As Jorge “pope Francis” Bergoglio begins his visit to the United States today we’ll be absolutely deluged by the media coverage. Many American Catholics will proudly celebrate the pope’s visit but many Christians will take note of all the attention and devotion and recall the Biblical prophecy regarding a future time when a fearful world will turn en masse to a false prophet for guidance. In recognition of Bergoglio’s visit to the U.S. it’s appropriate that we take a look at the dark side of the papacy.
Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy
By Peter De Rosa
Crown Publishing, 1988, 484 pages
The Catholic church presents a fanciful, idealized version of itself as the “one true church,” perpetually guided by the Holy Spirit through an infallible pope from an unbroken line of apostolic succession all the way back to Peter, the alleged first bishop of Rome. But history tells quite another story.
In “The Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy” former Jesuit priest, Peter De Rosa, plays the devil’s advocate and examines the role of the papacy throughout history. Credulous Catholic readers will be shocked to learn many popes were devoted only to furthering their political and ecclesiastical power by whatever means necessary. De Rosa refutes claims to divine guidance and papal infallibility by recalling the early church’s metamorphosis into an all-powerful, authoritarian institution which initiated the Crusades, the Inquisition, the persecution of Galileo (an unbreachable repudiation of infallibility), mandatory clerical celibacy, denunciation of civil democracies, and the ban on contraceptives. Previous popes were branded as heretics by their successors. For centuries popes reigned over a church that was ferociously anti-Semitic. The Bible was even put on the Index of Forbidden Books. In their personal affairs, popes were often paragons of avarice and debauchery. This book was published before the scandal of pedophile priests and church-wide cover up rocked Catholicism to its foundation.
De Rosa is not a historian (no footnotes) but he credits a lengthy bibliography of scholarly sources. Intransigent Catholic traditionalists have slandered this book but the muck is just too deep to overcome. What is liberal Catholic De Rosa’s aim in exposing the papacy’s dark side? By demonstrating that the Vicars of Christ were not divinely guided the author hopes Catholics will realize many of the current controversial dogmas (ban on contraceptives, celibacy, male-only hierarchy, exclusion of remarried divorcees from the sacraments, etc.) are concocted traditions without spiritual foundation that the hierarchy perpetuates to its own peril.
De Rosa pines for the liberality of John XXIII who “threw open the windows of the church” at Vatican II. But the church is reluctant to abandon its allegedly inspired doctrines for fear of losing credibility, for Rome has always boasted that it never changes. But didn’t Rome once teach that everyone not baptized a Catholic would go to hell? The current pope, Francis, now says even atheists will go to heaven if they lead “good” lives. Of course! If works are the means to salvation as Catholicism teaches then, taken to its logical conclusion, everyone who tries to lead a “good life” will merit heaven. So why should Catholics bother with their religion if even atheists are good to go? Recent surveys reveal 75% of Catholics wonder the same thing and no longer bother to attend obligatory Sunday mass. But the house of cards came down decades ago for many Catholics when pope Paul VI forbade all forms of contraception while eagerly endorsing the rhythm method. Every Catholic with at least half a brain asked, What’s the difference?
What is an Evangelical Christian to make of the “Vicars of Christ”? Despite exposing the dark side of his church’s history, De Rosa is still an advocate of Rome’s system of sacramental grace and works merit with priests as the ordained mediators between God and men. The Catholic church’s story is that of early Christianity’s transformation into a legalistic, authoritarian institution whose cruelties and depravities eventually overshadowed even pagan Rome.
The Reformers abandoned the legalism and ritualism of Catholicism and reclaimed the beliefs of the early church which were based upon the scriptural Good News of salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Unlike pope Francis who preaches Universal salvation for all who are “good,” the Reformers pointed to the Bible which proclaims there are none who are good or righteous and can earn their way to heaven (Romans 3:10). But the Good News is God so loved the world that He gave his Son to die for our sins, and that whoever places their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior will not perish but will have eternal life (John 3:16).