God, namely, the body and blood of Christ, into a sacrifice and have offered it to the selfsame God...Furthermore, they do not regard Christ's body and blood as a sacrifice of thanksgiving, but as a sacrifice of works...This is the true and chief abomination and the basis of all blasphemy in the papacy."[58] The Church of England, in the Book of Common Prayer, Article of Religion #31, uses similarly strong language: "Wherefore the sacrifice of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain and guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits."[59]

Protestants argue that in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the writer plainly states that "Unlike the other high priests, [Jesus Christ] does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever." (Hebrews 7:27,28 NIV) This can be interpreted as implying that 1) human priests offering sacrifice are redundant as Christ is the eternal and perfect High Priest, 2) the sacrifice of the Mass is redundant as Christ does not need to offer sacrifices day after day as practised in Catholicism and 3) Christ sacrificed Himself once and for all and then ascended into Heaven where he sits bodily at the right hand of the Father. Hence, for a priest to "call down" Christ from heaven in order to "mystically slay" Him on the altar for the remission of sins, is not just bad doctrine for Protestants, but repugnant and blasphemous [see Article XXXI above, also, Hebrews 6:1 (NIV) "Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts (or useless rituals) that lead to death..."]

Catholics maintain that the sacrifice of the Mass is the same sacrifice that Christ offered "once for all", not a new or separate one, and that when Catholics participate in the celebration of the Mass, they are actually present at it. The Council of Trent says the Mass is the means "whereby that bloody sacrifice once to be accomplished on the Cross might be represented, the memory thereof remain even to the end of the world, and its salutary effects applied to the remission of those sins which we daily commit" (Session 22, chapter 1).


Catholics have venerated Mary and other saints for supplication, or requested help of some sort. Prayers to the saints have their origin in the earliest centuries of the Catholic Church. Some Protestant Christians argued that in order for Mary and the saints to actually hear all the prayers directed to them, they would by necessity be required to possess the attributes of omniscience and omnipresence, thus allowing them to know all the requests made by either ultimate knowledge or by actually being present with each supplicant simultaneously. Many Protestant churches have not traditionally called on the saints or apostles as intermediaries as do Catholics, citing 1 Tim. 2:5[60] to support this view.

Catholics answer that when they have prayed to a saint they have asked the saint to pray to God for them, not to have the saint do something for them personally. For Catholics, belief in the "Communion of Saints" means that death does not separate believers and requesting prayers of a saint is the same as asking any friend. They also say that Christians have historically believed that only material beings occupy time and space. Spirits, saints and angels do not occupy space nor are they subject to linear time.[61] This, they argue, would suggest that angels and saints do not need to be omnipresent or omnipotent to answer prayers. Apart from all time and space, they participate in the life of God in Heaven, through Theosis.


For the critics of the traditional role of women in Latin America, see: Marianismo.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, asserted "The issue of Mary remains one of the hottest debates on the Protestant/Catholic divide, and new proposals for Marian doctrines are likely to ignite a theological conflagration. It has been suggested by some Protestant writers that the Catholics worship Mary as a goddess."[62] These suggestions continue to be made in recent times.[citation needed]

However, the Catholic Church teaches that Mary is a created being, not a goddess, and has always taught that adoration (latria) is due to God alone and not to any created being. Whereas only God is entitled to receive latria, the saints are offered veneration (dulia), and Mary is offered hyperdulia - the highest possible veneration short of worship. Mary is also honoured, as she is the Mother of God— not in the sense that she is the mother of pre-existent Divine Nature, but in the sense that she gave birth to Christ, who is God.

Use of Latin[edit]

Before the reforms from Vatican II in the late 1960s the Catholic Church was best-known outside the church for the Tridentine Mass, said mostly in Latin with a few sentences in Ancient Greek and Hebrew.[63]

Since 1970, the Mass has been celebrated in the local language of where it is celebrated and the Mass in Latin has largely fallen into disuse. The vernacular Mass is also known as the Mass of Pope Paul VI, as he was the Pope who promulgated the vernacular missal. A minority of Roman Catholics however prefer the Mass to be celebrated in Latin, generally arguing that the Latin text is more authentic as regards, and truer to scripture and doctrine than the so-called "New Order" Mass.[64] It should be noted that since 1970 the use of the Latin Mass has been severely restricted, and even declared illegal in some dioceses. However, in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI loosened some restrictions on its use with the aim of healing the rift that had come about between advocates of the New Order Mass and those of the Tridentine Mass.[65]

However, during the time of the Reformation, Protestants almost totally rejected the use of Latin as "hocus pocus". The 1662 edition of the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer has a specific article (no. 24 of the Articles of Religion) devoted to the topic. It reads concisely and directly, "It is a thing repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church, to have publick [sic] Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments in a tongue not understanded [sic] of the people." This is backed by a statement in the section Concerning the Service of the Church which states: "Whereas Saint Paul would have such language spoken to people in the Church, as they might understand, and have profit by hearing the same; the service in this Church of England these many years hath [sic] been read in Latin to the people, which they understand not; so that they have heard with their ears only, and their heart, spirit, and mind, have not been edified thereby."[66]

The French Catholic Church in the 18th century adapted vernacular missals in some dioceses. In 1794 the Synod of Pistoia, firmly influenced by Jansenism, rejected the use of Latin and demanded the use of the vernacular. In the 19th century the "Old Catholic" anti-primacy movements adopted the vernacular liturgy along with other reforms. In 1962 the encyclical Veterum sapientia of Pope John XXIII instructed priests and seminaries to hold to the all-Latin Mass and to promote studying the Latin language. While the Second Vatican Council for the first time allowed the use of the vernacular in the liturgy of the Mass, it also demanded conservation of the use of Latin and stimulated Latin Gregorian chant. The new, 1970 edition of the reformed Roman Missal allowed for a worldwide use of the vernacular in the Eucharist for the first time.

Traditionalist Catholics and sedevacantists[edit]

Traditionalist Catholics see the Church's recent efforts at reformed teaching and (liturgical) practice (known as "aggiornamento"), in particular the Second Vatican Council, as not benefitting the advancement of the Church. Some groups, such as the Society of St. Pius X, claiming the Church has betrayed the core values of Catholicism, have rejected some of the decisions of the Holy See that they see harmful to the faith. They have in common the firm adherence to the Tridentine Latin Mass that was used, with some changes, for 400 years prior to 1970.

A numerically minor group, the sedevacantists, have characterized the current Pontiffs of the Catholic Church as heretics. This group claims that the current Pope (as well, perhaps, as some of his immediate predecessors) were not legitimate. Sedeprivationists claim the post-conciliar Popes were or are defective Popes in that, due to their supposed espousal of the "modernist heresy", their consent to become Pope was faulty or defective, so that they became potentially Pope, but did not attain to the papacy.

Another tiny, extreme group of Vatican II opponents, known as conclavists, have appointed papal replacements: see list of conclavist antipopes. These groups were estimated to comprise not more than a few hundred followers worldwide.

Criticism of Catholic organization[edit]

Head of the church[edit]

The supremacy of the Pope, the usage of the term 'Holy Father' to refer to the Pope, and belief that he can make infallible pronouncements have been subject to criticism by other Christian denominations.

In Catholic theology, papal infallibility is the dogma that the Pope is preserved from error when he solemnly promulgated, or declared, to the Church solely on faith or morals. This doctrine has a long history,[citation needed] but was not defined dogmatically until the First Vatican Council of 1870. In Catholic theology, papal infallibility was one of the channels of the Infallibility of the Church. The Church claims that the Papal infallibility on limited theological matters does not signify that the Pope was a man specially exempt from liability to sin. Critics claim that this statement is self-contradictory.[67]

Adherents of the Church believe that only the Church can interpret the scriptures in the Bible; the pope may be the final arbiter if there are differences. But according to the church's interpretation of 2 Peter,[68] anyone can interpret the word of God (by His guidance).[11]

The Old Catholic Churches, organized in the Union of Ultrajectine Independent Catholic Churches, resisted Papal infallibility along with the First Vatican Council's dogma of Papal primacy of universal jurisdiction.[citation needed]

Clerical celibacy[edit]

Mandatory priestly celibacy first appeared for the Spanish clergy at the Synod of Elvira in 306-306. This was reinforced by the pope in the Directa Decretal in 385, which stated that it was derived from the Apostles. Mandatory celibacy was written into law for the entire clergy in the as a result of the Second Lateran Council in 1139.[69][70] The Catholic Church's requirement of a vow of celibacy from Latin Church priests (while allowing very limited individual exceptions) is criticized for differing from Protestant changes issuing from the Protestant Reformation, which apply no limitations, and even from the practice of the ancient Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches. While requiring celibacy for bishops and priestmonks and excluding marriage by priests after ordination, the latter churches allow married men to be ordained to the priesthood and diaconate. The Latin Church also permits married men to be ordained as deacons. The Latin Church has also been accepting married priests from specific religions into the priesthood in the 20th and 21st centuries.

In July 2006, Bishop Emmanuel Milingo created the organization Married Priests Now!.[71] Responding to Milingo's November 2006 consecration of bishops, the Vatican stated "The value of the choice of priestly celibacy... has been reaffirmed."[72]

In the wake of the clergy sexual abuse scandals, some critics[who?] have charged that priestly celibacy was a contributing factor. (see below)

Protestant apologists further argue that clerical celibacy violates the Biblical teaching in the First Epistle to Timothy:[73]

"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving."[74]

However, the Church's tradition of celibacy traces its beginnings to both Jesus, who encouraged his apostles to be celibate if they were able to do so,[citation needed] and to St. Paul, who wrote of the advantages celibacy allowed a man in serving the Lord.[75] Thus, from the Church's beginnings, clerical celibacy was "held in high esteem" and is considered a kind of spiritual marriage with Christ, a concept further popularized by the early Christian theologian Origen.[76] About 300, the Synod of Elvira called for clerical celibacy . Clerical celibacy began to be enforced in papal decretals beginning with Pope Siricius (d. 399).[76] In 1074, mandatory celibacy of the clergy became canon law as part of Pope Gregory VII's effort to eliminate several forms of medieval church corruption.[77]

Martin Luther responded in his works "On Monastic Vows":

"If you obey the gospel, you ought to regard celibacy as a matter of free choice...They [Jesus and Paul] glory in faith alone. They praise celibacy not because the chaste are more perfect than others because they are chaste, and not because they do not lust contrary to the command, but because they are free from the cares and tribulation of the flesh which Paul attributes to marriage [1 Corinthians 7:32], and may freely and without hindrance dedicate themselves day and night to the word and faith."[78]

Confessional Lutherans, claiming the Bible as the only authority in all matters of Christian doctrine,[79][80][81][82][83] criticize the tradition of forced celibacy:

"In 1 Corinthians 7 the apostle Paul discusses the matter of the celibate life versus marriage. 'Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion' (verses 8-9)...The Bible says forbidding marriage and commanding people to abstain from certain foods are doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1-4)."[73][84]

Generally, Protestantism claims that celibacy is not a scriptural requirement for the ministry.[85]

Women's rights[edit]

For the critics of the traditional role of women in Latin America, see: Marianismo.

Ordination of women[edit]

The Catholic Church has always ordained men in the clergy. Internal dissenters and dissidents, such as Call to Disobedience, have criticised the church's opposition to female ordination.[86] The Church claims that it does not have the authority to ordain 'woman priests'.[87]

As a result of feminism and other social and political movements that have removed barriers to the entry of women into professions that were traditionally male strongholds, since the fourth quarter of the 20th century, some women in a handful of countries have sought ordination into the Catholic priesthood: There is at least one organization that calls itself "Roman Catholic" that ordains women at the present time, Roman Catholic Womenpriests.[88] The Catholic hierarchy considers those groups to be excommunicated, an alleged status that the groups in question reject.[88]

Official Catholic theology refers to the gender of Jesus as a reason for the purported discrimination against women. According to Roman Catholic thinking, the Priest is acting 'in persona Christi' (that is, in the Person of Christ), and Christ took the body of a man, and therefore the priest must be a man: "Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination." Paragraph 1577 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognises herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible[89]

Roman Catholic Womenpriests criticises the Church's claims that women, by virtue of their sex, cannot image Christ, saying: is the call of every female and male Christian to image Christ; and it is the call of every female and male Christian to see Christ in every person.

In February 2011, 143 German-speaking academic theologians submitted a document styled as Church 2011 calling for, among a long list of actions, “women in (the) ordained ministry”.[90]

Criticism of Catholic actions in history[edit]

This section, organized chronologically, covers some of the historical actions for which the Western church and the Catholic Church, have been criticised.

Persecution of heresy and heretics[edit]

Before the twelfth century, the Great Church[91] gradually suppressed what it saw as heresy usually through a system of ecclesiastical proscription, excommunication, anathema, and imprisonment. During this time in history, an accusation of heresy could be construed as treason against lawful civil rule, and therefore punishable by death, though this penalty was not frequently imposed, as this form of punishment had many ecclesiastical opponents.[92][93] Later those convicted of heresy were often handed to the state for execution under state laws.


The Crusades were a series of military conflicts of a religious character waged by much of Christian Europe against external and internal threats. Crusades were fought against Muslims, pagan Slavs, Orthodox Christians, Mongols, Cathars, Hussites and political enemies of the popes.[94] Crusaders took vows and were granted an indulgence.[94]

Elements of the Crusades were criticized by some from the time of their inception in 1095. For example, Roger Bacon felt the Crusades were not effective because, "those who survive, together with their children, are more and more embittered against the Christian faith."[95] In spite of some criticism, the movement was still widely supported in Europe long after the fall of Acre in 1291. From that time forward, the Crusades to recover Jerusalem and the Christian East were largely lost. Later, 18th century rationalists judged the Crusaders harshly. As recently as the 1950s, Sir Steven Runciman published a highly critical account of the Crusades which referred to Holy War as "a sin against the Holy Ghost".[95]

Medieval Europe consisted of hundreds of small states and principalities. Simultaneously, Europe faced encroachment of Muslim military forces from both the East via the Balkans and the West via Spain and North Africa. The Catholic Church, representing all of Western Christendom, encouraged crusades against Islamic controlled territories in Europe and in the Holy Land from 1095 through 1272 after Islam had conquered most of the Byzantine empire, including the Holy Land.


A 19th-century depiction of Galileo Galilei before the Holy Office, by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury
Arguably the most famous case tried by the Roman Inquisition involved Galileo in 1633.

The Inquisitions of Medieval Europe were partially born out of the effort to drive Muslims out of Europe, an effort which was partly successful. Recent popes, such as John Paul II and Benedict XVI, have worked for improved relations with other churches and religions by holding ecumenical and interfaith discussions trying to find common ground on certain issues.

During the Inquisition, the governments of Spain (and Italy, and sometimes France) prosecuted those Christians who publicly dissented from key doctrines of the Catholic Faith. Believing that the souls of those deemed to be heretics were in danger of being consigned to hell, the authorities used whatever means they considered necessary to bring about a recantation. Although the Church originally condoned these proceedings, they were difficult to regulate, and abuses eventually caused the Pope to call for an end to them. In spite of (relatively rare) instances of torture and wrongful execution, it was still widely considered in Europe to be the fairest (and most merciful) judicial system in Europe at that time, as evidenced by records of people blaspheming in secular courts intentionally for them to be brought before the Inquisition for a more just and fair trial.[96][97][98]

Anti-semitism in medieval Europe[edit]

In the Middle Ages, religion played a major role in driving antisemitism. John Chrysostom published material that attacked Jewish Christians for participating in their old faith's rituals and traditions. Frequent uses of hyperbole and other rhetorical devices painted a harsh and negative picture of the Jews. This was largely ignored until the Jewish anti-Christian teachings began to surface in Muslim Andalusia in the 11th and 12th centuries.[99]

The Church responded by reviving, among others, "Adversus Judaeos"—Against the Jewish People, ultimately justifying their ejection from conquered Spanish lands. Anthony Julius quotes the phrase, “Rejecter of Christ, their land has rejected them. Their dispersion is proof of their wickedness.” [100] Historically, Christians, including members of the clergy, have held the Jewish people collectively responsible for killing Jesus.

As stated in the Boston College Guide to Passion Plays, "Over the course of time, Christians began to accept... that the Jewish people as a whole were responsible for killing Jesus. According to this interpretation, both the Jews present at Jesus’ death and the Jewish people collectively and for all time, have committed the sin of deicide, or God-killing. For 1900 years of Christian-Jewish history, the charge of deicide has led to hatred, violence against and murder of Jews in Europe and America."[101]

The Fourth Council of the Lateran, summoned by Pope Innocent III with his papal bull of 19 April 1213, approved ‘Canon 68’. It required Jews and Muslims to wear special dress or badges to enable them to be distinguished from Christians. They were also forbidden to hold any public offices.


Martin Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation against the Catholic Church in 1517 with the Ninety-Five Theses

The Protestant Reformation (16th century in Europe) came about in no small part due to abuses of church practices by corrupt clergy in addition to these same theological disputes.[3] Before the Reformation, the Catholic Church had a uniquely powerful position in the political order of medieval western Europe; its clergymen occupied a privileged location in the social class structure; and theologically, it claimed to be the only legitimate Christian Church. Because Protestantism emerged from within the Catholic Church, and began as a protest against Catholic worldly practice and religious doctrine, the Papacy and Catholic rulers felt compelled to deal with Protestantism as a dangerous, destabilising influence in politics and society, as well as characterising Protestants as heretical and schismatic.[citation needed]

Within a few decades after the Reformation, governments in most of Europe sought to impose a particular religion, whether Catholicism or a variety of Protestantism, on all the population they ruled. Apart from outright war, members of the "wrong" church were often persecuted or driven into exile. In Catholic countries, the Spanish Inquisition and the Council of Troubles in the Habsburg Netherlands were among the bodies pursuing persecution by judicial means. In France, the French Wars of Religion included numerous massacres, most notoriously the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572. After a long peace following the Edict of Nantes in 1598, Louis XIV reopened the issue in the late 17th century, and the persecution known as the Dragonnades was followed in 1685 by the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the expulsion of all French Protestants. Religious refugees from both sides were common in many parts of Europe. The Vatican long remained opposed to the limited religious toleration that gradually became accepted in many parts of Europe.

With the consolidation of Protestantism, the extirpation of 'heretics' became a much broader and more complex enterprise, complicated by the politics of territorial Protestant powers, especially in northern Europe. Persecution of Protestant groups ended only as Europe's rulers tired of fighting each other, despite the objections of the Pope, especially at the end of the Thirty Years' War.

Relationship with Nazi Germany[edit]

German Catholics met the Nazi takeover with apprehension, as leading clergymen had been warning against Nazism for years.[102] A threatening, though initially mainly sporadic persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany commenced.[103] After initially making an effort to negotiate a modus vivendi with Nazi Germany, the church found such accommodation increasingly difficult in the face of ever more aggressive challenges by Nazi Germany.

Adolf Hitler became chancellor on January 30, 1933. On March 23, his government was given legislative powers through the Enabling Act of 1933, which was passed by all Reichstag except the Social Democrats and Communists (the latter had already been banned). These included the Centre Party, led by Father Ludwig Kaas. Before the Enabling Act was voted on, Hitler addressed the Reichstag, promising the Weimar Parliament that he would not interfere with the rights of the churches and stating that he attached the highest importance to cultivating and maintaining the friendliest relations with the Holy See. With power secured in Germany, Hitler quickly broke this promise.[104][105] Cardinal Bertram, on March 28, announced that the bishops had dropped their prohibitions against Nazi membership. The bishops' decision opened the way for a concordat between the Holy See and the nominally functioning Weimar Republic.[106] Kershaw wrote that the Vatican was anxious to reach agreement with the new government, despite "continuing molestation of Catholic clergy, and other outrages committed by Nazi radicals against the Church and its organisations".[107] In April, the non-Nazi Vice Chancellor, Franz von Papen, was chosen by the new government to begin negotiations with the Vatican for a concordat.[108] On behalf of Cardinal Pacelli, Ludwig Kaas, the out-going chairman of the Centre Party, negotiated the draft of the terms with Papen. The concordat was finally signed, by Pacelli for the Vatican and von Papen for Germany, on July 20 and ratified on September 10. The Centre Party had been dissolved on July 6. The concordat gave the Catholic Church what it wanted in order to preserve the autonomy of ecclesiastical institutions and their religious activities, with full freedom of communication with Catholics in Germany for the Holy See and the bishops in all matters of their pastoral office (article 4), guarantees for the right to pastoral care in hospitals, prisons and similar institutions (article 20), and for the Catholic educational system (articles 19-25); it assured Hitler that the Church would end so-called political Catholicism. It required newly appointed bishops to take an oath of loyalty to the German Reich and to the Land (article 16), excluded clergy and religious from membership of political parties (article 32), and required priests and religious superiors whose headquarters were within Germany to be German citizens (articles 14-15). Article 31 acknowledged the Church would not support political causes. Nevertheless, Hitler routinely disregarded the concordat and permitted a persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany.[109] Shortly before the July 20 signing of the Reichskonkordat, Germany signed similar agreements with the major Protestant churches in Germany.[110]

The German bishops issued a collective pastoral on 19 August 1936 to endorse Hitler's support for Franco.[111] The Vatican felt it necessary to issue two encyclicals opposing the policies of Mussolini and Hitler: Non Abbiamo Bisogno in 1931 and Mit Brennender Sorge in 1937, respectively. Mit Brennender Sorge included criticisms of Nazism and racism.

Joachim Fest, a biographer of Adolf Hitler, wrote that; "At first the Church was quite hostile and its bishops energetically denounced the "false doctrines" of the Nazis. Its opposition weakened considerably in the following years [after the Concordat] [-] Cardinal Bertram developed an ineffectual protest system [-] Resistance..remained largely a matter of individual conscience. In general they [both churches] attempted merely to assert their own rights and only rarely issued pastoral letters or declarations indicating any fundamental objection to Nazi ideology."[112]

The relationship between Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust has long been disputed[Note 1], with some scholars arguing that he kept silent during the Holocaust, while others have argued that he saved thousands if not tens or hundreds of thousands of Jews.

Support for the Ustaše during World War II[edit]

Ante Pavelić, the leader of the Ustaše in Croatia during World War II, was granted a "devotional" audience with Pius XII in Rome.[114] The historian John Cornwell views this act as "de facto recognition by the Holy See" of the Independent State of Croatia, which committed genocide against its Serb, Jewish and Roma citizens.[114] Soon afterwards, Abbot Ramiro Marcone was appointed apostolic legate to Zagreb.[114] Cornwell is unsure whether the Vatican was aware of the exact atrocities committed by the Ustaše by this point, but he noted "it was known from the very beginning that Pavelic was a totalitarian dictator, a puppet of Hitler and Mussolini, that he had passed a series of viciously racist and anti-Semitic laws, and that he was bent on enforced conversions from Orthodox to Catholic Christianity".[114]

Corrado Zoli and Evelyn Waugh have argued that many Catholic clergy members participated directly or indirectly in Ustaša campaigns of violence.[115] The most notorious example is that of expelled Franciscan Miroslav Filipović, known as "the devil of Jasenovac" for running the Jasenovac concentration camp, where estimates of the number killed range between 49,600 and 600,000.[116][117][118] Ivan Šarić is believed to have been the "worst" of the Catholic bishops who supported the Ustaša; his diocesan newspaper wrote: "there is no limit to love. The movement of liberation of the world from the Jews is a movement for the renewal of human dignity. Omniscient and omnipotent God stands behind this movement".[119] Bishop Šarić also appropriated Jewish property for his own use.[120]

Pope Pius XII protected Ante Pavelić after World War II, gave him "refuge in the Vatican properties in Rome", and assisted in his flight to South America; Pavelić and Pius XII shared the goal of a Catholic state in the Balkans and were unified in their opposition to the rising Communist state under Tito.[121] Pius XII also believed that Pavelić and other war criminals could not get a fair trial in Yugoslavia.[122] After arriving in Rome in 1946, Pavelić used the Vatican "ratline" to reach Argentina in 1948, along with other Ustaša,[123] Russian, Yugoslav, Italian, and American spies and agents all tried to apprehend Pavelić in Rome but the Vatican refused all cooperation and vigorously defended its extraterritorial status.[124] Pavelić was never captured or tried for his crimes.[125]

According to Michael Phayer, "the Vatican's motivation for harboring Pavelić grew in lockstep with its apprehension about Tito's treatment of the church".[126] [127]

Slovakia (1939–1945)[edit]

On 14 March 1939, Slovakia seceded from Czechoslovakia and allied itself, as demanded by Germany, with Hitler's coalition.[128] Four months later, the Slovak state was recognized by the Vatican,[129] "which had little alternative but to recognise Father Tiso's avowedly Catholic regime, despite reservations about his political involvement", and thus gave recognition later than Poland and Hungary and sooner than Switzerland, Sweden and the Soviet Union.[130][131]

On 1 October 1939, the priest Jozef Tiso, leader of the Slovak People's Party and until then prime minister of the new state, became its president. Tiso assumed the office in defiance of the Pope, and the Holy See immediately published a statement speaking of its grave misgivings.[132][133]

On 7 November 1940, the Church newspaper Katolícke Noviny declared that the Slovak Catholic clergy had long supported the HSLS (Hlinka's Slovak People's Party), warmly welcomed the foundation of a separate Slovak state, and supported the HSLS government.[134]

On 12 April 1942, the Slovak bishops had a pastoral letter read in all churches, protesting against the HSLS government's deportation of Jewish fellow-citizens to German-controlled Poland.[135]

Relations with the Orthodox Church[edit]

After the end of communism in Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church experienced a resurgence. The recent expansion of the Catholic population in Russia strained the Catholic-Russian Orthodox relationship. In 2007 then Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow demanded that the Vatican curb "proselytism" by Catholic clerics in Russia and eastern Europe.[136] Catholic officials have replied that their efforts in Russia were not aimed at Orthodox believers, but were reaching out to the vast majority of Russians who are not churchgoers.[136]

The Catholic Church holds that, "if a non-Catholic Christian, for reasons of conscience and having been convinced of Catholic truth, asks to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church, this is to be respected as the work of the Holy Spirit and as an expression of freedom of conscience and of religion. In such a case, it would not be a question of proselytism in the negative sense that has been attributed to this term. ... This perspective naturally requires the avoidance of any undue pressure: 'in spreading religious faith and introducing religious practices, everyone should refrain at all times from any kind of action which might seem to suggest coercion or dishonest or improper persuasion, especially when dealing with poor or uneducated people'."[137] The Church does not see that as proselytism but rather as evangelism, although it's converting Orthodox Christians to Catholicism.[138][need quotation to verify]

Sexual abuse controversy[edit]

In January 2002, allegations of priests sexually abusing children were widely reported in the news media. It became clear that the officials of various Catholic dioceses were aware of some of the abusive priests, and shuffled them from parish to parish (sometimes after psychotherapy), in some cases without removing them from contact with children. A survey of the 10 largest U.S. dioceses found 234 priests from a total 25,616 in those dioceses, have had allegations of sexual abuse made against them in the last 50 years. The report does not state how many of these have been proven in court.[139]

Some of these reassignments were egregious, the worst leading to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law from the Boston archdiocese. Victims of such abuse filed lawsuits against a number of dioceses, resulting in multi-million dollar settlements in some cases. Similar allegations of abuse in Ireland led to the publication of the Ferns report in 2005, which stated that appropriate action was not taken in response to the allegations.

In response, in June 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops initiated strict new guidelines ("zero tolerance") for the protection of children and youth in Catholic institutions across the country. The Vatican revisited what it regarded as the issue of homosexuality and a gay subculture within the clergy, because the vast majority of the cases consisted of males preying on male adolescents (over 90% of the sexual abuse victims were teenage boys rather than girls or prepubescents).[140]

Ideological criticisms of Catholicism[edit]

Nazi critique of Catholicism[edit]

The Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels wrote that there was "an insoluble opposition between the Christian and a heroic-German world view".[141]

Aggressive anti-Church radicals like Joseph Goebbels and Martin Bormann saw the conflict with the Churches as a priority concern, and anti-church and anti-clerical sentiments were strong among grassroots party activists.[141] According to biographer Alan Bullock, Hitler retained some regard for the organisational power of Catholicism, but had utter contempt for its central teachings, which he said, if taken to their conclusion, "would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure".:[142]

In Hitler's eyes, Christianity was a religion fit only for slaves; he detested its ethics in particular. Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of the fittest.

Joseph Goebbels, the Minister for Propaganda, was among the most aggressive anti-Church Nazi radicals. In 1928, soon after his election to the Reichstag, Goebbels wrote in his diary that National Socialism was a "religion" that needed a genius to uproot "outmoded religious practices" and put new ones in their place: "One day soon National Socialism will be the religion of all Germans. My Party is my church, and I believe I serve the Lord best if I do his will, and liberate my oppressed people from the fetters of slavery. That is my gospel."[143] Goebbels led the Nazi persecution of the German Catholic clergy and, as the war progressed, on the "Church Question", he wrote "after the war it has to be generally solved... There is, namely, an insoluble opposition between the Christian and a heroic-German world view".[141]

Hitler's chosen deputy and private secretary, Martin Bormann, was a rigid guardian of National Socialist orthodoxy and saw Christianity and Nazism as "incompatible" (mainly because of its Jewish origins),[144][145] as did the official Nazi philosopher, Alfred Rosenberg. In his "Myth of the Twentieth Century" (1930), Rosenberg wrote that the main enemies of the Germans were the "Russian Tartars" and "Semites" - with "Semites" including Christians, especially the Catholic Church.[146]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michael Phayer wrote that "the historical debate about Pope Pius and the Holocaust is nearly as long-standing as Holocaust study itself".[113]


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