With the pope’s impending visit, the wall separating state and church is going to be breached as politicians attempt to please their seemingly large Roman Catholic constituencies. But how many of those constituents are actually Catholic? His visit might be a good time for America Catholics to reflect on their faith and ask, “Am I really a Catholic?”
The Roman Catholic Church claims almost 1.2 billion adherents worldwide and a steadily declining percentage of Americans, now about 21%. But can they truly believe everything that a Catholic is required to believe? Do they even know what they are required to believe?
The canon law of the Catholic Church governs the church and the mandatory beliefs of Catholics worldwide. John Adams wrote that canon law is
“the most refined, sublime, extensive, and astonishing constitution of policy that ever was conceived by the mind of man [and] was framed by the Romish clergy for the aggrandizement of their own order.” Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765).
If you consider yourself a Catholic, you owe it to yourself take a hard look at the beliefs required by your Church’s religious law. Arguably the most repellent precept in canon law is also the most important for people claiming to be Catholic:
“. . . [A] religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals . . . therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.” Canon 752.
This anti-human, totalitarian sentiment lies at the heart of all religions, but one rarely sees it so clearly stated. This also means that Catholics cannot pick and choose from the tenets of their religion. According to that law, there is no such thing as a “cafeteria Catholic.”
Not only must Catholics believe all church doctrines, if you consider yourself a Catholic you are bound to avoid any contrary doctrines:
“A person must believe with divine and Catholic faith all those things contained in the word of God, written or handed on, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and at the same time proposed as divinely revealed . . . all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatsoever contrary to them.” Canon 750, §1.
Even worse, the Catholic code specifically states that if you are not firmly for every tenet of the faith, you are against the faith:
“one who rejects those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.” Canon 750, §2.
If you don’t believe what we tell you to believe, you’re not one of us.
Clearly, true Catholics must submit their intellect and will to every church command. But what does the church command? Ridiculous beliefs abound in canon law, but let’s limit our inquiry to two: transubstantiation and sex.
The Catholic ritual of eating a wafer and sipping wine from a communal cup, known as the eucharist or, more commonly, communion, has divided Christianity throughout history. The divisions occur because Catholics are required to believe that
“The eucharistic celebration is the action of Christ himself and the Church. In it, Christ the Lord, through the ministry of the priest, offers himself, substantially present under the species of bread and wine, to God the Father and gives himself as spiritual food to the faithful united with his offering.” Canon 899 §1.
There it is, in the black letter law of the Catholic Church. There can be no arguments about metaphors. Jesus is “substantially present” in the bread and wine. Denis Diderot, author of the first Encyclopedie, mockingly cross-referenced his entry on cannibals with the Catholic rite: “see Eucharist, Communion.”
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops website has entertaining questions and answers about the eucharist like, “When the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, why do they still look and taste like bread and wine?” This question, which every curious four-year-old asks, is followed and contradicted by the next, “Does the bread cease to be bread and the wine cease to be wine? Yes.”
Catholics cannot claim that this is an unimportant part of their religion. Canon law explicitly contradicts any such claim:
“The Christian faithful are to hold the Most Holy Eucharist in highest honor, taking an active part in the celebration of the most august sacrifice, receiving this sacrament most devoutly and frequently, and worshiping it with the highest adoration.” Canon 898.
This magical metamorphosis cannot be laughed off by true Catholics. As my friend Hemant Mehta put it, “If you don’t believe you’re eating Jesus when you play Swallow the Leader, stop deluding yourself and shed the Catholic label.”
If you’re a Catholic you must believe that the priest has the power to change bread to flesh and the wine to blood. (For millennia, priests spoke the ritual words in Latin, Hoc est enim corpus meum.” Some etymologists think these magic words morphed into other magic words: hocus pocus.) But there’s no escaping it, the substances literally change form, they transubstantiate.
So, do you believe that, Mr. or Ms. Nominal Catholic? Do you even know you are supposed to believe that? If you do not believe that magic words can alter the substance of matter then you are not a Catholic.
According to Gallup and the New York Times, 86% of American Catholics say birth control is “morally acceptable” in comparison with 90 percent of all respondents. Then there is the fact that 98% of sexually active Catholic women who have used some form of contraception. If you are for contraception, you are not a Catholic. If that simple statement bothers you, take it up with the pope–he’s coming to town.
On July 25, 1968, Christ’s vicar on earth, Pope Paul VI, wrote about birth control in an encyclical letter, referred to as Humanae Vitae (“human life”). In this encyclical, Paul notes that he and some bishops—all men—have “sifted carefully the evidence” to answer the “grave questions” surrounding what he terms “the transmission of human life.”
Paul and his conclave of purported virgins then pontificate on the true purpose of sex and the evil of birth control: “. . . an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life.”
Just to be clear, the pope thinks that a thin piece of latex or a minimal dose hormone can thwart an all-powerful being.
Paul then lists “Unlawful Birth Control Methods” including “abortion, even for therapeutic reasons,” sterilization, and “any action . . . specifically intended to prevent procreation.” This could not be any clearer, any action intended to prevent pregnancy is condemned by the Catholic Church.
If you use birth control, you’re not a Catholic. If you don’t believe in magic, you’re not a Catholic. If you find cannibalism abhorrent, or even slightly distasteful, you’re not a Catholic. And that’s OK! But now it’s time to find the courage to stand up and tell the world, “I’m not a Catholic.”