The arbitrary nature of Roman Catholic soteriology has hit new lows.
Last year was the supposed “Year of Mercy.” Everyone who merely walked through the door of a Catholic church was granted an indulgence–all sins were forgiven and no time would be needed in Purgatory. No, I am not making this up–it really happened. Why didn’t he give people no Purgatory at all (the indulgence did not cover the effects of future sins, something theoretically the Catholic Church can do) or do it for something easier than driving to church and going to a Mass? We don’t know, but that is what was decided.
Let’s be clear. Contrary to common knowledge, an indulgence is only efficacious if the receiver has a contrite heart. Further, an indulgence is not merely a “get out of Hell free card,” but rather is a gratuitous gift of merit attained by Christ or the saints (in Christ) applied to a faithful person who died with some sins. It works by canceling out the demerits that would keep a faithful person in Purgatory, because it pays God back for the temporal effects of sins (even if their ultimate effects were forgiven by Christ on the cross.)
In short, an indulgence does not get you out of Hell. It gets Heaven-bound person to Heaven, quicker.
Find this objectionable? Well, the debate over indulgences is bound to heat up.
Recently on March 30th, Pope Francis made headlines (mostly in Italy) when he said that taking in what are called “deserted dogs,” or in American parlance “rescue dogs,” will grant to the puppy-parent (my words, not his) an indulgence which frees a single loved one from Purgatory. While not being of any effect for the individual believer (it only covers family members), this indulgence is clearly the most generous and easy to attain in Roman Catholic history.
While the Pope cited the runaway problem of pet cruelty and man’s betrayal of nature, I cannot help but think that the reason he did this was to guarantee the efficaciousness of the indulgence.
As I said before, the indulgence is only efficacious if the intent of the repentant sinner is correct. Last year’s indulgence might have not had its intended effect simply because so many of the Catholic laity do not enter a church with the right intent, as many do not adore the Eucharist nor think it is really the Savior’s flesh and blood. Hence, they would not be able to attain the efficacious effects of the indulgence.
So, my conspiracy theory is that it is almost impossible not to take in a dog and grow to be very fond of it. This makes the “rescue dog indulgence” almost fool-proof.
Allow me to offer a comment: Pope Francis has had no shortage of public-relations friendly stunts and quotations. I am sure his intention is to make Roman Catholicism increasingly relevant. However, I think indulgences such as this one will have the opposite effect.
“Why?,” you may ask. Well, it exposes the extremely arbitrary nature of Rome’s claim to the “power of the keys.” Being that the Pope is supposedly infallible, he can pretty much give an indulgence for anything with an infinite effect of forgiving post-baptismal sins.
This begs the question– why doesn’t he in his mercy just go ahead and do it? He pretty much “jumped the shark” with the “rescue dog indulgence,” so what does he have to lose now?
I would be very interested to see how my Catholic readers defend this.
April 2, 2017: The above was an April Fools satire. Being that it could have easily been true, I hope that the points raised a relevant, regardless.