Now at the RCC Carnival: Bingo, Beer, and a Hot Tetzel


From the big city paper nearby:

Mary Schatzman knew right away what she would do last week after learning that a church near her Green Township home was offering “indulgences” to interested Catholics.

While some parishioners seemed indifferent or confused by the offer, Schatzman didn’t hesitate.

“I’m going to get one,” she said.

Her eagerness reflects a renewed interest among Catholics in a tradition that had for decades all but vanished from their religious life.

In the past year, Catholics across the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and thousands more around the world have gone to confession, taken communion and said the prayers necessary to receive what is known as a “plenary indulgence.”

For the indulgence, a blessing that helps Catholics avoid punishment in the afterlife, it is a remarkable comeback.

The practice suffered a precipitous fall from grace 500 years ago when the Catholic Church began selling them to rich people looking to buy their way into heaven.

Although the church stopped selling them long ago, the stain on the indulgence’s reputation endured for centuries.

The church never abandoned the indulgence, however, and it now is part of a broader campaign by Pope Benedict XVI to revive some fading church traditions and to draw Catholics back to teachings that younger generations know little about.

The article also add this “explanation”:

The shorthand version of the rules goes like this: Confession removes the “eternal punishment” of sin that can condemn a soul for all eternity, but a “temporal punishment” remains. This punishment is meted out in Purgatory, where Catholics must wait to be purified before moving on to heaven.

That’s where indulgences come into play. They can shorten or eliminate the purification process, clearing the path to heaven.

“We must be purified, either here on Earth or after death in Purgatory,” [Rev. Earl Fernandes, dean of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Cincinnati] said. Bang, bang, Martin's silver hammer comes down on their heads...“What an indulgence seeks to do is remit the temporal punishment.”

Click the link for the rest of the Cincinnati Enquirer article on indulgences.

I’m as open-minded as the next guy, but c’mon. Indulgences?  They’re  simply indefensible theologically, unorthodoxy at its finest, no matter what the Vatican says.

Sure, the local archdiocese isn’t selling them as they were in good ol’ Martin Luther’s day, not even on eBay, but “free” doesn’t make them any less nutty.

16 thoughts on “Now at the RCC Carnival: Bingo, Beer, and a Hot Tetzel

  1. Josh

    The funny thing is, among Catholic Theologians the idea of Purgatory as a process of purification instead of a place of punishment is growing; and this idea completely nullifies any use for indulgences. I guess a fair number of lay people aren’t following their own theologians, but what else is new.

      • Josh

        I just figure that comes with age, hehehe. It’s a depressing thought to realize that any movement you’re a part of will end up the same way in a few hundred years, but that’s history for you.

        There are things I love about the Catholic Church. But I’m no Hans Kung. I admire and respect the guy, but he chose to stay. I couldn’t.

        • Josh,

          Truth be told, this indulgences thing is marketing dependence. By making it a quasi-sacrament, it forces people to go to the church to get it. “Hey, don’t want to spend 1,000 years in purgatory playing Microsoft Solitaire and never winning? Have we got a deal for you! All you need to do is show up on Sunday, go to confession, and say your prayers here, and we’ll do this for you!” So in a way, there is a gotcha attached to this.

          That said, I can understand where the RCC is coming on this. It’s losing people like crazy. Offering indulgences, which themselves offer a spiritual benefit unattainable elsewhere, keeps people from leaving—so long as those people believe in the power of the indulgence. It’s harder to be a lone ranger if you can only get this spiritual benefit from going to church and being observant publicly.

    • Darned good question, Steve.

      I think the RCC is doing this to try to strengthen their parishoners’ reliance on the RCC as an intermediary for grace. Obviously, that’s what a lot of the Reformation rebutted.

  2. Dan,

    As a “recovering Catholic,” it amazes me still how many times I’ve talked to old Catholic school friends about doctrines such as these that have zero basis in the Bible.

    The usual explanation is: “The Bible never claims to be authoritative,” and then they hit me with sola scriptura and a bunch of other Latin terms.

    I’ve gotten to the point–mainly since my parents are still Catholic–that I’m trying to find the common ground between us. There has to be more that brings us closer than tears us apart. As soon as I figure out what that formula is, I’ll let you know.

    Until then, these poor people will continue to be under leadership that clearly hasn’t read the Bible carefully. Or, if they have, have found that it differs from their own orthodoxy and so the Magisterium and the Vatican continues to put roadblocks in front of their followers. Jesus had harsh words for these, something about millstones around their necks for causing little ones to stumble.


  3. In Catholicism your realtionship to Jesus Christ depends on your relationship to ‘the church’.

    In Protestantism, it is the opposite.

    Your relationship to ‘the church’ depends on your relationship to Jesus Christ.

  4. George

    Well, yeah, indulgences are just something Catholics came up with.

    So what about evangelical indulgences: All you need to do to avoid after-life punishment is to say these words — I accept Jesus Christ into my heart — and you’re done. No responsibilities. Oh, sure, you ought to read your bible and go to church more or less regularly, but all you really had to do was “accept.” And then you’re free to pray for wealth and health.

    yes, the Catholic church apparently collects some monetary sacrifice for its indulgences, and the evangelical church only promotes tithing, but what’s the functional difference between Catholic indulgences and evangelical cheap grace?

  5. George,

    You have a valid point.

    The semi-Pelagianism of the Evangelical chuches is akin to the semi-Pelagianism of the Catholic Church.

    ‘A little bit of God and a little bit of me.’

    Only it ususlly turns out to be a little bit of god and a lot of ‘me’.

  6. Don Costello

    I was raised Cata-holic, going to grade schools at St. Cecilia and Sacred Heart, and for High School I went to Moeller. After nine years of drugs, sex and rock and roll I received Christ, and the last thing I wanted to do is go back to being Catholic. Then I started seeing in Scripture teaching that condemned much of Catholic theology. Needless to say, I have a lot of problems with Catholic beliefs.

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