Reading reports of the ballooning sex scandal inside the Catholic Church, one can get the distinct impression that the church is imploding.
Apparently, millions of Catholics are dazed and demoralized. Apparently, the Vatican is mired in an impossible battle against fact and truth and is reeling. Apparently, Catholic leaders are quietly, apologetically, retreating. The Catholic Church “now face[s] the largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in church history,” said the National Catholic Reporter (March 26). The damage inflicted will “last at least a generation,” wrote Peggy Noonan (April 2). Apparently, it will be years, even decades, before faith is restored, trust is replenished and authority is recouped. Apparently, the Vatican’s days as the widely respected and preeminent force guiding Western civilization are over.
Don’t buy it!
Of course, the story of thousands of heinous sex crimes being committed by Catholic priests the world over is important and telling. But the narrative that is emerging of a severely debilitated Catholic Church on bended knee before a disgusted and furious world is wildly exaggerated. Pushed largely by the mainstream press in Britain and the United States (including Catholic outlets in these countries), this increasingly popular perception overlooks a critical reality: It ignores the Vatican’s remarkable ability to endure and even thrive during immense trial and tribulation.
The Roman Catholic Church has a 2,000-year legacy of responding to major crises, with lethal and effective results.
History guarantees the Vatican will rebound—with more force than you could imagine!
What Sparked the Inquisition
Recall the history of the Protestant Reformation.
The Vatican was the defining force in Europe during the Middle Ages. The authority of Catholic leaders on all matters spiritual and moral went unquestioned. Even in issues of war and politics, popes and church leaders often wielded decisive authority. Naturally, this unrivaled power corrupted church leaders on all levels. In Rome and across Europe, Catholic priests habitually abused their position to grow rich and satiate fleshly desires. Over time, resentment and anger festered. In October 1517, the frustration finally burst out when an Augustinian friar named Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of a seminary in Germany.
Luther’s rebellion set a church-wide maelstrom in motion. Bolstered by Luther’s audacity, the Protestant movement quickly stormed across Europe. Soon, the role and authority of the Catholic Church were being debated everywhere, in villages and cities, huts and castles, on street corners and in parishes. Rome’s power began to suffer, desperately. The church appeared to be imploding.
Remember how Rome responded?
In today’s politically correct history books, Rome’s reaction to the Protestant Reformation is termed the Catholic Counter Reformation. In reality, this Catholic-inspired movement was a vehement, calculated and often bloody assault on dissenters!
The church’s response to Luther’s rebellion and the Protestant Reformation was “vigorous,” observes Stanley Chodorow in The Mainstream of Civilization. “[T]he church used torture and imprisonment as well as gentler means of persuasion to bring wayward Catholics back to orthodoxy.”
The lesson is evident: The Vatican will not keel over when assaulted by criticism and contempt, no matter how intense or widespread.
To call the church’s response to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century “vigorous” is somewhat of an understatement. It’s true that in some instances reforms occurred peacefully within the church, where some doctrines and practices were altered to appease the dissenters and resolve the anxieties of the faithful. For the most part, however, the Protestant Reformation elicited an uncompromising, forceful and often brutal response from Rome.
Two Reactions to Watch For
As the Protestant Reformation erupted in the 16th century, Catholic leaders reacted to the violent criticism in two specific ways, both of which are relevant in light of the ongoing sex scandal.
First, Rome considered the crisis an opportunity to rediscover and reassert its “spiritual” roots and to reignite the loyalty of the vast number of Catholics who did not dissent.
This goal was largely achieved through one of the most important ecumenical meetings in Catholic history, the Council of Trent. Originally called to address the dissenters’ demand for church reform, the council—which met in three sessions between 1545 and 1563—effectively became a forum for Catholic authorities to regroup and determine a battle plan. Ultimately, there was little concession or capitulation. Rather than significantly revamp Catholic doctrine to assuage dissenters, church leaders clarified and reinforced Catholic doctrine. They passed measures that augmented papal authority and streamlined church teachings. In the end, the Council of Trent proved critical to “revitalizing the Roman Catholic Church in many parts of Europe” (Encyclopedia Britannica).
Not that we expect Pope Benedict xvi to summon a meeting of such magnitude, but the current crisis has already motivated the pope and church leaders to call meetings, launch investigations, review church policy and practices, and issue apologies. As the scandal grows, we will likely see more meetings, more apologies, and perhaps the “reform” of some policies and practices. If this occurs, remember Trent: It would be foolish to perceive such a response as evidence of capitulation or concession. Ultimately, the purpose of these “crisis meetings” is to formulate a strong and unified retaliation, which undoubtedly will include revitalizing the loyalties of Catholics, particularly within Europe.
Second, Catholic leaders reacted to the Protestant rebellion by seeking to reassert and enlarge their influence in European society and politics—especially within the multitude of Europe’s royal lines.
As the 16th century wore on, Catholic kings and queens throughout Europe were not merely embraced by popes and church leaders; the armies of these monarchs were enlisted in the church’s quest to purge the Continent of dissenters and critics. In Spain, for example, Phillip ii emerged as the figurehead of the Catholic Counter Reformation, and with support from the Vatican, promoted the “revival of a militant church throughout Europe” (The Mainstream of Civilization). Phillip didn’t merely prevent Protestant movements taking root in Catholic Spain; he slashed the throats of Protestants on behalf of the Catholic Church as far north as the Netherlands and as far east as the Rhineland.
By the mid-16th century, Catholic leaders had groomed a new army of hard-core militaristic religious orders (including the Theatines, Capuchins and Ursulines) with which to fight back against the Protestants. In 1540, Rome acquired a crude and valuable ally when Pope Paul iii sanctioned the militant activities of the Society of Jesus, otherwise known as the Jesuits (the cia of the Roman Catholic Church). “Through their [Jesuits’] clandestine operations, they strengthened the pope’s control over the church; they ran the best schools in Europe; and they reclaimed most of Bohemia, Poland, Hungary and southern Germany from Protestantism” (ibid., emphasis mine).
Perhaps the sex scandal engulfing the church is not on the same level as Luther’s rebellion, but in ascertaining how Benedict and the Vatican will react, the spirit behind the Catholic Counter Reformation is consistent with Rome’s track record of responding to major crises that threaten its reputation and authority. If the Vatican were to concede and capitulate amid the growing criticism, it would be rejecting its 2,000-year history of confronting criticism and tackling opposition head on!
This simply is not going to happen.
What Will Happen?
Informed by Bible prophecy and history, we can tell you what will happen. First, Pope Benedict and the Vatican will ultimately emerge from this crisis victorious, and with more power and influence. Second, while the church could lose members, particularly in Britain and America, its authority and influence in Europe will expand. More than likely, Benedict and the Vatican will follow the playbook of their ancestors.
Expect Benedict to treat this crisis as an opportunity for the Vatican to rediscover and reassert its “spiritual” roots and to engage in a campaign to reignite the loyalty of Europe’s Catholic population!
Expect Benedict and the Vatican to exploit this crisis to muster the allegiance of prominent Catholic politicians, social personalities, monarchs, governments and institutions in Europe. (Also, don’t be surprised if very soon we see an individual of courage and vision, and of German descent, stand up to defend the pope and the Vatican.) The more the Catholic Church and Vatican are attacked by the media and liberal Catholics (particularly in America), the stronger the relationship will grow between Catholic Europe and the Vatican.
Lastly, discard the overblown reports that the Catholic Church is imploding. Neither Pope Benedict xvi nor the Vatican are dazed and confused, and they’re certainly not about to slink away in guilt and shame. Watch these events closely, and let history and biblical prophecy be your assurance: The Vatican is alert and focused, and is about to respond to this crisis with a level of force that will shock the world! ▪