By Matthew Shanbom, Managing Editor
Over time, the Catholic church has evolved from a small group of followers of the “son of god” Jesus Christ to an international church with a membership of 1.272 billion people. As the church grew in power from its humble roots, it misused this power time after time to take advantage of its followers.
While the church began while Jesus was still alive, its following grew after Jesus was crucified and resurrected according to the bible. As this story of resurrection spread throughout the region via the 12 apostles and other missionaries. The church grew as a persecuted religion in the Roman Empire until 313 when Constantine legalized the practice of Christianity which quickly spread to become the state religion in 380. Once it was made the state religion, the church grew in power as more and more citizens of the Roman Empire converted. The Catholic church held power as the sole sect of Christianity until the Great Schism in 1054 which resulted in the creation of the Eastern Orthodox church.
The church took advantage of the power granted to it to begin collecting indulgences which for most catholics was a monetary payment to the church. Most of the time, the reason for paying an indulgence was to forgive the sins of the person paying it or their relative. This practice was eventually questioned by some as to why money was required to pray for their loved ones. Indulgences were one of the church’s biggest misuses of power.
Martin Luther was one of the first to call out the church on their misuses of power when he published the 95 theses in 1517. This started the movement known as the protestant reformation. The ideas gained popularity due to rejection of papal authority and an emphasis on a direct relationship with god. The church initially disregarded the reformation until England broke away from the Catholic church becoming a protestant nation. As for the reason England broke away, the church once again overestimated its power and misused it. By refusing to annul the marriage of British king Henry VIII, the church had allowed what would become the world’s largest empire to slip away. The church attempted to regain some power through conversion in American colonies in what was known as the counter-reformation. As Catholic countries such as Spain and France lost power in the Americas, the influence of Catholicism fell and protestantism continued to grow allowing it to become the primary religion in the United States.
Even as the church lost power due to the reformation, it still continues to have one of the largest memberships of any religion at 20.8% of the United states. Priests in their local communities used the power given to them to sexually abuse minors. The sexual abuse allegations rose to prominence in the late 20th century and the early 21st century. Even as through investigations many priests have been found guilty of pedophelia, the church has removed very few of them even going as far as to reject the resignation of multiple Chilean priests. This rejection combined with a cover up from bishops caused the church to be forced to take action in order to save face. In February 2019, the pope hosted a meeting at the Vatican to discuss child abuse within the church. While this summit did lead to some action, the fact that it took over two decades to take any serious action shows the church was afraid to lose some of its power.
While all religions at one point have used their power to control their followers, the Catholic church abused their position as one of the largest religions to take advantage of the followers that allowed it to rise to such a prominent position in the first place. While action has been taken to repair many of these errors, the church took far too long to respond on issues it had been aware of for a long period of time.