Why they got it wrong
The Catholic Church makes wild claims about being the one true ChurchJesus established and that its teachingswere passed-down from the apostles via the sacrament of holy orders and apostolic succession. But in investigating the sources of Catholic truth, it is easy to see the flaws in this system.
|The claims||The flaws|
|Whenever all the church fatherstaught something (of those who taught on the topic), this teaching is trustworthy because it was passed-down from the apostles.||We should exclude teachings the early church fathers did not write about because this indicates the teaching developed later and was only then adopted by many.|
|The liturgy is a source of apostolic truth||Only when written down in early writings. Later developmentsand additions are not guaranteed to contain apostolic truth.|
|The teaching magisterium is a source of truth.||The teaching magisterium comes to provably false conclusions.|
|The scriptureis a source of truth.||It is. But major heresies were based on interpretations of scripture;and some of these were hard to refute from the scripture.|
|Church councilsare trustworthy sources of truth.||Only in retrospect can we know which statements of which councils are true. There is a lot of revisionism here.|
|The popes are infallible.||The bishopsof Rome did not have that big a role even in the council of Nicaea.The doctrines regarding papal authority only developed slowly over time.|
|The early church quickly formed a strong hierarchical structurewith bishops, priests, and deacons.||It did. But every early church father writing about this topic assumed that these leaders were orthodox, holy, good teachers and defenders of the faith, good pastors, etc. We should exclude those that weren't.|
|That we can know truth by church councils, teachings of bishops, popes, catechisms, and canon law.||The difficulty is that it is easy to find counter-examples contradicting previous teachingsand there is no way to know which statements from which councils are true. Supposedly the popes provide the answer to all this but this claim is laughable.The only way to discern what is true is to examine the historical consequences of each teaching. The following kinds of teachings are simply not trustworthy...
It seems to me there are two modes of relating to the Catholic Church:
In Devotional mode, Catholics see the Church as God sees it; in its glorious, idealistic, and abstract goodness, beauty, and purity. While God uses bad things for his purposes and brings good from them, Catholics do not need to be concerned with such questions as whether there would have been a Council of Nicea if there had been no Arian heresy — they merely ignore the bad and accept the blessing of the Nicene Creed.
However, there is some danger for the unwary. Catholics have to keep their wits about them lest they be abused and exploited. For example, those who innocently allowed their children to be molested by pervert priests should have been careful for their safety. If Catholics have a firm grounding in Church Historythey should be able to keep their guard up. They must be wary, but not become bitter or angry.
Sometimes church leaders will demand so much of Catholics. I don't think they are obligated to them unless they have taken vows of obedience. For example, our priest once commanded all parishioners to get our pictures taken for the parish directory. Against my better judgment I complied, and it was disaster. The photographer said nasty things to my young daughter in prompting us to smile.
Additionally, those who don't know Catholic teaching or the Bible may fall into various cultural superstitions thinking these are Catholic. Catholics need to be educated in the faith and the scriptures. Traditions can be very devotional with correct knowledge (sadly, Protestants reject Catholic traditions).
I suggest that Catholics should spend most of their time in Devotional mode (once they have educated themselves as I mention.) There is no good purpose in remaining ever critical of all the bad stuff that happened (and still happens) — Catholics should immerse themselves in Jesus and in his Church.
Studying the Catechism in Devotional mode is very inspiring. Doing this requires ignoring all the contradictions and weird things that I highlight elsewhere. The statements of many inspired individuals throughout church history are included in the Catechism and the editors have done a superb job of bringing order and structure to it all, as well as adding lots of material. Catholics should ignore that ragged, disjointed effect of all this and merely soak in all the wonderful statements of the faith.