Catholic. Nuff Said.

When I modify the word “Catholic” with some preceding description — be it traditional Catholic, liberal Catholic, or faithful Catholic — I do a disservice to the Catholic Church. Perhaps there are times when a concise modification is good, true, and beautiful, but on the off-chance that you — like me — are doing your Catholicism wrong, have a reason to quit your modifying: It’s usually a reaction which unintentionally gives credence to the thing reacted against.

I used to call myself a conservative Catholic, because there’s only so many times a man can hear Nancy Pelosi say that her “Catholic faith” urges her to support abortion before he’s flipping tables, setting himself on fire, and otherwise striving to make a distinction between what Pelosi understands of the Catholic faith and what he knows it to be. Similarly, I am often tempted to call myself a liberal Catholic in reaction to those who frame Catholicism as a branch of the Republican party, a defender of capitalism, the death penalty, nuclear bombs, and traditional American values (which, one assumes, does not include lynching Catholics.)

Land that I loooooovvvee

But labels that express one half of an established dichotomy grant their opposite an equal validity. By claiming myself “conservative,” I am not saying that pulling a Pelosi and ignoring the teaching of the Church is wrong. I’m saying it’s liberal. Publicly supporting the murder of the unborn becomes an expression of liberal Catholicism, when in reality, it is an eloquent expression of not being Catholic at all.

So too with the proud label of “liberal Catholic.” By claiming it, we carve a ghetto within the Catholic Faith, baptizing those who are quite simply not being Catholic in regards to war or Just Wage as conservative Catholics, thus granting their heresies equal validity. Declaring yourself as a liberal Catholic allows the conservative Catholic to exist — quite comfortably — as your opposite, and thus the Church ceases to bring offense to the world, for it has slipped into the dichotomy of American politics, in which the infinitely passionate declarations of “right” and “wrong” are replaced with “sides.”

The Catholic Church transcends the idiocy of both liberals and conservatives by transcending the very language of liberalism and conservatism, claiming — with their founder, Jesus Christ — that there is one faith, a faith that frustrates everyone as Pope Francis frustrates everyone, simultaneously declaring a love for the poor, an intolerance of unjust economic schemes, and an opposition to the objectification of children within gay marriage and IVF. Far better than giving the world an opportunity to subsume you into a political label is to be Catholic. Then, when Pelosi begins posing, you have — as a Catholic, not as a conservative Catholic — the opportunity to explain that Catholicism, naked without shame and preceding adjectives, is a faith lived insofar as we “believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God,” and that — shock and terror — the Catholic Church has written these revelations down in the finalized language of authority, so we can all check up on whether or not support for abortion is Catholic, successfully ignoring the liberal/conservative dichotomy that makes this country stupid.

Now, the modifiers “faithful” and “orthodox” that hang like mullets behind the word “Catholic” are useful when attempting to distinguish for the press — who cannot fathom that Church doctrine is not determined by American opinion polls — the difference between a woman who goes to church and the woman who hasn’t seen the inside of a church since she burnt her bra in the pew; to explain to them that a person may claim the title “Catholic” and simultaneously have nothing to do with the Catholic Church. But as a personal modifier of Catholicism, such words are stupid. You relinquish your claim on “faithful Catholic” the moment you watch porn. You are unorthodox at the precise moment you snap at your children. “Faithful” can scarcely be upheld as a modifier until you’re dead, buried, and canonized. “Trying to be faithful,” maybe, but again, attaching this modifier to Catholicism undermines the fact that striving for faithfulness is implied in simply being Catholic, lending itself to the false idea that there are other types of Catholic to be.

This is also true of the labels that reference our liturgical preferences. A Catholic who loves the extraordinary form of the Mass loves an authentic reality of the Catholic faith. His love for the extraordinary form is part of being Catholic, for the extraordinary form comes to him from the heart of the Catholic Church. To move from this authentic love-affair with the Catholic Church to the label “traditional” is — I think — an injustice. First of all, the label lends itself to a denial of what the extraordinary form of the Mass is — a present reality, lived and breathed by the Church here and now. (I understand the desire to “promote” the extraordinary form as “being in contact with the rich history of the Church,” “praying the Mass most of the Saints prayed” but the value of the Mass is in its present reality, as being precisely what it is, not what it reminds us of.)

Secondly, such gleefully accepted labeling has precisely the same effect as the liberal/conservative dichotomy. By giving up on being Catholic qua Catholic and expressing ourselves as such in favor of an easy, you-know-what-I-mean-by-traditional route, we allow its opposite label to be just that — another label and another option.

This phenomenon achieves a heightened expression at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, in which there is a sharp, and often painstakingly expressed distinction between traditional Catholics and charismatic Catholics. Such a distinction actually works directly against the intentions of so-called traditional Catholics, for by insistence upon its label, they make the actions of so-called charismatic Catholics simply the actions of an equally possible label.

Thus, even though The Sacred Congregation Of Rites instructs that, if secular instruments are to be used in the liturgy, “they are to be played with such seriousness, and religious devotion that every suggestion of raucous secular music is avoided, and the devotion of the faithful is fostered,” and even though the General Instruction for the Roman Missal clearly states that “sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times” and that “the main place should be given, all things being equal, to Gregorian chant, as being proper to the Roman Liturgy,” these rules are often ignored. Why? Because instead of being expressed as fundamentally, authoritatively, and timelessly Catholic, these instructions are couched in the language of “traditional” Catholicism, as a rallying cry of a particular faction that can be easily ignored precisely as a faction. Which is, of course, ridiculous. It’s not “traditional” to follow the GIRM. It’s Catholic.

It occurs to me that any limiting modification on the word Catholic is a contradiction in terms. Catholic means universal. If saying I am a traditional universal means I am not a charismatic universal, I’ve negated the term universal, in which there can be no factions, or else it wouldn’t be, you know, universal. Labeling the word universal is a little like quantifying infinity into multiple parts: “You take the first half of infinity, I’ll take the second.” It doesn’t work, and worse than that, it cleverly avoids the discussion of what it means to be “Catholic, nuff said.”

The constructive killing of labels in no way promotes a homogeneity about the faith. Catholicism blossoms in a explosion of expressions, in a plethora of spiritualities, a multitude of philosophical languages — whether thomist, personalist, phenomenological, or existentialist — and a cornucopia of devotions, prayers, forms, rites, and rituals. The Catholic faith is true, but because this truth is universal — expressing the reality of the entire Cosmos and every man’s place in it — assent to the Catholic faith is a leap of the entire, subjective person into reality itself. Catholicism cannot be homogenous any more than you and your neighbor can be homogenous, for God’s love calls you and your neighbor to Catholicism in your infinite uniqueness.

Killing your labels will not homogenize the Church, but valuing them over Catholicism will, for labels are limitations upon the Universal Faith. I fear the urge to label Catholicism bubbles from our doubt that Catholicism really is enough, the universal This, all things visible and invisible, to which not a word can be added. But be not afraid: God has given us the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church is enough.

Worms, foul-smelling liquids, and filthy shreds of cloth
Insulting ISIS
The Art of Dying
Sexuality and the Land
  • Timothy Canny

    Does this mean you are changing your blog title? Because Bad Catholic seems redundant as the only Good Catholic is a dead Catholic…who is in Heaven. :]

    • Newp Ort

      Add a comma?

  • theevangelista

    Amen, brother. Amen.

  • Alexander S Anderson

    Can I still call myself a “Catholic Christian” though?

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Yes, but given what has happened in postmodern Christian Mega Churches, I would wonder why you would want to.

      • Alexander S Anderson

        Because abusus non tollit usus?

  • Angela Joyce

    Well said! Thank you.

  • Barfly_Kokhba

    A lot of nice soliloquizing, but the problem is that Matthew 7:16 remains true and in effect.

    If one’s particular Christian community is all-Catholic, as is likely the case among most folks on this forum, it would of course be less of an issue.

    But if you spend a lot of time with Protestants then it gets very, very old having to explain that you’re “One of the Good Ones.” Y’know, one of those Catholics who actually embraces Biblical Christianity, even in the mire of my own rank hypocrisy (as we all must). Yes, I am a terrible sinner. No, I am not as bad as Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi. Yes, I do consider most “Catholic” public figures to be only a little less malignant than literal demons. No, I don’t leave my children alone with priests anymore.

    All that gets in the way of my studying and worshipping in the actual Word of God, the Bible, and the history of Christianity. I got sick of it–almost literally.

    I didn’t leave the Church, the Church left me.

    It’s a fine piece of writing though, buddy. Thank you for it.

    • Barfly_Kokhba

      Wow, that anonymous down-vote really does a lot to change the feelings I wrote about. What a brood of vipers, on the internet just like in the rectory. Thanks for proving my point exactly.

      • Bill

        The Church doesn’t leave anyone. Like it, or not, you left the Church.

      • James H, London

        Sorry, dude, you’re not making much sense.

        What do you mean by ‘Biblical’ Christianity? The faith is founded on both Scripture *and* Tradition (2 Thess 2:15, John 21:25), because for nearly 400 years from the beginning of the faith, there was no Bible: the canon of scripture was only agreed upon in AD 390-something. You need to find out about church history from objective sources.

        We’re supposed to worship God, not the Bible. The Bible is a church document, meant to help in the teaching of the faith, not a rule-book. If it was a rule-book, there wouldn’t be so many different churches saying sometimes contradictory things, all basing themselves on ‘Biblical teaching’.

        And, given that Catholic clergy abuse at about the same rate as any other group (, kids are no safer with anyone else.

        Here’s an interesting article, by an atheist:

        • DaveKj

          Right on James! I like to say Jesus clearly left us with a church and that church gave us the bible. And that church is the catholic church. You have to ignore an awful lot of scripture to believe otherwise.

    • DaveKj

      In terms of “recovering catholic”, failed catholic vs strong catholic comes to mind. Failed catholic meaning not catechised or fallen away and strong catholic as one who is striving to be faithful through the sacraments and the Mass.

      • Barfly_Kokhba

        I was never brought to Mass as a child, but I went to great lengths on my own as a young teenager to attend Catechism and take first Communion, which I did in a very empty St. Patrick’s in Seattle at the age of fourteen. Circumstances in my life then, such as homelessness, neglect and abuse, made it very difficult for me to attend mass regularly after that, until I was a full-grown adult with my own children. But even then my young family experienced very little except hypocrisy, deceit and outright back-stabbing from the congregations with which I was involved, including clergy members and “religious education” teachers whose parishes I had supported with significant, anonymous cash donations. I could tell many bad stories to give a more vivid picture but at this point I’m simply trying to forget it all. I stand by my statement. I have no desire to return to the catholic church, and regret ever returning to it in the first place.

        • DaveKj

          Barfly, Sorry to hear of your troubles. I have experienced being on the wrong end of human failure as well. In the second grade, I was brutally punished by a Nun (I have no idea why) after which I soiled my pants because I was too afraid to ask to use the bathroom and then walked home after school that way all the while thinking I was in trouble for something I did, never told my parents. I walked away from the church at the age of about 12. Long story but, at the age of fifty I learned about forgiveness and returned fully to the Church. I am very happy to be home. I have a lot of learning to catch up on. I hope you find healing and peace.

          • Barfly_Kokhba

            Yeah, my experiences go quite a bit deeper than a mean nun but I’m glad to hear you have your reward. Peace to you as well and thanks for the kind wishes.

  • trskms

    I really do get the message, and I really enjoyed the article. So, please take this small nit-pick as a fully acknowledged “nit-pick.” You said:

    “… conservatives who are quite simply not being Catholic in regards to war, Just Wage, or the treatment of persons with homosexuality….”

    I’m afraid that you may have bought into the very demonization of Conservatives being pushed by the very Progressive Left. As a Conservative person (I won’t modify “Catholic” as I think you are right about that to a great degree), I know of NO ONE Conservative who treats homosexuals poorly. NO ONE.

    Of course, there are people with the Conservative label who do, but they are a minority, and the same arguments that you are using about adding the modifier onto the word “Catholic” apply here. Do I need a modifier now to prove that I am not one of “those” Conservatives? And, if I take one, then do I legitimize those Conservatives who do mistreat homosexuals?

    As a Conservative, I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman only, and that *practicing* homosexuality is a sin. That is also a CATHOLIC belief. So, I am confused why you would use it as an example of bad Conservative belief?

    • Jay

      “I know of NO ONE Conservative who treats homosexuals poorly. NO ONE.”

      Um… really? I uphold the Church’s teaching on homosexuality just as much as any apparently “orthodox” or “conservative” Catholic, but I know loads of people who, perhaps out of ignorance, treat homosexuals poorly.
      It’s a simple matter of charity and the unconditional love we owe each human person. Plenty of conservatives seem to think that all we owe homosexuals is the information that acting on their homosexuality is wrong and marriage is between a man and a woman.

      • tedseeber

        I usually offer to listen to their latest worries, and membership in Courage and Knights of Columbus! They have souls too!

    • Amy

      I can’t really speak for Mark here, but what I got from this article is that modifying the one fully true, good, and beautiful religion in the world does not make sense. Modifying different types of conservatives, or any political party, is still valid, though, because that’s a human institution, not a God-centered and -founded one such as the Catholic Church.

    • Gobaith

      It cannot be denied that a conservative is not defined by their treatment of homosexual people, but he’s obviously trying to use a broad label in order to address those conservatives that treat them poorly. This does not mean that he believes all conservatives think this way, but the more detailed you get, the more difficult it is to speak in broad terms.

      As to breaking down conservatism into different factions, I think it’s fine. Equating conservativism and liberalism with Catholicism (i.e. universality) is ridiculous. In many ways in the political realm I consider myself what those in that profession would call a liberal and in many other ways a conservative (hence my label of self as an independent); I don’t mind those labels being broken down or applied broadly because when you start to nitpick about individual issues, it makes it difficult to talk about broader topics (e.g. The liberals who don’t support environmental regulations, the liberals who don’t support gun regulations, and the conservatives who don’t support the death penalty band together to make sure cabbage is on school lunch menus vs. a bipartisan effort was made to make sure cabbage is on school lunch menus. What is the most important bit of information there and which statement relayed it best?).

      The important difference between political labels and the labels which Catholics sometimes use is that their are differences of opinion in political practice, theory, etc, which work in that arena, but that their shouldn’t be in terms of the Catholic (from the Greek for universal) church.

      • Gobaith


  • JenB

    I very much agree. However I noticed that you were careful to affirm the extraordinary form and dismiss the charismatic music, which, if I read you right, is exactly what you are telling us to avoid.

    I love the NO (not even mentioned) because it IS the Mass in it’s present reality. Mass is Mass-extraorodinary and the NO. Both are acceptable in our present Church. No ifs, ands or buts.

    As for charismatic Catholics, I am hard pressed to find people who do not want to follow the GIRM, esp at Steubenville-where I have been both a student and a working professional. I found many of the musicians-myself included-quite keen to use our instruments with serious and religious devotion and to include silence and even Latin. Because you are right: We are Catholic, universal. We have to embrace everything, not just the parts that we like or currently identify with. On that, I heartily agree.

    • James H, London

      Well said, JenB.

      The CCR (Catholic Charismatic Renewal) in the UK is careful to follow directions, when given. Every major event they run includes time devoted to adoration of the blessed sacrament, and you won’t find them priding themselves on their Masses. If you see genuine miracles every now and then, it humbles you a little.

  • Deacon Tom

    Check out this powerful homily by a priest challenging the “conservative” and “liberal” labels for “Catholics,” often seen during election time, etc.

  • CatholicChemist

    First, I think most of this argument is useful to challenge our typical assumptions. There’s two points that I question.

    First, infinity can clearly be described as individual aspects and remain unified according to the Catholic Church. We have one infinite God, and yet He is three Persons. This is not quantitative division, but neither should variation in liturgical practice be seen in this light. Perhaps the Tridentine, Ordinary Novus Ordo, and Charismatic Novus Ordo might have some validity when seen in a Trinitarian light–they are the same Road to Calvary, which simply takes on three more or less different liturgical aspects. I recognize the near occasion of factions within this argument, but the possiblity of abuse indicates that prudent oversight by liturgical authority is necessary, not that true distinctions should be dissolved. I don’t pretend to be any authority on the matter, so I would love to hear counterarguments.

    The second point is that eliminating such distinctions does decrease division within the Church, but it does not demonstrate discernment of the difference between Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan and the Pope for the outside world. The qualifiers serve sometimes to limit the scandal done by those who have secular authority and purport to make immoral policies based on their faith, just as with “traditional” and “faithful”. After all, those in the secular world have no idea of the authority structure within the Catholic Church, largely because Catholics don’t really get it either (though better catechesis is starting to fix this). Perhaps the term “liberal Catholic” or “conservative Catholic” should be seen as what it is: the person who has allowed their political sensibility to condition their Catholicism. In this way, these modifiers are also useful, but also not as personal expressions of our faith.

  • Heybob

    I am not sure why a modifier is inappropriate when there is some pretty clear equivocation going on with the word “Catholic” in public conversation. We’re not going to win any cultural arguments by not being clear.

  • Paddy Manning

    That’s a wonderful piece. I describe myself a sa bad Catholic

  • Michael O’Keefe


    I think it’s worthy of note that our church, St. Patrick in Columbus Ohio, got a label of “conservative” by following the girm strictly, and allowing people the *option* of kneeling for communion. This went on for many years until a liturgist from Notre Dame visited and called it a “conventional liturgy” in some local publication. That ended that for some, though many who would not obey the church still call us “conservative”.

    Years ago I heard a then-seminarian-now-priest say many of these things that are in this blog. He was told by an older priest, now dead, that he would quickly adopt such labels out of self defense. He did too.

    The spirit may be willing but the flesh is weak indeed.

  • Joe Cool

    Of course, mathematically, it *is* possible to split infinity in half and still have infinity: you take the evens, I’ll take the odds. We’ll both have an equal amount, and we’ll both have as much as someone who takes both even and odds.

    Infinity is weird that way.

    • Joseph Kruse

      Actually, no. Infinity has no “1″ and thus no evens or odds. Infinite strings cannot be reduced to finite components or they cease to be infinite.

      • John Martino

        1, 3, 5, 7…
        2, 4, 6, 8…
        Let me know if you come to the end of the evens and I’ll let you know if I come to the end of the odds.

        • Joseph McIntosh

          Both of those lists have exactly the same “size” (cardinality) as the natural numbers though, since they’re both countably infinite sets. It’s all in Cantor, all in Cantor. Bless me, what DO they teach in schools these days?

          (To Joseph, above: ordinal numbers contain all the ordinals that precede them, so “infinity” contains a subset of all the evens and a subset of all the odds)

          • Joseph Kruse

            Seriously? Cantor? This is so terribly off point, but an infinite string has no 1. No beginning means no 1 to start with, thus no odds or evens to speak of. There are three distinct uses of infinity. Philosophy and Marc refer to the first (unrestricted and indivisible – no beginning and no end). Most mathematics refer to a second (possible to continue ad infinitum) that is close to what John was trying to establish but for the failure that a theoretically infinite progress is not “the infinite” or “infinity” as referred to here – it has a beginning and is quite restricted. Cantor theorized a third that does not exist. Most any secondary source on Cantor will highlight how his application of infinity is not demonstrable in the real world and has no practical application. Kinda outta left field, man.

          • Joseph McIntosh

            We aren’t talking about infinite processes, but infinite sets. Technically countably infinite sets (i.e. sets in which a bijection exists between the natural numbers and the set in question). This is well established in ZFC, where the first limit ordinal omega contains all the ordinals preceding it. So yes, 1 is an element of “infinity”, and {1} is a subset of “infinity”. So are the countably infinite sets {0,2,4,6,…} and {1,3,5,7,…}

            Seriously, this is pretty basic set theory. Cantor didn’t “theorize” the existence of other infinities, he straight up proved them. Math isn’t empirical.

          • Luke Burgess

            I think this is just a confusion of Infinite sets and infinite temporal and spacial processes. Though math/logic can be used to accurately predict time and space we cannot prove that it defines it. Case-What are miracles?

            By strict math rules John Martino and Joseph McIntosh are correct. However I think Joseph Kruse was discussing the infinite universe not our understanding of what infinity could be.

            That said the fact humans have invented the concept of “1″ proves God to have placed “1″ in the set of all things.

      • Kyle Strand

        Joe Cool is talking about infinite sets of integers; you’re talking about infinite strings (by which I assume you mean the computer science definition of “string” as “a series of characters”).

        To translate his example to strings, consider a single infinite string. It is possible to derive two more infinite strings from the original string by “splitting” it in the following manner: assuming the string has a “first” character and continues indefinitely, let the first character of the first derived string be the first character of the original string, and let the first character of the other derived string be the second character of the original string. Alternately assign characters to each derived string in this way ad infinitum. In this way, the first string contains all the “odd” characters (i.e. the characters in the first, third, fifth, etc positions in the original string) and the second contains all the “even” characters (those in the second, fourth, sixth, etc positions).

        If you’re talking about a string that is infinite in both directions, i.e., it has no beginning and no end, then this method can be generalized by simply arbitrarily picking a single character from the original string to be the “0th” character, and then assigning negative indexes to the characters before it and positive indexes to the characters after it. As before, give all the odd-indexed characters to the first string and all the even-indexed characters to the second string (note that the new strings will also extend infinitely in both directions).

  • James


  • Alex

    What about Roman, Byzantine, Maronite etc?? :^P

    • Rai

      Well, Mark cited it.
      “…a cornucopia of devotions, prayers, forms, rites, and rituals…”
      They are all in communion with the Pope, so there is no conflict.

      • Alex

        but those words are still modifiers and still making subdivisions and distinctions

  • Scott

    While I understand what you’re saying, I am still looking for one adjective. One that expresses whether or not one is a “Catholic but…”
    I agree that we are all imperfect, but there is a question of whether one is regularly examining themselves and striving to “hit the mark” of what the Church is teaching, or merely falling back to “yeah, I’m Catholic but I think that the Church/the Pope is wrong on x, y, z…” in lukewarm indifference or direct opposition to what the Magisterium is saying.
    Thus far I’ve used the adjective observant Catholic. It’s admittedly not a precise adjective. I want one that indicates one is trying to drink deeply from the faith taught to us even though it takes more than a lifetime. An adjective that indicates one is trying to remove all the barriers and not pretend that they know better.

  • Bryan Holt

    In the future, I will simply refer to Pelosi and her ilk as “Catholics”. And if I am speaking, I will make air quote signs with my fingers.

    • Brian Anthony

      just use the age old term that worked for centuries…HERETIC

  • Marta L.

    I think labels do serve a very important purpose, in some contexts. Sometimes it simply communicates further information about the speaker. For instance, in the Hunger Games fandom I’ve heard people say they’re on “Team Gale” or “Team Peeta.” What they mean is they are fans of the Hunger Games, and in particular they think Katniss should be going for Gale rather than Peeta (or vice versa). It communicates important information about the person, not the concept.

    Other times, though, It does modify the concept. And here it can still be useful ‘re trying to include the modification without excluding its opposite. For instance, I’m a Protestant Christian, and genuinely describe myself as a Christian only. But when many people hear that they think the kind of Christianity they’ve seen in the news, either a social conservative who is driven by issues like abortion and gay marriage or the “liberal Christianity” that talks in generalities. I think people following both approaches can be good Christians, depending on how they practice the faith, but neither stereotype particularly describes me; I am a Methodist, and that typically means rejecting the political excesses of the social conservatives while taking the Bible and Christian history more seriously than the stereotype of liberal Christians suggests. So when I say I am a Methodist Christian what I am trying to communicate is that the concept of Christianity can include what you think at first, but it doesn’t have to. That the Methodist approach fits under the Christian canopy, and that when you hear I am a Christian you shouldn’t assume that I am either of those extremes your mind might jump to.

    Obviously if you think the other side is just wrong, using labels does give the group you want to argue against some legitimacy. But that’s not always such a bad thing.

    • Joseph

      Thanks a lot! I thought I had finally gotten over those books…. Perhaps I’m a Peeta Catholic… I feel kinda gross for saying that. In all seriousness, those labels are completely idiotic… I mean, yeah, that whole aspect was a big part of the book, I don’t care how cool and sophisticated you are, but to play it on that level is gross and so 13 yr old girlish. But on topic here… Unfortunately I can’t stand the ambiguity surrounding the word “Christian”… I mean, it seems to include everything under the sun… but such is language and human weakness right?

      • Marta L.

        I think it depends on who you’re talking to. I use the word mainly when I’m in situations where not everyone is Christian like when I debate philosophy and theology with atheists and people from other religions. The label “Christian” does communicate some things, such as an emphasis on grace and forgiveness and second chances. Depending on the conversation it can convey other things as well (a thought that humans are stewards of the earth as a motivation for fighting global warming; a commitment to the idea of a soul when it comes to discussions of abortion; etc.). I would definitely use more specific labels when I was with an all or predominantly Christian group.

  • Mark

    People who brag about being “orthodox” Catholics are usually very sanctimonious and more interested in arguing on the internet and think that kneeling for communion on the tongue from the priest, not grace and works of mercy, will save their souls. I used to be like that and maybe I haven’t quite gotten over it.

    • Micha Elyi

      People who complain about “orthodox” Catholics are usually very sanctimonious and more interested in arguing…

  • Joseph Kruse

    Many a commenter appear to have missed the point. When we want to distinguish ourselves from the Pelosis and Donohues of the world, we need only remind ourselves and others that anybody (including ourselves) can call themselves Catholic – it doesn’t mean they or we are. There isn’t a type of Catholic that follows the church and another that does not. Moreover, we do not need to put ourselves into a little sub-category because of those who don’t if we embrace the whole of Holy Mother Church. We should be called Catholics. [emphasis on the period]

  • kirthigdon

    If I’m asked what kind of Catholic I am, I reply “practicing, but far from perfect”.
    Kirt Higdon

  • Susan Windley-Daoust

    The only modifier that works for all of us is sinful Catholic. Great article.

    • pressurecooker

      and we’re all called to be holy Catholics

  • Dave G.

    In my Protestant days, we used to call it ‘hyphenating’ other Christians. In international missions, the temptation was to say ‘African or Asian Christians’, but never ‘American’ Christians, as if we were the default. The same goes here. Descriptive can sometimes be helpful, but be careful. Used too often, and we can begin to assume we are the pure, undefiled Christian, and everyone else who doesn’t do it and see it our way, must deserve some qualifying label that as good as says ‘not as Christian as I am.’

  • Susan Howard

    Uh… the Klu Klux Klan promotes American Values? Did you REALLY imply that? The KKK has never reflected anything of value, nor anything truly American. What a twisted spin on American history.

    • Tom

      He meant it in a sarcastic, mocking way.

      • Dave G.

        How? He’s saying obviously supporting traditional American values is the right thing to do, mocking those who compare America to things like the KKK? Who was he mocking?

    • tedseeber

      I know many in Oregon who would disagree with you- they were the same ones who in the 1920s tried to kick the Catholic Church out of the schools (including private Catholic Schools).

  • Elizabeth

    Tremendous post–thank you. Particularly for the mullet image.

  • Dave G.

    By the way, I think it’s safe to assume that not all who support “traditional” American values necessarily support the KKK. In case there were some struggles there. I’ve come to realize some Catholics seem to struggle to distinguish between the two, so thought I’d throw that out there. Oh, and by the way, is it now official, and in any way advocating capital punishment or capitalism is the same as advocating abortion or nuclear war? I missed that memo.

    • JoFro

      Just War is an actual teaching of the Catholic Church! Just Abortion isn’t! Supporting capital punishment does not go against the teachings of the Church any more than not supporting it goes against the teachings of the Church, supporting “gay marriage” does go against Church teachings – period!

      • Dave G.

        JoFro, I assumed. My point was that I’m noticing Catholics saying things like ‘they support abortion or gay sex’ on one side, or the ‘death penalty or capitalism’ on the other, as if there is an equality there.

  • Ben @ 2CM

    Labels are words and words are how we express ideas (or distinctions), so we will always have labels and this can be good. I don’t mind the term “Faithful Catholic”.

    It says above: “You relinquish your claim on faithful Catholic the moment you watch porn”

    If person A acknowledges their sin and intends to repent and do better, he or she is a faithful Catholic. If person B will not acknowledge the sin and has every intention of continuing the sin, I’d say they are a non-faithful Catholic.

    Why use the label of “Catholic”? Why not just say “Christian” (nuff-said). There is a reason and it’s important.

  • Joshua

    Then are ecumenists like Cardinal Kasper, Cardinal Koch, Pope Francis, Benedict XVI and John Paul II truly Catholic, despite the fact that Modern Ecumenism has been harshly condemned several times by the Constant Magisterium of the Church? I consider myself a Traditional Catholic because there are un-Traditional souls within the church claiming to be Catholic, when in fact they are Freemasons and Liberals. I want no communion with them.

    Your major flaw is that you focus solely on the political aspects of the Conservative/Liberal dichotomy. But what about doctrine? What about the condemnation of “Liberal Catholics” by Blessed Pius IX? Or the “Lukewarm Catholics” by St. Pius V? Or that St. Pius X said that Traditionalists are the true friends of the Church? Or what about the fact that Christ Himself makes such distinctions (sheep and goats, Wheat and Cockle). They made distinctions, primarily because of their doctrine, because at times they needed to be made…you are not. Do you see your flaw now? I agree that is is sad that we must use such terms but they must be used.

    Nuff said.

  • Neal Meyer

    Well………labels have their uses, for instance “eastern Catholics” even though linguistically it makes no sense.

  • drea916

    “You relinquish your claim on “faithful Catholic” the moment you watch porn. You are unorthodox at the precise moment you snap at your children.”

    No, that’s called being human. There is a difference between someone who is in totally agreement with the church, but has a moment of weakness, has contrition, then goes to confession and amendents their life. As opposed to- someone who calls themself a faithful catholic yet, only goes to Mass on Christmas and Easter, explains that the Church hasn’t updated their teachings on birth control-but will soon, and there’s is no need for confession because sin was just a term used before we had the field to psychology.
    See the difference?

  • Rae Marie

    //Which is, of course, ridiculous. It’s not “traditional” to follow the GIRM. It’s Catholic.//

    I still get called a pharisee for wanting people to follow the GIRM…sigh…

  • Francisco

    I think Catholics of good conscience everywhere might agree.

  • Dmikem

    In a homily given on June 29, 1972 Pope Paul VI said, “from some fissure the smoke of satan has entered the temple of God”. He was not talking about Vatican II, he was talking about sociological currents that infected society in the 60′s and 70′s leading millions of Catholics to abandon some or all of Church teachings. Following Vatican II those so affected led the way to refashion the Church in the name of ecumenism and evangelization using the tag line, “The Spirit of Vatican II’. The idea was to make the Church more fun, more appealing to the young and non-Catholics. So statues were thrown out, stone alters moved in favor of tables, ad populum posture adopted instead of ad orientem Latin removed from the liturgy, communion rails removed, Gregorian Chant abandoned in favor of Marty Hagen tunes, confessionals removed, the Tabernacle removed to a side chapel. NONE, none of these things were required by Vatican II. Then came the heterodox or even heretical liturgical practices….dance, processions, costume masses, musical performances which detracted from or changed altogether the focus of the mass.

    Anyone that doesn’t believe that the Church is split into factions just ain’t watchin! While people describe themselves as Catholic they support things antithetical to the Catholic faith and in doing so lead other ‘fence sitting’ Catholics astray. So now we have the majority of ‘Catholics’ who support contraception and abortion and homosexual marriage and, and, and. Less that 25% of Catholics attend weekly mass, about the same number believe in the Real Presence, NO mass reverence is none existent (as people dress like they are going to the beach rather than mass), confession…who goes to confession anymore?

    The problem is complicated by some who believe that contraception is OK but abortion is not. Other believe that abortion and contraception but homosexual marriage is wrong and others believe……… goes on ad nauseam. The is an incalculable number of combinations.

    Here’s the point. There is only one kind of Catholic. That is a person that adheres to the Vatican I (the last doctrinal counsel) that spelled out in Session 3, Chapter 3, On Faith, paragraph 8 what a Catholic must believe to be “Catholic”. It says:

    “Wherefore, by divine and catholic faith all those things are to be believed
    which are contained in the word of God as found in scripture and tradition,
    and which are proposed by the church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal magisterium.”

    Catholic doctrine is immutable, it does not change with pop-culture no matter how hard this people want it to. They are not Catholic and I refuse to call them Catholic! So the use of a modifier before the word Catholic is needed to describe how they believe in accordance with how they present themselves…..the names I favor are:

    Catholics in Name Only
    Liberal Catholics
    Progressive Catholics
    Liberal Progressive Catholics
    Heretical Former Catholics
    Apostate Former Catholics
    Poorly Formed Catholics
    Anything Goes Catholics

    Don’t get me started on the dissident “Katholyc” Groups like Call-To-Action etc.
    Signed….a radical traditionalist and proud of it.

  • Brian Anthony

    I have been saying this for years now, There is Catholic and then…heretic. that’s it.

  • Michael

    I would go further and reclaim the word “Christian” from Protestants. I can remember the first time I was confused in school when two kids asked if I was a “Christian” or a “Catholic”–and each identified with one of those labels–when I thought they were synonymous. To call yourself “Catholic” could, by implication, validate non-Catholic Christianity and lend credence to the idea that Christ didn’t even give us one Church at all.

  • rjackson

    Marc, I can’t believe you wrote this whole wonderful blog post (that I can’t praise enough!) without quoting Benedict XV [sic]!! “.

    It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain
    appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one
    group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as “profane
    novelties of words,” out of harmony with both truth and justice, but
    also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among
    Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of
    more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: “This
    is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly;
    he cannot be saved” (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any
    qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for
    each one to proclaim “Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,”
    only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.

  • Erin aussiebookthreads

    This reminds me of an older and wiser friend’s belief, she never prefaced the word Catholic with any description. She used to say, “You’re Catholic, either faithful to the Church or not, to use the word Orthodox etc is not necessary. Once you start choosing you are no longer faithful” I’ve always kept this in mind and just state, “I’m Catholic”.

  • Cindy Eimann Coleman

    How about a catechized Catholic? (shorthand for, “a Catholic who actually knows, understands and accepts all that the Catholic church professes and teaches”)

  • Bob N

    One can be Orthodox (correct thinking), and still sin. Orthodox Catholicism is a valid label and should be used to describe anyone who believes all of the teachings of the Church.

  • Matt Landry

    I’ve got to say, though, that this “just Catholic” thing would have rather more utility if the bishops were more prepared to stand up and enforce the definition of Catholicism.

    Folks out there in the world can easily be forgiven for thinking that the Church no longer teaches that _any_ particular belief or persistent, manifest, and unrepented behavior is incompatible with Catholicism. Because just about anywhere below the level of the Pope and a tiny number of faithful folk in the curia, it effectively doesn’t, anymore.

  • catholic teacher

    I love the link you posted regarding Just Wage. I would super love to see you write about it, particularly in regards to Church employees. =)

  • KJ

    “the woman who hasn’t seen the inside of a church since she burnt her bra in the pew; to explain to them that a person may claim the title “Catholic” and simultaneously have nothing to do with the Catholic Church.”

    I enjoyed your article very much, thank you.

    But, I do think that you minimize the extent to which being Catholic can be a cultural, and not necessarily religious, identity, and that this expression of being Catholic is also completely valid. You mention this possibility here, off-handedly, but for the rest of your post you only address the false dichotomies vis-a-vis religious/political differences. Especially in the US context, we must appreciate that being Catholic was and still is strongly tied in with immigrant populations (Irish, Italians, nowadays Latinos), and whether someone expresses their Catholic identity by going to Church regularly or serving the 7 fishes on Christmas Eve cause that’s how grandmom did it, I don’t think either one has a stronger or weaker claim to the title of “Catholic.” I don’t think you necessarily disagree with me, but the way your post was written did implicitly undermine this facet of the Catholic identity.