Question: What are the Most Common Misconceptions about Catholicism?

I have not been a very faithful contributor to this blog in recent months. I have blown hot and cold. The fact is, I’ve had other writing assignments, including a big book project I just finished. Now I am writing something else, and I need your help!

This Saturday, I am participating in an interfaith symposium at a nearby college, and I have been asked to wave the Catholic banner. Representatives of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Protestantism will also be there, and each of us is to give a 20-minute talk about the core beliefs of our faith. This will be followed by a 90-minute Q&A; free-for-all.

I’m pretty clear on the core beliefs of the Catholic Church. There are two authoritative sources, one measuring 227 words (The Nicene Creed) and the other nearly 900 pages (The Catechism of the Catholic Church). Where I need your help is with a secondary question we’ve all been asked to answer:

What are some of the most common misconceptions of your faith and why are they mis-conceptions?

I have a few ideas of my own, but I would like nothing better than to read yours. And to use them this Saturday without permission!

So fire away. The comment box is yours.

  • Anonymous

    I read Keating's book called What Catholics Really Believe, and he addresses some of the main misconceptions about the Catholic faith. One of the main misconceptions I also find is regarding the nature of Mass. Most people simply don't understand what it is! It seems to be regarded as equivalent to Sunday services in other Christian denominations. Hence, a lot of the times, I attend daily mass and my friends ask me, "don't you only have mass on Sundays?" There is little understanding of Mass as the Holy Sacrifice on the Altar.Another misconception is the authority of the Holy See, of the Seat of Peter, and linked into this is the nature of the sacraments (the power of the priests and the Church to minister the sacraments).

  • Erin

    I think one common misconception is that we are the Church of "no." No to sex before marriage, no to divorce, no to contraception, no to abortion, no to euthanasia…etc. But we didn't decide to say "no" to these things just because we like to mess with people. The Catholic Church has thousands of years of wisdom on which it has based these positions. I think if more people understood some of those doctrines (Theology of the Body, the Dignity of Women, etc.), they would agree that they're some of the most beautiful, nuanced, and countercultural positions out there.One of the things I most proud of the Church for is its defense of social justice and human rights. People like to point out the abuses the Church has perpetrated throughout history, but I like to remind them that the good the Church has done for humanity far outweighs the bad (though it doesn't make as good a headline). The Church has spoken out bravely against human rights abuses and unfair political regimes. It sends help for disaster relief and meets human needs at the most desperate moments. Our saints, priests, religious, and lay people have nurtured the spiritual and bodily needs of millions of people when it was not politically, socially, or culturally safe or popular to do so.

  • Dave

    Webster, this site might give you some ideas. Also, I have seen people of other faiths state that the Eucharistic adoration is idol worship. Of course, we Catholics know that the Eucharist is actually the body and blood of Christ, making that statement completely untrue and thus a misconception. Hope this helps and good luck!

  • Anonymous

    a lot of people think we hate gays

  • Sal

    Anything Marian- you name it, someone misunderstands it.I know it's not as important as, say, the Eucharist, but it's one folks want to talk about.

  • Tertium Quid

    Jennifer Fulwiler (Conversion Diary) noted that many cults are founded by a man claiming to be God, but only one has lasted 2,000 years.

  • Lori O.

    Some of the misconceptions I have encountered are: that Catholics are not Christians, that we worship the Pope, that we worship Mary, and that we pray to statues.

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks for these responses. I would like to hear your answers, though. Especially—Anonymous 5:54: Explain why the Church does not hate gays.Sal: What is the response to those who think we are too devoted to Mary?Lori O: What do you say to those who say we worship the Pope, worship Mary, or pray to statues?

  • Anonymous

    One of the things I appreciate most about your blog is your statement of appreciation of things Catholic without trying to prove why other denominations/religious traditions are wrong or deficient. I think in your presentation if you keep on this track, you will be a great ambassador for the Church.

  • Frank

    I used to think Catholics added books to the Bible that shouldn't have been there. Then I learned that the books (Deuteroncanonical books) had been in the Canon all along and were later removed by the reformers. I like the original format!

  • Shannon

    One of the biggest misconceptions? That all Catholics think the same way. We are broad and diverse in our practices and the living out of our beliefs.

  • Anonymous

    That Catholics are miserable killjoys who want to stop people having fun. They just don't get that freedom comes from living WITHIN the 'rules'.The Catholics I've met are some of the most joy-filled, life-affirming people I know!

  • Wine in the Water

    Are you just looking at the most common misconceptions by non-Catholics, or also by Catholics? If you include most common misconceptions about Catholicism by Catholics, I would include:- Everything any pope says is infallible.- Primacy of conscience means I can reject Catholic teaching if I have "prayed about it."- The only real Catholic is someone like me.- My personal taste in liturgy defines what is appropriate.- I am "devout."- "I am not a saint" is a legitimate excuse for un-Christlike behavior (especially on the internet).- Vatican II "changed everything" .. said either as a good thing or a bad thing.- Confession is only for mortal sins.- My pet devotion is a litmus test for being "a good Catholic."- Mary is (as good as) the fourth person of the Trinity.- And a whole slew on politics: * Abortion is the only issue. * Abortion is not more important than just about every other issue. * Catholicism aligns best with the Democratic Party * Catholicism aligns best with the Republican Party.

  • KG Jesterton

    My favorite misconception is that the Church can be moved by public opinion. The notion that if we only talked to our priests and bishops and let them know how we feel about this or that, then they would be persuaded to make the changes to keep up with the times and keep the pews filled.

  • St Paul

    Catholicism is not dynamic and is a rather static religion which does not correspond to the times. New Covenant Journal

  • Sal

    Webster:The best response is that everything about Mary stems from Jesus. Without Him, she would have no reason to be honored in any fashion. Also, most can't argue with His words from the cross: "Woman, behold thy son…" and will accept the tradition that He was giving her to all of us, in the symbolic person of St. John.I sometimes put it this way: do you tell the Lord "Dear Jesus, please come into my heart. But I'm going to need you to ask your Mother and friends to stay outside."?Mary is hard to resist once people get over their 'worhip' fears. Good luck with your talk.

  • Anonymous

    From my lapsed Catholic friends – there is no difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. In fact, the Episcopalians are just "Catholic Light". How does one respond to that?

  • cjneng1

    1. Catholic Church's perspective on Morality is labeled as anti-humanity or deceptive in her pre-determined freedom of choice and liberation of mankind.2. Women's place in the Catholic church; suggesting that women should be given equal freedom and rights to be ordained clerics and elected as pope.3. Catholics idolizing the Pope and relics of the Saints in the Catholic Church.

  • Sal

    Dear Anonymous,Depending on the age of your lapsed Catholic friends, they probably belong to the worst-catechized generation(s) of centuries. SO I wouldn't put too much stock in the accuracy of their knowlege of what the Church actually teaches/practices.And you might start there by gently questioning them on basic things that a decently educated Catholic should know: the Sacraments, the Bible, Sacred Tradition, salvation: how? works or grace or both?, Mary and the Communion of Saints, etc.If you can show them that their knowlege is lacking or faulty, their argument on the similarity of the two weakens.

  • Ed

    Why the Catholic Church does NOT hate homosexuals:"Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church on Pastoral care of Homosexuals"(Issued on October 1,1986 by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger)Excerpt below:10. It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected.12. What, then, are homosexual persons to do who seek to follow the Lord? Fundamentally, they are called to enact the will of God in their life by joining whatever sufferings and difficulties they experience in virtue of their condition to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross. That Cross, for the believer, is a fruitful sacrifice since from that death come life and redemption. While any call to carry the cross or to understand a Christian's suffering in this way will predictably be met with bitter ridicule by some, it should be remembered that this is the way to eternal life for all who follow Christ.18. The Lord Jesus promised, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:32). Scripture bids us speak the truth in love (cf. Eph. 4:15). The God who is at once truth and love calls the Church to minister to every man, woman and child with the pastoral solicitude of our compassionate Lord. It is in this spirit that we have addressed this Letter to the Bishops of the Church, with the hope that it will be of some help as they care for those whose suffering can only be intensified by error and lightened by truth.

  • Bender

    I think one common misconception is that we are the Church of "no."Erin nails it.The biggest misconception, the biggest LIE about the Church is that the Faith is harsh or mean or anti-woman or anti-human, etc., or anything other than the promoter and repository of Love and Truth. This lie, asserted on both a theological level and a historical level, has been used against the Church from her birth by the Evil One and others to try to keep people away.Other big misconceptions include all the various Protestant errors regarding Catholicism (all too often what some Protestants think the Church teaches, it does not).————But this is an extremely important question to ask, especially by those who are catechists of young people. Before they grow up to be adults believing all the nonsense that is spouted about the Church, catechists need to address each and every misconception that might be imagined and tell these young people the truth about their faith.