10 Myths About Catholicism, Busted


Not long ago I started a little podcast with some dear online friends.  Coincidentally the other four co-hosts of the Upside Down Podcast are all various forms of Protestant, and since we launched a month ago some of them have reported some raised eyebrows from a few blog readers about collaborating with a Catholic.  (A very, very few! Most have enthusiastically been down with the ecumenical aspect of the show.)  But it came as a good reminder to us all that there is still quite a bit of confusion out there about Catholicism, so I thought maybe I should clear it up a little.

The historic Second Vatican Council (or what we generally refer to as "Vatican II") opened from 1962-1965 under Pope John XXIII and positively resulted in a lot of updated clarification on Catholic practice and relation in the world. It has since resulted in great progress for the individual Catholic's catechesis and lived practice.

I've noticed that the Protestants most skeptical of Catholicism are generally of that generation or earlier, as they are more likely to have encountered Catholics who at best struggled to articulate their beliefs, at worst struggled to even understand them. There's room for all of us to grow here, and a great example of the need for ecumenical dialogue and relationships in all our lives.  I thought I'd volunteer to start by dispelling a few of my least favorite myths.  This is obviously not a comprehensive detailing of every Catholic belief, but I tried to hit the biggies.

1 - We Worship Mary

Nope.  We worship Jesus.  Or more specifically, we worship the Triune God.  We do hold Jesus' Mother in high esteem and do have pronounced "Mariology" that might seem foreign, confusing, and downright unnecessary to you.  Believe me, I had all those thoughts too.  But I believe you'll find that if you do some digging in the right places (I recommend Scott Hahn's Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God), you will see that all of our beliefs about Mary serve to glorify Jesus Christ and the beauty of His holiness.  You don't have to agree with us on everything, but please trust that we reserve our worship for God alone.  (Certainly there are those who take veneration of Mary much too far, but it's not fair to judge the rest of us for it.  It's just bad religious education.)

2 - We Worship Saints

Again with the worshipping God and only God.  The point of confusion probably lies in two places: our prayers and our icons.  First, the prayers.  Catholics often say we "pray to" a certain saint, which can be confusing for a non-Catholic when what we really mean is that we are asking them to pray for us.  We talk to them like family members because, hey, they ARE family members.  It's comparable to you calling up your Aunt Bertha and asking her to pray for your troubled marriage because she herself had a troubled marriage and you respect her faithfulness to God in the midst of it.  To be blunt, wouldn't you be kind of crazy NOT to call her?

Icons carry a similar reasoning: if the communion of saints is real (and I think most Protestants assent to the Nicene Creed), then these are family members.  If you love Aunt Bertha, are thankful for her life, and are inspired by the way she glorified God, you might frame a picture of her even after she's passed away.  We see the icons that way: pictures of family members who inspire us, remind us that faithfulness to God is not only possible but worth it, and enhance our spaces with beautiful works of art to boot.

3 - We Don't Have a Personal Relationship with Christ

Well that's just silliness.  But okay, we're talking about 1.2 billion people so sure, not all of us do, any more than all Americans who identify as "Christian" do.  Historically, Catholics have tended to practice their faith somewhat privately, at least in our culture.  Although we see this changing in our generation as more and more become vocal about their faith and active in discipleship, it could still fairly be called part of the culture of Catholicism.  This might be partly a pushback against dark periods like the Crusades and Inquisition: We're not like that!  We'll keep our religion our own business, we promise!  Whatever the reason, don't judge a book by it's cover.  Some of our grandmas never spoke of religion to anyone but had a deeper intimacy with Jesus than we ever will.

4 - We Are Obligated to Have 10 Children

There is no "right size" for a Catholic family.  Large families are welcomed, small families are welcomed; it is strictly up to the discernment of the couple (and, well, nature).  We don't use contraception, which I wrote about here, but there are natural ways to prayerfully manage family size.  There are no medals for having more than two kids at mass.

5 - We Believe We Have to Earn Salvation

We have a word for that in the Catholic Church.  It's heresy.  Salvation is only and ever a gift of grace from God.  We believe that we are saved by faith, and we believe James when he says that faith without works is dead (James 1:14-26 no seriously, read it!).  If you're living a true Gospel life of faith, there's going to be some good works.  This really shouldn't be controversial.  What we might disagree on is in the fact that, unlike many Protestant denominations, Catholics don't believe salvation is "one and done".  Catholics like to say we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved.  We can still be confident in our salvation, because we trust that His grace will remain with us.

6 - We Think Priests, Not God, Forgive Our Sins

Did you know that we use the word "confession" interchangeably with "reconciliation"?  The priest is there to aid you as you reconcile your relationship with God after a sin.  As we all know, sin damages that relationship.  Well the priest is simply there to help you get it back on track.  Us Catholics love earthy, tangible faith.  We love a faith that we can taste, hear, feel, smell, and see, which is why we're always using odd stuff like incense, rosary beads, kneelers, and all those icons.  We believe that matter is connected to spirit, that the physical world is not separate from the spiritual.  Having a priest as a sort of "stand in" for God helps us see and hear - and ultimately, believe - the forgiveness we long for.  My family's priest has explained that the sacrament of confession is not for God- God has already forgiven you!  Confession is for us, the sinners: it's a chance for us to be healed and feel fully restored to God.

7 - We Don't Believe Protestants Are True Christians

Nope. You're in the club! You're family.

This actually was a thing, some time ago, but it has since been corrected.

8 - We Believe the Pope Doesn't Sin

Wrong again.  We know they're men who sin just like everyone else.  What we call "papal infallability" applies only to solemn, doctrinal teaching on faith and morals.  It doesn't apply to their personal lives or even to their own theological musings per se.  It is a very formal addressing of doctrine, and we trust that the Holy Spirit will lead the Church into right doctrine.  It's a trust placed in the Lord, not in the pope.  We've had a few horrible popes over the course of history, but doctrine has remained faithful.  What a beautiful testimony to the steadfastness of God over man's waywardness.  So basically, we listen when he teaches on faith and morals.  But as Stephen Colbert once perfectly said, if you're sitting around with Papa Francis and he attests that Godfather III was a worthy follow-up to I and II feel free to call bullshit.

9 - We Are Obsessed with Abortion

Catholics are possibly the most vocal supporters of the sanctity of life and yes, that includes abortion.  But it does't begin and end there.  Our pro-life views have long included standing firmly against the death penalty, euthanasia, war, unjust working conditions, and emphasizing caring for the poor.  (In fact, the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world.) You really can't pigeonhole us into political party lines.

10 - We Don't Mingle with Non-Catholics

{buzzer noise} Wrong.  We are fascinated by science, by the arts, by scholars, by other world religions, by pretty much anyone who is saying anything important at all.  The Catholic "tent" is a broad one and a lot of different kind of people fit under it, but when I was beginning to learn about Catholicism I was inspired to find how highly it values the intellect and how ready it is to take into account different areas of expertise, which frankly was not always my experience as an evangelical.  And not only do we love secular thought and research, we appreciate ecumenicism and learning from our Protestant sisters' and brothers' expressions of faith.  We like to party with everyone.


I hope this is helpful!  If you have more questions you can leave them in the comment box. (She says with great fear and trepidation.) I absolutely love how ecumenical this slice of internet has become.  You guys each bring something fresh and thoughtful to the table, and you are always so kind even when you disagree.  Love you all, my sisters and brothers!

Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)