Roman Catholics Should Join the Reformed
The horror coming out of Pennsylvania is absolutely sickening. The attitude of “it’s not that big a deal” from the Roman Catholic episcopate communicates that the possibility of this kind of coverup happening again is very likely. Coming on the heels of the revelation that Cardinal McCarrick was a rapist and that the Catholic Church covered for him, the events in Pennsylvania should jolt the Catholic laity into the realization that this was not an abnormality: the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has no interest in or willpower to do what it takes to protect their people. And often the Roman Catholic Church itself is the source of this danger.
The Roman Catholic Church continues to teach that it is the only true church. Now, Protestant churches are not immune from sin or from covering that sin up, even sin as heinous as the abuses of the Roman Catholics. The difference lies in Rome’s claim to be the true church, and to be subsequently assaulting their own people and covering up that assault. The hierarchy of the Roman church finds its legitimacy in, and grants legitimacy to, the claim that Rome alone is the true church. Confessional Protestantism has never made such a claim to exclusive validity, and an equivalent scandal could not call into question why the only true church established by Christ is perpetuating sexual abuse.
The Second Vatican Council taught that it was possible to be Christian without being in communion with Rome, but continued to affirm that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true Christian church:
But even in spite of [differences between non-Catholics claiming to be Christians and the Roman Catholic Church] it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church…
It follows that the separated Churches and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church.
Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life – that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation. We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God. This people of God, though still in its members liable to sin, is ever growing in Christ during its pilgrimage on earth, and is guided by God’s gentle wisdom, according to His hidden designs, until it shall happily arrive at the fullness of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Contrast with Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 25,
2. The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation…
4. This catholic church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.
5. The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a church on earth, to worship God according to his will.
The Reformed tradition does not tie the legitimacy of Christian congregations to their organizational structure or heritage; the spiritual integrity of particular congregations flows from faithfulness to the gospel. Individual congregations or denominations may become “synagogues of Satan” but Protestant attenders can move to a congregation with a different affiliation without fear of abandoning the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
Not so for the Roman church. When the hierarchy of the Roman church, the hierarchy so essential to Rome’s claim to exclusive validity, begins preying on the laity, it is time for the laity to leave. They should head without fear of apostasy to a group that Rome itself acknowledges has “the right to be called Christian” and which doesn’t place its claims to legitimacy on the purity of its governors. The churches of the Reformation are a welcome home for the Roman sheep being slaughtered by their shepherds.