I have certainly been guilty of that—though I plead that my purpose in so doing is to lance the boil of issues that will be raised by criminals who are being evangelized through prison or outside ministry—and articles critical of American Church leadership abound, as is this excellent one from The City magazine (Spring 2012: pp. 58-66) by Paul Rahe, which opens:

“In my lifetime, to my increasing regret, the Roman Catholic Church in the United States has lost much of its moral authority. It has done so largely because it has subordinated its teaching of Catholic moral doctrine to its ambitions regarding an expansion of the administrative entitlements state. In 1973, when the Supreme Court made its decision in Roe v. Wade, had the bishops, priests, and nuns screamed bloody murder and declared war, I believe the decision would soon have been reversed. Instead, under the leadership of Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, who became President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1974 and the Cardinal-Archbishop of Chicago in 1982, they asserted that the teaching of the Church was a “seamless garment,” and treated abortion as one concern among many. Here is what Cardinal Bernardin said in the Gannon Lecture at Fordham University that he delivered in 1983:

“Those who defend the right to life of the weakest among us must be equally visible in support of the quality of life of the powerless among us: the old and the young, the hungry and the homeless, the undocumented immigrant and the unemployed worker.

“Consistency means that we cannot have it both ways. We cannot urge a compassionate society and vigorous public policy to protect the rights of the unborn and then argue that compassion and significant public programs on behalf of the needy undermine the moral fiber of the society or are beyond the proper scope of governmental responsibility.”

“This statement, which came to be taken as authoritative throughout the American Church, proved, as Joseph Sobran observed seven years ago. “to be nothing but a loophole for hypocritical Catholic politicians. If anything,” he added, “it has actually made it easier for them than for non-Catholics to give their effective support to legalized abortion—that is, it has allowed them to be inconsistent and unprincipled about the very issues that Cardinal Bernardin said demand consistency and principle.” In practice, this meant that, insofar as anyone pressed the case against Roe v. Wade, it would be concerned Catholic laymen orphaned by their church and the evangelical Protestants who flocked to the banner they unfurled.

“I was reared a Catholic, wandered out of the Church, and stumbled back in more than thirteen years ago. I cannot claim to be a fully faithful Catholic even now, but I have been a regular attendee at mass since that time. Moreover, I travel a great deal and frequently find myself in a diocese not my own. In these years, I have heard sermons articulating the case against abortion thrice—once in passing in Louisianaat a mass said by the retired Archbishop there; once in passing at the cathedral in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and a few weeks ago in a compelling fashion in our parish in Hillsdale, Michigan. The truth is that the priests in the United States are far more likely to push the “social justice” agenda of the American bishops from the pulpit that to instruct the faithful in the evils of abortion. (pp. 58-59)

This parallels a common version of American Catholic history as outlined by several books, regularly in columns and articles by conservative Catholics and is a great impediment to effective conversion of criminals who will perceive quickly that the American church is decidedly liberal, in contrast to its decidedly conservative eternal nature.

What I have had to learn how to do—as we must teach criminals to do—is to rely, rather than on the pronouncements of an individual priest, bishop, or pope, is to instead rely on the dogma of the Church as articulated in the two universal catechisms: that promulgated by Pope Pius V in 1566, Catechism of the Council of Trent and that promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1997, Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition.

In addition to this, study the modern papal encyclicals, and many of the earlier ones are also available.

Finally, study the works of the Doctors of the Church, starting with the Summa Theologica of the Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Yes, this is a lifetime’s work, but as the history of the Church continues to unfold and stories of human scandal and corruption mark its voyage through eternity, you need to be armed with her greatest human works to ensure you maintain your balance in the storm.