Do Some Priests Prohibit Bible Reading?

The thread on prohibiting a Bible study in a Catholic parish reminded me of a phenomenon that I experience in the university classroom. I often teach courses on the Bible and most semesters have at least one or two self-identified Catholics who state that while they are allowed to hear the readings at Mass, personal reading of the Bible is prohibited in the Catholic Church. So they come to class eager to know more about the Bible because they “don’t get it in church.” They are generally good students.

I had always thought that such ideas went out the window ages ago, if they ever even existed. And these are 18-21 year olds so I take what they have to say with a grain of salt and as a non-Catholic I don’t feel like it’s my place to directly question what they have been taught. However, this sentiment is more than a fluke because I’ve run across it numerous times.

So my question is, are there still priests out there who discourage/prohibit personal reading of the Bible? If so, what is the rationale behind such a prohibition?

I’m sure that not enough priests encourage the reading of scripture, but I haven’t heard of any prohibiting the reading of scripture. :confused:

No. Priests do not prohibit Bible reading and that certainly isn’t a teaching of the Church. I’m not sure where such a foolish idea came from. I think that some Catholics may feel overwhelmed or unfit to study scripture without the guidance of an expert. This is understandable given the fact that for centuries Christians have been reading essentially the same scripture, but the Church has been fractured into thousands of personal interpretations. Most Catholics want to be certain they are following the correct interpretation on the scripture, which might require them to study under the guidance of a Catholic theologian, or at least a proper Catholic Bible study course. Perhaps that is the concern your students have tried to express?

If they do, they are going against the teachings of the Church and Encyclical Letters of the Holy Father, and have been for over 100 years!

There is no rationale I can think of for such a silly course of action as prohibiting reading of the bible. Forgot to mention the 4th century St. Jerome “ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ” - a longstanding catholic position.

Priests have no authority to prohibit the reading of the bible.

The common explanation I have heard regarding the prohibition of scripture reading centuries ago is that most laymen were not educated in the original languages of scripture, Hebrew and Greek. Neither could many read Latin, the language favored by the Church in early translations, and then later in Jerome’s translation, the Vulgate. There was a fear that if one tried to read and interpret on his own, without proper education, much error could be assumed and propagated.

If there are priests out there doing this, they are doing it despite the words of the Pope and numerous Saints.

If that’s the students’ concern, it’s certainly how they are expressing it. Of course the Fundamentalists in the class exchange knowing glances as if the Catholic students’ comments confirm their worst beliefs about Catholics. The whole business makes me uncomfortable.

So would the average Catholic teenager have been exposed to the type of Bible study you are describing in their parish? Is there a comprehensive Bible curriculum in most Catholic High Schools? If there is, they weren’t paying much attention (which is possible.)

My mother who was in School in the 1930’s told me that the nuns discouraged independent bible reading. I say again - discouraged, not forbade. Of course in those days “discouraging” by a priest or a nun was tantamount to being forbidden in the minds of many.
Her understanding was that these nuns (her teachers in grade school) felt that everything they needed to know was contained in the Catechism so there was no need for them to read the bible…

Now that said, when I was young I did pick up the bible and start to read it a couple of different times (never got that far) and my mom never forbade me or said that I “wasn’t allowed”…

So my guess is that what has happened is this belief has been “orally” passed down. Some nuns and priests “discouraged”, maybe others in other areas “forbade” the kids. When they grew up they passed to their kids and so on…even after Vatican II and the Church really began to actively encourage the reading of the Bible by all Catholics.


Yes, there is Bible study in most (if not all) Catholic high schools. However, it is important to point out that many individuals who self-identify as Catholic did not attend a Catholic high school and may have had very limited religious instruction after elementary school. You haven’t said what sort of college you work at, but devout Catholic students are more likely to seek religious courses in Catholic universities or at their parish, and therefore, aren’t likely to be in your class.

I’m thinking it was discouraged because one might not know how ti properly interpret certain passages, and that might lead to confusion, which might lead to rejection of the Church.

However if students are coming and saying that, I just have to wonder what parish they attend!

There is a story that I have heard but cannot verify if it is true. Some years back some immigrants from Poland were trying to learn English by reading the bible. Of course that could lead to some poor learning of Engliah. A bishop then advised them not to read the bible alone but with others. Thus, supposedly is how that story began.

It’s a large public university if that helps.

Thanks; that seems very logical–that it’s coming more from the parents than the parish.

If there are any such priests, they are certainly not promoting the Church’s official policy. To promote Bible reading among Catholics, the Church has offered an indulgence to Catholics who piously read the Bible for over 100 years now.

Simply not true and trust me because I work for the CC. I have never met a priest who has prohibited Bible reading because it goes against church teaching. Sounds like a case of:

I am repeating what I have heard from others.

It is totally baseless.

Yep! Because I a copy of a DR Bible printed in 1909 and it states exactly what you have said.

Unless your course is offered as a “History of the Bible” or something along those lines, most practicing Catholic students would be less likely to take it because of the reasons I stated before. You are probably primarily teaching “cultural Catholics” or “Non-practicing Catholics”. Such students were probably Baptised as infants and their faith may not have been emphasised at home, or they may have fallen away from it. I’m not meaning to be offensive to you as I’m sure you know your stuff and are a fine teacher, however, a practicing Catholic would probably prefer to learn to interpret scripture from a Catholic source in order to avoid interpretations and teachings that don’t mesh with the Catholic faith. At any rate, you can confidently tell those Catholic students that suggest that Bible reading is forbidden that they are misinformed and even provide them with appropriate quotes from the Cathecism and other sources. However, if they really thought that reading the Bible wasn’t allowed, I’m wondering why they would sign up for your class in the first place. Are you certain you haven’t got a couple of slackers who are trying to dodge their homework assignments?

If you go back to the OP I noted that they are good students. They seem to gravitate toward the class as if they will sort of subversively find knowledge that’s been kept from them by their church, which of course plays right into Catholic stereotypes. That’s the part that makes me uncomfortable.

I don’t delve into their level of religious participation which IMO would be inappropriate. Some of them I know are graduates of Catholic high schools, but again, I have no idea how much the Bible is necessarily emphasized in the curriculum of Catholic schools.

So far, I think the idea that this is coming from the parents is carrying the day.

Found THIS just this morning…A confirmation of the “from the parents” idea…
The salient part to our conversation states…
Ask almost anyone over the age of sixty who was raised Catholic and you will hear how priests discouraged reading the Bible. “It’s too complicated. You will only get things wrong,” seems to have been the common priestly warning. It seems that many if not most Catholic families didn’t even have a copy of the Scriptures in the home.
The article then goes on to explain how this was NOT Church teaching and in fact that the Church has been encouraging the faithful to read the Bible more and more.


Sorry Everyone, but I don’t think it is fair to blame parents. Catholic parents got this idea from what the Church emphasized throughout history. I love the Church, embrace especially the whole philosophy of Vatican 2. But lets not gloss over the Church’s past flaws and just blame others (in this case parents). We need to grow up and take responsibility for our mistakes of the past. Why do all of you think Pope John Paul II apologized for how we dropped the ball on on the Jewish people in WW2 when they were being slaughtered by the Nazis? Come on, guys. Get real. The way to true holiness is to acknowledge our flaws like true virtuous men and women and move on. The church in earlier centuries did discourage reading the bible (that’s why Martin Luther had to hide and translate the scriptures into common language).

Quit blaming “parents” as if members of the Catholic Church pulled this idea out of their own heads. Get real!

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