To what extent can the Church become corrupt?

I’ve been going nuts over this issue.

I was raised in a secular public school that did everything they can to convince me that every single thing about the Catholic Church in the middle ages was corrupt and rotten to the core.

After growing up and doing my own homework, I firmly believed I was lied to. Since I don’t really know what, if anything, my junior high school was actually correct in, I’ve reached a point where I am starting to think that Church in truth was not corrupt at all. Is this unreasonable to conclude?

Aside from evaluating specific events and the surrounding circumstances, I base my conclusion on a couple things. They’ll probably sound stupid, but:

  1. The middle-ages were closer in chronology to the time of Christ. There was less time for the truth to erode, and less time for heresy and corruption to get out of hand within 1000 years than within 2000 years.

  2. Society overall back then was based almost entirely on Christianity. In that era, every single detail of these people’s lives revolved around God and Christ. In the post-modern era, God is more or less something people only think about on Sundays, and those are considered the devoutly religious people by the mainstream. What in the world makes the typical post-modern Catholic think they know better than the people who lived 1000 years ago?

So then this follows up to my next questoin, if indeed the Church wasn’t corrupt in any way in the past, could it be corrupt now or in the future?

I read on this forum that the Pope will never be evil or the antichrist because of Matthew 16:18 “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” But the Pope can still certainly be wrong about things, correct? To what extent can he be wrong? What about bishops? Can bishops ever be fully evil?

The biggest question I have, is it ever possible that the Church (vatican, clergy) can get so misled and astray from the truth that we will be required to leave it if we want to truly follow the Lord? Or is She so safe and protected that we will just always be able to obey Her no questions asked?

The Holy Catholic Church is the only Church that the Holy Spirit works through directly. Because of this, Gods Church can make no errors on matters of faith and morals… She cannot, because God will not allow it.

But Popes can make mistakes in their everyday lives, when they’re not relaying doctrine. Popes are not our role models or our example setters. Jesus is, and sometimes the Saints can be, but not necessarily the Popes.

Almost all European history as it is taught today is corrupt and anti-Catholic in its pseudo-scholarship. Most of these college courses are taught by and their textbooks are written by athiests and Protestants. It is only rarely that one finds a practicing Catholic historian - even in Catholic Universities.
A good analogy as to the unbiased current teaching of the history of the European Middle ages and the Renaissance, would be for one to take a course in the History of the Crusades taught by a Palestinian Moslem.
We have a similar problem with American History, What is being foisted off on our youth is largely propaganda, not fact. Thus, when those haveing a political agenda, such as minority racists, and other aberrant types, especially when it comes out of Hollywood, it is believed. I’ll never forget hearing an argument, amongst some Navy shipmates, about the American Civil War in which the sole source of reference was the movie “Gone With The Wind”.

I don’t know of many Catholic sources, let alone secular ones, that deny the Church (leaders) did anything remotely wrong in the Middle Ages. I don’t believe the Church should have held the almost absolute political power it had, as even holy men are subject to corruption. I know for a fact I haven’t studied this as much as you have. Maybe you know something I don’t. From my perspective, however, I don’t believe Church leaders were free of sin and corruption in the Middle Ages.

My late father always maintained that the Church is at its strongest and purest in areas where it’s persecuted. In any time or place when the Church was state supported or the dominant power, self-serving people would be (and have been) tempted to take on religious vocations for their own benefit.

This might well have been true in the Middle Ages. That said, the Church wouldn’t have been thoroughly corrupt & I’m sure there were enough virtuous people and saintly reformers, such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, to keep the Church on the right course overall.

That’s a very interesting observation. It sounds like your father was a wise man.:slight_smile:

I completely agree. Further to that it is always an important thing to keep in mind is that there is a difference between the Catholic Church, the worldly institution, and the Catholic Church - The Mystical Body of Christ. The latter cannot be corrupted. Christ Himself said so when he spoke the words “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”

God Bless.

pray tell where the dividing line is.

i ask this as a member of The Mystical Body of Christ.:slight_smile:

and as a member of this Body i am prone to corruption.

is the dividing line “Faith and Morals” ?

There has been corruption in the Catholic Church before, during, and after the Middle Ages. One of the most shameful sustained periods of the Church occurred in the middle of the Middle Ages - this era is known as the “Saeculum Obscurum” (Latin for “The Dark Age”) - better known as the “Reign of Harlots” or the Pornocracy. This was a sixty-year period in the Tenth Century which spanned the reign of twelve consecutive corrupt and dishonorable Popes.

As Catholics, we must never attempt to turn a blind eye to the dishonor and corruption which is factually historic. We must never attempt to downplay such deviancy. Rather, we should embrace it - because it actually helps prove the validity of the Catholic Church and Papal infallibility.

We say in the Creed that the Church is “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.” When we say the Church is “holy” we do not mean Her members (or leaders) are holy - we mean that Her teaching is holy. Those who uphold Her teaching will themselves be holy (the Saints are our example of such people). Each and every person who has upheld the teaching of the Church is holy. Everyone else is sinful to the extent that they do not uphold that teaching.

Yes, the Church has had a few really bad Popes (Alexander-4 is probably the worst). But none of these Popes ever attempted to teach his bad behavior as Catholic doctrine. In every case, these Popes were absolute hypocrites - they taught in accordance with Church teaching, though they personally did not uphold their own teaching.

This type of hypocracy is nothing new. Jesus told us,

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ [Peter’s] seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. (Matt 23:2)

Jesus taught that religious authority does not depend on personal merit, but on the authority which has been vested by God. Just as the Jewish leaders had God-given authority, so do our Bishops and Popes, even when they are personally corrupt and sinful. The fact that none of these “bad Popes” have ever attempted to validate their errors in their teaching is pretty amazing.

Thanks for the responses. As I sort of implied, my tendency to view the Church’s past as free of corruption was fueled primarily by my rebellion against the secular teachings that were shoved down my throat. But I am coming to terms with what has been posted here.

Is it possible for a Pope like Benedict and JP2 to be teaching falsehoods when they get up in front of people, or for their encyclicals to contain error? Could they interpret doctrine incorrectly?


Curiously, my late father used to say essentially the same thing. A Lutheran pastor, he also used to say that he thought it was the Church under persecution that understood Revelations best.


People sin. Sin has corrupted the world and can be present in the church unfortunately. You can look to recent events to see corruption in the sex abuse scandals. It is disappointing and can challenge your faith but the word of God (sacred scripture) and the teachings of the church (doctrines) are true. Human beings can fail us.

Church teachings have remained consistent for the past 2000 years. That is your answer.

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