Misconception: Indulgences let you pay to have your sins forgiven
First of all we need to understand what an indulgence is. The Catholic Church teaches that when a person sins, they get two punishments: eternal (hell) and temporal (punishment on earth while alive, or in purgatory after death). To remove the eternal punishment of hell, a person must confess their sins and be forgiven. But the temporal punishment remains. To remove the temporal punishment a person can receive an indulgence. This is a special “blessing” in which the temporal punishment is removed if a person performs a special act such as doing good deeds or reading certain prayers.
In the Middle ages, forgers who were working for disobedient Bishops would write fake indulgences offering the forgiveness of sins (removal of eternal punishment) in exchange for money which was often used for church building. Popes had been long trying to end the abuse but it took at least three centuries for the sale of indulgences to finally end. True indulgences existed from the beginning of Christianity and the Church continues to grant special indulgences today. Wikipedia has an excellent and honest article on the abuse of indulgences from the Middle Ages. You can read it here. Here is a BBC article on a new indulgence granted by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.
4. Emperor Constantine
Misconception: Emperor Constantine invented the Catholic Church in 325 AD
In 313 AD, Emperor Constantine announced toleration of Christianity in theEdict of Milan, which removed penalties for professing Christianity. At the age of 40 he converted to Christianity and in 325 he convened the first ecumenical Council of Nicaea. Because of the importance of this council, many people believe that Constantine created the Church, but in fact there had been many councils (though not as large) prior to Nicaea and the structure of the Church already existed. Constantine was at the council merely as an observer and the Bishops and representative of the Pope made all of the decisions. Before the council of Nicaea, priestly celibacy was already the norm, baptism of infants was practiced (as were all 7 sacraments), and the structure of priests and Bishops was already 300 years old.
3. Priestly Celibacy
Misconception: Catholic Priests can’t get married
In order to clear this one up, we need to first understand the nature of the Catholic Church. Within the universal Church there are sections (also called churches but not in the sense that they are separate) – the most common one is, of course, the Roman (or Latin) Catholic Church. Then there is the Eastern Catholic Church (not to be confused with the Orthodox which is a different religion). Both of these churches fall under the jurisdiction of the Pope and all believe the same doctrines. There are a lot of differences between the two groups but these are all in matters of style of worship and certain rules. In the Eastern Church, priests are allowed to be married – but a married priest can’t become a Bishop.
It also happens that occasionally in the Latin Church, pastors who convert from other religions such as the Church of England are allowed to become priests even though they are married, so married priests can be found in all parts of the Roman Catholic Church. Pictured above is a Greek Catholic priest and his wife. Don’t believe me? Here is proof. And here is more proof.
2. Modified Bible
Misconception: The Church added books to the Bible
The Catholic version of the Old Testament differs from the Protestant version in that the Catholic edition contains seven more books than Protestant Bibles. These “extra” books are the reason that many people consider the Church to have added to the Bible, but in fact these books were considered the official canon (list of books) by all Christians until the Protestant reformation during which Martin Luther (leader of the revolution) removed them. Interestingly some of these books contain affirmations of Catholic doctrines which Luther rejected. The reason that the Catholic Church uses the Greek edition is because the apostles used it exclusively in their preaching.
Luther decided to use the Jewish Masoretic canon (circa 700 – 1000 AD) instead of the Apostolic canon. The seven books he removed were:Tobit,Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, andBaruch. While initially wanting to remove at least one book (The Epistle of James, because it contradicts Luther’s teaching that faith alone is needed for salvation [James Chapter 2]) from the New Testament, Luther ultimately decided to keep the Catholic New Testament in full.
Interestingly, Hanukah is mentioned only in 1 and 2 Maccabees, which is not included in either the Jewish or Protestant versions of the Old Testament.
1. Medieval Papacy
Misconception: The Papacy is a medieval invention
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, and from the beginning of Christianity he was considered the head of the Church. This fact is alluded to in many of the early Church documents and even in the Bible itself: “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter [Greek for “rock”]; and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Peter was the first Bishop of Rome and he led the Church until his death in 64 AD, at which point St Linus became the second Pope. St Irenaeus mentions him here:
The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate [office of Bishop of Rome]. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy [2 Timothy 4:21]. To him succeeded Anacletus [third Pope, pictured above]; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement [4th Pope] was allotted the bishopric. — Against the Heresies, 180 AD
St Irenaeus goes on to mention another six Popes and the various tasks they undertook during their reigns – such as the imposition by Pope Linus of the rule that women cover their heads in Church (a rule which, though often ignored, still exists today).