That the Catholic Church is indefectible is an infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal magisterium. In these times of great confusion, what Sister Lucia of Fatima called the times of diabolical disorientation, it is important for ordinary Catholics to know exactly what is meant by indefectibility.
Sister Lucia, in a letter to her friend Dona Maria Teresa da Cunha, wrote, “People must recite the Rosary every day. Our Lady repeated this in all her apparitions, as if to arm us in advance against these times of diabolical disorientation, so that we would not let ourselves be fooled by false doctrines, and that through prayer, the elevation of our soul to God would not be diminished…. This is a diabolical disorientation invading the world and misleading souls! It is necessary to stand up to it…” (Letter of Sister Lucia of Fatima)
Many sincere Catholics express confusion and concern at what is happening within the Catholic Church, with senior prelates publicly contradicting settled Catholic doctrines. They express concern at what has happened in Ireland, where contraception, divorce, abortion, and the immoral homosexual lifestyle are now promoted and given legal recognition.
At our Spring conference in Maynooth, Dr Éanna Johnson clearly outlined why such confusion exists in the minds of many Irish Catholics. In his presentation to the conference, he showed us how the demise of Catholic education in Ireland took place. He also showed us the correlation between the percentage of voters who voted ‘Yes’ to permit the killing of innocent human beings in their mother’s wombs in Ireland, and the religious education they were subjected to in schools. Whilst noting that this was not the only factor at play, it is interesting to realise that the majority of those who were educated before the sweeping changes introduced into religious education in Irish Catholic schools in the 1970s, voted ‘No’ to the government’s proposition to turn Irish hospitals into abortuaries. Dr Johnson’s talk is now available to view on our youtube channel.
So, what is meant when we say that the Catholic Church is indefectible? Let’s look at what the Catholic Encyclopaedia of 1917 has to say on the matter.
“Among the prerogatives conferred on His Church by Christ is the gift of indefectibility. By this term is signified, not merely that the Church will persist to the end of time, but further, that it will preserve unimpaired its essential characteristics. The Church can never undergo any constitutional change which will make it, as a social organism, something different from what it was originally. It can never become corrupt in faith or in morals; nor can it ever lose the Apostolic hierarchy, or the sacraments through which Christ communicates grace to men. The gift of indefectibility is expressly promised to the Church by Christ, in the words in which He declares that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
It is manifest that, could the storms which the Church encounters so shake it as to alter its essential characteristics and make it other than Christ intended it to be, the gates of hell, i.e. the powers of evil, would have prevailed. It is clear, too, that could the Church suffer substantial change, it would no longer be an instrument capable of accomplishing the work for which God called it into being. He established it that it might be to all men the school of holiness. This it would cease to be if ever it could set up a false and corrupt moral standard. He established it to proclaim His revelation to the world and charged it to warn all men that unless they accepted that message they must perish everlastingly. Could the Church, in defining the truths of revelation err in the smallest point, such a charge would be impossible. Nobody could enforce under such a penalty the acceptance of what might be erroneous. By the hierarchy and the sacraments, Christ, further, made the Church the depositary of the graces of the Passion. Were it to lose either of these, it could no longer dispense to men the treasures of grace.”
Catholics can take great comfort from this doctrine, but we must avoid any misunderstanding which could lead us into the error of quietism. We cannot say, “The Church is indefectible therefore I do not need to do too much because God has got this covered.” The Catholic Church as founded by Christ is indefectible, but this does not guarantee the indefectibility of her members. Judas betrayed the Church. Peter denied Christ. We live in a time of great apostasy from the Catholic Church and at times it can be hard to recognise the Catholic Church unless one knows what to look for. The Catholic Encyclopaedia continues.
“The gift of indefectibility plainly does not guarantee each several part of the Church against heresy or apostasy. The promise is made to the corporate body. Individual Churches may become corrupt in morals, may fall into heresy, may even apostatize. Thus, at the time of the Mohammedan conquests, whole populations renounced their faith; and the Church suffered similar losses in the sixteenth century. But the defection of isolated branches does not alter the character of the main stem.
The society of Jesus Christ remains endowed with all the prerogatives bestowed on it by its Founder. Only to One particular Church is indefectibility assured, viz. to the See of Rome. To Peter, and in him to all his successors in the chief pastorate, Christ committed the task of confirming his brethren in the Faith (Luke 22:32); and thus, to the Roman Church, as Cyprian says, “faithlessness cannot gain access” (Epistle 54).
The various bodies that have left the Church naturally deny its indefectibility. Their plea for separation rests in each case on the supposed fact that the main body of Christians has fallen so far from primitive truth, or from the purity of Christian morals, that the formation of a separate organization is not only desirable but necessary. Those who are called on to defend this plea endeavour in various ways to reconcile it with Christ’s promise.”
Because man is fallen and is capable of leaving the Catholic Church and because some men have never been taught the Truth about the Catholic Faith, all Catholics are called to ‘Catholic Action’ which can take many and varied forms but which always has as its ultimate purpose leading souls to Christ by bringing them into the fold of His Catholic Church. However, for any action to be considered Catholic, it must proceed from a correct understanding of the doctrines of the Catholic Church and this is where the problem of our Catholic schools failing to catechise the children is most manifest. Most Irish Catholics are poorly catechised and therefore have a poor understanding of Catholic teaching in many areas. The danger here is that social actions tend to become humanistic, looking out for people’s comfort and material well-being with little consideration for their spiritual well-being and for their final end.
We see this confusion manifest itself in examples such as the St Vincent de Paul society giving a grant of €45,000 to help to fund a centre which promotes the same-sex lifestyle and in Catholics voting for abortion with the false idea that they are somehow helping women. We see it in those who promote the reception of Holy Communion for those living in adulterous unions and in those who promote contraception to young engaged couples on their ‘catholic’ pre-marriage courses. It is also manifest in the failure of Catholics to criticise false religions such as Islam and Protestant denominations out of either fear or a false tolerance which cares not for the eternal salvation of those who are in error.
But we must understand that there is a diabolical disorientation at play here. Too often we fail to identify our real enemy, the devil and his minions. We demonise fellow children of God who have gone astray, with little thought as to their salvation. Of course, we must oppose them in their actions, but our primary motivation must be for their salvation and for the salvation of others, otherwise we do not have the mind of Christ in what we do. Christ sacrificed His life on the Cross that we might be saved.
I recently came across a video where a U.S. Navy SEAL, Senior Chief Edward Byers, was awarded America’s Medal of Honour. An American doctor, Dr Dilip Joseph, who provided voluntary medical aid in Afghanistan, had been captured by Taliban forces and was being held in a remote mountain location in Afghanistan. When evidence emerged that Dr Joseph’s life was in immediate danger, an elite team of Navy SEALS was sent in on a dangerous mission to rescue him. One of the team was shot dead by the enemy during the rescue mission, but Dr Joseph was freed.
Now I know that analogies are never perfect, and I don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of the war in Afghanistan, but I want you to notice the response of the American government when one of their citizens was captured by enemy forces. This is a secular government and it is willing to take huge risks to free one of their own who has been captured by the enemy. Many Irish Catholics have been captured by the enemy of their souls, by the enemy of the Catholic Church. If a secular government will do all in its power to rescue one of its citizens, shouldn’t we be doing our utmost to rescue our fellow Irish men from the clutches of satan?
In a way, we need to become elite warriors in the army of Christ. We need to take on our role as part of the Church Militant. We need to unite together in the fight for the salvation of souls. We need to proclaim the teachings of the indefectible Catholic Church loudly and clearly in the public square. We need to combat the errors that are being spread, but we must also focus on helping those who are promoting these errors to come back to the Catholic Church. Those who oppose the Catholic Church are in danger of going to Hell for all eternity. This should concern us. We are in this war whether we like it or not and Christ expects us to play our part, so that as many souls as possible attain salvation. In the end, nothing else really matters.
The Navy SEALS undergo rigorous training before they are sent out on mission. We too must undergo training for the mission Christ has entrusted to us. We must deepen our spiritual lives through prayer, scripture, spiritual reading, retreats and self-discipline. We must study the unchanging teachings of the Catholic Church so that we can spot errors when they are being promoted in the name of Catholicism. We must work to protect children, both unborn and those of school age. We must promote Catholic teaching on marriage and family life in order to build a Catholic society and we must strive to live Holy Catholic lives ourselves. The only long-term solution to the crisis we face in Ireland is the restoration of the Catholic Faith to our people. Nothing else will benefit our nation.
If you want to get rid of abortion in our land, promote the Catholic Faith. If you want to get rid of suicide in our land, promote the Catholic Faith. If you want to get rid of permissive sexual lifestyles in our land, promote the Catholic Faith. The time for bewailing the catastrophes that have beset our nation is over. Now is the time to begin rebuilding a Catholic culture despite all the obstacles.
May God bless you