The Judas Factor

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Jesus Himself, true God and true Man, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the light of the world that cannot be overcome by darkness, chose twelve apostles. All of them abandoned Him when he was arrested,[1] and one was directly responsible for handing him over to His murderers.

Jesus has been betrayed in every age by people who have been chosen to represent Him to the world.

The infallibility of the Church and consequently that of the pope is due to the infallible power of God to protect what He has revealed. The doctrine that God will not permit the Church or the pope to officially teach what is false is a doctrine about the goodness and power of God, not about the goodness or power of the members of the Church or of the papacy.

I was not baptized into the Pope, I do not receive the curia sacramentally. To leave because of them--even if they were worse than their worst enemy thinks them--would be to give them an importance that is not theirs, and to have missed the meaning of my membership of the Church and Christ's headship of it and of me.[2]

The Catholic Church does not now teach and never has taught that popes, bishops, priests or deacons are sinless (impeccable) or wise (prudent). There are, unfortunately, all too many proofs from the past and the present that the sacrament of Holy Orders does not make men holy or smart automatically. Ordained men have committed every form of sin imaginable, including apostasy,[3] heresy,[4] adultery, rape, incest, pedophilia, pederasty, sodomy, murder, theft, lying, blasphemy, and the construction of Churchill Tower at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y.

The sins of ordained men have not obscured the teachings of Jesus. Anyone who can condemn the sins of priests affirms that they know the difference between right and wrong and show that they can tell the difference between fidelity to Jesus and infidelity. Those who condemn the sins of the ordained as contrary to the mind and heart of Jesus prove that they have received the gospel message through the unbroken Tradition of the Church.

The sins of the ordained discredit the sinners, not the Church. Not one teaching of the Church is changed by the sad fact that Jesus has been betrayed by His disciples. What the sins of priests do prove is that priests can and do sin. The freedom of popes, bishops, priests, and deacons to sin is perfectly consistent with the dogmas of the Church. God does not turn His sons and daughters into marionettes or robots through the life of the sacraments. We all have to "work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12).

Priests sin. They shouldn't, but they do.

Baptized Catholics sin. They shouldn't, but they do.

Married Catholics sin. They shouldn't, but they do.

The bottom line:
Don't leave Jesus because of Judas!
Our faith is in Jesus, not in priests!

The Scriptures predict scandals

Matthew 7:15
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves."
Mt 18:7
ουαι τω κοσμω απο των σκανδαλων αναγκη γαρ εστιν ελθειν τα σκανδαλα πλην ουαι τω ανθρωπω εκεινω δι ου το σκανδαλον ερχεται
Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh.
Acts 20:29
"I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock."

There have been many antichrists besides Judas from the earliest days of the Church. This is a thorn in our side that God apparently will not remove until the world is ended and remade 2 Cor 12:7-10.

The Liturgy acknowledges that priests sin

The sins of the ordained should come as no surprise to people who know the text of the Mass. In addition to praying with the whole congregation for the forgiveness of sins, there are prayers said quietly by the priest alone, reminding him of his need for repentance and forgiveness:

Before the Gospel "Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God, that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel."
After the Gospel "Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away."
After the Offertory (while washing his hands) "Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin."
After the Lamb of God

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God,
who, by the will of the Father
and the work of the Holy Spirit,
through your Death gave life to the world,
free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood,
from all my sins and from every evil;
keep me always faithful to your commandments,
and never let me be parted from you."

-- or --

"May the receiving of your Body and Blood,
Lord Jesus Christ,
not bring me to judgment and condemnation,
but through your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body
and a healing remedy. "

At Communion

"May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life."
"May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life."

After Communion (while purifying the chalice and paten)

"What has passed our lips as food, O Lord,
may we possess in purity of heart,
that what has been given to us in time
may be our healing for eternity. "

Judas received the Eucharist

The synoptic gospels all portray Judas as being present for the first Eucharist (Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22). In Matthew and Mark, the prophecy that Jesus would be betrayed by an apostle precedes the Institution Narrative, and there is no account of Judas leaving the table. We may then infer that Judas was present and received Communion.

There is no account of a Communion service in John's account of the Last Supper (John 13). Instead, Jesus washes the feet of the disciples--including Judas. After Jesus identified Judas as the one who would betray Him (13:26), Judas leaves the room (13:30).

Jesus knew what Judas would do

The betrayal of Jesus by Judas is a specific example of the mystery of divine foreknowledge and human freedom.

All four gospels--John perhaps most clearly of the four--assert that Jesus knew Judas would betray Him. This divine foreknowledge may make it seem as though Judas had no choice in the matter or as though God had created Judas only to use him as a tool to set up the crucifixion of Jesus.

We live in time. For us temporal creatures, there is the past, the present, and the future. We are like God, but God is not like us. God is eternal--outside of time. He gives us choices and sees what we choose when we choose it. God saw Judas freely choosing to betray Jesus and accepted Judas' God-given freedom to sin, just as God sees all of our sins and accepts all of the consequences of having decided to give us free will. If Judas had remained faithful to Jesus, those who hated Jesus would have found some other way to have Him arrested and executed. There was no necessity for Judas to do what he did, and no virtue or merit in his decision.

Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him, but He also knew that this was Judas' choice, not His. Judas would not have had the free choice to betray Jesus if Jesus had not called him to be an apostle. Jesus chose Judas as an apostle because he had all of the gifts necessary to be an apostle, but Jesus allowed Judas to turn against Him because He wants His disciples to obey out of love, not out of compulsion.

The Resilience of Tradition

Tradition is fault-tolerant. I don't mean that we should tolerate sin in our own lives or in the lives of the ordained. But neither Judas nor the multitudes who have committed the sin of Judas have destroyed the power of the remainder to transmit the knowledge of salvation fully and faithfully.

If Tradition were like a chain, breaking one single link would break the whole chain. But it is much more like a rope, in which thousands of strands are woven together; though a few strands may snap, the rest are able to take up the the load. The message of Jesus' saving death and resurrection is carried now by millions of messengers; great harm can be done locally by the sins of messengers who betray the message--great harm to the sinners, their victims, and their neighbors--but the truth of the gospel is still carried to the ends of the earth by those who have not betrayed Jesus or who, like Peter, have repented and been forgiven for denying Him.

If we are sure that popes, bishops, priests and deacons have sinned, we affirm in that very act of condemnation that we know what God has revealed through the Church.

Distorted perceptions of Judas

Many people in our culture have a strange affection for Judas (cf. Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar). They portray his act of betrayal as noble and worthy of praise, as if his treachery toward Jesus is the cause of our salvation instead of Jesus' willingness to lay down his life to save us. In their eyes, Judas was fated to betray Jesus, and so should be honored as a noble person who obeyed the will of God. Such people seem to think that because, in fact, the betrayal of Jesus by Judas led to our salvation, that is the only way the saving death of Jesus could have happened. Their argument seems to be that without the betrayal by Judas, Jesus would not have died on the Cross; without Jesus' death on the Cross, we would not be saved; therefore, we are indebted to Judas for our salvation.

Judas clearly miscalculated what he was doing--otherwise he would not have committed suicide, but would have lived on, happy and proud of what he had accomplished. The fact that Jesus allowed Judas to make bad choices is not an indication that Judas did what Jesus wanted him to do. God's knowledge of the choices we make does not diminish our freedom in making those choices. God, in His mercy, can bring good out of evil, but that does not mean that evil is good or that good is evil. We do not know what would have happened if Judas had remained faithful to Jesus, but we may suppose that Jesus' enemies would have found some other way to arrest and prosecute Him. We may be certain that Judas' actions were evil, even though God brought good out of the evil he did.

Leaving the Master because of His Disciples

Don't leave Jesus because of Judas! Judas sinned in handing Jesus over to His enemies, and sinned even more horribly by killing himself. He is not a hero worthy of our admiration; he is a sinner, like us, who stands in need of God's mercy and purification. His is not the way to Heaven; Jesus is the Way.

Don't imitate Judas. Friends keep faith; they do not betray their friends.

People judge Jesus by the behavior of His disciples rather than the other way around. Shame on us, of course, for our betrayals; but they are our fault, not Jesus' fault. Jesus foretold that scandals would come. In a sense, we should never be surprised when we find His disciples behaving badly. As the great hymn, "Now Thank We All Our God," says, "For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore."

Luke 17:1
ἀνένδεκτον ἐστιν τοῦ τὰ σκάνδαλα μὴ ἐλθεῖν, πλὴν οὐαὶ δι’ οὗ ἔρχεται
It is impossible that scandals not come, but woe to him through whom they come!
Andrew Greely, Why Catholic (Doubleday, 1980)
The reader can make up his own litany of injuries the Catholic Church has done to him. I do not care how horrendous that litany may be, it does not provide a valid excuse for disengaging from the Catholic Christian heritage. Indeed, it is irrelevant. I attempt no justification and offer no excuse for what the Church may have done to you: I simply assert that the failures of Christians and the failures of Christian leadership have nothing to do with the validity of the Catholic Christian heritage. If you use those failures as an excuse for not facing the essential religious demands of the Catholic Christian heritage, you are engaged in an intellectually dishonest cop-out. The question is not whether the Catholic leadership is enlightened but whether Catholicism is true. A whole College of Cardinals filled with psychopathic tyrants provides no answer one way or the other to that question. Search for the perfect church if you will; when you find it, join it, and realize on that day it will become something less than perfect.[5]

Could Judas be saved?

Jesus died for the sins of every human being, without exception.

God created Judas, just as He created each one of us, so that we could live forever in communion with the Holy Trinity, the angels, and the saints.

God does not hate anything He created.

God does not make junk.

On the Cross, Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."

Judas is fully qualified for Jesus' forgiveness. He acted ignorantly both when he betrayed Jesus and when he despaired of mercy. Suicide is not the way to peace.

The question that only God can answer is whether Judas accepted Jesus' death on the Cross as atonement for his sin of betrayal. Judas' final inner act of acceptance or rejection of the love of God poured out through Jesus is hidden from our view.

I take refuge in Jesus' command to "judge not, lest ye be judged." Judas is God's problem, not mine. The gospel message is not that Judas is burning in hell, but that the death of Jesus on the Cross makes it possible for me to escape the fires of hell.

I pray for Judas as I pray for myself and for all of our brothers and sisters in the human family: "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who have most need of Your mercy."

Praying that God will have mercy on Judas and on all notorious sinners (Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, serial killers, child-abusing priests, misguided bishops, proponents of abortion, etc.) is the right thing to do for the salvation of my soul. Forgiveness brings healing to those who forgive. It fulfills Jesus' command to pray for our enemies. We can't tell now what effect, if any, our prayers have on others who are in need of Jesus' mercy, but we may be absolutely confident that they have a good effect on us.


  1. There are some discrepancies in the gospels here. At the Last Supper in the synoptics, Jesus said "all of you will deny me," but the gospel of John records that the Beloved Disciple was present at the Cross. We can harmonize the two accounts if we suppose that John fled with the other apostles when Jesus was arrested in the garden, but returned to be with Him in his suffering. John's presence at the Cross also suggests to me that he was a young man not perceived as a threat by the Roman soldiers.
  2. Frank Sheed, The Church and I.
  3. Apostasy: abandoning the faith entirely.
  4. Heresy: keeping part of the tradition and rejecting the rest.
  5. Quoted by William F. Buckley in Nearer, My God (New York: Doubleday, 1997; 254).