The Catholics do not “do everything contradictory to the Bible.” The Roman Catholic Church has a long history. They have evolved over the course of nearly two thousand years. How they came to hold to their many questionable practices is a long and complicated story, which cannot be told here. Let me go back to the beginning and try to help you understand where they went wrong. In the second century there were many heretical teachings passing around in the church–most notably gnosticism, which was a theology that Jesus was deity but not human, that physical things are inherently evil, that Jesus taught his inner circle hidden, deeper, more spiritual things and much more. In order to defeat the Gnostics, Christian apologists such as Irenaeus found it easier to win the battles by showing that the Gnostic teachings were not taught by the apostles or any of the early church fathers. Over time, the Church (which was not yet even remotely what we call the Roman Catholic Church) began to use both the Bible and church tradition (what they called the rule of faith) to determine correct practice. This became a slippery slope which brought in all kinds of false practices. Eventually, church tradition acquired equal authority with Scripture in the Roman Catholic, Coptic and Orthodox churches.
For example, if you ask a Catholic why they teach transubstantiation (that the elements are actually converted literally into the blood and flesh of Jesus), they will quote as authority someone like Cyprian in the fourth century. When asked to explain why they teach about Purgatory (a place where we go after death to purge sins not yet forgiven), they will quote Pope Gregory as an authority. Most of the egregious practices of the Roman Catholic Church that Christians who follow the Bible as the only authority find offensive developed gradually over long periods of time. For example the system of popes, patriachs, metropolitans, archbishops, bishops, and priests and their sacramental system developed over several centuries. The Roman church began to claim first in authority in the fourth century, but only had what we could call a “pope” in about the fifth or sixth century. The practice of confession is from about the eleventh century. The idea that priests have authority from the church (as opposed to the Bible) developed gradually from about the fifth century. The system of penance had its beginnings as early as the fourth century. Veneration of the saints and martyrs began as early as the fourth century. Veneration of Mary was a later development, becoming dominant in the sixth century.
Through all of this time, the Roman Catholic Church has maintained a theology which is essentially biblical. It is their practice, not their theology which is questionable. I discuss all of this in great detail in the first two books of my Church History series, The Christian Story: Finding the Church in Church History (www.ipibooks.com).
About the Old Testament Apocrypha, these books (Tobit, Judith, 1st and 2nd Maccabees, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, etc.) have never been accepted by the Jews as canonical. Because God used the Jews to develop and certify the canon of the Hebrew Bible, by definition, these extra books are not biblical. If you read them, you will discover for yourself that most of them, if not all of them, are also not inspired. They do not have the clear marks of inspiration that books like Leviticus or Isaiah or Daniel have. These books entered into both the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman) church Old Testament canon because the early Christian church used them as early as the third and fourth centuries. When the Latin Vulgate translation was made by Jerome in the early fifth century, these books were included (much against the desire of Jerome, who was well aware that they were not canonical!). No, you cannot trust the extra books of the Orthodox or Catholic churches.
That Protestants (and others such as Pentecostals, 7th Day Adventists, Church of Christ who are not Protestants!) came later is a matter of history. The only churches which can trace their origin to the first century are the Coptic, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and, arguably, he Jacobite and Nestorian churches. Other churches were created by reform or other movements throughout history. It is a logical fallacy to say older, by definition, is better, but this is what Orthodox and Catholic apologists will say. A “better” church is one which follows the teaching and life of Jesus of Nazareth more closely, not an older one. History does not make one right. Obeying the Bible and obeying Jesus as Lord is what makes one right. You say that Protestants should come before Catholics. That is like saying that Winston Churchill should come before Napolean. Well, he cannot, because he was born later!!! This is a matter of history. You can easily study this history, but, like I said, “right” is determined by faithfulness to the Bible and to the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, not by one’s history.
By the way, I do not necessarily believe that Protestant beliefs are more accurate or correct than Catholic beliefs. On many points, Catholic teaching is closer to the Bible than many Protestants. For example, many Protestants teach that baptism is merely a symbol of salvation which occurs by praying to Jesus or by asking him into your heart. The Catholic Church still teaches the biblical doctrine that faith, repentance and baptism are requirements for salvation. There are MANY Protestant teachings and practices which are not biblical and there are many examples where Protestant teachings are NOT superior to those of Orthodox or Catholic teachings. The only thing that matters is the authority of the Scripture, not of history or the hierarchy of a particular denomination. Besides, there is an extremely wide variety of teaching and practice in so-called Protestant churches. None of this matters. None! The only thing that matters is faithfulness to the authority of God, which is found, not in human teachings, but in the Bible alone.
You ask about Jehovah Witness and Mormons and other groups. Why do they believe and practice what they do? This is a matter of history. The Mormons believe and practice what Joseph Smith and Brigham Young told them to believe and practice. The Jehovah Witnesses believe and practice what Charles Russel and Rutherford taught and practiced. Again, none of this matters at all. The only thing that matters is what the Bible teaches. Do not get distracted by all of these human developments. Put your trust in God and the authority in the Bible, not in human interpretations. Clearly, Joseph Smith and Charles Russel were WAY off in their theology. Charles Russel denied the deity of Christ and don’t even get me started with Joseph Smith. I have a ton of material on all of these groups at my web site. Please do your own search for Jehovah Witness, Mormonism, Roman Catholicism and other groups–their history, teaching and practice. In fact, I have published a book on Mormonism (Mormonism, available at www.ipibooks.com). Here is some material on Jehovah Witnesses Jehovah Witness Also, I have a book describing the Protestant Reformation and the genesis of the different Protestant churches, which is volume 3 of The Christian Story (www.ipibooks.com). Let me say it one more time, what these different groups do or do not teach is a matter of history. What you should do is read the Bible and look for a Christian group which most closely adheres to the biblical teaching and practice. I can suggest a church for you to consider attending, depending on where you live, if you like.
The Last Temptation of Christ and Philip Pullman’s books are historical fiction and have no value whatsoever in your search for truth. Just stick to the Bible and look for a Christian group which is using the Bible only as its source of teaching and practice. Studying Church History (using my books if you like) can be helpful here, to understand where different groups come from, but ultimately, only the Bible should be your guide as to who is teaching and practicing the truth.