You’ve probably heard at least one of them at some point. Catholics worship Mary! The Eucharist is cannibalism! And so many others. We as Catholics know they’re false, but do we know why or how to explain them? Maybe not.
Archbishop Patrick John Ryan explained five of these anti-Catholic myths in a lecture he gave in St. Louis in 1877. These myths and answers are collected into the book Anti-Catholic Myths Debunked: Five Common Misconceptions Answered and Explained. Here are his major points.
The Catholic Church does not enslave the human intellect
Reason and intellect in the individual person work together with faith, not against it. All of our human faculties are included and participate in the act of faith, drawing us out of ourselves and further into God. Archbishop Ryan makes a further point that as Catholics we aren’t submitting our intellects to a human institution but rather a divine institution and therein lies the answer to the myth.
He writes: “If they were obliged to receive the decision on matters of faith without having already been convinced that this decision came from a tribunal that could not err, then they would be slaves; but they have a reason for submitting their reason. There is no possibility of slavery in this case. There is, on the contrary, a respect for the real dignity and liberty of the human person. Having come to a certain conviction on a certain point, I will never abandon the reason God gave me, except to the decision of a tribunal that my reason has already accepted as unerring.”
Catholics don’t read the Bible because the Church withholds it from them
The proposition that Catholics withhold the Bible is just straight up false. Catholic receive the Scriptures at every Mass and are encouraged to read the Bible ourselves. What the Church does withhold from Catholics is wrong or incomplete editions of the Bible.
Archbishop Ryan writes: “The Church interprets what needs interpretation for her people. Does that lessen the dignity of the Scriptures? Does that enslave the intellect? The Scriptures themselves tell us that in them there are things ‘hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction.’ Hence, as there are difficulties in them, their interpreter is given.”
The Church does not use art to muddle the capacity of reason
We are physical beings in a physical world worshipping a divine being. We need some physical aids in this proper worship, as the Scriptures tell us, to worship in “spirit and truth”. Of course, pomp and circumstance without worship is just pageantry, but also, worship is not at its fullness without some bells and whistles.
Archbishop Ryan expounds on this beautifully: “Now, the object of the use o the ceremonial, the object of the use of the arts in the worship of God, is to aid man to worship in spirit and in truth. First of all, we use these things as a suitable expression of the soul’s allegiance to Almighty God. Some of the ceremonies of the Catholic Church are not seen by the people at all…As regards the art of architecture, Putin, the great English architect, tells us that he noticed in the old English cathedrals of Catholic days that the portions of these buildings hidden away from the people were as elaborately finished as the most conspicuous parts. These men built for the Divine Presence, but these ceremonies and these arts were destined, also, to touch the human heart and call forth holy sentiments of love and admiration, in which that heart speaks to God and which are really as much a part of our nature as reason itself.”
Catholics do not worship Mary and the Saints!
There are two kinds of worship which our shallow English word “worship” encompasses: adoration and veneration. Adoration is due to God alone. Veneration is what Catholic give to Mary and the saints as a reflection of their reflection of God the Almighty. Because our language falls short, this often gets confused.
Archbishop Ryan explains this well: “The Church does not degrade religion by placing any creature on the throne of God. God alone she adores. Catholics do not believe that the Blessed Virgin, or any saint, or all the saints together, can receive anything like the slightest act of adoration. Adoration is due to God alone…It would be high treason against the King of Kings to place anyone on his throne…And, therefore, the charge falls to the ground when we know that Catholics do not believe that the Blessed Virgin ought to be worshipped as if she were a goddess; when we know that Catholics do not believe that any honor can be given to her or to any saint, independently of the Deity and that all the glory they have is but the reflected glory of the most high God.”
Priests do not do what is reserved for God alone
Let’s just let Archbishop Ryan take this one on his own: “Neither is it true that the Church tends to demoralize the individual or the national conscience by her use of the power that God gave his apostles on the very day of his Resurrection when he said: ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven’ (John 20:23). The confessor is simply God’s agent, just as the clergyman who baptizes the child washes away the Original Sin that was on the soul of the child––just as the Protestant clergyman or the layman or whoever baptizes the child washes away this Original Sin from the soul of the child, doing it as God’s agent––so the priest forgives the actual sin, but only as God’s agent. The power given to him is a delegated power; he cannot exercise it beyond the limits assigned by him who delegated it. Now, Almighty God will not forgive a man’s sins without sorrow for them, necessary reparation for their effects, and a determination to enter on a new life. The priest can never forgive the sins of a man who is not truly contrite. The priest has no power over such a soul.”
For more wisdom on what the Church actually teaches and does, pick up a copy of Anti-Catholic Myths Debunked by Archbishop Patrick John Ryan.