“Ask a Priest: How Do I Respond to Attacks on the Church?”

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Q: How do I respond to those who criticize the Vatican, point out the hypocrisy of the Church, and doubt the authenticity of the Bible? Some people describe the Church as restrictive, archaic and patriarchal. I’ve always feared that if I became religious, I’d be the typical, close-minded, judgmental, self-righteous hypocrite. I hate the stereotypes associated with religious people. I’ve already been told I’m too strict and close-minded. Thank you, Father. – T.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s sad when being religious is identified with being close-minded, judgmental and hypocritical.

That association might reflect a reason why the Church is unpopular nowadays. Unfortunately, some Catholics can be less-than-stellar exemplars for the faith.

A real spirit of religiosity brings a person into deeper humility and a deeper compassion for others.

True, a religious person is more aware of his own faults, and sees more clearly the objective evil in the world. But the person’s deeper union with Christ should bring a greater love for others and a desire to share the faith in a charitable way.

As for folks who criticize the Vatican and the Church, I’m not sure what specific charges you have heard. The Church has a human dimension which is certainly prone to failings and mistakes. So, some criticisms might well be accurate.

But the Church has a spiritual dimension that is pure; it is the mystical body of Christ, and its teachings are true, its sacraments efficacious.

As for the authenticity of the Bible: an adequate answer would require a book (a quick suggestion: The Bible Is a Catholic Book).

Suffice it to say that the lofty standards of Christ as laid out in Scripture are a sign in themselves that they aren’t a human construct. The sublimity of their demands points to an authenticity that can and should shake us out of our complacency.

Now, some of the above statements won’t likely persuade hard-core critics. A better way to help win over people is through our charity and prayers.

We also need to study the faith in an ongoing way, so that we can “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15).

You will need to explore and explain why you believe that Christ is God Incarnate who founded a Church on the apostles and that the Almighty inspired the writers of Sacred Scripture, etc. This will require some homework, but it’s well worth the effort.

It might be good to start studying the faith in a systematic way, starting with the Youth Catechism (YouCat), the Compendium of the Catechism, and the Catechism itself. Other good resources are The Essential Catholic Survival Guide and the Catholic Answers site. Helpful, too, is keeping tuned in to Catholic media such as Relevant Radio.

An extra observation: It might take a long time for the culture to come back to Christianity. We will be in the minority for now. So, keep your expectations modest. But don’t lose hope.

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  1. I don’t think the questioner was guity of rash judgement or idle thoughtless gossip that might result in destroying the reputation of anyone. I think the questioner went to their parents for guidance in his/her thinking. It appears that the parents did not respond adequately and I respectfully suggest that the response here did not address the questioner’s concern either.

    In my experience, I find that often blatant and harsh criticisms of the the Catholic Church and and or Catholicism in general are rooted in ignorance. “The Church” didn’t just sit around thinking up rules to make life hard for people. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers thorough explanations and references to Scriptural justification for the teachings of “the Caholic Church”

  2. I believe Father gave a thorough answer to the questioner who was asking how he or she should respond to others. He or she never mentioned parents so I am not sure where Maxine gets her assumptions of how parents responded to the questioner.

    I do agree with Maxine that criticism of the Catholic faith and its practices and ‘those hypocrites are usually made by those who are IGNORANT and repeating what they hear from others in non religious Christian groups. Non religious aka ‘no church attendance needed’ . . . just interpret Bible as it suits one’s understanding. Smile nice, be polite (which they aren’t doing when they criticize what they do not know) Those who criticize ‘that church’ . . . are not looking for answers, they just want to be critical. AVOID THEM.

    To the questioner … if you have a good life, enjoy a few close friendships, a good job you enjoy, and are quiet, Congratulations! Your Father, Creator and His ONLY Divine Son are pleased. ‘The World’ dislikes quiet, obedient to GO(O)D ways persons. Keep attending to the Holy Sacrifice of Mass and pray for those who are grumblers, mumblers, and find fault ‘with anyone.’

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