(Almost) nobody’s perfect


My husband and I own an outdoor party center, and every three or four days during the season you can find me mowing our considerable acreage for about 2 and a half hours whilst listening to podcasts (does anybody still use “whilst”? I like it.). Back and forth I go, trying to keep the lines straight and yelling at the dirty, squatter geese about how they don’t own the place, I do, and chasing them off the property if I can. With my headphones on I can barely even hear my vehement rant over the mower motor, but I know they can hear me ‘cause I see their nasty, little beaks opening and closing as they squawk back at me whilst 🙂 making a break for the lake.

The podcasts make the back and forth amidst multiple piles of goose poop a little less tedious, and most are from leading apologists like Ravi Zacharias and William Lane Craig. But I also listen to Catholic Answers Live for Catholic apologetics. I never want to misrepresent Catholic teaching or practice in my blogging so in addition to using the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a primary reference, I research Catholic websites and listen to exchanges between members of the Church on podcasts. And last week I heard one that I think is indicative as well as indicting…indicative of the incoherence of one of her doctrines and indicting in a priest’s failure to extend the true love and mercy of God to a woman in need of comfort and hope, and instead offering mumbo jumbo double-speak.

Catholic Answers Live is a call-in show for Catholics and non-Catholics and this particular episode featured the producers’ chaplain answering questions. When a woman called in obvious distress because of her fear of judgment this priest responded with mostly pious platitudes leaving her, I’m sure, no more enlightened or consoled than before she called. I have the full transcript of the exchange below, and you can listen to it here, but I want to highlight a few excerpts.

The woman tells of having had an abortion and the guilt that has been plaguing her since. “I’ve been to confession probably 10 to 15 times over the same sin,” she says, yet she has no assurance of forgiveness. And she fears that she’s “going to just go straight to Purgatory no matter what I do, and I’m not even sure I even believe in Purgatory ‘cause it doesn’t really talk about it in the Bible. So, I don’t know…am I really forgiven and it’s never going to be brought up again? Or am I gonna have to…I don’t understand.”

This woman is obviously fearful that her sin, which she has repeatedly confessed, will still need to be purged from her in tormenting fires when she dies and before she gets to Heaven. The 4th century church father Augustine said, “This fire of Purgatory will be more severe than any pain that can be felt, seen or conceived in this world.” And this incredibly great, unimaginable pain can last for years…we’re not talking a 15-second initiation ritual.

The priest, while acknowledging that because “most people are not perfect by the time they die” they “need a period of purgation,” almost chides the woman for not trusting Jesus because he has forgiven her. You are loved, you are saved, you are forgiven, you’ve received absolution…but your guilt remains. But not to worry…”Purgatory takes care of that.” The guilt from our sins is like the mess on the floor when we’ve dropped a glass. The owner of the glass has forgiven us but we still need to clean up the mess. Purgatory “takes care of the mess.” “But, we’re saved, we’re forgiven, already.” So your “big job” is to be grateful and thank Jesus for his forgiveness that still means torturous, prolonged pain because of your mess.

Though wanting to acknowledge a measure of comfort received, it’s clear the woman is still fearful and hoping the torture is not in her future. She asks, “is it possible to atone for that sin on this earth so that when I die I may not have…” The priest interjects before she is able to bring into the light the terrible teaching of pain “more severe” than can even be conceived of, though that is the object of her fear, and the reason for her call. He sidesteps the core of her question with more double-speak: “As far as your sins are concerned, the Lord has forgiven you and you are free. He’s taken that on himself by his passion and death. Because we would never be able to justify what we do before the face of God. But he is both man and God and so he can do it, and has done it, and had made everything ‘even Steven.’ We’re not tainted after we’ve been forgiven. We belong to him.”

We’re not tainted, but we still have to be purified. The Catholic doctrine of Purgatory is incoherent in itself, but more so in light of the doctrine of the atonement. Next time I’ll give my defense of its incoherence from Scripture, which I previously touched on here. I think this priest’s attempt at a defense of the doctrine demonstrates that it’s pretty much indefensible. I’d love to know if you agree, or disagree.

CA Live transcript on purgatory