Misconception: The Church discourages Bible reading
The very first Christian Bible was produced by the Catholic Church – compiled by Catholic scholars of the 2nd and 3rd century and approved for general Christian use by the Catholic Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397). The very first printed Bible was produced under the auspices of the Catholic Church – printed by the Catholic inventor of the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg. And the very first Bible with chapters and numbered verses was produced by the Catholic Church–the work of Stephen Langton, Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury.
At every Mass in the world everyday, the Bible is read aloud by the priest. In the traditional Mass there is one reading from the general body of the Bible (excluding the gospels), and two from the Gospels. In the modern Catholic Mass, there are two readings from the general body of the Bible and one from the Gospels. All Catholic homes have a Bible and the Bible is taught in Catholic schools (as is its perennial tradition).
This myth has come about because Bibles were often locked away in Churches in the past, but that was not to prevent people having access – it was to prevent them being stolen. These were hand written Bibles which were incredibly valuable due to scarcity. Furthermore, people think the Church forbade people from reading the Bible by putting it on the Index of Forbidden Books, but the Bibles placed on the Index were Protestant versions (lacking 7 books) or badly translated versions – the most famous of which is the King James Version which Catholics are not supposed to use.
Misconception: Catholics worship Mary and are, therefore, committing idolatry
In Catholic theology there are three types of worship – one of which is condemned in the Bible if offered to anyone but God:
1) Latria – this is adoration which is given to God alone – giving this type of worship to anyone else is considered to be a mortal sin and it is the idolatry condemned in the Bible.
2) Hyperdulia – this is a special type of worship given to Mary the Mother of Jesus – it is only given to her and it is not considered to be idolatory as it is not adoration, merely reverence.
3) Dulia – this is the special type of worship given only to the saints and angels – it is also not idolatrous as it, too, is a form of reverence.
The distinction was made by the 2nd Council of Nicaea in 787 AD. The council was called to condemn the people who claimed that it was idolatrous to have statues and images of saints. The canons of the Council can be read here.
Just to clarify: “Latria is a Latin term (from the Greek λατρεια) used in Orthodox and Catholic theology to mean adoration, which is the highest form of worship or reverence and is directed only to the Holy Trinity.” – there are lower forms of worship (as is implied here). A Catholic who may kneel in front of a statue while praying isn’t worshipping the statue or even praying to it, any more than the Protestant who kneels with a Bible in his hands when praying is worshipping the Bible or praying to it. The images of saints (whether it be in statue form or painting) serves as a reminder of the holiness of the person depicted.
Misconception: Catholics aren’t Christians
In fact, Catholics are the first Christians. When reading over the early Christian writings, you can see clearly that their doctrines and teachings are the same as the Catholic Church today. You hear of Bishops, virgins living in community (nuns), priests, confession, baptism of infants, the Bishop of Rome as head of the Christian religion, and reverence for the saints. Here are some comments by the early Church fathers who were, in many cases, the apostles of the Biblical apostles:
Bishops: For it will be no light sin for us, if we thrust out those who have offered the gifts of the bishop’s office unblamably and holily. — Pope St Clement, Letter to the Corinthians 1, A.D. 96.
The Papacy: “[From] Ignatius . . . to the church also which holds the presidency, in the location of the country of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and, because you hold the presidency in love, named after Christ and named after the Father” (St Ignatius, Letter to the Romans 1:1 [A.D. 110]).
Holy Communion: “This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.” — St. Justin Martyr, “First Apology”, A.D. 148-155.
Infant Baptism: “Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them” (St Hippolytus, The Apostolic Tradition 21:16 [A.D. 215]).
Confession: “[A filial method of forgiveness], albeit hard and laborious [is] the remission of sins through penance, when the sinner . . . does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine, after the manner of him who say, “I said, to the Lord, I will accuse myself of my iniquity.” ” (Origen, Homilies in Leviticus 2:4 — A.D. 248)
From these quotes it is obvious that the practices of the modern Catholic Church are the closest to the practices of the apostles and early Christians. It should also be said that the majority of historians accept that the Catholic Church was the first Christian Church as it is verifiable from ancient texts.
Misconception: The Pope is infallible in all things
Roman Catholics believe that only under certain circumstances is the pope infallible (that is, he can not make a mistake). The Catholic Church defines three conditions under which the Pope is infallible:
I. The Pope must be making a decree on matters of faith or morals
II. The declaration must be binding on the whole Church
III. The Pope must be speaking with the full authority of the Papacy, and not in a personal capacity.
This means that when the Pope is speaking on matters of science, he can make errors (as we have seen in the past with issues such as Heliocentricity). However, when he is teaching a matter of religion and the other two conditions above are met, Catholics consider that the decree is equal to the Word of God. It can not contradict any previous declarations and it must be believed by all Catholics. Catholics believe that if a person denies any of these solemn decrees, they are committing a mortal sin – the type of sin that sends a person to hell. Here is an example of an infallible decree from the Council of Trent (under Pope Saint Pius V – 16th Century):
If anyone denies that in the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist are contained truly, really and substantially the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ, but says that He is in it only as in a sign, or figure or force, let him be anathema.
The last section of the final sentence “let him be anathema” is a standard phrase that normally appears at the end of an infallible statement. It means “let him be cursed”. The most recent pronouncement that can be seen as falling under Papal Infallibility was when Pope John Paul II declared that women could not become priests.