Criticism Of The Catholic Church

This article covers the criticism of the Catholic Church in detail.

During its long history, the Catholic Church has been subject to criticism regarding various beliefs and practices. Within the Church, this includes differences of opinion regarding the use of Latin at Mass and the subject of clerical celibacy. In the past, different interpretations of scripture and critiques of clerical laxity and opulence contributed to separations such as the schism with the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Church has also been criticized for its active efforts to influence political decisions, such as the Church’s promotion of the Crusades and its involvement with various 20th-century nationalist regimes. More recent criticism focuses on alleged scandals within the Church, particularly alleged financial corruption and the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals.


Use of Latin

After the reforms known outside the church for the Tridentine Mass, said mostly in Latin with a few sentences in Ancient Greek and Hebrew. Since 1970, the Mass has been celebrated in the local language of where it is celebrated, and the Mass in Latin less frequently. A minority of Roman Catholics however prefer the Mass to be celebrated in Latin, and prefer not to use the Mass of Paul VI. In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI loosened some restrictions on use of the Latin Mass with the aim of healing the rift that had come about between advocates of the Novus Ordo Mass and advocates of the Tridentine Mass.

The 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, allowing a wider use of the Tridentine Mass, raised concerns in the Jewish community regarding the Good Friday liturgy which contained a prayer “For the conversion of the Jews” referring to Jewish “blindness” and prays for them to be “delivered from their darkness.” The American Jewish Committee pointed out that this raises “negative implications that some in the Jewish community and beyond have drawn concerning the motu proprio.” 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.

Traditionalist Catholics

Main article: Traditionalist Catholicism

Some Traditionalist Catholics see the Church’s reforms in liturgy and teaching following the Second Vatican Council as contrary to the traditional teaching of the Church. Some groups, such as the Society of St. Pius X, have rejected certain decisions of the Holy See that they see as harmful to the faith.

Clerical celibacy

Main article: Clerical celibacy in the Catholic Church

In the Catholic Church, priestly celibacy is seen as a charism bestowed by the Holy Spirit, enabling one to make a total commitment to oneself in service of the kingdom of God. The scriptural basis for this is found in Matthew 19:12 and 1 Corinthians 7:32–35.

Married men can be ordained to the permanent diaconate, but only unmarried men may be ordained priests. As celibacy is a discipline rather than doctrine, it can be abrogated in particular situations, as when, for example, Anglican clergy convert to the Catholic faith and continue in their priesthood and married life, and when married Anglican priests are ordained to the Catholic priesthood to minister in personal ordinariates. (Members of the Anglican hierarchy found the creation of the personal ordinariate “insensitive”.)

Some Eastern Rite Catholic Churches such as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church allow the ordination of married men as priests. Only unmarried men may be ordained to the episcopate. Priestly celibacy continues to be the subject of a good deal of discussion. Proponents who view this as something that should be revisited say that it precludes otherwise qualified candidates from the priesthood, noting a shortage of priests in some areas.

Martin Luther wrote regarding priestly celibacy in “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 Corinthians 7:3, and may freely and without hindrance dedicate themselves day and night to the word and faith.

Ordination of women

Main article: Ordination of women and the Catholic Church

The teaching of the Catholic Church on ordination, as expressed in the Code of Canon Law, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, is that “only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination”. According to Roman Catholic thinking, the priest is acting ‘in persona Christi’ (that is, in the Person of Christ). In 1979, Sister Theresa Kane, then president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, challenged Pope John Paul II from the podium at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., to include women “in all ministries of our Church”.

In his Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis (1994), Pope John Paul II said the “Priestly ordination, … has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone.” He cited the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (under Pope Paul VI) Declaration Inter Insigniores on the question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood, and declared that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” The reasons given included: “the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan for his Church.”

Some groups, nonetheless, say the matter should still be open for discussion. Dissenters do not regard Ordinatio sacerdotalis as definitive Church teaching. But in June 2018 Pope Francis said, “We cannot do this with Holy Orders (women priests) because dogmatically we cannot. Pope John Paul II was clear and closed the door and I’m not going to go back on that. It [John Paul’s decision] was serious, it was not a capricious thing.” But from the start of his papacy Francis has pointed out that “sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general. It must be remembered that when we speak of sacramental power “we are in the realm of function, not that of dignity or holiness'” (EG 104).

Since Vatican II, women have taken an increased role in the Church. In 1994, the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments formally interpreted the 1983 Code of Canon Law, stating that women could assist at Mass as acolytes or altar servers. Women also serve as lectors and extraordinary ministers. Still many people see the Church’s position on the ordination of women as a sign that women are not equal to men in the Catholic Church, though the Church rejects this inference. In a separate but related issue, Pope Francis set up a Study Commission on the Women’s Diaconate to study women deacons in the early church, to help answer the question of whether women could also serve as deacons today. The Commission submitted its inconclusive report to Pope Francis in January 2019.

Panorama of St. Peter's Square

Panorama of St. Peter’s Square



In the Middle Ages, religion played a major role in driving antisemitism. Adversus Judaeos (“against the Judeans”) are a series of fourth century homilies by John Chrysostom directed to members of the church of Antioch of his time, which continued to observe Jewish feasts and fasts. Critical of this, he cast Judaism and the synagogues in his city in a critical and negative light. The use 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. According to historian William I. Brustein, his sermons against Jews gave further momentum to the idea that Jews are collectively responsible for the death of Jesus. “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.”

In 1998, Pope John Paul II apologized for the failure of Catholics to help Jews during the Holocaust and acknowledged that Christian antisemitism might have made easier Nazi persecution of the Jews, whom the Pope called “our elder brothers” in the faith.

Russian Orthodoxy

In 2007, then Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow objected to what he termed “proselytizing” by clerics of the Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church. Catholic officials replied that their efforts in Russia were not aimed at Eastern Orthodox believers, but were reaching out to the vast majority of Russians who are not churchgoers. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith rejected the characterization of “proselytizing” and said that respect towards non-Catholic Christians must not negate the possibility of conversion, if an individual should so chose.


Common factors that played a role during the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation included the rise of nationalism, simony, the appointment of Cardinal-nephews, the sale of indulgences, and other corruption in the Roman Curia and other ecclesiastical hierarchy, as well as the impact of humanism, the new learning of the Renaissance, the epistemological shift between the schola moderna and schola antiqua within scholasticism, and the Western Schism that eroded loyalty to the Papacy.

Key events of the period include Martin Luther nailing the 95 theses (1517), the Council of Trent (1545–1563), the excommunication of Elizabeth I (1570), the Battle of Lepanto (1571), the adoption of the Gregorian calendar under Pope Gregory XIII, the French Wars of Religion, the Long Turkish War, the final phases of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), and the formation of the last Holy League by Innocent XI during the Great Turkish War.

Protestants hold doctrinal differences with the Catholic Church in a number of areas, including the understanding of the meaning of the word “faith” and how it relates to “good works” in terms of salvation, and a difference of opinion regarding the concept of “justification”; also regarding the Catholic Church’s belief in sacred tradition as a source of revelation complementary to sacred scripture. Some scholars of Early Christianity are adherents of the New Perspective on Paul and so believe sola fide is a misinterpretation and that Paul was actually speaking about laws (such as circumcision, dietary laws, Sabbath, temple rituals, etc.) that were considered essential for the Jews of the time.


In September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI delivered the Regensburg lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany, where he had once served as a professor of theology. It was entitled “Faith, Reason and the University – Memories and Reflections”. In his lecture, the Pope, speaking in German, quoted a passage about Islam made at the end of the 14th century by Byzantine (Eastern Roman) emperor Manuel II Palaiologos. As the English translation of the Pope’s lecture was disseminated across the world, the quotation was taken out of context and many Islamic politicians and religious leaders protested against what they saw as an insulting mischaracterization of Islam. Mass street protests were mounted in many Islamic countries. The Pope maintained that the comment he had quoted did not reflect his own views.

Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur v. Menteri Dalam Negeri is a 2009 court decision by the High Court of Malaya holding that Christians do not have the constitutional right to use the word “Allah” in church newspapers.


Main article: Crossing the Threshold of Hope

In 1994, Pope John Paul II wrote Crossing the Threshold of Hope, in which he discussed various non-Christian religions, including Buddhism. The book prompted widespread criticism from the Buddhist community, and the pope’s statements were characterized as a misunderstanding and offending Buddhism. Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist lama, wrote a book to address the “serious, gratuitous misrepresentations of Buddhist doctrine which seemed to be based on misunderstandings” contained within Crossing the Threshold of Hope. Bhikkhu Bodhi, a Theravada Buddhism scholar, published an essay “intended as a short corrective to the Pope’s demeaning characterization of Buddhism” entitled Toward a Threshold of Understanding.



Simony is usually defined as “a deliberate intention of buying or selling for a temporal price such things as are spiritual or annexed unto spirituals”. Although an offense against canon law, simony became widespread in the Catholic Church in the 9th and 10th centuries.

Response to heresy

Main articles: Inquisition and History of Christian thought on persecution and tolerance

The development of doctrine, the position of orthodoxy, and the relationship between the early Church and early heretical groups is a matter of academic debate. Before the 12th century, Christianity gradually suppressed what it saw as heresy, usually through a system of ecclesiastical sanctions, excommunication, and anathema. Later, an accusation of heresy could be construed as treason against lawful civil rule, and therefore punishable by civil sanctions such as confiscation of property, imprisonment, or death, though the latter was not frequently imposed, as this form of punishment had many ecclesiastical opponents. Within five years of the official ‘criminalization’ of heresy by the emperor, the first Christian heretic, Priscillian, was executed in 385 by Roman officials. For some years after the Protestant Reformation, Protestant denominations were also known to execute those whom they considered heretics.

When John Paul II visited Prague in the 1990s, he apologized for the execution of Jan Hus on charges of heresy and requested experts in this matter “to define with greater clarity the position held by Jan Hus among the Church’s reformers”, and acknowledged that “independently of the theological convictions he defended, Hus cannot be denied integrity in his personal life and commitment to the nation’s moral education.”

In 2015, after visiting a Waldensian Temple in Turin, Pope Francis, in the name of the Catholic Church, asked Waldensian Christians for forgiveness for their persecution. The Pope apologized for the Church’s “un-Christian and even inhumane positions and actions”.


Main article: Crusades

The Crusades were a series of military conflicts, with a religious as well as socio-political character, waged by much of Christian Europe against external and internal threats. Crusades were fought against Muslims, Slavs, Mongols, Cathars, Hussites and political enemies of the popes. Crusaders took vows and were granted an indulgence.

Elements of the Crusades were criticized by some from the time of their inception in 1095. Roger Bacon felt the Crusades were counter-productive because, “those who survive, together with their children, are more and more embittered against the Christian faith.” In spite of some criticism, the movement was still widely supported in Europe long after the fall of Acre in 1291. After that, the Crusades to recover Jerusalem and the Christian East were unsuccessful. Eighteenth-century rationalists judged the Crusaders harshly. In 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”.

Magdalene laundries

Magdalene laundries, also known as Magdalene’s asylums, were Protestant but later in Ireland largely Roman Catholic institutions that operated from the 18th to the late 20th centuries, to house “fallen women”. The term implied female sexual promiscuity or work in prostitution; young women who became pregnant outside of marriage were sent here. They were required to work as part of their board, and the institutions operated large commercial laundries, serving customers outside their church bases. Many of these “laundries” were effectively operated as penitentiary work-houses. Laundries such as this operated throughout Europe and North America for much of the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century, the last one closing in 1996. The institutions were named after the Biblical figure Mary Magdalene, in earlier centuries characterised as a reformed prostitute.

Nationalist critique

As early as the second century, Justin Martyr addressed his First Apology to the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius to explain that Christians could be good citizens. In addition to arguing against the persecution of individuals solely for being Christian, Justin also provides the Emperor with a defense of the philosophy of Christianity and a detailed explanation of contemporary Christian practices and rituals. In many instances concern regarding the loyalty of Catholics arose in the context of perceived political threats. In 1570, Pope Pius V issued a papal bull titled Regnans in Excelsis, which declared Elizabeth I to be excommunicated and a heretic. Concerned at the possibility that, in the event of an attack by the Catholic monarchs of France and Spain, English Catholics might side with the invaders, Parliament enacted restrictive legislation against Catholics. The initial favorable reception of Jesuits in Japan changed when Toyotomi Hideyoshi became disturbed by the external threats posed by the expansion of European power in East Asia. Hideyoshi was apprehensive that Portugal and Spain might provide military support to Dom Justo Takayama, a Christian daimyō in western Japan. The San Felipe incident (1596) involved the Spanish captain of a shipwrecked trading vessel, who, in an attempt to recover his cargo, made the claim that the missionaries (many of whom had arrived with the Portuguese) were there to prepare Japan for conquest. Hideyoshi was concerned that divided loyalties might lead to dangerous rebels like the Ikkō-ikki Sect of earlier years and issued an edict expelling missionaries.

The Reichskonkordat of 1933 was an agreement between the Holy See and Germany, negotiated by Cardinal Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) and Vice Chancellor Franz von Papen on behalf of President Paul von Hindenburg. While the treaty preserved the Church’s ecclesiastical and educational institutions, and guaranteed the right to pastoral care in hospitals, prisons and similar institutions, it also required all clergy to abstain from membership in political parties, and not support political causes. Hitler routinely disregarded the concordat and permitted a persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany. Shortly before the 20 July signing of the Reichskonkordat, Germany signed similar agreements with the state Protestant churches in Germany, although the Confessing Church opposed the regime. Nazi breaches of the agreement began almost as soon as it had been signed and intensified afterwards leading to protest from the Church including in the 1937 encyclical Mit brennender Sorge of Pope Pius XI, followed in 1943 by Mystici corporis Christi of Pope Pius XII which condemned forced conversions, the murder of disabled people, and the exclusion of people on the basis of race or nationality. The Nazis planned to eliminate the Church’s influence by restricting its organizations to purely religious activities.

In a series of sermons in the summer of 1941, Clemens August Graf von Galen, Bishop of Munster, denounced the Nazi regime for its Gestapo tactics and policies, including euthanasia, and attacked the Third Reich for undermining justice. He stated: “As a German, as a decent citizen, I demand justice”. In the view of SS General Jürgen Stroop, German patriotism “was tainted by Papist ideals, which have been harmful to Germany for centuries. Besides, the Archbishop’s [Clemens August Graf von Galen] orders came from outside the Fatherland, a fact which disturbed us. We all know that despite its diverse factions, the Catholic Church is a world community, which sticks together when the chips are down.” “There is no doubt that in the long run Nazi leaders such as Hitler and Himmler intended to eradicate Christianity just as ruthlessly as any other rival ideology, even if in the short term they had to be content to make compromises with it.”

Catholic clergy have been implicated in the violent repression by the Ustaše regime in Croatia during the Second World War.


Concerns about usury included the 19th-century Rothschild loans to the Holy See and 16th-century objections over abuse of the zinskauf clause. This was particularly problematic because the charging of interest (all interest, not just excessive interest) was a violation of doctrine at the time, such as that reflected in the 1745 encyclical Vix pervenit. As a result, work-arounds were employed. For example, in the 15th century, the Medici Bank lent money to the Vatican which was lax about repayment. Rather than charging interest, “the Medici overcharged the pope on the silks and brocades, the jewels and other commodities they supplied.” However, the 1917 Code of Canon Law switched position and allowed church monies to be used to accrue interest.

Italian priest Pino Puglisi refused money from Mafia members when offered it for the traditional feast day celebrations, and also resisted the Mafia in other ways, for which he was martyred in 1993.

In 2014, Pope Francis criticized the practice of charging altarage fees or honorariums for things like baptisms, blessings, and Mass intentions (such as Masses for the dead).

In 2015, the Bishop of Oslo was charged with fraud for inflating membership rolls for the Catholic Church in Norway and the diocese had to repay some of its subsidy.

In 2018, Pope Francis criticized the selling of Masses for the dead, stating, “the Mass is not paid for, redemption is free, if I want to make an offering, well and good, but Mass is free.” In response, Archbishop Julian Leow Beng Kim and two bishops put out a press release reminding Catholics that according to canon law, “any priest celebrating or concelebrating is permitted to receive an offering to apply the Mass for a specific intention.”

Sexual abuse scandals

Main article: Catholic Church sexual abuse cases

In January 2002, allegations of priests sexually abusing children were widely reported in the news media. A survey of the ten 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. Victims of such abuse filed lawsuits against a number of dioceses, resulting in multi-million dollar settlements in some cases. 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. In February 2019, the Catholic Church held a worldwide summit of bishops in Rome to discuss the steps that can be taken to prevent the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults.

Canadian Indigenous residential schools

The Indian residential school system in Canada was a network of boarding schools for indigenous peoples. Children were often forcibly removed from their parents to attend these schools. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that more than 4000 students have died due to this system. About 60% of the Canadian Indian residential schools were operated by the Catholic church under federal and provincial government sponsorship and funding. The students died due to widespread disease and lack of facilities, abuse and suicide at the hands of people operating the residential schools. The Canadian government continues to find mass unmarked graves containing bodies of hundred of Indigenous children that died at residential schools. As part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement of 2005, churches involved with Residential Schools were required to pay restitution to residential school survivors. CBC reported that the Catholic Church never followed through on this restitution, rather they spent millions of dollars earmarked to residential school survivors on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company and unapproved loans.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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