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The teaching authority has made many serious mistakes in similar cases of presumed ‘doctrine’

The teaching authority has made many serious mistakes in similar cases of presumed ‘doctrine’

The teaching authority guards the community of faith against heresies. It deserves our respect. But history shows that the teaching authority has made, and can make, serious errors of judgment.

These mistakes have frequently happened in the context of culture shift. The teaching authority has often clung to antiquated, traditional opinions and practices that were unwisely identified with the essence of Christian faith.

It is instructive to study some examples.

When banking started in Europe, businesses began to demand interest on money loans - as we all do today. Going by Old Testament laws, the Church forbade it.

The Second Council of the Lateran (1139 A. D.) prescribed that persons who take interest “be not admitted to the sacraments”. And: “in case they do not retract their error, they should be refused an ecclesiastical burial.”

The magisterium revoked the prohibition only in 1830. During the preceding six centuries many businessmen and their families lived and died outside the Church.


Until 1888 the popes and their curial offices defended the legitimacy of slavery!

The Fathers, Church synods, popes and theologians maintained that slaves could be legitimately owned, bought and sold.

The Congregation for Doctrine in Rome still declared on 20 June 1866: “Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural law or God’s law. There can be several just titles of slavery . . .It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given”.


Catholic bishops, theologians and activists who campaigned for abolition were branded as ‘troublemakers’ and ‘heretics’.

Until at least 1854, the official teaching of the Church was that there was no salvation outside the Church.

Not only did popes and theologians proclaim this as official doctrine. It seemed to have been defined by Church Councils as a dogma of faith!

The Council of Florence declared in 1442, under Pope Eugene IV: “The Holy Roman Church ... firmly believes, professes and preaches that no-one remaining outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews, heretics or schismatics, can become partakers of eternal life; but they will go to the ‘eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels’ (Mt. 25:41), unless before the end of their life they are received into it. For union with the body of the Church is of so great importance that the sacraments of the Church are helpful only for those remaining in it; and fasts, almsgiving, and other works of piety, and exercises of a militant Christian life bear eternal rewards for them alone. And no one can be saved, even if he sheds his blood for the name of Christ, unless he remains in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church”.

This so-called doctrine, now revoked by Vatican II, arose from total ignorance of the pluriformity of religions. It ignored the experience of God’s grace outside the Church.

The truth of the matter is that the magisterium has constantly been behind the times: in the question of taking interest on capital loans; on the earth circling the sun; on evolution; on the authorship of sacred scripture; on democracy, trade unions, religious freedom and ecumenism; on at least 64 questions. Whatever modern reality cropped up, Rome first got it wrong. Does it not pursue the same path now by banning contraceptives, optional celibacy and the ordination of women?

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Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

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