Pope Francis calls critics of Rome “friends of the Devil”

Pope Francis has accused thousands of victims and their families who have been abused by Roman Catholic priests of being related to the Devil.

Yesterday during an address given to pilgrims in southern Italy, Pope Francis said,

“You can’t live all your life by accusing, accusing,  and accusing the church. Who is the accuser? Who in the Bible is called the Great Accuser? Who is it? …The Devil.

Those who spend their lives accusing, accusing, accusing, are not the devil’s children because the devil has none. Friends, cousins and relatives of the devil and this is wrong. Mistakes should be reported to be corrected. When mistakes are reported, when flaws are denounced, the church is loved”.

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Despite Pope Francis opening a summit for Rome’s Bishops to address these issue of abuse,  where he has acknowledged that they must fight the “enemy within” almost every element in this statement by the Pope is appalling. Mistakes? Which mistakes is he talking about? Is Pope Francis referring to thousands of priests slipping their hands into little boys genitals and asking children into having sex with them? Is he talking about the shoddy processes responsible for mishandling sex abuse allegations, or of the deliberate protection offered to perpetrators of these crimes? Even the word, ‘accusing’, which the Pope has chosen to emphasise, is a poor choice of language, for it suggests that there may be reason to doubt the claims being made and even that the person making the allegations is a troublemaker.

This is not the first time that Pope Francis has insulted the victims of abuse. In September 2018 he suggested,

“With people who do not have good will, with people who seek only scandal, who seek only division, who seek only destruction, even within families,” the answer is “silence. And prayer.”

“May the Lord give us the grace to discern when we must speak and when we must be silent. And [to do] in all of life: in work, at home, in society…” to become more closely imitators of Jesus Christ

As it says in the day’s Gospel, the people “rose up, drove [Jesus] out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill… to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.”

Those who drove Jesus out of the city were not people, but “a pack of wild dogs,” …They shouted instead of using reason, and in the face of this, Jesus’ response was to remain silent.”

I responded at the time by asking,

“I certainly hope Pope Francis wasn’t inferring that he is behaving like Jesus and that those asking for clarification of the allegations are not like ‘a pack of wild dogs.’”

Days later Pope Francis added,

“In these times, it seems like the ‘Great Accuser’ has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The ‘Great Accuser’, as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, ‘roams the earth looking for someone to accuse’. A bishop’s strength against the ‘Great Accuser’ is prayer, that of Jesus and his own, and the humility of being chosen and remaining close to the people of God, without seeking an aristocratic life that removes this unction. Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world.”

The Pope’s remarks about the Devil and abuse victims is disgusting. I cannot work out why he would continue to articulate such insensitive and even untrue statements. By them, he is accentuating the pain that is already carried by so many thousands of Catholics, and his comments make a mockery of the message that is the good news of Jesus Christ, which marks out what a Church is about.

I feel compelled to speak up because the Pope’s commentary is wrong and Christian leaders need to respond and correct his galling words. Calling for justice and for repentance is not the work of the Devil. The Devil’s work lays with those evil priests who have abused innocence, and with the bishops and cardinals who have covered over the bloody stains of these heinous acts of betrayal. Surely, demands for the Vatican to change her ways is more in line with the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ.

What does Jesus say? “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

Christ’s message to any church who uncovers sinful activity in her midst is repentance and discipline. Churches that either enable sexual abuse or protect guilty persons are not representing Jesus Christ but are defaming his name.

Have we forgotten what happened to the Church in Pergamum? Of this church Jesus said,

12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (Revelation 2:12-16)

500 years ago there was a God-given opportunity for Rome to repent and to reform. Many Christians throughout Europe listened to God’s gracious call and they found new life and forgiveness and Churches began to flourish and through them, entire cities and regions were transformed. All the while Rome instead chose to dig in her heels. Today, once again the cries are great, and the frustration is telling.

While the Vatican persists with upholding doctrine that contradicts the beauty and truth of the Gospel, it is should not surprise us to see her continue to obfuscate issues of holiness and morality. The problems are deep, not only legal and material but also spiritual and theological. In once sense Pope Francis has rightly identified an underlying cause in Rome’s current crisis: the Devil is playing his game. But sadly and dreadfully, he is laying fault at the feet of the wrong group of people.

Pray for China

The Chinese Government has recently reasserted Sinicization, the project aimed at conforming Christianity into the likeness of Communist China.

Over the past 70 years China has born witness to one of the greatest movements the world has ever seen. At the close of the Second World War and with the rise of Communism, Western missionaries were removed from China and many left wondering what would happen to the fledgling Churches left behind in that extraordinary land.

Communism has little time for religion, as has been demonstrated in 100 years of socialist run States. Belief in God is deemed to be a threat to social harmony and to those who have power over the people.

As the bamboo curtain descended in the 1950s, God did not turn away from the Chinese people, but behind the scenes, he began an amazing work which has led to so many people becoming Christian, no one can count the number. Estimates range between 40 and 80 million followers of Jesus Christ in China today, possibly more Christians than in any other nation on earth.

It is somewhat ironic that the most ‘Christian’ nation is one with a communist Government with a capitalist facade!

 

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Over the past 20 years, China has gradually opened its doors to the world outside, and in some Provinces, religious toleration is greater than in others. As the bamboo curtain rose a little, Anglo-European Christians discovered that God does not need Western Christianity in order to grow the Gospel elsewhere. The Holy Spirit does not travel through western missionaries into indigenous groups but rather, the Spirit is God’s gift given directly to all who come to faith in the risen Christ. This is not to denigrate centuries of European witness to the Gospel, for we should be thankful for the fact that men and women traveled to China, and many died in order to give the Gospel to that great land. Today there are still many non-Chinese men and women who are serving in a variety of ways inside China, to love the people and show people the reality and good news of Jesus.

Once again, Chinese Christians are facing persecution. The Government is clamping down on Christianity with new intent and severity. According to a report in the ABC, the crackdown includes:

  • removing Bibles from online stores
  • removing Christian objects from buildings
  • closing hundreds of churches
  • and forcing Christian icons to include or be accompanied by images of Mao Zedong.

The last of these measures reminds me of Daniel ch.3 where King Nebuchadnezzar exercised religious toleration by requiring all of his subjects to submit to a statue in his image. Who doesn’t like to think of the cross with an image of Mao Zedong standing over it!

One Pastor explained what has happened to his church,

“And then they [the authorities] came into the church saying that things inside should be removed.

“For example, the banner saying: ‘For God, so love the world’ and the scriptures were torn down, and all things related to the Bible and faith had to be cleared out.”

All this would be bad enough, but news this week is highlighting collusion with the Chinese Government by the Vatican.

While President Xi Jinping is beginning to sound like King Nebuchadnezzar, Pope Francis is appearing as one of his astrologers who betrays Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

Writing for the New York Times, Ian Johnson has suggested that recent negotiations between the Chinese Government and the Vatican are designed to further stamp out underground Churches. In other words, to reduce even further any little autonomy and freedom Christian Churches might have had in China.

“Beijing’s goal in the agreement, however, appears to be the same as with the church demolitions: greater control over the rapid spread of Christianity, which gained a permanent presence in China in the 16th century.”

The deal will allow the Vatican to have greater say in appointing future Bishops in China (but not full control), and this was contingent upon Pope Francis formally recognising seven Catholics Bishops who have already been appointed by the Chinese Government.

According to Johnson,

“The ruling Communist Party sees the compromise with the Vatican as a step toward eliminating the underground churches where Chinese Catholics who refuse to recognize the party’s authority have worshiped for generations. With the pope now recognizing all bishops and clergy members in the official Catholic churches approved and controlled by the party, the underground church may have no reason to exist.

The move is part of a broader push by the government to clamp down on all aspects of society since Xi Jinping took power as the party’s leader in 2012.”

The founder of ChinAid, a Christian human rights organisation, Bob Fu, has responded to the deal,

“While we understand the eagerness of Vatican for seeking more legitimacy in the eye of the Chinese Communist Party, this reported deal is nothing but a betrayal of both the millions of suffering persecuted Christians in China and the global Catholic Church.” 

In other words, Pope Francis has struck another deal with the devil, one which will essentially hand over millions of Chinese Christians (especially Protestant Churches) into the unforgiving hands of the Government. According to all accounts, the Chinese Government is using the Vatican as a tool to increase pressure on underground Churches, to either close or to formally register and come under their authority and control.

It is fair to say that many Christians in Australia are concerned with where things are heading in our own country. There are signs suggesting that new forms of authoritarian secularism are gaining momentum, and the project to limit religious freedom and to control public Christianity has certainly gained ground in recent times. These moves need to be called out and pushed back for the sake of all Australians who believe in social pluralism and freedom of conscience, speech, and association. Do we really want to live in a country where the government or where self-appointed militia get to choose how Christian Christians can be or to police how Jewish Jews can be or how Hindu Hindus can be? 

Perhaps we should have one eye looking toward China, and ask ourselves, is that the kind of religious freedom we want to have here? We are a long way from the politico-religious scene of our northern neighbour, and yet it is not irrational to suggest that should some Australian political parties and notable social commentators have their way, we would be aiming toward an Australian Sinicization, conforming Christianity into the likeness of Australian humanistic secularism.

With a wonderful sense of Divine irony, the future of Christianity in Australia, at least in part, lays with Chinese believers. As many Aussies of European descent turn their backs on God, preferring to worship plastic images of the self, large numbers of Chinese men and women, and of many from other ethnic descent, are becoming followers of Jesus Christ in Australia. It is exciting and encouraging. It’s as though the stupid identity politics and intersectionality ethics created by white middle-class university students, is being blown up before their very eyes.

The reason for writing this post is to raise further awareness of what is unfolding in China and to encourage Christians to pray.

When Paul shared his troubles with the Church in Corinth,  he mentioned the efficacy of the prayers offered for him by the Corinthians,

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” (1 Corinthians 1:8-11)

Sometimes when we see terrible things in other parts of the world; we are saddened, concerned, but we feel helpless not knowing what to do.  As Christians, there is always one thing we can do, no matter where we are are in the world,  and that is pray.

Prayer is not wasted breath to a nonexistent God, as our atheist friends might suggest. We pray to God our Father, who remains Sovereign over all nations even today, and who loves his people dearly, and who is committed to seeing his Gospel grow both here in Australia and in China.

The Sound of Papal Silence

 There is “a time to be silent and a time to speak”.

Pope Francis has been mastering the technique of silence in recent weeks, although I suspect there has been little quiet behind Vatican walls. Last month, former Vatican envoy to Washington, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò,  published an 11-page document, outlining allegations of cover-up by Vatican officials in relation to hundreds of cases of abuse in Pennsylvania. Included in the list of those who had knowledge of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s appalling history of sexual abuse, is the current Pope.

Pope Francis’ initial response to the allegations was to say, 

“I will not say one word on this. I think the statement speaks for itself and you have sufficient journalistic capacity to reach your own conclusions.”

Then eight days ago, he added,

“With people who do not have good will, with people who seek only scandal, who seek only division, who seek only destruction, even within families,” the answer is “silence. And prayer.”

“May the Lord give us the grace to discern when we must speak and when we must be silent. And [to do] in all of life: in work, at home, in society…” to become more closely imitators of Jesus Christ

As it says in the day’s Gospel, the people “rose up, drove [Jesus] out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill… to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.”

Those who drove Jesus out of the city were not people, but “a pack of wild dogs,” …They shouted instead of using reason, and in the face of this, Jesus’ response was to remain silent.”

I certainly hope Pope Francis wasn’t inferring that he is behaving like Jesus and that those asking for clarification of the allegations are not like ‘a pack of wild dogs.’

Yesterday (September 11), Pope Francis once again broke his silence, by preaching a sermon in which he accused Satan of undermining Rome’s Bishops. He said,

“In these times, it seems like the ‘Great Accuser’ has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The ‘Great Accuser’, as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, ‘roams the earth looking for someone to accuse’. A bishop’s strength against the ‘Great Accuser’ is prayer, that of Jesus and his own, and the humility of being chosen and remaining close to the people of God, without seeking an aristocratic life that removes this unction. Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world.”

I’m presuming Pope Francis hasn’t read my particular recent criticisms, but in case he has and this is what he reckons,  I think he and I need to have a chat. Far more likely, this is a veiled attack on Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and others who are bringing to light details of a very sordid history. Notice there is no sense of what Jesus asks his followers, “Blessed are the poor in the spirit…Blessed are those who mourn.” There is, however, a game of blame the Devil for the bishopric scandal!   Don’t get me wrong, I believe in a real Satan, one who is an architect of evil, but surely the evil is of men pretending to be of God and penetrating shocking acts against children. Surely, the work of the Devil is to obfuscate the beauty and goodness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by introducing ideas that are septic.

So why the Papal silence?

There are 3 reasons why one would choose silence in the face of serious allegations, such as those being leveled by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.

First, there is weight to the allegations, and so one is working out the best strategy before speaking up. There is something to be said about this. Not every word needs to be spoken along the high-speed highway that is Twitter. It is okay to slow down a little and to offer considered responses rather than instant tweets. I think it is appropriate given the gravity of the allegation, that a thoughtful response is offered. It has however been several weeks now and the Pope has been speaking, but just not answering.

A second reason for choosing silence is because you consider your interlocutors or accusers as fools. As Jesus said, why cast pearls before swine?

A third reason for keeping quiet is because it’s an effective rhetorical tool. I will bore people to the point of giving up, and they’ll soon enough be swept up in a controversy somewhere else.

One of the suggestions being made is that there is a civil war breaking out in the Vatican. Perhaps this is true, but of course, that does not mean the allegations are any less true (or untrue as may be the fact).  I’m not interested in internal bickering inside the Vatican unless of course, it involves calls to return to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus, in which case we praise God for such a movement.

I also remain amazed at how the mainstream media have played down this story, given that it is potentially the biggest religious stories of this Century thus far.

Since the story broke in August, much of the media have either sided with Pope Francis, arguing that this is nothing more than internal fighting with conservatives trying to push back on the enlightened progressives inside the Vatican, or they have kept quiet. It’s as though the Pope said, “shh,” and the media answered, “ok.”

Since becoming the Pope, Francis has bedazzled onlookers, with his vintage styled uniforms with glittering gems, and his seemingly progressive views on social issues.

The behavior is most unusual, given that journalists are usually trigger happy when it comes to reporting the sins of Christians. Even when there is a sniff of an allegation or rumours of another religious nut saying espousing an outrageous message, we can sure that there are journalists at hand, with shovel ready to dig it up. If you think I’m exaggerating, as a veiled attempt to mock Scott Morrison’s Christian faith, last week The Guardian uncovered a Pentecostal preacher whom no one has ever heard from a church that no one has ever heard of,  and they reported his scandalous message ‘from God’ about our new Prime Minister. Yes, the preacher was saying dumb things that were not from God, but was it really worthy of public attention? Catholic clergy who have been accused of abusing children or of covering up abuse, have been rightly highlighted in our news. And yet, when the head of the Roman Church and other most senior Catholic clergy are named as co-conspirators to protect child abusing priests, the cone of silence descends not only on the Vatican but also on the media.

One of the accusations leveled at religious organisations is their lack of transparency and their long attempts to cover up abuse. Peoples’ anger at religious institutions is understandable and largely justifiable. It is beyond outrageous that ecclesial authorities should hide evil men who have destroyed the lives of thousands of children in their care. It is an automatic pass to hell.

If I had friends who were victims in Pennsylvania, for their sake I’d be wanting answers. If my children had ever been placed in such a vulnerable position, I would be in Rome right now with placards and a megaphone and a list of verbalisms to compete with any that Martin Luther ever preached.

This is time for reform inside the Roman Catholic Church. They ignored the opportunity when it came around 500 years ago, but they cannot afford to ignore it now. Bad theology leads to justifying bad living, and a trail of broken people in the wake.

 

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In the growing strange web of paradoxical ‘silence’, Rome refuses to break the seal of the confessional, but the Pope is still breaking God’s rules about praying, as he sends out more tweet prayers to Mary and to other saints.

I say all this, being aware of the plank in my own eyes, and the wood-paneled rooms of my own denomination. This is not about, ‘let him who has no sin throw the first stone’. Our broader society often misinterprets Christianity and Churches, and claims wrongdoing when there is none, but on this issue, people are right to be horrified. The harshest words Jesus ever spoke, were not toward those who admitted ignorance about God, but those who claimed to know and represent God, but by their actions denied him.

There is no glory or good to be found in the silence or in feeble half measures. If Jesus is Lord, then we must obey his call for repentance. Repentance repudiates cover-ups and superficial penances or forced retirements; repentance begins with confession and true contrition.

We wait to hear the silence end.

Is this Rome’s time for Reformation?

An open letter written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, has connected the coverup of child sexual abuse with the highest offices in the Roman Catholic Church,

“A former Vatican ambassador to the United States alleges in a 7,000 word letter that top Catholic Church officials, including Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, were long aware of sexual misconduct allegations against former D.C. archbishop Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.” (NPR)

For years it has been apparent that there is a culture of abuse among many Roman Catholic priests, and that church hierarchy has been quietly suppressing the stories for many decades. But this week’s allegations demand, even more, the need for Rome to reform. At this point, Pope Francis’ only response has been to say, “I will not say one word on this. I think the statement speaks for itself and you have sufficient journalistic capacity to reach your own conclusions.”

 

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When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenburg Cathedral door in 1517, he was not calling for schism within the Roman Catholic Church, but for her reform. Luther rightly observed that reform begins with repentance.

The first of the 95 theses reads,

 “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

Martin Luther’s rediscovery of the Gospel call had an almost immediate effect. As the Reformation swept across Europe in the 16th Century, Rome sent out counter punches in the hope of quelling the tide. In the centuries since, there have indeed been moments of change made inside the Vatican, but these revisions have been primarily cosmetic and cultural, rather than ripping out the rotted foundations and replacing them with τ γιαινούσ διδασκαλί.

It is interesting to note that the events which led to Martin Luther’s clarion call concerned an issue of abuse; Rome’s teaching of and reliance upon indulgences.

The practice of indulgences is nowhere taught or encouraged in the Christian Bible. Indulgences contradict the most basic of Christian teachings, that justification before God is by God’s grace alone, received by faith alone, because of Jesus Christ’s atoning death alone,

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Roman Catholicism has taught indulgences since Medieval times, believing that they are a means by which people can receive remission for sins, and therefore reduce the time they would otherwise spend in purgatory. Leaving aside the fact that purgatory is another Roman concept which finds no warrant in the Bible,  indulgences take on multifarious forms, from saying a prayer, to completing a sacred pilgrimage, to helping the poor. Indulgences regularly contained a monetary aspect, paying a financial sum to the church to gain an indulgence, and thus time exemption from purgatory. The stunning St Peter’s Basilica in Rome that tourists and pilgrims enjoy today, was built in the 16th Century by stripping Europe’s poor via these indulgences.

In case we make the mistake of thinking that indulgences were left behind 500 years ago, they remain in vogue, with the current Pope publicly encouraging the practice of indulgences on at least two occasions since taking the seat in the Vatican in 2013. More odd, the ABC reported this week that the Anglican Church in Yea, Victoria, has recently taken up the practice in order to raise money to repair their dilapidated building.

Revelations made in recent years have once again made it clear that the problems inside Roman Catholicism are deeply rooted. When Martin Luther exposed the abuses made in the 16th Century, he rightly called for repentance and sought reform in the Church. Once again, Rome has been caught abusing the vulnerable, this time, sexually abusing young children and then consistently covering up the crimes. There are voices from within and many from outside, calling for Rome to reform her ways, but it appears that so far there is little sign of change. The allegations made this week by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò suggest that change needs to extend to the very top. Indeed, should the Archbishop’s letter be proven accurate, this would confirm the abuse scandals to be the most profound  faced by the Roman Church in centuries.

In criticising Rome, please don’t misunderstand, I am not suggesting that Protestant Churches automatically make the cut. Children have been abused inside Anglican, Baptist, and Pentecostal Churches, and even one example is one more than should ever be. There is, however, a vast difference between cases of abuse, and a culture of abuse. In addition, Churches that have once embraced the principles of the Reformation, need to reaffirm them with every new generation, lest we too lose our way. Europe, the United Kingdom, and Australia are littered with churches that once joyful upheld the 5 Solas, but today are little more than crumbling buildings sitting on prime real estate supporting the retirement funds of heterodox clergy.

The Apostle Paul insisted that we hold onto both doctrine and life, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). The former shapes the latter, and the latter can easily distort the former when we preference personal morality above the ethics given by a good and holy God.

Is this Rome’s time for Reformation? Will Rome finally wake up and realise that they need to do more than move around the furniture or cover up the walls with a new coat of paint? 500 years ago, abusive practices were called out and thousands of clergy and churches across Europe heeded God’s gracious call to repent, but Rome ignored the opportunity. How will Rome respond this time?

At the heart of the 16th Century, abuses derived from a distorted view of God and his Gospel. With the rediscovery of God’s good news and with the people gaining access to the Scriptures in their own languages, unhelpful and gross evil practices were exposed and removed.

Reformation needs to come from within, and reformation requires the dismantling of any and all teachings, practices, and traditions that confuse, cloud or contradict the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This kind of foundational change will be confronting and difficult. Christians can pray that a movement of repentance will take over Rome. We can pray that both among Rome’s clergy and congregations there will be a rediscovery of the Gospel, the good news that the Apostle Paul first shared with the Romans almost 2000 years ago,

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

“For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28)

Repentance: the forgotten practice

While Pope Francis was visiting Ireland over the weekend, accusations have been raised by one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most senior Archbishops.

According to an explosive piece in NPR,

“A former Vatican ambassador to the United States alleges in a 7,000 word letter that top Catholic Church officials, including Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, were long aware of sexual misconduct allegations against former D.C. archbishop Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.”

Given the gravity of the allegations being made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, it is inappropriate for other observers or me to offer an uninformed opinion on the particulars. It is however surely incumbent upon authorities to fully investigate this public letter.

 

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What I wish to do here is re-express my great concern and sorrow. 18 months I presented a series of matters relating to the report published by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. At the time, the Australian media were uninterested in this perspective, but I believe it is important to repeat the message because the Australian public and Australian Christians need Church leaders to speak up. Thank God, there are Christian leaders speaking openly and unreservedly; Richard Condie (the Anglican Bishop of Tasmania) is one such example who immediately comes to mind. The pain and anger rightly runs deep, and Churches must face reality, that repentance must also be deep and enduring.

We can expect accounts and allegations of sexual abuse from within the Roman Catholic Church and coverups by clergy to come to light for many years to come. No doubt, the same will be true for many religious and nonreligious organisations.

When the Royal Commission released statistics relating to child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church of Australia (February 2017), Australians were appalled and shocked, although sadly we were  unsurprised.

The Royal Commission disclosed that a survey conducted by the Australian Catholic Church found 4,500 alleged cases of child abuse within their organisations. This number reflects claims made between January 1, 1980 and February 28, 2015, and it also excludes cases that were not investigated.

Few significant organisations in the country have not discovered someone who has abused a child; my own Baptist denomination is not without known cases. Jesus warns us about the log in our own eye, and the Scriptures also call Church leaders not to treat gross sin lightly. We anticipate people will try to infiltrate all kinds of organisations to scope and prey on innocence; this is not to excuse due organisational diligence, but this world holds insidious individuals who will attempt to circumvent the highest standards. Having said all that, this new data communicates what we perhaps already knew and that there is a major flaw in Roman Catholic attitudes, brought about in part by flawed theological belief and practice. While any instance of child abuse is repugnant, there is a difference between isolated cases of abuse and a culture of abuse.

7% of Catholic priests serving between 1950-2009 have been identified as alleged perpetrators. The current known number is 1,880 men. Among some Catholic organisations the percentage is considerably higher: 22% of ‘Christian Brothers’, and 40.4% of those belonging to the order of ‘the Brother of St John of God’ are known to be sex offenders.

The issue extends beyond the fact that priests have abused thousands of children, but that Catholic Dioceses (and other denominations) have also failed to adequately address allegations and the clergy in question.

This is a national catastrophe.

Abusing children is unacceptable, for any person belonging to any community group or society, and sadly it is occurring even now in many family homes across our suburbs and towns; it should not be. The Royal Commission has disclosed child abuse in schools, sporting clubs, Government organisations, and across religious groups. There is, however, something particularly evil about the presence of such sin among communities who profess Jesus Christ.

As a parent with three children, I can imagine what many Aussie parents are thinking about these revelations, and these thoughts are not cordial. There are feelings of disgust toward the perpetrators and toward ecclesial authorities who have repeatedly failed to investigate and protect. There are feelings of sorrow for those whose childhood was snatched from them.

As a Christian and as a Church minister, I am angered that men would betray children under their care and that they would so disdain the name of Jesus by their gross sin. It is beyond reprehensible.

“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 4)

As much as we may point out that these priestly behaviours are irreconcilable with authentic Christianity, for they certainly contravene the person and teaching of Jesus Christ in every way, and yet we must appreciate that this issue has understandably tainted peoples trust in Churches. I can also see how many Australians don’t differentiate between Roman Catholicism and Christian Churches, for there are correlations, but there are also stark differences, which pertain to deeply held theological views that are proving to be unbiblical and untenable, including Rome’s view of the priesthood and of the confessional.

Pope Francis last night offered a prayer on a tweet,

“I ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for the healing of the survivors of abuse and to confirm every member of our Christian family in the resolve never again to permit these situations to occur.”

While it would be presumptuous of me to question the Pope’s sincerity, this prayer will be as efficacious as praying to a man in a cape or Jack Dorsey himself. A better approach is surely to take Jesus’ view of repentance more seriously. Christians mustn’t give up being like Jesus, we need to become more like him. In the same short New Testament letter of Jude, where Christians are urged to look out for potential abusers in our churches, a few verses later we are also encouraged to “be merciful to those who doubt”.  This is not a time for defensiveness, but repentance, public repentance.

We still need the Reformation

Whoever follows me on twitter will win absolutely nothing, and to prove it, why not try it out today! My account is @MurrayJCampbell

In 2013, the Vatican announced that it would offer indulgences to those who followed Pope Francis on his twitter account. According to the CBS report, the Vatican Council was recognising how many young Catholics would be unable to attend the World Youth Conference in Brazil, and so Vatican kindly arranged for people to access the events on social media.

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Other indulgences have since been offered by the Vatican in an attempt to quicken the faithfuls time in purgatory and fast track the route to heaven. In 2015, Pope Francis announced that a Jubilee year of mercy would be accompanied with special plenary indulgences.

Purgatory is not a concept that is found in nor taught by the Bible, but has its origins in Medieval Catholicism. It is believed that once a person dies, instead of direct entry into heaven, they spend a period of time in an intermediate realm known as purgatory. The purpose of this place is to purify sinners and to punish all those sins that have not been forgiven in this life. Anyone caught committing a mortal sin will find themselves going directly to hell, but others have opportunity to pay for their sins by a duration in purgatory, a timeframe which depends on the number of and seriousness of those sins.

The practice of indulgences, another teaching which is not taught in the Bible, slowly came into being from the 16th Century, and became a catalyst for the Reformation. Roman Catholicism teaches that indulgences are a means by which people can receive remission for sins, and therefore reduce the time they would otherwise spend in purgatory. Indulgences take on multifarious forms, from saying a prayer, to completing a sacred pilgrimage, to helping the poor and now, by following Pope Francis on twitter. Specifically, you needed to follow the live feed of the Youth Conference via his twitter account, and doing so will alter your personal account before God and aid you to enter heaven more quickly.

Speaking to the offer of indulgences via twitter, Patrick Hornbeck (chair of the department of Theology at the University of Fordham in New York) suggested,

“This Pope has done a remarkable job of demonstrating how well aware he is of the way in which his younger audience, his younger followers, follow things and I think it totally makes sense that young Catholics would be much more likely to participate via social networking and social media rather than through traditional ways”.

While Protestants may readily repudiate these dangerous and untrue doctrines on indulgences and purgatory, we have our own ways of slipping into similar pathways. Anytime we emphasise an experience or ritual or activity as a means of convening assurance before God or of acquiring God’s favour, we have turned our backs on the only gift that justifies and reconciles.

The Bible is clear, no works, whether religious in nature or not, can aid in any way a person’s standing before God.In contrast to depending on misleading religious works to release of jail time in a place that does not exist, the good news of Jesus Christ is this,

“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

“For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28)

“If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 4:2-5)

The rise of Pope Francis has been taken as a positive sign by many Catholics, Protestants, and by many irreligious Westerners; his camaraderie with the common person is appealing, and his commentary on social issues at times suggests ground is slowly shifting in  the Vatican. Even I would agree with Pope Francis on some points of theology and ethics, and yet on this most crucial matter he is in error and by reinforcing the errors of Trent, he is directing millions of twitter followers not out of purgatory but into hell.

This isn’t rocket science, does anyone truly believe that saying a prayer or throwing a few dollars to a charity or listening to a Papal sermon can really wipe away years of transgressions and persuade God to change his posture toward us? What volume of ‘good deeds’ is suffice and of what duration should they be? This is chasing after the wind. There is no assurance and it requires the adherer to trust the words of priests who have invented these supposed means of grace. Instead, we ought to accept what God has spoken and what Jesus Christ has accomplished.

At a gathering of the Victorian Chapter of the Gospel Coalition today, Peter Jensen reminded those present that “faith is the instrumental means of salvation… faith can never be boasted of because faith always points to its object…Faith is the antithesis of all good works…Don’t turn faith into a work.”

So long as ecclesial authorities play games with the grace of God in Christ Jesus (whatever their denomination affiliation), and so deny people the sweetness and joy of knowing peace with God, the principle of semper reformanda remains a pressing agenda. My encouragement to my Catholic friends is, bypass this nonsense of indulgences  and return to the source, read the Bible for yourself and see what not only the Reformers discovered in the 16th Century but what Christians have understood and believed since the very beginnings of the Church, 

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

 

  

Mother Teresa, Sainthood, and the Saints

Mother Teresa was today declared a saint by Pope Francis. Her many decades of work among India’s poorest in Calcutta, left an indelible mark on the 20th Century. In front of  10,000s of people at a special Vatican ceremony, Pope Francis has canonised Mother Teresa, and there are special masses being conducted in India also.

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Pope Francis proclaimed,  “After due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother bishops, we declare and define Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to be a saint and we enrol her among the saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated as such by the whole Church.”

One nun, working in the same mission where Mother Teresa once served, said, “We are blessed with this canonization because we know mother is in heaven and she will pray for us and she will bless us”

Sainthood is a prestigious club in the Roman Church, although no one knows exactly how many members there are, with some estimating there being as many as 10,000 Saints. This number may seem rather large, but when one takes into account that there are over 1 billion Catholics in the world today, we begin to sense exceptional character of sainthood club.

Sainthood is rare in the Roman Church, partly because the process is arduous and only a few hold the right kind of resume to even proceed.

Canonisation (the final process of becoming a saint) begins with death. Sainthood is only given to men or women posthumously, and generally with at least 5 years separating their death from the commencement of the process.

The process begins usually with the Diocesan Bishop opening an investigation into the life of the departed person, whereby they try to ascertain if they have lived a life that is adequately holy and deserving of sainthood. In other words, if we think you’ve been good enough, as testified to by various witnesses and documents. If this all goes well, a higher authority, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, examines the holiness, deeds, and miracles of the deceased. Following this is beatification, where evidence of a miracle must be verified, of someone who has experience miraculous healing by praying to the deceased person. If all goes well, the Pope will finally canonise or declare the dead person to be a saint.

For Catholics, Saints play an active role in peoples’ lives, this side of heaven. Millions of Catholics venerate (honour and even worship) saint, praying to saints, and allegedly experience healing, guidance, and help from these saints.

In contrast, when we read the Bible we don’t find different classes of Christian, depending on levels of holiness or miraculous deeds. Rather, every Christian is known as a saint. The word itself comes from the Greek verb, meaning, to set apart or to be holy. It is a designation that is true for every Christian, indeed the Christian life is contingent upon this work of the Holy Spirit.

“To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people” (Romans 1:7)

“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2)

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-13). Note that the Saints are not leading churches, but a normal congregation members.

Does it really matter? Yes, it matters because it is fudging the teaching of the Bible, and it matters because it creates  false classes of Christians, and it matters because it empties the Gospel of its power by leading many people to believe in merited salvation. In the Scriptures from which Christianity forms its beliefs,  we find that saints are not spectacular Christians who should be awarded special honours; saints are the only Christians to be found in heaven or on earth.

There is no gold or platinum level club in heaven, and there ought to be no elitism in our churches. The Christian message is about God’s undeserved grace and kindness to us, and everyone has equal standing before God in Christ.

We can thank God for the multitude of ways various Christian brethren have served Christ, the Church, and the world. We would be foolish and ungrateful if we didn’t remember and give thanks for lives devoted to the service of the poor, lives spent in the service of the gospel, lives laid down in martyrdom for the name of Jesus. We may (and we must) celebrate good deeds done in love, and remember the stories of lives worthy of imitation. But “sainthood” is not the category for these stories, apart from how the Bible defines sainthood – those who know God through faith in Jesus Christ.

And should anyone be wondering, should I or can I pray to someone who is not God? Is it ok to pray to a saint? If I may respond by asking another question,  why would we want to pray to a saint? Even if we leave aside the fact that the Roman category of sainthood is erroneous, the extraordinary good news of Christianity is that Jesus Christ has opened the way to God the Father. If this is true, that we have freedom to enter the presence of God through trusting Jesus; we have no need of knocking on empty doors.

As the Bible tell us,

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)