A couple of years ago, an anti-Catholic radio preacher claimed that Catholics are not allowed to read the Bible, which is a relatively common claim by anti-Catholic Protestants. The preacher’s central argument was that the evil Catholic Church, during the Council of Trent in the year 1546, prohibited people from reading the Bible because it would do “more harm than good.” He then referenced the below decree from the Council:
“Since it is clear from experience that if the Sacred Books are permitted everywhere and without discrimination in the vernacular (meaning the common language), there will by reason of the boldness of men arise therefrom more harm than good, the matter is in this respect left to the judgment of the bishop or inquisitor, who may with the advice of the pastor or confessor permit the reading of the Sacred Books translated into the vernacular by Catholic authors to those who they know will derive from such reading no harm but rather an increase of faith and piety, which permission they must have in writing. Those, however, who presume to read or possess them without such permission may not receive absolution from their sins till they have handed them over to the ordinary” (http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/trent-booksrules.asp).
Responding to the Preacher and Others Like Him
First, the Protestant preacher is correct in his citation of the Council of Trent. The Church said this, and it is true. However, the following quote is also from Trent and gives context to the previous statement:
“Furthermore, wishing to repress that boldness whereby the words and sentences of the Holy Scriptures are turned and twisted to all kinds of profane usages, namely, to things scurrilous, fabulous, vain, to flatteries, detractions, superstitions, godless and diabolical incantations, divinations, the casting of lots and defamatory libels, to put an end to such irreverence and contempt, and that no one may in the future dare use in any manner the words of Holy Scripture for these and similar purposes, it is commanded and enjoined that all people of this kind be restrained by the bishops as violators and profaners of the word of God, with the penalties of the law and other penalties that they may deem fit to impose.”
Second, the conclusion of Trent was in 1546, which was almost 30 years after the Protestant rebellion had begun. The Protestant rebellion began because men wished to interpret the Bible any way they deemed fit. They criticized the Church Jesus founded and created the false “Bible Alone”/tradition of men doctrine. Nowhere in the Bible, however, did Jesus or any of his Apostles ever say to make the Bible the sole or ultimate authority on faith.
Third, St. Peter, when talking about Paul’s letters in 2 Peter 3:14 said, “there are many things in them difficult to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do to the other scriptures.” This is exactly what has been happening in Protestantism for the last 500 years. The Church knew this would happen (clearly, Peter did too) and, therefore, it prohibited reading the Bible without authority. When a person reads the Bible outside the constant and infallible teaching of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, he/she will twist it “to their own destruction.”
Consequences Versus the Right Approach to Scripture
Look at the pitiable state of Protestantism. They cannot even agree on something as fundamental as baptism and are, therefore, forever divided. They will always teach contradiction because they are not built upon the Rock. Instead, they are the “blind leading the blind.” And what did Jesus say would happen to these people? They will “fall into the pit.”
Finally, it is good to read the Bible, and per the Council of Trent, our bishops encourage it provided it is read within the context of Catholic teaching. Reading the Bible within the heart of the Church versus abiding in Bible Alone doctrine is the most fundamental disagreement between Catholics and Protestants. Failing to understand this or to care about this has eternal consequences. My suggestion is to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and use it as guardrails for reading the Bible.