40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Slavery

The inspiration for this post comes from another post on twitter.  Someone called @Shaithis1404 posted this:

obviously being christian you support slavery, like Jesus did!

[Note:  Don’t click on this twitter link.  Seems that Shaithis1404’s account has been suspended.]

This idea, that Christians, especially Catholics, support slavery is a bizarre one.  Throwing Jesus into the mix is even more bizarre.  Let’s start there.

The Bible uses the Hebrew term “ebed” to refer to slavery, but it doesn’t exactly translate that way.  It can mean slave in the way we think of the word, or it can mean servant or hired worker.  In Paul’s letter to Philemon, he sends Onesimus, a slave (ebed) to his master, Philemon.  He urges Philemon to treat Onesimus as “a beloved brother in Christ.”   Even the fact that Philemon had allowed Onesimus to travel with Paul is a good indication that the people of the time considered slavery to be something different from our concept today.  Tradition tells us that Onesimus was eventually set free and both he and Philemon became saints.

If the first-century “slave” was just an employee, even one who was “owned” by his master, the feelings about slavery were certainly different than they are today.  Did Jesus support slavery?  He may not have supported it as much as He accepted it as a normal part of life in those ancient days.

So what about our twitter comment that Christians support slavery.  I don’t think I have to explain how ridiculous that statement is.  I’m a Christian and I don’t support it.  If you’re reading this, you’re probably a Christian and you probably don’t support it either.  That alone makes the writer’s “logic” flawed.  But what about the Church?  Does she support slavery?  Did she ever support it?

Let’s be honest here.  Yes, at one time the Church supported slavery.  At least she accepted it.  It was part of the culture and the Church, at least for the most part, did not condemn it.  In fact there were even some Popes who were slave owners!  In light of what we know today that may seem like a huge mistake.  But they didn’t know what we know today.  Slavery was part of society.  One ancient Catholic who did condemn slavery was Saint Patrick.  Having been a slave himself, it should be no surprise that he didn’t think it was such a great idea.  Patrick lived way back in the fifth century, so Catholic opposition to the owning of other human beings isn’t just a modern concept.

In 1435 (62 years before Columbus sailed to America) the Spanish captured and enslaved the Canary Islands.  Pope Eugene IV wrote to Bishop Ferdinand  demanding that the Canaries (Canary Islanders?) be set free immediately.

In 1537 the Spanish had turned their attention to Latin America and were making slaves of the locals.  This time it was Pope Paul III who told the Spaniards to knock it off.  Paul didn’t just condemn the slavery of the Indians, but all slavery.

Jumping ahead to more recent times, Pope Gregory XVI issued the Bull In Supremo Apostolatus, in 1839 condemning the slave trade.  Southern slaveholders tried to say that Gregory was condemning the slave trade, but not slavery itself.  Nice try.  Meanwhile, while slavery was common in the South, it was also alive and well in Ireland.  Irish citizens had been enslaved by first the Vikings, then the British for centuries.  Irish clergy urged Irish immigrants in the US to oppose slavery.  The Bishop of New York suggested that the Irish mind their own business.  It’s worth noting that during our Civil War the Vatican never recognized the Confederacy.

It’s pretty clear that the Church today condemns slavery.  I’d like to say that all Catholics agree, but these are the same Catholics who support abortion and artificial birth control.  Let’s just say that no intelligent person, Catholic, protestant, or otherwise, believes that it’s a good thing to own or be owned by another human being.  It’s also a fact that slavery still exists in some parts of the world.

To end this discussion, here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say:

The seventh commandment forbids acts or enterprises that for any reason – selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian – lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity. It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit. St. Paul directed a Christian master to treat his Christian slave “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, . . . both in the flesh and in the Lord.” CCC 2414


1st Sunday of Lent


Temptation.  It’s everywhere.  We live in a secular world that goes out of its way to discourage us from living Christian lives.  Our kids see things on television, in movies, and even in video games that tempt them to sin.  Prime time television brings things into our living rooms that just a few years ago would have been scandalous and would have never gotten past the censors.  With very few exceptions it seems like anything goes.


Today’s Gospel is all about temptation.   Jesus has gone off by himself in the dessert.  Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit led Him into the dessert to be tempted by the devil.  Why in the world would the Holy Spirit do that?  Didn’t Jesus have enough problems already?  But there He was and the devil was waiting for Him.


He told Jesus to turn a stone into bread.  But He was fasting and refused to be tempted.  “One does not live on bread alone” Jesus said.  Think about that.  During Lent there are two days when we’re not supposed to eat between meals, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  Most of us, those of us 60 or older don’t even have to do that.  Some of you may give up snacking entirely during Lent.  We all know it’s not easy.  The devil tempts us just like he tempted Jesus.  The Holy Spirit will give us the strength to follow a fast if we let Him.


Then the devil “showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.”  “All this will be yours if you worship me”, a ridiculous statement if I ever heard one.  Who did Satan think he was kidding?  All these things were already Jesus’.  He had no need for the devil.  But Jesus’ refusal to go along with the evil one was meant as an example for you and me.  How often has he tempted us with things that have no lasting value?  Jesus said, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”  His words are meant for us.  He knew the devil was never going to worship God.  He’d already been thrown out of paradise.


Then the devil led Jesus to Jerusalem and made him stand on the parapet of the temple.  “Throw yourself down from here for it is written, ‘He will command His angels to guard you and:  and with their hands they will support you lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”  Another stupid statement from the prince of lies.  Jesus already commanded the angels.  In fact, our responsorial Psalm today makes that exact promise to you and me.


“For to his angels he has given command about you,

that they guard you in all your ways.

Upon their hands they shall bear you up,

lest you dash your foot against a stone.”


In the first reading today from Deuteronomy Moses reminds the people that God has saved them from their Egyptian captivity and given them a land of milk and honey.  He saved them and He saves us!  In the Gospel Jesus shows us how to save ourselves, by refusing to be tempted by the devil.


But Satan is no fool.  He knows what he’s doing.  He’s taking over the world by flying under the radar.  His greatest achievement is convincing so many of us that he doesn’t exist.  How many of us REALLY believe that there’s an evil spirit who wants to take us away from God?  Isn’t it just human nature?  Aren’t we tempted because we’re just imperfect creatures?  No, we’re tempted because there’s a spirit that wants to tempt us.


I remember growing up that sometimes in Saturday morning cartoons, a character would be tempted to do something wrong.  Remember Sylvester the cat?  He would be tempted to eat Tweety Bird.  The devil sitting on one shoulder would try to convince him to go ahead and make Tweety his lunch.  The angel on his other shoulder would be begging him to be good and leave Tweety alone.  It was cute and it was funny and the angel would always win because otherwise, there wouldn’t be any more Sylvester and Tweety Bird cartoons.  It was a morality play aimed at five-year-olds.


If you really think about it, we’re all Sylvester the cat.  We’re all tempted.  And we all have angels, we may call them our conscience, telling us to do the right thing.  But we’re human and we’re all subject to the temptation to sin.  We have a natural tendency to sin which is called concupiscence. It’s a ten-dollar word that means we’re going to sin unless we call on the grace of Christ to strengthen us.  We need those angels to bear us up lest we dash our foot against the stone.


It’s no coincidence that the Church gives us this reading from Luke’s Gospel as we begin the season of Lent.  It’s a time of penance, but it’s also a time of spiritual renewal.  Jesus spent 40 days in the dessert.  He was tempted by the devil but He stood strong.  The last line tells us that “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him FOR A WHILE.”  Even Jesus, the Son of God, was never free from attacks by the evil one.


How many people have fallen for the devil’s promises?  He promises them power and glory and they go all in.


Just this week we’ve had a wonderful example of someone who is giving up power and glory for the good of his fellow man and for the good of our Church.  Pope Benedict XVI is one of the most powerful men on earth, maybe THE most powerful.  But as he’s gotten older and his body has begun to fail him, he’s going to give it all up to live a life of seclusion because he doesn’t think he has the strength to do the demanding job of leading a billion Catholics.  He didn’t have to retire.  It’s been hundreds of years since a Pope has given up his position.  He could have hung on to the job enjoying all the glory that comes from being the successor to Saint Peter but leaving the actual running of the Church to others.  But that wouldn’t be right.  I can’t even imagine how difficult a decision it must have been.  But here, at the beginning of Lent, he made his choice setting an example for all of us.


Imagine giving up a job where hundreds of thousands of the faithful show up to hear you speak; to cheer every word you say, to live a life of total seclusion.


Soon a younger man will take Benedict’s place and he’ll live out his life in peace and quiet, spending his days in prayer for you and me.


You and I will never have to make such a difficult decision, but we WILL be tempted and we will have to draw on the strength of the Holy Spirit.  Don’t be fooled by Satan who has done a great job of convincing us that he’s not around anymore.  He’s here just a surely and you and I are here.  God promises us an eternity of good things, but the really good things have to wait until we leave this life.  Satan promises us good things too, things that we can enjoy right away.  That’s the trouble with sin.  It’s always disguised as something good.  And it offers immediate gratification.  You and I have to be strong enough to forgo those things that will make us feel good today for a life of never ending bliss that is to come.

So, for the next 40 days we’ll exercise our will power.  We’ll do our penance to remind ourselves that sometimes we have to give up something now for something that is to come.  That’s when we rely on the Holy Spirit and those angels who will bear us up.  Man DOESN’T live by bread alone.  “It is written’ You shall worship the Lord, your God, and Him alone shall you serve.’”

40 Catholic Myths–The Church and Science

I began this series as a positive reflection about the mistaken ideas that some people have about the Church.  Sadly, some of the people who spread these myths are actually very virulent in their attacks.  Sadly one of the places where these people like to show themselves is on the Holy Father’s twitter page.  Pope Benedict has taken a bold step in putting himself on the Internet where he’s open to the attacks of those who have a deep hatred for him and his church.
In the wake of his announcement that he’s going to retire, the haters seem to have turned up the rhetoric even more.  For example, here’s what someone called “No to fairies” posted the other day.

@jaygrimaldo you support a man in a dress as opposed to knowledgable scientists? #interesting

Today we’ll look at the Church’s position on science.

Yes, the Church did centure Galileo in the 17th century, but not for his scientific work.  Galileo proposed a theory that the earth revolved around the sun, though he wasn’t the first to do so.  Where he got into trouble with the Church was in presenting his theory as fact and in ridiculing Pope Paul V.  The Pope was highly offended and Galileo was placed “under arrest”.  He was imprisoned in his own home where he had ” a servant and every possible convenience.”  (The Galileo Controversy)  By the way, Galileo’s work was flawed.  The Church was right in insisting that it be called a theory.

Another so-called conflict between the Church and science is on the topic of creation.  I’m not sure how the haters got this one so wrong.  The Church does not insist that we believe the Genesis account of creation literally.  In fact, many of our protestant brothers and sisters do insist that the Bible be taken word-for-word on this subject, the Catholic Church doesn’t.  The theory of evolution is just one possible explanation.  Like Galileo’s theory, it’s a possibility, not proven fact.

Other possibilities are that since God exists outside of time, the seven days of the creation story could have actually been millions of earth years.  Or, God being God, He could have created the universe and made it to appear to have taken millions of years.  After all, we humans can’t begin to think the way God thinks or to understand how he works.

Evolutionists tell us that man evolved from lower life forms.  In other words, the apes, who seem so much like us, are our ancient ancestors.  What I wonder is couldn’t God have created man and then thought it would be cute to have a lower man-like creature?  He could have made it appear that the apes came first, but after all, He is God.  He can do whatever He wants.

One final note, the Catholic Church invented the university system.  Through the centuries the Church has spent untold millions of dollars supporting scientific research both at universities and at Catholic hospitals. God gave us the intelligence and the will to achieve great things.   Even Catholic hospitals that aren’t un the business of research still use the latest techniques and technologies to heal thousands of people every day.  To say that the Church is opposed to science is nonsense.

Addendum:  My son the scientist posted this yesterday on facebook:

“The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same…This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They have always believed the word of the Bible. But we scientists did not expect to find evidence for an abrupt beginning because we have had, until recently, such extraordinary success in tracing the chain of cause and effect backward in time…At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” – Robert Zastrow, one-time director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–The Catholics Added Books to the Bible

To deal with this popular myth, we have to look at a little history.  In the early days of the Church, there was no Bible.  Everything was handed on by word-of-mouth.  Because the early Christians generally believed that Jesus was coming back sooner rather than later, nobody saw the need to write anything down.  As time passed the folks decided that maybe there should be some written documentation of Jesus’ life.  Unfortunately, many of the people who wrote about Jesus and His Church weren’t divinely inspired, kind of like bloggers today.

The Bible as we know it today is a collection of those writings that were divinely inspired.  This includes both Old Testament and New Testament books.  The books in question are all from the Old Testament.  It was the Catholic Council of Hippo in 393 A.D. that decided which books to include.  Without getting into a long-winded dissertation on what books came from where, suffice it to say that the Council of Trent confirmed the canon with the seven so-called deutercanonical books in 1543.    The seven books are:

  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Part of Esther
  • Wisdom
  • Sirach
  • Baruch
  • Part of Daniel
  • 1 Maccabees
  • 2 Maccabees

Since it was the Catholic Church that originally declared what books make up the Bible, it’s hard to see how anyone could think the Church added books.  The fact is that the Church added all the books.  So, what happened?

It’s fairly simple.  The books in question didn’t support some of Martin Luther’s ideas.  So, when he published his protestant Bible he left them out.  It was the protestants who changed the books of the Bible, not the Catholics.  Biblical scholars can point out any number of New Testament passages that cite the seven books in question.  James Akin gives an excellent explanation of all this in his article, Defending the Deuterocanonicals.    I recommend it to anyone looking for a more in-depth explanation.

Remember that it wasn’t until 500 years ago that any of this became an issue.  From 393 A.D. until the 1500s, there was no question of what books belonged in the Bible.  It was those wacky protestants, particularly Martin Luther, who started the kerfuffle.

Coming up…Why do we need all those “man-made” rules?  Isn’t the Bible enough?

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Catholics Don’t Read the Bible

bibleFirst a disclaimer, SOME Catholics don’t read the Bible.  Neither do some protestants.  Some Jews don’t read the Torah and some Muslims don’t read the Koran.  But a blanket statement that Catholics don’t read God’s inspired word is just wrong.

One thing that makes it appear that we are Bible-less is that we don’t bring our Bibles to mass.  Unlike many protestant denominations, the Church provides us with a handy book called a “missalette” that contains all the Scripture readings for each week.  All we have to do is to open the book to today’s date and there’s all you need.  Many protestant churches, on the other hand, expect their members to tote their Bible with them to church.  Then the preacher will tell them where to turn in the Good Book to follow along with him.

So, when a non-Catholic brother or sister accuses you of not knowing “chapter and verse” he or she may be right.  But it doesn’t mean you don’t know the Bible, it just means that you don’t know which book is where.  I think we all know the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  We probably also know that Acts of the Apostles comes right after John.  But most of us don’t know the order of Paul’s letters and we sure don’t know where to find all those Old Testament books, especially since we have seven more than they do.  (More on this in a future post.)

I remember growing up in the Baptist church that it was considered a real milestone when you learned to name all the books of the Old and New Testaments in order.  It was an important skill to learn because when Pastor Bob tells you to turn to the third chapter of First Corinthians you’d better be quick about it.  If not, he’ll go on without you.

As far as day-to-day reading of Scripture goes, the Church encourages us to spend as much time at it as we can.  Whether you do or not is up to you.

Another rap you may hear on the Church is that she used to chain the Bibles down in the Church.  That one’s actually true.  But here’s the deal.  Before Gutenberg invented movable type all Bibles were copied by hand.  It took a very long time and a local church was lucky to have one.  They couldn’t just be left lying around where someone might steal them.  The other thing is that most people couldn’t read.  If you can’t read you really don’t need a Bible (or any other book).  Remember that Gutenberg and Martin Luther came along at about the same time, so the Churches that were chaining down the Bibles were Catholic Churches because in those days Catholic meant Christian and Christian meant Catholic.

If you’ve ever studied a Catholic Bible you’ve probably noticed that there are a lot of footnotes; a lot of explanations.  That’s because the Bible, like any other book is open to interpretation.  Printed words (like this post) may be read more than one way.  Plus, unless you read Greek or Hebrew, the Bible that you’re reading is translated from its original language.

So, to make sure that people were following an accurate translation, and that they were getting the proper interpretation of the Scriptures, the Church preferred that the people got their scripture at mass, not from some weird translation.  Yes, at one time some translations of the Bible were on the Church’s list of banned books.  These were inaccurate translations usually missing those seven books I talked about earlier.

So, it’s too late to make this long story short, but I’ll wrap it up by saying that yes, Virginia, Catholics are encouraged to read the Bible.  Some may be more faithful readers than others, but most of us read it and enjoy it.  Even if we don’t read the book ourselves, over the course of a three year cycle, regular attendees will have the entire Bible read to them at mass.

Coming up:  About those seven books.

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Papal Infallibility

“You Catholics say that the Pope is ‘infallible’.  That means he’s never wrong, right?”

Since the Holy Father is very much in the news right now, I thought I’d start this series by clearing up some myths about the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Saint Peter, the Pope.  Most people, non-Catholics included, have heard that the Pope is infallible, but they probably don’t understand what that means.  To answer the question above, it doesn’t mean that he’s never wrong, that he can’t sin, or anything like that.

Here’s an example.  If the current Pontiff, Benedict XVI, were to say to you that he’s sure that Germany is going to win the World Cup, don’t run out and bet the mortgage.  Like any loyal German, he wants Germany to win.  He believes they can win.  But he has no more ability to pick winners of sporting events than you or I do.  In fact, given his workload, you and I may be more capable of doing the research needed in picking a winner than he is.

The doctrine of Papal Infallibility was officially declared to be doctrine by the first Vatican Council (1869-70), but it was recognized from the very beginning of the Church.  It’s not like popes run around the Vatican making infallible proclamations.  In fact the most recent case of the Pope speaking infallibly, or ex cathedra (Latin for ‘from the chair’) was in 1950 when Pius XII declared the Assumption of Mary to be an article of faith which must be believed by all Catholics.

Bishops can also speak ex cathedra, but not all by themselves.  All the bishops, speaking in common with the Bishop of Rome may make infallible statements.  The best example would be Church councils where the Church speaks with one voice.  Infallibility only applies when the Church speaks on matters of faith and morals.  When the Bishops are gathered in council and they all agree to order out for pizza, that’s not infallibility, it’s just a bunch of hungry guys.

Here’s what Vatican I said:  “Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.”

Like I said, you can count the number of ex cathedra statements made by all the Popes over the last 2,000 years on your fingers.  Well maybe you’ll have to use a couple of toes, but the point stands.  Examples of Popes speaking infallibly are few and far between.  The last officially acknowledged example being the 1950 declaration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.


John Paul II made a pretty definitive statement on the all-male priesthood (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis).  But the Church says that he was just restating something that everybody already knew.

This whole concept can get pretty deep, too deep for a short blog post.  Suffice it to say that the Pope isn’t immune to making mistakes on every day things.  He’s also not incapable of committing sin.  But when he says something ex cathedra, we all have to believe it. But remember, it’s been more than 60 years since it happened so it’s not something that’s going to happen every day.

I’m going to give you some links to other material on this subject that might shed more light on it for you.  Like I said, this short post isn’t intended to give you a full understanding of the whole matter, but just to whet your whistle to learn more.

Thanks for reading!

Catholic Answers on Papal Infallibility

Ask a Franciscan–How Many Infallible Teachings?

Jimmy Akin:  Two Instances Of Papal Infallibility?

Papal Infallibility – EWTN.com

40 Myths About the Catholic Church

Last year during Lent I published a series of posts on 40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic.  It was part of my Lenten penance and if you read all 40 of them, then I suppose it was part of your penance too.  I’m continually surprised when WordPress tells me that people are still reading those posts nearly a year later.  I remember from my secular blogging days that people love lists, so I guess the one-post-per-day format for Lent must have been a success.

“Here’s the thing.  Today is Ash Wednesday and I have a decision to make.  Should I try it again?  If so, what forty things can I write about that people will find interesting, keeping in mind that I’m going to have to keep it up for six weeks?
This Monday, when our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to retire at the end of this month, I noticed that the Catholic-bashers came out in full force.  I also noticed that the justification for their hatred of all things Catholic has little or no basis in fact.  As our beloved Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, “No one hates the Catholic Church,  But millions of people hate what they think the Catholic Church is.”  (This is a paraphrase because I don’t have the exact quote in front of me, but it’s basically what he said.)

There is so much misinformation out there about Catholics, even among Catholics themselves, that I think this will be a timely and useful series.  I hope you agree.  If you don’t, feel free to comment.  After constructive criticism is why God gave us the “delete” button.  (Just kidding.)  I enjoy the conversation and appreciate the opportunity to learn something.

Stay tuned.