The Roman Catholic Church (hereafter RCC) has been in the news a lot lately for some really terrible reasons, including the apparent sheltering of known sexual predators for decades by RCC officials. Most non-Catholic Christians will probably dismiss this news as having nothing to do with us, or perhaps even take some secret delight in seeing the RCC so widely maligned and discredited.
I think that’s a mistake, and I’ll tell you why.
Most of the people living in this world have only the vaguest idea about the meaning of the words “Catholic” “Protestant” and “Orthodox” much less the different denominations, doctrinal positions, etc. within these sub-groups of Christianity. The reasons for this are not hard to figure out.
It’s impossible to nail down a hard number but it’s safe to say that over half of the people in the world who identify as “Christian” are members of the RCC. Nearly every church one sees in a movie or TV show is a Catholic Church. Nearly every clergyman one sees in a movie or TV show is a Catholic priest. So for most people who get their ideas from movies and TV, that’s the image of “Christians” that they have in their minds, whether we like it or not.
That is ESPECIALLY true of Jewish people.
Here’s a couple of anecdotal stories to show you what I mean.
When Pope John Paul II died in April of 2005, Christian Zionist organizations working in Jerusalem got phone calls of condolence from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the Mayor’s office and even from some leading Rabbis. According to one individual I spoke with who answered the phone that day and heard from a senior Foreign Ministry official directly, they appeared to not have the slightest idea that they were speaking with an organization of Evangelical Protestants who had nothing to do with the Pope or the RCC. This was despite the high level of education and experience of the person making the call and years spent working closely with Evangelical organizations and people on a variety of projects.
Skip ahead a few years to May of 2009 when Pope Benedict XVI came to Israel.
I was in a training course to work as a Tour Guide at the time and one of my fellow students was a guy who had grown up in the US State of Arizona and even graduated from college there. As we were leaving class one evening he turned to me and asked me if I was going to go see the Pope while he was here. I said I had no plans to do so, to which he appeared quite astonished. I asked him why he was surprised and he said “well, you’re a Christian right? Isn’t the Pope like…your king or something”?
Now it was my turn to be astonished, but after a moment I told him “I’m not Catholic bro” which I thought would explain everything. But he just said “Oh, okay” in a manner which made it clear that it hadn’t explained anything.
Months later, we got into a segment of the program where we studied the different denominations within Christianity. By the end of the course he had probably gotten to the point where he wouldn’t repeat his mistake of asking me if I planned to see the Pope while he was visiting Israel.
But the vast majority of Jewish people have not had the benefits of college-level instruction on this material so for them, when they see a story in the newspaper about the death of a Pope, or the RCC being censured for covering up the activities of sexual predators, the reaction they have to that news is going to be directed at the Christians they know of and/or are close to, no matter what denomination they belong to.
This can, and has already many times in the past, had a direct impact on Believers in Israel.
The above mentioned Pope John Paul II’s visit to Israel in March of 2000, during which he issued a public statement at Yad Vashem apologizing for “acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place.” 18 years later I still hear from Jewish people in Jerusalem that it was that statement which caused them to slowly stop having an automatically hostile attitude towards Christians and why, among other things, they are able to be friends with me.
That’s on the good side of things.
On the bad side, as someone else mentioned in a blog here at KNI recently, one of the favorite tactics of the anti-missionary groups here in Israel is to tell landlords that if they rent to Believers, they’re inviting trouble because Believers are into pedophilia and other nasty stuff. They sometimes tell teachers at the schools our children attend the same thing. These stories that have been in the news lately about sexual predators in the RCC lend credibility to these tactics, as unfair as that might be.
So, in conclusion, the conduct and reputation of the RCC should matter to Believers, in Israel and around the world, because like it or not that stuff affects us and our relations with other groups, including Jews. The degree to which this affects whoever might be reading this blog will vary greatly depending on where you live and a variety of other factors, so I can’t advise anyone on how to address this issue, other than the obvious advice that it’s something we should be regularly praying into.