(My dear mom has a Ph.D. in history and has done extensive research on the Reformation.)
Is the present-day Catholic crisis more dangerous than the indulgence crisis, which led to the Protestant Reformation?
In Catholic teaching, obtaining an indulgence means substituting for penance following genuine confession. This is no problem and caused no crisis.
Problems came when the selling of indulgences became big business. The market opened up after the pope in 1476 declared that an indulgence could be purchased on behalf of another, for example, on behalf of a dead relative suffering in purgatory. In the following decades, cardinals and archbishops led great indulgence-selling campaigns to support the building and rebuilding of churches, the performance of pilgrimages, crusades against the Turks.
A tipping point came when Pope Leo X in 1515 proclaimed the sale of an indulgence for building St. Peter’s in Rome. Martin Luther, a devout priest and monk, posted his 95 Theses because he feared that parishioners – the sheep of his flock and the victims in this crisis – were being taught that their money could buy God’s forgiveness when they purchased an indulgence.
Which is more dangerous to the church – a crisis based on money or a crisis based on the damaged lives of human persons? The money did some worthwhile good, but absolutely no good comes from Christians damaging lives and covering up the damage.
Will today’s Catholic church escape the church’s 16th century punishment: tens of thousands of church members following the excommunicated Luther out of the church?
Don’t count on escaping similar losses to the church. In 16th century Europe, people were interested in religion; they wanted to go to church. We all know that in our culture there is little interest in religion and quite a bit of scorn for it. Think about the people who will leave the church as this crisis grinds on, and then think about how God’s children who should come into the church in the future will not do so because the image of its leadership is morally repellent.
Dear Catholic brothers and sisters, I’m a Lutheran but I know that this crisis in your church affects all of us Christians. Please fight for your church. By excommunicating Luther, 16th century church leaders dealt with a symptom of their problem, but not with the problem itself, which they themselves had caused. Today’s church leaders do the same thing. They plan meetings to pretend to cope with the crisis, thus avoiding the crisis itself, which they themselves have caused. They spurn and condemn the very journalists and activists who have given the sex-abuse victims a platform to speak.
Please fight this church leadership. Call your own meetings and ask bishops to testify under oath. Plan mass protests. Attend meetings you’re forbidden to attend and risk arrest. Write letter after letter, blog post after blog post. Fight for the return of truth and morality to your church.
Remember: the 16th century crisis led to the break up of the Catholic Church. The present day crisis is even more dangerous.