By Bryan Vinson
The Dallas News of March 29th carried an item of news of the final disposition of the criminal charges against a Catholic priest for allegedly assaulting a girl with the intent of rape. A previous trial had ended in a hung jury. In this last action he was allowed to go free with a fine after a no defense plea was accepted. His attorney stated that this “nolo contendere” plea was not an acknowledgment of guilt, but merely says “the defendant does not choose to defend.” Further, and of significance is this statement of explanation — “This decision was made in the best interests of the church and in order not to subject the girl and Father Feit to the ordeal of another trial.”
Thus we see a whitewashing of this sordid affair, with the priest getting off with a lesser charge which was dismissed by the paying of a $500.00 fine. Also, the news account stated he was questioned about the murder of another woman, which he denied knowing anything about, but which he acknowledged having heard her confession the night of her disappearance. Of course this occurred in a section of heavy Catholic population, at Edinburgh, Texas. Also, it occurred during the present growth of the power and influence of Catholicism in America. For the courts of our land to slant their actions in favor of the Catholic religion will become an increasing practice with the present administration, there is every indication and reason to expect. The increasing number of appointees in all branches of government of those of the Catholic faith is very apparent, and this coupled with the fundamental and age-old doctrine of the subordination of the state to the church constitutes an ominous threat to the religious liberties of the American people
Why should the courts of this land be concerned about the best interests of any particular church, or any church at all? For this priest to enjoy an immunity because of his religion, and his position within the church, before the court certainly is not in the best interest of the court and the rights and liberties of American citizens. No difference should be made between citizens charged with criminal actions on the ground of their religion, or non-religion. His was a crime, as charged, of a serious breach of the moral code on which our laws are founded, and as designed to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. It is feared that our people are blind and indifferent to the lurking and rapidly developing powers of this apostate church in our land, and with eight years of the present administration such power will be gained and consolidated that we then will be helpless. Truly, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, and obviously we aren’t paying that price today.
Beyond, however, the immediate concern as above stated there is also a significance to the heading of this little piece which finds its application within the affairs of the church of the Lord. Many are the situations where sin is overlooked, ignored, or minimized, out of a professed regard for “the best interests of the church.” To particularize, we note, briefly, the following:
1. The sin of false teaching.
Congregations tolerate, oftentimes, those in teaching whose handling of the scriptures constitutes the advancing of error rather than truth. This may be, and likely is, in many instances caused by ignorance which renders incompetent the teacher. No one should be endeavoring to teach the Word of God who is not able by reason of their knowledge to teach the truth. It is a truism that one cannot instruct another in that which they do not know, and, hence, the edification of the saints in the truth of the gospel cannot be effected by those who are uninformed and unskilled in the word of righteousness. As a result of this too many of the saints remain spiritual infants, and are subjected to the liability of being the victims of false doctrine. This creates a favorable soil for designing and deceitful teachers to gain followers to their pernicious doctrines. An informed, enlightened and devoted body of adherents to the truth is the only sort of congregation which is immured to the virus of error. Error is to be recognized and repulsed in its incipiency, rather than waiting for its full development and fruitage within the ranks of a congregation. Qualified bishops will exercise this protection, whereas the unqualified and incompetent neither will nor can do so.
2. The sin of false practice.
Here is where, perhaps, a more extensive danger resides. The desire to conform and thereby gain acceptability with the popular mind leads to many questionable practices developing within the functioning of congregations. An aping of others is the course of the unthinking. Hence, the drift is further and further away from the apostolic ground, and while perceived by some is oftentimes not arrested out of regard for the supposed best interest of the church. It is thought that peace and harmony is better than truth and soundness, and thus this is sacrificed for that. Today many congregations have been, and are being, swept into the stream of digression which could have been saved therefrom if they had not been controlled by a mistaken conception of what constitutes the best interest of the church.
3. The sinful conduct of individuals.
Here is found the most widespread evil that afflicts the congregations of the Lord. Even those who profess a firm allegiance to a “thus saith the Lord” in all matters of faith and practice are found seriously derelict. There is harbored, unexposed and uncondemned, within the ranks of many bodies of disciples those whose characters are sullied with flagrant immoralities. Not only so, but among these are those who project themselves to the fore in directing and controlling the affairs of the congregation. Too often those who know the true condition, out of timidity on the one hand, and an overweening desire to keep the peace on the other, wink at such conditions. The scriptures are replete with instructions of how to deal with the disorderly, and equally full and explicit as touching those particulars wherein given behavior is of this character. Those busy-bodies in other men’s matters, meddlers in the affairs of others, sowers of discord and defamers and falsifiers constitute a prolific source of evil within many congregations. They are having a paralyzing effect on the spiritual health and growth of the church. They create a stench in the nostrils of not only the righteous within the church, but also in the esteem of the community. They bring reproach on the whole congregation where they are allowed to go unexposed, unrebuked and un-disciplined by the responsible and righteous element within the congregation.
A light regard for the virtue of veracity pervades the churches today. Members who are known prevaricators are countenanced and allowed to continue their evil and destructive course, and carry out their evil designs to the injury, possibly fatal in some instances, of the cause of truth. A man and wife team in the early church were summarily put to death for an offence that goes unrebuked in many congregations today. They lied to men, but not just to men; they also lied to the Holy Spirit. So, also, are hypocrisy and false claims of those who seek to deceive their brethren today a sin not only against brethren but also against Deity. To affect a religious devotion and display an affected piety, coupled with falsehoods about others and self-gratulatory claims are an affront against God. In their striving for recognition and acclaim they seek to attain such deception, and to seize a control of the church to nurture their unholy ego. Brethren knowing this oftentimes ignore it and allow the church to suffer with the poison of such sin, rather than exposing the sin and the sinner, and expelling or expurging such from the body. Mistakenly they think time will heal such conditions without repentance and reformation on the part of the guilty, and thus in the supposed “best interest of the church” decline doing anything about it.
Unless there is a return within the hearts of God’s people of a proper respect for the teaching of the apostles bearing on these matters, then all pretensions of soundness will be but a tinkling cymbal and a sounding brass in the ears of all men of honor.
Truth MagazineVI: 9 & 10, pp. 16-18
June & July 1962