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Dear American Catholics, stop calling yourself Catholic and quit the church

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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?”

Jeffrey Bruno, Wikicommons

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.”

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25 Responses

  1. Ok reading some off the comments from catholic apologists I would like to say … I am a non eurcharest performing, contraception using, anti wafer eating catholic who does not believe in jesus christ who enjoys going to the mosque five times a day. But I still call myself a true catholic. Now all you catholic defenders lawyer talk your way out of that.

  2. You are examining Catholicism as an attorney, not as a follower of Christ. Jesus gave us two commands, to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and minds, and to love one another as he loved us. The rest is commentary. I am a Catholic, a daily communicant, and an attorney, and I can say that this article mischaracterizes Catholicism.

  3. The ritual of eucharist is a practice in cannibalism. Eating human flesh and drinking human blood is a throw back to the days of human sacrifice, practice by many pagan religions of days gone by. Early critics of Christianity accused it of being base on cannibalism.

  4. What a bitter, nasty little piece. You only qualify as a Catholic if you adhere perfectly to every tenet of the Church? Since when, Mr. Seidel? We are humans, full of errors and weaknesses, full of mistakes and personal foibles, but it is because we know that, because we accept that, that a lot of us are Catholics. Catholics, not as you seek to define it, from your perfect perch, but as the Church itself defines it. When my Church kicks me out I will go, until then I will take your view with all the seriousness that it deserves.

    And it is noteworthy that you are not content with just telling us what bad Catholics, or non-Catholics we are, we are to also leave the Church. What sublime arrogance, what hubris. Opinions like this make you an evangelical atheist, my friend. Pieces like this do more harm than good for your religion. You will see over time how this type of insecure attack leads some of your own team members to start doubting their positions. We are already seeing how more and more atheists are breaking ranks with you poison-mongers.

    So, with that in mind, please keep up the good work.

    1. I find it ironic that an atheist lectures Catholics on what it means to be a Catholic. I think I’ll write a blog about what it means to be a Jew. The problem with many lawyers is that they think they know more than they do.

  5. If a person doesn’t observe all of the Church’s teachings, then that means that the person is not a GOOD Catholic or an entirely faithful Catholic. But that can be said of ALL Catholics. On occasion, Catholics sin. We lie, cheat, are uncharitable to our family and friends, go through red traffic lights, and even engage in immoral sexual activity. That makes us sinners. It doesn’t mean that we are not Catholics.

  6. Oh, I’m not sure I agree. I mean, the Pope doesn’t own the word “Catholic.” He might have his own set of rules about what “counts,” but he can’t stop people from showing up because they like the smells and bells, or just use the word “Catholic” so their family doesn’t think they will go to hell. There are also “Catholics” who go to independent (read: schismatic) Catholic churches.

    And I just don’t see why anyone should accept the hierarchy’s attempt to police the word “Catholic” or decide who’s in and who’s out. If you believe some portion of the teachings or like attending, I think you should feel free to use the word and show up. It’ll drive the bishops crazy. (Well, it DOES drive the bishops crazy!)

    Whether you should donate any money to the church is another question entirely.

    1. Solid points, Sheila. My guess is that Andrew would agree with most everything you wrote. I think the point of the article is to make those lukewarm Catholics consider the baggage that comes with their religious identification.

      The one part that Andrew might press back on is your suggestion that people should feel free to use the label without accepting the doctrine. There are certainly good reasons why some people might publicly represent themselves as Catholic despite not buying into the dogma. But if you’re talking about people who are free to identify as they choose, then why adopt the label at all if you need to drastically redefine what it means in order to make it fit your worldview?

      1. Is it really redefining the label, though? Most Catholics don’t believe everything the hierarchy says they should. And most people know that is the case — because they know actual Catholics.

        Almost every religious organization has an inner circle and an outer circle. On the one hand, that’s dangerous, because the sane outer circle gives credibility and cover to the fanatics. But on the other, it’s sort of the only way out, if you’re on the inside. A person might not be brave enough to abandon their entire religion (including all the social networks that go along with that) all in one go, but as long as there is a liberal wing they can turn to, they can ease out.

        And the idea of there being a safe off-ramp out of Catholic crazydom (a place where I have spent most of my life) is important enough for me to think that dissenting Catholics should be encouraged, even if there isn’t much rational justification for their positions.

        1. It’s not redefining the label, it’s pointing out that most people who consider themselves catholics are redefining the label. That’s the point of the article. Canon law declares who is a Catholic and who is not, not the author. If most Catholics don’t believe everything the heirarchy says, then they should stop calling themselves Catholic.

          1. Not something they aren’t, something they are. They should think about what they believe and adopt the appropriate label, not simply given in to inertia.

          2. Why should a fat man with a funny scull cap dictate what is Catholic? Catholicism is more than Canon law. It has a 2k year history, with major influences such as St. Augustine, St. Francis, St. Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and many many others. If those saints lived today no doubt they would disagree on some issues with the pope. Does that make them something other than Catholic? You have an arrogance about you that tries to denigrate people because they love God and turn to a religion for guidance. All Catholics are sinners. What matters is their devotion to God.

  7. Good points, Andrew. I thought of myself as a Catholic long after I’d given up the church. I even still thought of myself as a Catholic for the 2 decades I attended an Episcopalian church — and I’m sure the vatican is still counting me as a member.

    In my case, it was very cultural. I don’t regret being raised Catholic ( a very mellow brand) and don’t regret leaving the church. Times change; people change.

  8. I think it’s amusing that men who are supposedly celibate are telling others that not having children is evil.

  9. I heard a discussion on NPR the other day on the subject of “infallibility.” My understanding of that discussion was that the Pope can kind of decide when what he says is infallible. One of the things I learned that the birth control edicts did NOT fall under the infallible, while prohibition against abortion is an infallible teaching. Just thought it was interesting, as I know very little about the Catholic church. I do know that the wine and cracker become the body and blood of Christ when a little bell rings before people start receiving them.

    1. Though strangely, if you have a gluten allergy, you still can’t eat the body of the Lard… 😉

  10. It is an uphill battle, unfortunately to have Cultural Catholics give up that identity…worse now with Pope Francis. He is very media savvy for a pontiff – and could give a master class in Public Relations.

    1. I wonder if that is true or if it is a function of our papal expectations? We expect a luddite, a curmudgeon, and staunch conservative who is perfectly faithful to those labels. Maybe when we get anything less, we view it as progressive or savvy and it’s really just not what we expected? He certainly is a bit looser than his predecessors, but really, he hasn’t done all that much to change the church.