"Dan, it's only fiction! People don't read it as history!"
How many real histories of Christianity has the average person, even the average Christian, read as an adult? I would wager it's close to zero. How many popular articles, novels, A&E specials, 20/20 reports, etc. have those same Christians been exposed to? Many. The skeptic's view of the veracity of Christianity and the Bible is the prevalent view in our culture, and it is by far the louder voice compared to any fair survey of history.
The problem is made worse by documentaries shown on The "History" Channel such as Illuminating Angels and Demons which aired yesterday (I watched long segments on it while at my in-laws' who have cable). It is based upon the book of the same name by Simon Cox. It was basically a re-hashing of all sorts of myths and conspiracies that Dan Brown includes in his novel Angels and Demons, given legitimacy by various "experts" interviewed: the Catholic Church burned Giordano Bruno at the stake for believing in a heliocentric universe, Galileo was executed for believing the same, the Church is hiding all sorts of secret gospels that contradict the canonical versions ... There was nobody interviewed who said, "Hey, a lot of historians think this is all bunk."
I'm not qualified to counter every statement made in the program, but there was one moment so awful that I can't take anything else the director presents as reliable. Lynn Picknett states that it is an "article of faith" in the Catholic Church that St. Peter is the ruler of the Church because he was the first person to see Jesus after the resurrection. She then points out (gasp!), that when one simply reads the gospel accounts in the Bible one sees that it wasn't Peter who was the first, but rather Mary Magdalene. At this point the documentary showed a painting of the Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus!
Ok, first off, someone making a documentary about how the Catholic Church has fought against the Illuminati throughout history for control of the world, which involves a number of discussions about Christian art and symbolism, should know which Mary is shown in the image of the Madonna and Child so often portrayed!
Secondly, it seems reasonable for someone - director, editor, producer, History Channel show chooser - to ask, "Are Catholics really this stupid? Why don't they realize the contradiction and ditch the pope? Something doesn't add up here."
If I were someone, I'd go ... hmmm, I don't know ... to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to see what the Catholic Church says about itself:
552 Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; (Cf. Mk 3:16; 9:2; Lk 24:34; 1 Cor 15:5) Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Our Lord then declared to him: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." (Mt 16:18) Christ, the "living Stone", (1 Pet 2:4) thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed Peter will remain the unshakable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it. (Cf. Lk 22:32)
553 Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Mt 16:19) The "power of the keys" designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: "Feed my sheep." (Jn 21:15-17; cf. 10:11) The power to "bind and loose" connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles (Cf. Mt 18:18) and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom.
881 The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the "rock" of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. (Cf. Mt 16:18-19; Jn 21:15-17.) "The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head." This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church's very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.
882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, "is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful." "For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered."
883 "The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, as its head." As such, this college has "supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff."
884 "The college of bishops exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council." But "there never is an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter's successor."
There is no argument based upon Peter being the first to see Jesus, and none of the highlighted scriptures refer to the empty tomb or to Peter's first encounter with the risen Lord. Instead, the Catechism bases Peter's authority on Jesus' words to him in Matthew 16 and John 21.
Further the Catechism specifically teaches that Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus after the resurrection:
641 Mary Magdalene and the holy women who came to finish anointing the body of Jesus, which had been buried in haste because the Sabbath began on the evening of Good Friday, were the first to encounter the Risen One. Thus the women were the first messengers of Christ's Resurrection for the apostles themselves.
Neither the most recent ecumenical council of Vatican II (LG 19-23), nor Vatican I which defined papal infallibility, recall Peter's finding of the empty tomb or of seeing Jesus first. I don't think anybody uses this to justifiy papal authority! To include in a documentary the claim that this is important to the Pope maintaining his power and thereby suggesting ordinary Catholics are idiots is a poor example of "history".
Here is a brief article by a USCCB reviewer from when the show also recently aired on A&E. Who needs cable anyway?