Top 15 Misconceptions About Catholics

Karen L. Anderson of Online Christian Colleges wrote a timely piece on the many myths, misconceptions, and outlandish lies told about Catholics:

With nearly one quarter of the U.S. population Catholic, they make up a huge part of society and the largest Christian denomination. Yet with so many, how is it they are so misunderstood and characterized by films, television shows, etc.?

Failing to do the proper research explains a great deal of it. With a simple search on the internet, we were able to find many interesting answers to the top 15 misconceptions about Catholics. They are both from official sources, reporters, academics, and more.

1. Priests Are More Likely to be Pedophiles : The most dangerous of all myths concerning Catholics, this can lead to many negative and unfair consequences. Recently in a book entitled Pedophiles and Priests, an extensive study – and the only one of it kind – took a look at the pedophile statistics of over 2,200 priests. It found that only 0.3% of all Catholic clergy are involved in any pedophilia matter, guilty or not. This number is actually very low and according to Counter Pedophilia Investigative Unit, who reports that children are more likely to be victims of pedophile activity at school with nearly 14% of students estimated to be molested by a member of the school staff.

2. Everything in “The Da Vinci Code” is True : Even author Dan Brown himself doesn’t agree to this. In this free film from Hulu, Mr. Brown admits to writing his novel as a step in his own spiritual journey. As he confesses to being swayed by his extensive research, the experts behind the research weigh in with facts. Simon Cox is the author of “Cracking the Da Vinci Code” and tells more about his work in this documentary. If you don’t have 90 minutes to view it, you can get the real story behind Opus Dei, the villain organization in the novel, from ABC news.

3. Women Are Oppressed in the Catholic Church : Although women are still not eligible to become priests as explained by Pope John Paul II, they were still acknowledged as valued members of the church as far back as 1947. In a Papal Directive from then Pope Pius XII, he expressed his admiration of women “to take part in the battle: you have not sought to do so, but courageously you accept your new duties; not as resigned victims nor merely in a defensive spirit.” Also, in 2004 then Pope John Paul II historically appointed two women theologians to the International Theological Commission and named another as the president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

4. Catholicism and Science Don’t Mix : It has been theorized that science leads down one path while religion, such as Catholicism, leads down another. However, in the mid 1200’s Saint Thomas Aquinas was preaching just the opposite: that all paths lead to God. In fact, one of his most notable quotes “The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false” is listed on Brainy Quote. A modern day professor from Columbia University also gives his take on the subject.

5. Catholics Place Too Much Emphasis on Jesus’ Mother : Believing in the Immaculate Conception is a key factor in Catholic belief. But does that mean that she sits above or even at the same level as the Son or the Father? This article by Bishop Pivarunas details her role in the church and even uses actual scripture to explain why.

6. Catholics are Cannibals : The Eucharist is a sacred part of the Catholic mass and in it, followers are asked to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ. But is it a figure of speech or is there actually flesh and blood involved? In this article from Catholic Answers, two church officials certify that the answer is in keeping with the Catholic faith. The meaning of the scripture quote “”I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” is discussed thoroughly.

7. Catholics Don’t Believe in Dinosaurs : In a popular Catholic forum, the question of the dinosaur comes up. Expert Apologist Michelle Arnold tackles the age-old question in a four part answer, which acknowledges the existence of dinosaurs. It includes universal death, life after death, the opportunity to question one’s own faith, and reassessing one’s own beliefs.

8. No Meat on Fridays : Until 1983 Catholics were required to abstain from eating meat on Friday for the 40 days of Lent and the following Holy Week. However, the rule was changed to “abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays.” Which basically means that instead of foregoing meat on Fridays, Catholics can choose to give up something else. In addition, abstinence and fasting are required on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

9. No Alcohol for Catholics : Although a certain sense of moderation is present, Catholics are actually encouraged to feast, have joyous processions, and an elated thanksgiving for God’s grace. In fact, this priest from Saint Mary Magdalen in Brighton proclaims that champagne is the preferred drink of Catholics.

10. Catholics Worship Saints : Father Jeff explains the myth behind saint worship in this video from YouTube. He explains how prayer is different from worship and how the lives of saints are remarkable. He also uses the more modern comparison of a Prayer Line in his explanation.

11. Purgatory is Another Hell : Catholic belief in purgatory can be confusing and perplexing. More a belief on the afterlife, purgatory is believed to be where sinners go to “purge” themselves of sin before entering heaven. This encyclopedia article from New Advent has more.

12. Catholic Mass is Really Just a Homily : Father Z. is a popular Catholic blogger and priest in Philadelphia. In answering a reader’s question, he discusses the issue of the importance and meaning of the homily in Mass. In short, a homily is a sort of summary by priest or deacon after a reading and before the Procession of Faith. Father Z. explains exactly what it is and why it is important.

13. Catholics Can Confess Anything Away : A belief that confession is just a formality with no real consequence is a myth. In fact, just the act of admitting a sin can be doubly cathartic and reconciliatory. This article tells more on what is expected of a good confession. However, even the the Vatican warns that a confession is not a counseling session.

14. The Pope is Perfect : Even Catholics don’t believe this and state that papal infallibility has its limitations. In an article from Slate, papal infallibility is explained as pertaining to when the pontiff is ruling on a spiritual or moral manner. There is a similar infallibility belief when ecumenical councils are ruling on similar issues. Other than that, the pope and the rest are just as fallible as the anyone.

15. Children Aren’t Allowed at Mass : In another answer from Father Z., he tackles the question of what to do with “wiggle aged” children at Mass. He addresses the positives and negatives of bringing these kids to church, what should be done, and what can be done as an alternative. Over 160 comments were left after the blog entry and tell even more on the subject.

Even if you disagree with any or all of the top 15 misconceptions about Catholics, it is important that you understand them fully so as to know why. Whether writing a paper, dating a Catholic, or just looking to understand the faith more, there is much to know and much damage to undo caused by myths.

There is also loads more to be found on the internet and a good place to start is these Twelve Catholic Myths where Michael Voris tackles even more misconceptions on Catholics.

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(Biretta tip: Karen L. Anderson of Online Christian Colleges)

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  1. The dificulty in the myths in the article are not the fact that they are misconceptions of the Roman Catholic Church. The turly sad part is that many so called members of our Church add to these misconception by 2 basic means. They do not correct these myths when asked by friends or others who are inquisitive either from lack of knowlegde or feeling this is not their right to do so and the second most problem and perhaps the worse is that many so called “catholics” beleve the crticisms are correct.

  2. #1: The book looks only at data since 1982. As we’ve seen in another recent TAC post, we have far more incidents prior to 1982. The John Jay study, which goes farther back, concludes that a shocking 4% of priests were reported to have sexually abused children. The second link you posted says that 1-5% of teachers sexually abuse or harass children. Harassment is more common than sexual abuse so the prevalence among teachers is probably less than 2.5%. But then you have to take out the women teachers who are must less likely to sexually abuse students. It also might to useful to compare the prevalence of sexual abuse of boys only. Priests are more likely to abuse boys and teachers are more likely to abuse girls. Bottom line is that you need more data but it’s certain that among pedophiles, priests are outliers. Even if abuse isn’t any more prevalent, why boys instead of girls? I think it’s entirely possible that the priesthood attracts sexual deviants.

    #3: And some black slaves were allowed to sleep in the master’s house. Crumbs do not disprove oppression. If we’re going to completely honest with ourselves, I think we have to admit that the Church denies women opportunities that are open to men. We don’t have to get all defensive over that fact. Christ denied women opportunities that he gave to men.

    #5: The Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Mary, not Jesus.

    #8: I’m unclear of what you’re saying here. Catholics were once required to abstain from meat on ALL Fridays. Catholics must still abstain from meat on Fridays of Lent but in the US, bishops allow Catholics to give up something else on Fridays outside of Lent.

  3. I think that a lot of these misconceptions come from different places. The Dan Brown stuff is probably more common among evangelicals and conspiracy-types, two crowds that probably don’t have much in common. Ditto for the claim of oppressing women, which would come from feminist atheists and faithful Protestants.

    The supposed conflict between faith and reason in #4 is the one that irritates me the most. It’s so patently wrong! I attended a lecture on data visualization (of all things) last week, and the instructor went off on a tangent about the persecution of Galileo. For whatever reason, we get tarred by the same brush as evangelicals about science, then tarred by evangelicals about Mary. Oh well. As Chesterton said, if you’re being accused by everyone of every possible error, you may be perfectly correct.

  4. Yes Pinky, Chesteron really had a unigue use of words and as far as 9 is concerned ,they probably never heard of Hilaire Belloc..”wherever the Catholic sun doth shine there’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I always found it so Benedicamus Domino “

  5. Number 9 was news to me. Wine is even part of our sacramental life, unlike those denominations that use grape juice. I’ve never heard a stereotype about a sober Irishman, a teetotaling Italian, or a Mexican refusing beer, so I don’t know where the myth of Catholic avoidance of alcohol comes from.

  6. Too often Catholics get lumped together with puritan Protestant Creationists. And too often it’s Catholics who do it.

    Catholics can drink, smoke, believe in evolution, dinosaurs, the big bang, aliens, believe that you can be born gay, reject intelligent design, and celebrate Halloween.

    Here’s a couple others:

    Catholics are anti-sex or Catholics believe sex is purely for pro-creation.

    Catholics believe being gay is a sin.

  7. Catholics believe engaging in homosexual sex is a sin. Whether people are in their “being” gay, that is that it is genetically determined, is far from scientifically proven. But if so, it would be like alcoholism. There would be a genetic predispostion to sin which in itself would not be sinful but which, through grace, could be overcome.