Why is there evil?


A friend, who is quite intelligent, but also quite stubborn, has sent me a email email which I don’t know how to answer. Any suggestions?

Campbell: How can you reconcile the Church’s infallibility with the sex scandals and their cover up? I know the doctrine of infallibility is limited to doctrinal pronouncements dealing with Revealed Truth and faith and morals and that it has no application to deeds or actions. Thus , whatever errors the Church has made in history are laid at the feet of the individuals who are responsible. When Pope John Paul II in his statement on the Inquisition expressed “profound regret for the weaknesses of so many of [the Church’s] sons and daughters who sullied her face,” he was careful to exonerate the Church itself from any wrongdoing. As one commentator noted: “The holiness and infallibility of the church as the Mystical Body of Christ remain intact: Whatever evils were done by Catholics, the Catholic Church itself remains unsullied.”

But my question is this: Since the Holy Spirit promised to protects human beings (whether it be the Pope of the entire Church) from error when proclaiming doctrine, could not it also protect representatives of the Church from error in the performance of deeds, as for example the Church’s response to priests who used their authority to sexually abuse congregants? Even if individual priests are responsible for their own sins, if the Holy Spirit can insure that doctrinal pronouncements are infallible and irreformable, could it not have provided protection and guidance to the bishops who were forced to deal with these sins?

I understand this distinction between doctrine and deeds, but I have difficulty with the response “that’s they way God intended it and that’s the way it is. We can not understand God’s design, but must accept it.” I can understand God revealing to His Church His promise to protect it from doctrinal error and cloth it with infallibility. I could also understand the contrary conclusion, namely, that God’s will is by necessity interpreted by fallible human beings and, with the exception of Revealed Truth, it is therefore possible for even the best meaning and most righteous pope to occasionally err. What I cannot understand is why God would protect His chosen representatives from erring in doctrine but still permit them, through the exercise of free will or any other means, to commit gravely sinful deeds which injure the Faithful and cause the Faithful to lose confidence in His Church and his Word. Maybe the Faithful who do this are not really Faithful but why would Holy Spirit not have intervened?


Dear C,

Why didn’t the Holy Spirit intervene when Adam was tempted to eat the fruit or when anyone is tempted? This isn’t a question of papal infallibility, it’s a question about the problem of evil. Why does God permit evil?

Number 412 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: “But why did God not prevent the first man from sinning? St. Leo the Great responds, ‘Christ’s inexpressible grace gave us blessings better than those the demon’s envy had taken away.’ And St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, ‘There is nothing to prevent human nature’s being raised up to something greater, even after sin; God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good.’ Thus St. Paul says, ‘ Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more;’ and the Exultet sings, ‘O happy fault,…which gained for us so great a Redeemer!’”

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.