A coin minted in 1586, during the papacy of Sixtus V.

NYT: Ask a devout, theologically literate ­Roman Catholic to describe the institution of the church, and you’re likely to be told that it was founded by Jesus Christ at the moment he gave his disciple ­Peter the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” and vowed that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” This made ­Peter the head of the universal church, ­empowered to administer the sacraments, spread the Gospel, save souls and forgive sins until Christ’s return, as well as to pronounce with infallible authority on ­matters of Christian faith and morals. Christ also promised Peter that “the gates of hell shall not prevail” against the church — meaning that no matter how corrupt the institution might appear at any given moment of history, it will never be so consumed by evil that it ceases to be capable of fulfilling its God-appointed tasks.

But the history of the church reveals a different story. On this telling, the church from the beginning has been an all-too-human institution that ­often follows a logic of self-interest, placing the good of its members ahead of those outside it, and the good of those in positions of ecclesiastical power ahead of the good of everyone else.