A 1997 survey of beliefs about Satan revealed that 69 percent of Catholics believe that “Satan is only a symbol of evil;” only 26% believing that “Satan is a living being.” My, how times have times have changed. Pope Paul VI, soon to be beatified, instructs us that the former position is “a departure from the picture provided by biblical Church teaching.,” one little “crack in the wall” through which the smoke of Satan could enter the Body of Christ. Priests, catechists and religious who take the Devil lightly are indeed the easiest target for what St. Paul termed “the mystery of iniquity.” What the Sisters of Notre Dame De Namur taught me regarding the reality of the Devil prior to Vatican II proved no different from what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us today:
The doctrine of original sin, closely connected with that of redemption by Christ, provides lucid discernment of man's situation and activity in the world. By our first parents' sin, the devil has acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free[emphasis added]. Original sin entails 'captivity under the power of him who thenceforth had the power of death, that is, the devil. Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action and morals.
This originally good angel, the Devil, is a powerful spiritual creature whose goal is to destroy us by turning us against the Father. Christians refer to him every time they pray the Lord’s Prayer—“deliver us from evil” refers to the Evil One, of and to whom Jesus spoke regularly in the Gospels, the angel who opposes his Father. The Catechism broadens this teaching, noting that “heresy, apostasy, and schism--do not occur without human sin: Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes.” Thirty years of teaching in Catholic schools, all of them since the time of Vatican II, has taught me that the Church has witnessed the aforementioned errors in the Sacred Liturgy, religious life, catechesis, social action, and morals, all of which have divided the People of God.The present pope realizes this very well.