Matthew 16:18, “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
What does Jesus really mean? I believe that this is a reference to the Church, and how hell will not defeat the Church. But beyond this, what does this mean?
I initially became accustomed to a basic understanding that this reading provides us an assurance that we can rely on the Church for sound, moral guidance. However, I now strongly doubt this. The Church is infested with perverted and misguided ideas and attitudes, most notably among the clergy. We just had 54% of people who call themselves “Catholics” vote for a candidate who supports abortion. And it is to the point that a person cannot simply go down the street to the neighborhood priest and seek moral guidance which he then can trust in. The odds now are that seeking out an average priest will result in at least some type of misguided advice, and at worst advice that is at complete odds with Church doctrine.
For example, I once had a priest claim that premarital sex is not a mortal sin. A priest once told my mother that artificial birth control (not simply NFP) is an acceptable means to control the size of one’s family. I have recently received more horrible advice from a priest regarding birth control and marriage. This priest even told me not to read any more information on my own about the Catholic Faith, and he also chastised me for having an issue with birth control within marriage. Another priest told me in confession that there is no need to confess a past mortal sin that I forgot to confess the last time. I have a friend who recently believed he had a calling to a vocation as a priest, and he went to discuss the issue with his parish priest. My friend is very conservative and devout. The priest literally coached him on what to say and not say when he goes to see the bishop. For example, the priest told him not to discuss with the bishop his interest in the Latin Mass or some of his more conservative ideas, as the priest believed the bishop would not like this. In my own experience, some priests have not just provided me with faulty advice, but have done so with an authoritative attitude that I am a person who needs to be put in my place. Some seem insulted that I would question their guidance, which is very confusing given that I am a very non-confrontational person who usually shuts up rather than engage in a heated argument.
These are but a few examples. And I am not simply talking about simple mistakes or miscommunication. As a human, I can understand how a priest might occasionally get something wrong. But what I am talking about is the larger picture of a culture of widespread underlying belief systems and attitudes that seem to be at odds with what the Church herself stands for.
I have loved ones who immediately and automatically trust any guidance given by a priest. They don’t question it like I do, and they don’t do much reading on their own. If a priest says it, they believe it. And if I have a different input based on other Church or apologist literature, they believe the priest is right and I’m wrong because he’s a priest and I’m not. These people put their entire faith into what any priest says, for the most part.
The point is that the Church is in such disarray that we cannot rely on the advice of many, if not most priests, yet these are specifically the people designated by the Church to teach the Truth and lead us in the Church. In order to find a trustworthy priest, we actually have to get to know a priest first, learn some of his views, and then later make a determination if he is reliable. Or we have to get a referral from a friend who has dealt with a good, reliable priest. We can’t simply call up the local parish and speak to whomever is there. Seeking reliable guidance requires actual background research on our parts, a questioning attitude and a wary eye.
It’s not just an issue with liberalism within the Church. Even the most conservative Catholics don’t have an answer for this or don’t seem to ever really address it. Anytime I have encountered a priest who has given guidance that is apparently faulty, the most common response I get from devout Catholics is something such as, “I’m sorry you had to experience that,” or “Well let me introduce you to this other priest. You can trust him.” But the issue is never really addressed about the larger problem of liberal and misguided ideals and attitudes throughout the Church, many which apparently contradict Church doctrine.
The perhaps worse problem is this leaves me wondering how to raise children and a family in the Church. How do I raise children to believe in the Church but at the same time explain to them that there are many Church leaders who can’t be trusted for sound guidance?
Christ promises us that hell will not prevail against the Church. But I am having a very difficult time deciphering what He means in view of the fact that the Church seems so utterly broken. I often feel that in the Church as a whole and even among devout Catholics, I am alone.