I am also a Protestant researching Catholicism, and I thought of a book I had run across that might be helpful to you. I haven’t read it yet, just been wanting to when I finish the other stack of books that I’m reading. So I can’t review the book for you, but it looked promising to me. It’s called The Catholic Church in History: Legend and Reality by Keith Lewis. The author is a professor at a Catholic Seminary, St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, CA, so he’s not an anti-Catholic trying to discredit the church or anything. But on the other hand, he seems like he’s trying to make a realistic assessment of the situation. I’ve posted a book description below.
You know, it’s funny, but as a non-denominational Christian (None of my churches have ever been connected to any other chruches at all!) I still never felt removed from any of the atrocities committed in church history. I felt that all of them were a painful part of my heritage as a Christian. I felt like Catholic and Protestant failures alike were a part of my past, thinking, “Wow, look at what a mess we Christians have made.” It’s sad, but has to be recognized. And the fact that atrocities were committed in the name of Christ, does not necessarily preclude that idea that their perpetrators didn’t think they were doing the right thing. I think perhaps one of the scariest realizations that in my life was that good intentions (while very important) are not a guarantee of doing right. It makes you really start begging God for wisdom! I wonder what other generations will think of our own? What horrors are we committing that we have blinded ourselves to? It makes you think!
However (not to be too gloomy:)) I think it is good to remember that even during some of the more horrifying chapters in church history, there were still saints walking with God and living in charity. One of my favorite saints is St. Francis de Sales. (I’m reading his Introduction to the Devout Life. It’s beautiful.) He lived during the time of the Reformation, and was basically in charge of reconverting Protestants in the area of Geneva. He was largely successful, but it was not through the violence that many others were emplying at that time, but through holiness, charity, and humility.
I just want hear that the Catholic Church, today, feels badly about it, and that they wouldn’t try to justify, in any way the wrongdoing of the Church leaders of the past (notice I say Church Leaders, not the Church).
I think that you have really hit the nail on the head here. I think the key should be our current reactions to church failings (past and present). It’s important not to just casually dismiss Christian failures (our own included!), but we should look at them carefully and in context. And when we find wrong we should grieve over it, and seek to find understanding from it, and heal what we can. From everything I’ve heard about John Paul II, he seemed to approach these situations with admirable humility and wisdom. This thread is motivating me to try to find some of what he said on the subject. Maybe you might find that helpful as well! Best wishes!
“The darkest chapters of Catholic history usually evoke either denial or uninformed prejudice. But under the leadership of visionaries such as Pope John Paul II, a new way of understanding history as emerging–reconciliation and hope come not from ignoring history, but from a close examination of the forgotten facts, with clues to their meaning for life today. In The Catholic Church in History, Keith Lewis helps us reexamine what really happened in these controversial events, and shows us how Catholic faith offers tools for addressing mistakes and moving forward. Topics include: The Rise of Islam, The Crusades, The Excommunication of Martin Luther, Ferdinand, Isabella, and the Inquisition, The Trial of Galileo, Colonizing the New World, Pius XII, the Nazis, and the Holocaust.”