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The Top Ten Errors

Fr. Joseph K. Horn
St Barbara’s Parish
Santa Ana, California
circa 1996

We teachers can be very devious. I gave a bunch of my high school students a fake test, just to see what would happen. The test consisted of 52 statements about the Catholic Church, and the students were asked to mark down which were true and which were false. Unbeknownst to them, all 52 statements were commonly believed errors, and all of them should have been marked as false. I just wanted to find out how well my students knew their own Church.

Thankfully, all of the students got high marks. But some of the 52 statements stumped the majority of the students. Since most Catholics’ formal religious education ends when they graduate from high school, I conclude from our experiment that most Catholics today believe these errors. So here are The Top Ten Errors, the ten errors marked as true by the most students.

(10) Astrology is just a harmless pastime. False. Astrology is a violation of the 1st commandment; it attributes to natural things powers that are reserved to God; and it flirts with satanism. The Church has always condemned the use of astrology. Astrology is not just a harmless pastime.

(9) We don’t need to go to confession because sins are forgiven by praying straight to God. False. Jesus instituted the sacrament of confession for a reason. He never did anything unnecessary. As the new Catechism states, confession is the normative way for Catholics to be forgiven their sins. We should go to confession.

(8) The Church affirms that extraterrestrials exist. False. The Church has never made any such statement. Whether intelligent life exists on other planets or not is left for science to discover; the Church says nothing about it.

(7) We shouldn’t spend money on building fancy churches. False. That’s contrary to how we prioritize everything else in life. We always spend the most time, energy, and money on what we hold most dear. For some people, it’s golf that absorbs all their time, energy, and money. For others it’s drugs. For some of us it’s religion. Our hearts and our treasures are always in the same place.

(6) Everyone is basically good, and everyone will go to heaven. False. Everyone was intended to be good, but Original Sin caused nature to fall, and we are all inclined to evil by our fallen nature. Furthermore, Jesus said that the path to heaven is narrow, and few there are who find it, whereas the road to hell is wide, and many travel it.

(5) Hell isn’t permanent; eventually all creatures will be reunited with God. False. Hell is permanent, according to Jesus, who described it as a place where the flames will never go out. He also described the gulf between heaven and hell and said that no one can ever cross it. Hell is permanent.

(4) We know now that the devil is a fictional personification of evil. False. Satan is a real person, and his fellow demons are real persons. They are fallen angels, created by God for an eternal life of love but they rejected God out of pride and were cast into hell for all eternity. Devils are as real as you are.

(3) Catholics who leave the Church will go to hell. False. Many ex-Catholics left because of something cruel or stupid that a priest or sister did or said to them, so they are not really rejecting the faith at all, just trying to escape the hurt that they erroneously equate with the church. Many other ex-Catholics left because of a misunderstanding of some of the church’s doctrines, so they are not really rejecting the faith either, but are actually rejecting their misunderstood version of it. And some ex-Catholics never really knew their faith, and were converted to some other faith by a superficial argument or out of respect for a non-Catholic friend or spouse, but such conversion is not in the soul but only on the surface. Such people can attain heaven just as they would have before: by loving God above all things and by loving their neighbor as themselves. The only ex-Catholics who will assuredly face judgement for their apostasy are those who know their faith and grasp the truth of it, and then willfully reject it per se. This does happen, but it is very rare.

(2) An annulment is the Catholic equivalent of a divorce. False. A divorce is the legal demolition of an existing contract. Annulment is the recognition that no such contract ever existed. When a Catholic couple gets an annulment, it means that the Church found an impediment to their marriage vows such that they were not capable of actually getting married in the first place. Such impediments include immaturity, one or both parties withholding essential information before the marriage, one or both parties harboring actual reservations about the marriage, and so on. Since a marriage cannot be done in such circumstances, any marriage thus performed didn’t really take, and an annulment is the mere statement of that fact. Catholics who are actually married in the church without any impediments cannot get an annulment. But these days anybody can get a divorce at any time for the most inane reason. Divorce and annulment are totally different.

(1) We shouldn’t impose our religion on others; our policy should be live and let live. False. That’s not what Jesus said. He said that we should go out to all the nations and preach the gospel and baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He said that we should be a light to all, that we should be the leaven of the world, and that we should work so that one day there may be one flock and one shepherd. We are all missionaries and evangelists.

Well, that was fun. There were 42 other false statements on the test, but I’ll save them for another day.

Note from Fr Joe: Actually, the list eventually grew to 75 questions, and became the “Catholic of the Year 2000 Contest”.

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