Who is a Roman Catholic?
Dan R. Smedra
Strangely, the answer to this question has
proven difficult for non-Catholics and Catholics alike. Author Kenneth R. Samples
offers an explanation.
Erroneous understandings of Catholicism
frequently fail to grasp the significant diversity within the
church. While Rome's appearance of unity is of central importance, Catholicism
contains an incredible diversity -- Catholics are anything but monolithic in
their beliefs. This diversity is illustrated by the six [now seven] major
theological types of Catholics:
The average Catholic is typically unaware of
their own denominational diversity. Each brand of Catholic mentioned above
seeks to define themselves as normative and attempts to portray other groups as
not being truly Catholic. While Catholics often ridicule
non-Catholics for denominational division, they are hypocritically silent and do
their best to hide the frequent 'family conflicts', even wars going on between the
various "camps" of Catholics. Make no mistake, Catholics are seriously
DIVIDED no matter what image they project to the outside world.
The following varieties of contemporary
Catholics should not be understood as exact classifications. Not every
Catholic fits neatly into one particular type -- there is significant
In Europe and North America, the overwhelming
majority of Catholics are an "overlap" of the Liberal, Cultural, and
The apologetic "apostolate" groups amongst the Traditionalists represent an
intellectual, vocal minority within a minority. An explanation of these
varieties is given below.
Ultratraditionalist Catholics consider
themselves nonrevisionist Catholics. They are extremely critical of the
changes brought about by Vatican II and wish the church would return to its
earlier course. They can be somewhat radical in their defense of "old time"
Catholicism. For example, they would be happy if the mass (liturgical
service centered around the Eucharist) were still recited in Latin. They
hold the traditions and hierarchy of the church in highest esteem (except
when the hierarchy steps on their nonrevisionist toes). They would strongly
affirm classical Catholicism as revealed in the ancient creeds, councils,
conciliar documents (i.e., documents produced during councils), and papal
encyclicals (i.e., letters). They are generally suspicious and intolerant
toward other divergent groups within Catholicism. One of the best examples
of an ultratraditionalist was the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre of
Switzerland who stated that the reforms of Vatican II "spring from heresy
and end in heresy." During his reign as archbishop, Lefebvre continued to
ordain priests even after the pope ordered him to stop, and he continued to
use the form of the mass as prescribed at the Counter Reformation Council of
Trent instead of its modern form. While staunch in their beliefs and
commitment to nonrevisionist Catholicism, the ultratraditionalists are small
in number and their influence within the church is not of great
significance. The ultratraditionalists should probably be seen as the more
extreme segment within the traditionalist camp.
For a more detailed look (by the radical left-liberal
Southern Poverty Law Center) including the issue of anti-Semitism, see
THE NEW CRUSADERS.
The traditionalist Catholics in many
ways make up the backbone of the church hierarchy. A Christianity
Today editorial described the group this way: "This important segment of
the church, specially powerful among the laity of the national churches, the
older clergy, and the bishops and upper level of the hierarchy, adheres to
the whole of creedal Roman Catholicism and obedience to the church as
interpreted by the pope." The traditionalists are very critical of
liberalism and modernism within the church, but they are generally accepting
of the reforms found in Vatican II. Although this group's influence
diminished somewhat after Vatican II, they have enjoyed a revival during
John Paul II's reign as pope. While Pope John Paul may be considered
progressive in many of his decisions concerning the church, at heart his
doctrinal views are those of a traditional Catholic. This is especially
illustrated in his beliefs concerning the Virgin Mary.
For a deeper look into the so-called "Catholic Right,"
read the introductory article:
The Neo[con] & Paleo[con] Wings of the Catholic Right, by
(liberal Catholic) attorney Frank Cocozzelli. Also, see the
11/22/2009 entry for
the withChrist.org Journal.
Liberal Catholics have substantially
departed from traditional Catholicism, and one might say from traditional
Christianity as a whole. While liberals differ among themselves in the
degree to which they depart from classical Catholicism, like their
Protestant counterparts they have conceded much to the rationalistic
unbelief so prevalent in Western culture since the eighteenth-century
Enlightenment period. They have in effect replaced the Bible and church
authority with the authority of human reason - [Modernism]. Many liberal
Catholic scholars, such as the German scholar Hans Kung, have questioned the
infallibility of the pope, church councils, and the Bible. Others, going
farther, have clearly abandoned traditional Christological beliefs and the
miracles of the New Testament, and have forsaken almost completely the
orthodoxy of the ecumenical creeds. Liberals also question the
ecclesiastical practice of an exclusively male priesthood, and many have
cast off the church's teaching regarding such moral issues as birth control,
abortion, and homosexuality. Some within the liberal camp have been strongly
affiliated with liberation theology, especially in Latin America. Liberation
theology interprets the gospel in terms of liberation from poverty and
social oppression, and the reconstruction of society -- usually along
Marxist lines. Catholics who embrace liberation
theology often show an amazing disregard of traditional doctrinal issues.
Another subset within the broader category of liberal Catholics is
what might be called "Eastern mystical" or "New Age" Catholicism. This
group seeks to blend Catholic and New Age spirituality. Orthodox
Christian beliefs about God and Christ are, to varying degrees, replaced
with distinctive New Age beliefs such as pantheism (God is all and all is
God), panentheism (God is intrinsically in the world and the world is
intrinsically in God), and emphasis upon the Cosmic Christ (a universal,
impersonal spirit or cosmic force). Probably the leading "Catholic
guru" is Dominican priest Matthew Fox with his "creation-centered
Since Vatican II, this liberal camp as a whole has grown significantly
within the scholarly ranks of the church, and to a lesser degree among the
laity (although both the liberation theology and New Age subsets have strong
lay components). Pope John Paul has attempted to curb this influence,
however, by disciplining some of the more outspoken liberal scholars (for
example, both Kung and Fox have been disciplined by the church). This
crackdown has been met with some resistance, especially in America.
1992 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary
of the Catholic charismatic renewal movement. Emerging from humble
beginnings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1967, the late 1960s and 1970s saw
the Catholic charismatic renewal flourish in the church. While it
experienced slow decline in the 1980s, it remains one of the most energetic
forces in the Catholic church. It is estimated that 10 million American
Catholics have been involved in the renewal, and that worldwide Catholic
involvement may be as high as 50 to 65 million. Catholics now make up more
than a fifth of the worldwide Pentecostal-charismatic constituency. Like the
broader movement, charismatic Catholics emphasize the charisma or
gifts of the Holy Spirit, the importance of being baptized in the Holy
Spirit, and the Spirit-filled life. Charismatic Catholics tend to be more
evangelical in belief, emphasizing personal faith and trust in Christ, and
the assurance of salvation. Reformed theologian J. I. Packer comments
concerning charismatic Catholic piety: It is a fact that in charismatic
Catholicism, joyful trust in Christ as one's sin-bearing Savior and loving
fellowship with him in his risen life have shifted the traditional
devotional focus away from the somber disciplines of self-denial and
suffering and away, too, from the anxieties about merit and destiny to which
the formulations of the Council of Trent naturally give rise. Does Catholic
doctrine as Trent defined it permit assurance of salvation based on
once-for-all justification through faith? Opinions, both Protestant and
Catholic, differ about that. Nevertheless, Catholic charismatics do
observably enjoy this assurance, while yet maintaining humility, a sense of
sin, and a life of repentance often more successfully than do their
Protestant counterparts. And Protestant and Catholic charismatic teaching on
the Christian life is to all intents and purposes identical. Is this not
significant for the Christian future? It is true that many charismatic
Catholics describe themselves as "born again, Spirit-filled Catholics."
Along with possessing a Pentecostal piety, charismatic Catholics generally
tend to give Scripture more of an authoritative place in their personal
spiritual lives. However, many (though by no means all) charismatic
Catholics also have a strong devotion to Mary. While the issue of Marian
devotion tends to be a stumbling block between evangelical Protestants and
charismatic Catholics, evangelical Protestants surely have more in common
with charismatic Catholics than with any other type of Catholics.
The majority of Catholics in the world
probably fit into the category of cultural Catholics. This group is unlike
any other type we have considered above. Their identification as "Catholic"
is simply more cultural and social than religious. They might rightly be
called "womb to tomb Catholics." They often are born in a Hispanic, Irish,
Polish, French, or Italian families -- and are therefore baptized, married,
and buried in the Catholic church -- but have little or no concern about
spiritual matters. Cultural Catholics do not understand Catholicism, nor do
they seriously follow its ethical teaching. But they nevertheless have an
emotional commitment to the Catholic church. When they attend Mass, it is
out of habit or family obligation, not religious conviction. Being Catholic
to them is essentially a cultural identity (they may even be secular or
humanistic [or postmodernist] in their thinking). This is not
unlike how some Jews are merely ethnically or culturally Jewish, rather than
adherents to Judaism. It is also like the person who is Lutheran only because he happens to be born into a German family, or the
Anglican who is only Anglican because she was born into a
British family. You see, it happens in Protestantism as well. Nominal
Catholics, like nominal Protestants, do not understand Christianity, and
they do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. With all due respect,
President John F. Kennedy would seem to have fit well the mold of a cultural
Popular folk Catholics are found
especially in Central and South America. These Catholics are very eclectic
in their religious thinking and practice. They often combine elements of an
animistic or nature-culture religion (the primitive religious beliefs that
associate the forces of nature and culture with myriads of spirits) with a
traditional medieval Catholicism. The result is a syncretistic nightmare.
People in countries such as Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina frequently
engage in a religion composed of polytheism, occultic spiritism, and a
superstitious form of Catholicism. This spiritual smorgasbord enslaves
millions of Latin America's peasantry. Certainly, official Catholic teaching
does not sanction this kind of syncretistic religiosity. In certain
respects, however, the Catholic church remains culpable. First, the Catholic
church has been negligent by failing to train these people to reject all
forms of paganism and to embrace solely the Triune God of Christianity.
Second, the unhealthy and unbiblical aspects of the Catholic understanding
of the communion of saints (i.e., the belief in the unity and cooperation
among believers in both this world and the next) has contributed to the
problem. Even some Catholics in the United States virtually worship saints
and the church has failed to take aggressive measures to correct this
serious problem of idolatry. It is actually much worse when it comes to
devotion to the Virgin Mary, where on a practical level millions of
Catholics commit idolatry on a daily basis by worshipping the virgin. This
is certainly contrary to official church teaching (i.e., teaching set forth
by the Vatican as standard Catholic doctrine), but the Catholic church has
been derelict in correcting this serious problem. If the Catholic church
wants to convince evangelical Protestants that they merely honor
Mary, but do not worship her, then they must step in and
stop this gross idolatry. Third, the Second Vatican Council's openness to
forms of religious pluralism has greatly exacerbated the problem. Ideas such
as the "anonymous Christian" (the belief in the possibility of salvation
without explicit Christian faith -- even through non-Christian religions) as
set forth by the influential German theologian, Karl Rahner, has acute and
The following category represents an update to Kenneth Samples'
basic six categories.
Within the past decade, a rapidly growing number of burned-out, liberal and
cultural Catholics have embraced the
new and radical paradigm of
a vengeance! In contrast to Modernism/Liberalism which views humans as
"material machines", postmodernism views humans primarily as social
beings..."cogs" in a sociological machine. One postmodernist describes the
Enlightenment as a "failed rationalist project which has run its time but which
continues to encumber contemporary thought with illusions of a rational route to
knowledge, a faith in science and in progress."
For the postmodernist, there is absolutely no such thing as objective
reality...either scientific or religious! As pure relativists, they believe
reality is solely created...in one's mind. Rationality is simply an
expression of Western cultural bias. People are the product of culture and
thus are not self-governing, hence they are often 'oppressed'. Overarching
religious or philosophical systems "commits acts of cultural tyranny by
promoting the fiction [called 'metanarratives'] that all knowledge reduces to a
set of universally applicable truths"
They further allege that the concept of "progress" is an evil ploy to justify
domination by European culture [Catholic, Protestant, and secular Enlightenment]
over other cultures. They adhere to and promote "multiculturalism."
No longer really theist, postmodernist 'Catholics' are typically hostile to
most anyone who makes claim to objective truth. Much of their hostility is
rooted in a deep, emotional resentment and rejection of the authority of
the Roman Catholic Church. However, similar to cultural Catholics, being a
Roman Catholic represents their heritage. Consequently, outspoken
fundamentalist and evangelical Christians who hold to inerrant Scripture are
taking the brunt of their vitriol rather than fellow Romanists who posit
inerrancy in Papal succession and their church. In America, much of the
growing rage against the 'Religious Right' is being sparked by modernists and
postmodernists who often have a Catholic or liberal Jewish background.
See additional emails below.
quotations from the two-part [1,
2] article, "What Think Ye of Rome?: An Evangelical Appraisal of
Contemporary Catholicism", (Christian Research Journal, Winter 1993)
written by Kenneth R. Samples. Former researcher for the
Christian Research Institute (CRI) and co-host of "The Bible Answer Man"
radio program, Mr. Samples is currently affiliated with Christ Reformed
Church, and is Founder and President of Augustine Fellowship Study Center.
- We are
not in agreement with Mr. Samples' nor J.I. Packer's assessment of
the Charismatic/Evangelical Catholic phenomena. Like numerous
other evangelical Protestants, they view Roman Catholicism as still within
the bounds of traditional Christianity based on a confusion regarding the
core issues touched upon in our article, THE NEW CATHOLIC
- Bible-believing Christians have
put together an excellent guide to postmodernism:
THE DEATH OF TRUTH, What's Wrong
with Multiculturalism, The Rejection of Reason, and the New Postmodern
I enjoyed your page "Who is a Roman Catholic?".
There is a serious need to make people aware of these things so that we can
build up the Mystical Body instead of hurting it.
You'd probably classify me in your terminology
as ultra-traditionalist, but I regard myself as a moderate. Don't we all?
And believe it or not, some Catholics think I'm a liberal. You might want
to add a couple of categories:
1) Sedevacantists. These people
think that the Pope is a liberal heretic. Now a heretic can not be a
member of the church, let alone a leader of it, therefore John-Paul II is
not catholic and is not a Pope. Hence their label: sede vacans, the
seat (of Peter) is vacant. They can be sub-divided into those who
present this view as their private fallible opinion (and are therefore
possibly "real" Catholics, if not very good ones) and those who present this
view as strict doctrine (possibly a formal heresy, you might like to check
this out with a good bishop). Don't think that these guys are small
enough to ignore; they have bishops and seminaries, especially in central &
southern USA.2) Various non-Roman
rite catholics. These (in my limited experience - Maironite,
Melkite, Ukrainian) tend to have liberal clergy and traditionalist faithful.
If any of their clergy go traditionalist they should expect persecution from
their brethren in the clergy.
- Ian Smith
Catholics regularly boast of their "unity" and
hypocritically ridicule the remainder of Christendom for their "endless
divisions", erroneously citing the existence of upward of 30,000 denominations
(1). Nearly all Catholics are of the opinion that their Church is
the "One True Church" and no others have the right to exist. Thus, any
number of denominations greater than the One, Roman Catholicism, is too many.
However, Catholics and non-Catholics define unity differently.
The Catholic concept of unity is more outward--all wearing the label of
Catholic and to one degree or another acknowledging Rome and its religious
hierarchy as the center of Authority. A great deal of division as always
existed under the Roman Catholic umbrella, but with the advent of the 21st
century, things appear to have grown worse.
What's the problem? According to Catholic webauthor Stephen P. Haws,
Protestantism has backwashed into Roman Catholicism!
At Examining Protestantism!, he writes:
It's time that the [Catholic] dissidents
- left & right wing - get with the program and give the Pope and Magisterium
some respect and support, instead of undercutting Church teaching at almost
every point. If the dissidents cannot get with the program, we will
have to send them to the Protestants.
No wonder Catholics are irritated with
non-Catholic Christians and have launched a new Counter-Reformation. They
view their internal liberal dissenters as none other than covert Protestants!
Consequently, they need help in separating the true from the false and
Peter'sNet has started the task by issuing grade cards on 670 so-called
Catholic groups (not to be confused with denominations). ;-)
Like most web-enabled Catholics, Haws bemoans the
"anti-Catholic prejudice" and "amount of anti-Catholicism" on the Internet.
But do the facts support his view? Or, is the freedom of speech permitted
by the WWW frustrating to those who advocate totalitarian religious traditions.
Recently, the popular search engine Google began an information
"directory" by category, classifying websites by topic and content. Under
22,176 identified "denomination" websites, 18,482 or 83 percent were Catholic or
pro-Catholic! Only 40 websites were identified as "Opposing Views".
However, that's forty too many in the opinion of most Catholics.
Catholicism has a very poor track record for dealing with dissenters of any
Stephen's goal -- "To awaken the sleeping giant of
dormant/nominal Catholicism; to stop "leakage" from the Church; to recover every
single one of the lost Catholics..." His method includes
some 'bare-knuckle' Catholic love.
I am STRONGLY opposed to running from a
liberal parish/priest in search of a more orthodox parish/priest...
Make the apostates [heretics] leave...
I guess it's part of my nature to be a
"fighter" in a sense (being both an attorney and martial artist), I say DO
NOT RUN! Instead stay and fight! Confront them! Expose
them! Why leave and make life easier for them? Instead, make life hard
I know how hard it is to confront a
suspected "apostate" priest, especially one who seems to have support from a
strong clique in the parish. As Catholics, we are not conditioned
(2) to confront our Church leaders. But in these times we may have
no choice; in fact, it may be our duty to support the Magisterium.
Besides, maybe that "apostate" priest is
secretly wishing someone would help deliver him from an apostate clique in
1) Catholics regular engage in this polemic nonsense
hoping to generate pseudo-guilt (and thus control) over their non-Catholic
opponents. However, the evidence for such a claim simply doesn't
2) True...maybe because they
are strongly "conditioned" not to. In addition, becoming an
attorney and mastering the martial arts, like Stephen, might help correct the
problem. This point doesn't appear to
escape the cartoonist Wiley.
Could there be a flaw in how
some mega-denominations deal with dissent?
"Woe to you, teachers of the law
and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look
beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and
everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people
as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."
In 2013, reporter Jason Horowitz of the Washington Post wrote
a series of investigative articles about Pope Benedict XVI and conditions within
the Vatican's political power structure. Benedict was the first Pope in
600 years to resign from his office, setting off a tsunami of waging tongues.
As stated above, Roman Catholicism has worked hard to maintain an illusion of
unity for the outside world, while internally wrestling with political
struggles, corruption, and sexual scandals. You can visit the Washington
Post's website and search for these articles.
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