October 24, 2020

Five Questions For Roman Catholics

UPDATE: Well, I am going to suppose this post got linked somewhere. Amy? What have you done to me? 🙂 I really appreciate the kindness and all the time represented in the answers. I haven’t read the thread, but have read the MANY emails that I received. I’ll catch up on the thread later. (Internet has been down.) I especially thank those of you who know that I am not interested in converting to the Roman Catholic Church, but have friends I love who quite possible may some day, and I am asking in reference to my relationship to them.

Again, thanks for your gracious answers and the very helpful, positive tone of the discussion.

I have some questions for a knowledgeable Roman Catholic. Pretty important matters.

1) Do Roman Catholics consider Protestant ministers like myself valid ministers? More particularly, if a good friend becomes Roman Catholic, are they now confessionally required to believe that I was never called of God to be a minister?

2) Why is so much of my dialog with Catholics frustrated with “cafeteria Catholicism?” Catholics will tell me that I must accept the church’s teaching on subject X, but if I point out that they also must accept the church’s teaching on subject Y, I often hear, “Don’t put words in my mouth. That’s not what I believe.” With all due respect, since when did the beliefs of an individual catholic matter? If a Protestant demonstrates that the church has infallibly taught Y, isn’t that the end of the discussion for the catholic?

3) What would be the church’s view on someone who is convinced the Catholic faith is true, but who is unable or chooses not to openly convert to Catholicism at this time? Is such a person committing a sin?

4) Exactly what is meant when a non-Catholic goes forward at communion to be blessed, but not partake? What if such a person- like myself- openly disagrees with some of the church’s teaching and is not seeking reception into the church?

5) What is the church’s view of leadership and submission in marriage? Would the church teach that a wife should join the church over the objections of her Christian, but Protestant, spouse? If so, how does this fit into the church’s teaching on marriage?


  1. I might be able to shed some light on some of these (ok, this is getting a lot longer than I thought. This post will tackle the first question. I’ll attempt to get to the rest later):

    I believe this hinges on what you mean by ‘valid ministers’. The Catholic concept of Holy Orders brings with it several other things of note. The first would be the ability to be ministers of the sacraments, and the second would be the three ‘levels’ of holy orders (diaconate, priesthood, and bishopric).

    Each ‘level’ can do different things. The Diaconate’s main job is ‘proclaiming of the word’. That is bringing the scriptures to the people by reading and preaching. They also may be ministers of the sacrament of marriage and baptism. Priests can do all the above, plus Reconciliation, Holy Communion, and Anointing of the Sick. Bishops may do all of the above, and in addition may confirm[1] and may be the minister of Holy Orders.

    So, knowing all of this, we come back to the initial question: would a Protestant minister be a ‘valid minister’.

    If by ‘valid minister’ you mean ‘partaking in the graces of Holy Orders’, then I believe the answer would have to be an emphatic ‘no'[2]. If by ‘valid minister’ you mean ‘Someone who preaches the word, and attempts to bring his/her fellow people to holiness’, then I believe the answer would be somewhere between ‘it depends’, and ‘yes’.

    The Catholic Church has a long tradition of people being preachers who are outside the sacrament of Holy Orders. Should you ever run into a ‘brother’ or ‘friar'[3], you’re most likely not talking to someone who has Holy Orders, but someone who is trying to live a life of holiness, and bringing others to that life.

    Should a Protestant minister convert to Catholicism, and show sufficient knowledge and fidelity to the teachings of Catholicism, it wouldn’t surprise me if they could be brought quickly into the Diaconate. Note: This would be a pastoral decision made by the local bishop, rather than a specific procedure/ruling from Rome. It would depend on many other factors as well.

    So, the brief answer to the question is that a Protestant minister could be akin to a minister without Holy Orders within the Catholic Church.


    [1] Priests may confirm when given direct permission from the Bishop for that instance of Confirmation.
    [2] For the record, I’m leaving aside the more tangled questions of ministers from the Eastern Orthodox, Anglican/Episcopalian, and (some?) Lutheran traditions.
    [3] Though ‘friar’ may be a more generic term for someone in a religious order, regardless of their ‘level’ in Holy Orders or lack there of.

  2. You’re absolutely in my prayers… have a safe journey!I’ll take a stab at these, but someone probably more knowledgable will be coming along in due course.

    1) The question of validity comes down to the old line, “it depends on what the definition of validity is.” If you mean valid in terms of an authentic calling, that’s probably up for debate among Catholics. Ultimately, Catholics believe you are called to be part of His Church, established by Jesus Christ. There are many paths God may take someone to reach that end and it’s really not our place to second-guess His plan for you in my opinion. If you mean valid in terms of having valid orders, or having sacramental orders, the answer to that would be no, provided you were not ordained by someone who had valid orders (i.e. a wayward bishop that was ordained validly). Then I think there are some intricacies that I am not aware of.

    2) You and me both Brother! It is frustrating to listen to members of your community excoriate this person or that person for not accepting a tenet of the faith, but then in the same breath will practice a form of birth control that is not consistent with Church teaching. Understanding what the Church believes is essential to furthering Christ’s mission in the world. Unfortunately we have not done a great job in that department recently.

    3) I almost hate to answer this one, because it is fairly damning, but the basic premise of sin is knowledge. A good paralel to your example would be the Garden of Eden. Adam knew he wasn’t supposed to eat the fruit, but did so anyway. In order for there to be sin, there must be knowledge. If knowledge is in place, and the Truth is accepted, then to not act on that Truth is sinful. Again, I’m not an expert on these matters, just sharing my limited understanding. If you believe the Catholic Church teaches the truth, then not participating in those truths is sinful. A friend of mine likes to say that in our journey with God there is no standing still… you’re either taking a step toward Him or taking a step away from Him.

    4) Actually, I don’t think there is any liturgical provision for people receiving a blessing at communion. It’s a bad practice that has worked it’s way into parish life in many parts of the country. That being said, the act of approcahing the altar to receive could be interpreted as a gesture of acceptance.

    5) I can only go by experience here as part of a married couple trying to live as good Catholics. My experience has been that if one is Catholic and in a sacramental marriage, then children in that family should be raised Catholic. It’s your responsibility as a Catholic parent to be sure your children are raised in an environment where they receive the Truth. As parents, you are the child’s first and most important instructor on matters of faith and belief. It is much more difficult to do that role when half of the parents are participating in their children’s education. However, I don’t believe there is anything that a wife would be forced to join the church (or a husband for that matter). I’ve always found that if someone keeps an open mind, the more they are exposed to the Truth the harder it is for them to turn away. Monica prayed long and hard for Augustine (granted they weren’t married, but still family), and he eventually saw the light.

  3. 1. Marcus Grodi often speaks of the call that we can hear vs the idea of “being sent” (quote from St. Paul somewhere). Ordained ministry (priesthood) is a sacrament that is discerned in and through the Church, the same w/ the other sacraments. The idea of authority, apostolic authority, is key. St. Paul’s ministry was confirmed w/ the Apostles. Thus, St. Paul could chose others to assist him.

    2. Catholics are required to believe all that the Church teaches, either officially (dogmas/councils/creeds) and even “unofficially”. Not all articles of the faith are solemnly pronounced dogmas. But if it’s what the Church has taught historically via Tradition, yes. You are correct.

    3. The Church teaches that if a person is convinced that the Catholic Church is the one true church, then to either leave or refuse to enter is sinful. The degree of culpability is known only to God and the person, but the guidelines for discerning serious sin (mortal) are 1. the type of sin, 2. the persons knowledge, 3. consent of the will.

    4. Non-Catholics receiving a blessing at Communion is a modern novelty. You don’t see it in the old roman rite, nor in the Eastern rites. It’s not part of the official ritual. And it’s not really the place for it, though it has become a recent custom in some places. There are plenty of places within the Mass to receive a blessing. Just attending a worship service itself is a blessing. (where 2 or more are gathered). Ask yourself this, if you don’t believe what the Church teaches, especially Holy Orders, why would you want a blessing from a priest anyway?

    5. The idea is mutual submission. You have to read the whole quote from Ephesians to the get the full idea. But the Church would teach that a person’s conscience (well formed) should be the guiding factor. A wife that believes the Catholic Church is true should be on a trajectory to full communion. How and when that happens requires prudence (a virtue) and charitable love (a theological virtue). The good of the family is important, but the individual’s soul and relationship to God should lead the way. Difficult question to answer in general terms.

    -hope this helps.
    -a former RCIA guy

  4. Re #3, this question has been important to me..two years ago I became convinced that I could not remain an “anonymous” Catholic..entered the Catholic Church this Easter Vigil. Regarding this question, the Catechism states:

    “Outside the Church, there is no salvation”

    846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

    Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.336

    847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

    Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.337

    (quotes are from Lumen Gentium)

    However, also note that the Catholic Church recognizes the validity of all Trinitarian baptisms so, for example, my baptism in the United Methodist Church already established a certain union with the Church, albeit incomplete.

    Grace be with you,

  5. 4) I don’t think the blessing at Communion means anything particularly relating to one’s relationship to the church. It is more a practice that has developed recently and doesn’t have much in the way of set rules. Lex orandi, lex credendi.

    I wish I had answers to more of your questions.

  6. A stab at the first two:

    1. From a Catholic point of view, you’re not a valid bishop, priest, or deacon. “Minister” does not, AFAIK, have a precise Catholic definition.

    This does not, of course, require the Catholic to believe that you aren’t serving Jesus Christ the best you know how, or to believe that God may not be using your ministry for the ends of his Kingdom. (That would be using your ministry *with your cooperation*—i.e., God may be using your work as he uses the work of those who want to serve him. We’re not talking about Balaam’s ass here.)

    Basically, Catholics aren’t going to look to you for sacraments, but you might well be recognized by Catholics as one who is a leader in his own Christian community. (“Your own Christian community” isn’t a Church in the technical sense, and is deficient because of that—but lack of sacraments and orders, and even lack of communion with the Church proper, doesn’t make y’all non-Christian.)

    2. As a convert myself, I can’t really tell you why. For me, if I become convinced that the Church has infallibly taught Y, that *is* the end of the discussion. The only way to attack that argument is cast doubt that the Church teaches Y infallibly (maybe Y is taught but not infallibly, or maybe the teaching isn’t as univocal or unequivocal as it seems at first blush). But yes, if Y really is an infallible teaching of the Church, game over.

    I’ll leave 3-5 for those better informed than I.


  7. I’ll answer number 5. The Catholic view has been thrown in flux by John Paul II not being clear on this matter in two lesser documents: an apostolic letter (Dignity of Women) and a series of talks (Theology of the Body). Casti Cannubii, an encyclical and hence higher document than either of John Paul’s, was perfectly clear and linked any undermining of wifely obedience and husband jurisdictional (not just theological) headship with false prophets in section 74 of that encyclical….sentence one. Unfortunately current leadership in Catholicism has been indecisive on the matter due to inroads of modern biblical scholarship and it is therefore not in the catechism at all.

    So I will go to my view as a Catholic who places Casti Cannubii above the said talk and apostolic letter: that women are to be subject to their husband but within limitations. And the truth and Christ together are a limitation on the husband’s jurisdiction. His requiring his wife to avoid joining the Catholic Church may be a sincere conscience on his part but her sincere conscience must not obey him since in her conscience she is choosing between Christ and her husband in this matter and Christ supervenes any authority on earth. This goes to the sword that Christ said He would bring rather than peace. She must obey Christ who she sees as behind this call.

  8. 1) I don’t think the term “minister” is a defined office in the Catholic Church so I am not sure whether there is such thing as valid/invalid Protestant minster. Clearly you do not share in the sacrament of holy orders but that doesn’t mean that God hasn’t called you to some sort of ministry. So the converted friend would not have to believe that you were not called; he would have to believe that God is ultimately calling you into full communion with Rome.

    2) It’s hard to answer this without having a more specific idea of what you are talking about. But certainly it is the case that if you have demonstrated to a Catholic that the Catholic Church infallibly teaches Y that Catholic is obligated to hold Y.

    4) The custom of receiving blessing at communion is a recent development. It does not signify much of anything — as far as I know — except a desire to be blessed. Receiving such a blessing does not require you to believe anything in particular.

    – – – – – – – – –

    3) I believe the answer to this one is that the person is putting their soul in grave danger. A person who knows the truths of the Catholic Church and knows that Christ has established the Church for the purpose of providing the means of salvation and yet refuses to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church is rejecting God’s grace and thus in serious sin. BUT I don’t have a citation for this so this answer is tentative.

    5) This is a very good question and not one I can answer.

  9. I can’t address all the questions, but I’ll share what I’ve learned from studying the RCC for several years. (I haven’t joined by my husband has.)

    1- This is a very Protestant question. Catholics wouldn’t view it the same way. You are following God in your life. Catholics accept that Christians in other denominations are Christians, even if the RCC thinks the they are in “imperfect communion” with the true church. I’ve never seen evidence that church leaders denigrate the work or calling of Protestant ministers. In fact, the priest who presided over Mass yesterday teaches at Duke University School of Theology training Protestant ministers.

    2- As a person seriously looking into the RCC, this frustrates me, too. I can’t take the church dogmas lightly, and won’t join unless I can support them. I know plenty of cafeteria Catholics, but I can’t rationalize joining the church if I thought I’d be one, too. On the other hand, the church take a “big tent” mentality that is also rather foreign to Protestants. They are willing for those in error (whether on points of distinctive Catholic doctrines, or on general orthodox faith issues) to remain in the church because “Where else will they be more likely to encounter the truth than in the church.”

    3- The Catholic church believes that baptized Christians are part of the true church, even if “imperfectly” a part. I’m sure they would encourage a person to come into full communion, and would think it very important, but to call it a sin? I don’t think so. I have had absolutely no pressure from anyone to join, even though I was originally the one who was interested. The RCIA director meets with me regularly to answer question or talk theology in general, but neither he nor the priest are putting any pressure. There isn’t the feeling that people need to be “saved” out of Protestantism.

    4- A blessing is a prayer. The priest simply asks for God to bless you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and sometimes touches your head or makes the sign of the cross on your forehead. It seems little different from the doxology used in many Protestant churches: May the Lord bless you and keep you, May the Lord make his face shine upon you and give you peace. The minister often says this with his hands raised over the congregation. The priests blessing is simply more one-on-one.

    5- I don’t know about this. I think the Church would support one spouse or the other joining the church if they were so convicted in their heart. I don’t think they would argue the wife, or husband, *should* join over the objections of the spouse.

    Our baptisms and marriage vows were both honored in the Catholic church, btw.

    I might add that there are plenty of “mixed marriages” in any Catholic Church. We are not the only family that goes to Mass *and* our Protestant church every weekend. These marriages, as well as non-Catholic regular attenders, are very common, and are tolerated much better there than they are in the Protestant church. As I’ve said, no one at the Catholic Churches we’ve attended have ever made me feel less a Christian because I am Protestant. I can’t say the reverse about the Protestants who find out my husband joined the RCC.

    BTW- A great look into ecumenical, theologically conservative Catholic thought is Peter Kreeft’s website. http://www.peterkreeft.com He has free audio downloads, as well as many written essays available.


  10. Michael, these are some good questions. Thanks for asking them. I suppose I’ll take a stab at numbers 2 and 3

    2)A Catholic ought to believe that all teachings of Catholic Church are True. They are to be accepted and acknowledged as true. So I think you have it right on this one. Unfortunately (as you point out) this is not always the case and like protestants some Catholics pick and choose what they want to believe rather than professing complete faith in Christ and His Church. This is probably were your frustration comes in, and it think can mostly be attributed to poor formation amongst the Catholic.

    3) I suppose my question for you is, how important is Truth? We know that Truth sets us free, and we know that Christ is Truth. So if one comes to believe the Catholic Faith is in fact True then I would imagine to remain Protestant would hinder their walk with Christ. Whether its a sin or not is hard to say, but I will say that believing Christ is fully present in the Eucharist and offering Himself to you every Sunday while you’re choosing not to be there because you’re not willing to make the sacrifice necessary is a bad idea. If one believes that Christ is Truly Present in the Eucharist I can’t understand while one wouldn’t run to the nearest Mass, let alone causally miss it.

    Hopefully that helps. Those are just some immediate thoughts on the matter. Hopefully others will come for the rest of your questions. Thanks again for asking!

  11. Eric Sammons says

    As a former Evangelical (now Catholic), I’ll try to answer this for you.

    1) The short answer is “no”, at least in the sense that I think you mean. The problem is the meaning of the term “minister”. Are you an ordained priest able to celebrate the Eucharist and part of apostolic succession? No. But have you been used by God to minister His grace to others? Of course. In the Catholic world, you would be a layperson, but that does not mean that you cannot have legitimate “ministries”.

    2) This is a frustration for many Catholics as well. If something is truly infallibly defined (and properly understood), then, yes, that should be the end of discussion to a Catholic. Unfortunately, many Catholics do not understand that concept.

    3) Whereas we cannot judge the state of someone’s soul, the situation you describe would be an objectively grave action. We are all obliged to follow the truth when we discover it, and to not do so would be, in some form, rejecting that truth, and thus rejecting Christ, who is the Truth. I am assuming a situation in which a person spends quite some time resisting converting even though he knows the Catholic Faith is true, not someone who simply takes a bit of time accepting his new-found realization and integrating it’s consequences into his life.

    4) The blessing is a pious practice that has no sacramental quality to it. Anyone can be blessed, regardless of their situation. Basically, the priest is asking God to bless and guide this person’s attempt to follow Christ in their life.

    5) In general, the traditional Catholic teaching on marriage has always been based on St. Paul’s teaching in this area. The man is the head of the household, who must be willing to give his life up for his wife. The wife must submit to her husband. In the case of a potential conversion of the wife, then the wife has a higher obligation to God over her husband, and thus should convert even over the husband’s objections. This does not mean she cannot use prudence to determine when and how her reception into the Church should take place.

  12. Mr. Spencer,

    This is the first time on your blog. I found it courtesty of Amy Welborn’s Charlotte was Both.

    Question 1:

    In Catholicism the word “valid” has a very specific meaning. It refers to the ability to confer a sacrament. One of the most common usages would be with regard to conferring the sacrament of the Eucharist. Catholics believe that the Eucharist (communion bread and wine) becomes literally the Body and Blood of Christ. However, only a “valid” minister (a priest) can make this change actually happen. In this sense, because you have not been ordained by a validly ordained Catholic bishop you are not a “valid” minister in this sense. However, it is very important to note, while the Catholic Church loves her priests, they are not the entirety of the Church. Especially in the wake of Vatican II, the involvement of the lay people and the creation of various lay apostolates seeking to spread the message and the person of Jesus Christ with the world. In as much as one shares the truth of Jesus and ministers to the needs of people, one is a minister. It would be the height of arrogance for me or anyone else to assume that we know that God hasn’t called you to spread the message of Jesus Christ. Of course, I’m bound to believe that you are called to do so from within the fold and under the guidance of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.

    Question 2

    You are partially right. In as much as the Church has declared something which might be held by the faithful, we must assent. Even in non-infallible matters, we must assent to the ordinary teaching of the Magisterium. Of course, Catholics do have recourse to their conscience, though we bear a very serious obligation to allow the Church to form our conscience. There is still a lot of gray areas about which good Catholics are free to disagree. The Church is Mother not dictator. Having a bedrock of truth which I can depend to know spiritual truths definitively provides far more freedom than it does restriction.

    Question 3

    I think it depends on why a person chooses not to convert. The Catholic Church would certainly frown upon (maybe in strong terms) someone who permanently decided not to convert even though they were convinced of the truth. Exceptions would be someone who might face serious bodily harm or some other grave reason if they converted, but even still this would only be for a time, not a permanent decision. In the U.S., I can imagine very few *good* reasons for delaying entry into the Church once one is convinced that the Church is who she says she is. If one considers this, one would have to seriously consider why they think this is necessary. I think too often, if one is honest, one will understand that it might make life easier in the short term or it’ll prevent some inconveniences. These aren’t good reasons to not follow the truth. To put it in different terms, imagine it’s the greatest love story in the world. You have met the most beautiful, wonderful, virtuous woman in the world. You are madly in love with her and she is madly in love with you. She is waiting for you, desperate for you. Her entire life is on hold for you. And you make her wait. Yeah, I can definitely see how that might be sinful.

    Question 4

    An interesting question. Presumably when you go up for a blessing, you are acknowledging at the very least that the priest has some authority to bless you in the name of God. You acknowledge that this blessing is efficacious. Why? What makes his blessing efficacious and why does he have that authority? Why can’t someone else in the church bless you? Why can’t you turn to your neighbor and ask for a blessing? Objectively, I don’t see a huge problem with this. Certainly, it’s better than choosing to receive Communion against the Church’s wishes.

    Question 5

    I’m not fully qualified to answer this question as I’m certainly no expert on submission within a Christian message. I will say a few things though. First, a couple must be 100% submissive to one another in the fullest sense possible. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body emphasized that couples in the sexual act (which is the very heart of a marriage) give themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually 100%. They make a gift of themselves. This gift mirrors the way in which the Father gives Himself completely to the Son and correspondingly the way the Son gives Himself completely to the Father. Many of the questions about submission go out the window when this is properly understood. That being said, you treat a wife’s choice to join the Church like it’s a decision to go to the corner grocery or not. Obviously, it would be wonderful if the two agreed on this point. However, whatever a woman’s obligation is to her husband, it is even more so to her God. Marriage is from God. Her husband is from God. She was created by God. A person’s greatest responsibility at all times is to follow the will of God to the best of their knowledge. A woman who wants to join the Church isn’t making some simple selfish decision. If properly understood, she’s in her own way also hoping to help the marriage. Marriage is a covenant that reflects heaven. Man and wife are a foretaste of the love of God. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the husband and the wife to seek to grow closer to God and to come to the truth to the best of their ability so that their marriage can be more truly reflective of the love of God.

    I hope some of this was helpful.

  13. 1) The first part of your question needs to be re-framed, because it deals with a difference of fundamental concepts between Catholic and Protestant thinking. (Well, many varieties of Protestant, anyway.) What is your understanding of ministry?

    As to the second part, no. The discernment of vocation is a matter for the individual’s conscience.

    2) This is a cultural problem whose roots are obscure, but which was exacerbated by misunderstandings of what the Second Vatican Council was meant to accomplish. In essence, some Catholics were either taught poorly or not taught at all about assent to the teaching authority of the Magisterium, and so they selectively apply it.

    3) We must distinguish between the cases you mention. Were the person truly and actually unable to do so, then there would be no sin; the person would merely defer his formal reception until the inability has passed.

    The second case is more sticky. Based on my understanding of what the Church teaches, I would say that a person who is convinced of the Church’s claims but delays his reception without good reason is committing a sin.

    4) This is not a uniform practice in the whole of the Catholic world. If one were being uncharitable, one might put it down to touchy-feely-warm-fuzzy inclusiveness without a point; however, something more substantial may be understood, I think.

    As a recent publication of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith indicates, Catholics still have some degree of unity, albeit imperfect, with those Christians who are not Catholic. We look forward to and desire the day when all will be fully one, as Our Lord desires, but at present there are things which keep us apart. Inviting non-Catholics up for a blessing can be understood as a sign and foretaste of that unity we hope for in the world to come.

    5) The first part of the question is too broad to answer in this forum, so I will confine myself to the second. In the case you mention, yes, the wife would join the church even over the objections of her husband, because her first duty is (as always) to God. Conscience is also inviolable in marriage; a husband may not command things of his wife contrary to conscience, and vice-versa.

  14. I’m sure you’ll get more learned answers than mine, but I thought I would offer my perspective.

    1) Every priest I have ever met has recognized protestant ministers respectfully. We have married lay ministers — both male and female — in the Catholic Church, so it’s probably something like believing you’ve been called to ministry but not called to the priesthood.

    2) “Cafeteria Catholicism” has been pretty rampant in certain parts of the country due to lazy catechism. It happened a lot during the 60s, 70s and 80s when, I think, Catholics were trying to make Catholicism more palatable to modern sensibilities. IMHO, this totally backfired and all you got was watered-down Catholicism. You’re also in a part of the country where the Catholic leaders were very liberal about what people were taught or not taught. Where I live in Nebraska, there is a lot of orthodoxy, and you’re a lot less inclined to find people who are openly “cafeteria Catholic.” This is not to say that every Catholic holds to the letter of the law like real sticklers. Catholicism is a journey to holiness, and we’re all at different stages of the journey. (That’s why we call it PRACTICING Catholicism — it takes practice!) When a Catholic person is heading toward holiness, they are going to grow in their faith and understanding and become more and more in line with the total sum of Catholic teaching. So one must be merciful with the “weaker brethren” who aren’t quite there yet on certain issues and trust the Holy Spirit to lead them into truth. The only time it’s really a sin is when a Catholic person knows what the truth is and flat-out refuses to head in that direction out of their own selfish desires.

    3. The Church’s view on the person who recognizes the Catholic faith as truth but can’t commit to it yet is to be merciful and prayerfully supportive of that person. But the question becomes, what is holding that person back? If you know something is true, aren’t you required to act on it no matter what? But it can be difficult. My husband came to the point where he believe Catholicism was true and I wasn’t there yet, but his biggest concern was his frail grandmother. She was a great evangelical and Bible-reading lady, and he was legitimately afraid she’d drop dead of a heart attack or a broken heart if she knew he was considering becoming Catholic. We ended up enrolling in RCIA in late September and kept it a secret from his family. His grandmother died in early October, and we told his dad in March and his mother in April (neither one of them were happy about it at all). I don’t consider it a sin that he stalled for some time (over a year) before pursuing Catholicism — it was more like “counting the cost.” Not sure what a priest would say, but it’s sort of a non-issue now, since we are Catholic.

    4) If you choose to go forward for a blessing during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, you’ll just get a blessing from the priest. (Cross your arms, hands to opposite shoulders & bow your head, and you’ll get the blessing.) It doesn’t matter if you’re not actively seeking reception into the Church or if you still have issues of disagreement with the Church. If you don’t want a blessing, don’t go — plenty of people just stay in their pews for various reasons, so it’s not a big deal.

    5) The Church teaches that a man CANNOT force his wife to convert to Catholicism, or vice versa, and likewise that a husband or wife should not prevent their spouse from becoming Catholic.

    The Church teaches that protestants are part of the Church — our “separated brethren.” So a wife becoming Catholic would not be causing a division with her husband, because we all love Jesus and we’re all Christians here.

    However, if one spouse wants to become Catholic and the other spouse considers that to be an irreparable blow to the marriage, then for the sake of upholding marriage vows, the spouse who wants to convert may be counseled to bide their time, continue to study and pray and come to Mass when possible, and wait until the other spouse is less threatened by the issue.

    I should say that when my husband told me he thought we should become Catholic, I thought he was nuts. I was positively sure that there was NO WAY that God wanted us to be Catholic, and I only agreed to go to RCIA because I knew my husband sought the truth, and I though that RCIA would show all of Catholicism faults to my husband and therefore turn him away from such a ridiculous idea. We went through RCIA together because we believe in unity of faith in marriage. I have a great deal of respect for my husband as a Christian man — I just thought he was a little misguided on this issue and a little more study would clear his head. Boy, was I wrong. I was wrong in thinking Catholicism isn’t biblical. I was wrong on pretty much every point of Catholic theology that I found disagreeable. I was wrong on my view of Catholic sacraments, etc., etc. The more I studied, the more I realized my husband was right (again!), and we were received into the Catholic Church together.

  15. First a caveat. I am not a Catholic theologian, merely a certified catechist. I will answer to the best of my ability, but stand ready to acknowledge that there are others who have greater knowledge of these matters than myself.
    1. The Catholic Church holds that only in the Church does the full truth of Christ reside. That being said other Christian groups are repositories of truth in so much as their beliefs are (commensurate with that of the Catholic Church. The Church does not recognize the validity of ministers who are not Catholic. This does not mean that they do not recognize your personal call to ministry. Many men who were previously Protestant ministers who convert to Catholicism eventually become Catholic deacons or even priests. The Church does, of course, recognize your temporal authority, as a leader of a specific group, so it is not forbidden for me as a Catholic to address you by your ministerial title (if you have one)or to cooperate with you in Euchumetical settings.
    2. Catholic doctrine is not a take it or leave it kind of thing. Any Catholic who holds beliefs in contradiction to Catholic doctrine is in a state of mortal sin. That being said such a sin is no greater or less than other mortal sins and can be forgiven should the sinner repent.
    But in beliefs it is not so simple as that, as all beliefs, are not of the same worth.
    There are doctrinal beliefs that are not open to interpretation. The Church’s stand on abortion is one such belief. One can not be pro-abortion and not be in a state of mortal sin. Belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist is another.
    There are other situations which are not so clear. Just War doctrine makes a judgment on the Iraq war open to interpretation by Catholics. Capital punishment also comes under this heading.
    Also no Catholic is required to believe personal revelations, such as apparitions of the Blessed Virgin or the visions of Catholic mystics, such as St. Faustina.
    Certainly there are those who call themselves Catholic who try to pick and choose which items of central doctrine they believe. They will eventually have to account to God for that.
    The actual number of points that the Church has infallibly taught on is quite small. Every papal document or missive out of the Vatican is not a repository of infallible teaching.
    3. Tough one. Coming to the Church (“crossing the Tiber”) is not so much a matter sin or not sin. The Church does not hold that every Protestant is eternally damned, which it would if it deemed them in a state of mortal sin. So by extension does not necessarily hold that someone who has, through the intervention of the Holy Spirit, (for how else is one ever to come to Christ?)been investigating conversion to the Church, and is coming to realize the repository of truth therein is in a state a sin for not moving fast enough. Eventually, though there comes a point when the individual knows, delay beyond that point may become sinful. That is a point between God and the person. Even if sin results, like all sin it is forgivable, for there is no sin God will not forgive, if asked in true repentance.
    4. I’m not a big believer in people going forward at the time of the reception of the Eucharist for blessing. There is no rule against it and it is common practice in many diocese. In my opinion the time of the reception of Communion should be just that, and reserved for those who are actually receiving the Body & Blood. Some priests agree with me. Some don’t. The Church permits it.
    5. The Church, in general, is not as institutionally supportive of marital leadership and submission as some Protestant sects. This should be obvious in the traditional rules governing marriage by a Catholic to a non-Catholic. Irregardless if the Catholic is the husband or wife for the marriage to be sacramentally celebrated it is generally understood that any children from the marriage will be raised Catholic. Previously it was even required that the non-Catholic attest to this in writing. That is no longer the case, I believe.
    Further let us parse Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. In it Paul says, “Husbands love your wife as Christ loves the Church.” So in the best case a man who truly loves his wife would not prevent her from doing what she thinks she must for the salvation of her soul.
    In worst case the Church would support the wishes of the wife over her husband, just as they would over a pagan or atheist husband. The Church recognizes non-sacramental marriages, but such marriages are not equivalent to sacramental marriages (which is why two Catholics, having both converted and previously civilly married to each other, can be sacramentally married.) In the final analysis the salvation of the wife’s soul trumps the marriage.
    This is really no different than case of a Catholic couple in which the husband ceases to believe and is no longer a practicing Catholic. The Church would uphold the right of the wife to continue to practice, even against the wishes of the husband.

  16. 1) If you frame the question as “Do I believe that you are called by the Holy Spirit to “minister” to his people?”, I would answer yes. If you frame the question as “Is this equivalent to the priesthood?” I would answer no. The priest is given a particular gift through the laying on of hands in the apostolic succession that allows him to administer the sacraments. This does not ensure that the priest is a good speaker, or a wise man, or knows how to comfort people, or is very holy in his own life. Most Catholics will tell you they have sat through some very bad homilies to get to the Eucharist. It has to do with why I am there on Sunday. I am there to worship God and to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. If I get to hear a good homily, that’s a real plus, but not why I came. Same in the confessional. I have had some pretty poor priests hear my confession, but they still have the authority to administer the sacrament. You do have a calling to bring the Love of God to people. In my understanding, you do not have the authority to administer the sacraments.
    2) Isn’t that the end of it for the Catholic? It should be if the doctrine is presented correctly. I have found that a great deal of the protestant church, including my family (I’m a convert) do not have a full understanding of what the church really teaches. I do NOT know or claim that is the case with you. I would suggest that there are other possibilities than that the speaker is a cafeteria catholic. By the way, I found my way into the church through the cafeteria. This also can be a developmental stage in the conversion process. A great number of people get lost in the cafeteria, it is true. The Holy Spirit still calls all of us to grow in holiness.
    3) It is always sin refuse to follow where God is calling you. Is this a mortal sin? (resulting in damnation?) Probably not- but I’m no expert here, just a guy in the pew. It would be a cause for concern, if you felt God calling you to join the Catholic Church and refused His call.
    4) I see a person’s asking for a blessing as an acknowledgement of the priest’s authority to give one and openness to the prayers of the faithful on behalf of your soul. This is not a bad thing at all. This is to be encouraged. These are major steps in a positive direction.
    5) My answers here come as a paraphrase of someone I heard on the radio, I believe Fr. Thomas Loya. The wife is to be in submission to the husband, that is she is to place herself under the mission of the husband. This begs the question, what is the mission of the husband? Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church and gave Himself for her. We husbands are called to a self sacrificial love for our wives. Wives are called to be open to that love. In light of this understanding, can a wife join the Catholic Church over the objections of her protestant husband? I would say yes insofar as the husband is failing in his role when he refuses to allow her to follow the Spirit’s leading. In the ideal world, the husband should be the spiritual leader. In a lot of cases, like mine, my wife is so much further down the road toward God that I am left trying to play catch up as best I can.
    Sorry for the length of the post

  17. On number three, there are infallible positions (the Sacraments-Trent/Immaculate Conception/Assumption/ abortion-euthanasia-and killing the innocent as mortal sin (see Evangelium Vitae sections 62,65,57 respectively)and many others)and there are non infallible positions which must be obeyed (birth control’s ban) unless the exception of sincere, studious and prayerful dissent applies to the non infallible issue at hand which concept is in our approved moral theology tomes postdating Vatican II’s requirement of “religious submission of mind and will” to serious positions of Popes based on certain criteria that Lumen Gentium 25 lists. There can be no dissent on the infallible issues when they are clearly… not doubtfully infallible or maybe infallible (see canon 749-3 below).

    Infallible positions are more rare than some Catholics seem to think. On the internet, Catholics seem ready to excommunicate other Catholics based on positions that they hold to be infallible. Canon 749-3 exists for that purpose and implies that one’s personal feeling nor a theologians’s personal opinion that something is infallible is not enough: “No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.” Thus in Catholic ecclesiatical courts for a heresy charge to be brought at all would require that the issue should be infallible and that the infallibility should be manifestly evident. That is why inter alia such trials are rare.

    Therefore when you write as you did above: “If a Protestant demonstrates that the church has infallibly taught Y, isn’t that the end of the discussion for the catholic?” I have to laugh out loud because it is hard for our theologians to demonstrate that the Church has infallibly taught XYZ if there is doubt at all due to wording. In the 5 plus named infallible cites that I gave, you will find clear wording by the Popes or Councils involved.

  18. 1. Protestant ministers are laypeople. Laypeople are valid ministers but not in the same way priests are. Roman Catholics don’t believe God calls anyone to reject the church so if that is part of what you mean by being a minister then “yes” they would be expected to believe you had missed the fullness of your calling by being a protestant minister.

    2. It is mostly sin. I would have to know the details of your conversation to be sure but that is my guess. Just like we ask people not to reject Christ because of the sins of Christians we also ask people not to reject the Catholic church because of the sins of Catholics.

    3. Yes, part of the truth of the faith is that all Christians are to be sacramentally part of the body of Christ. To refuse to do so would be a mortal sin. I do wonder how such a person might reason. If you really believe Catholic sacraments are true, if you really believe the pope is the vicar of Christ, if you really beleive it is the heart of Jesus for all His followers to be one under the leadership of the apostolic successors, then what is the reason for not joining?

    4. I am not sure of the offical teaching here. My thinking is that it is just a blessing to allow you to receive Christ in whatever way you are open to. You are not open to accept him sacramentally as a member of His visible body but you might be open to Chirst in non-sacramental ways.

    5. My understanding is that the submission to the church takes priority over the submission to the husband. Some priests would council a woman to wait and pray for her husband for a period. The hope would be to get them to join as a family. It varies so you would have to ask your local priest.

  19. I’m not a Catholic, but as far as 3) goes, I’m pretty sure that the answer is yes. This question has been the source of a great deal of stress for me personally, as I am someone who has suspicions that that Catholic faith might be true, but I’m not completely convinced of it by any means. The issue for me, I guess, is “how convinced is ‘convinced'”; what exactly does this mean? Is a certain amount of faith asked for? What level of conviction is required for faith to be expected?
    Sorry to butt in, but I hope a Catholic can answer these corollary questions for me as well.

  20. I’ll take a stab at question #1 for now:

    Of course, a Protestant minister is a “valid minister” of the Gospel. That’s taking the word “minister” in a very wide sense. Within the Catholic Church herself, there are many who are “ministers of the Gospel” without being validly ordained priests. That is the distinction that must be made. The Catholic Church would not recognize a Protetant minister of the Gospel as having valid Orders, i.e. with the authority to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (consecrate the Holy Eucharist), absolve from sin, administer the other Sacraments. The Catholic Church recognizes the validity of Holy Orders in the Orthodox Churches and in the Ancient Churches of the East, and in some of the Old Catholic Churches and the Polish National Catholic Church.

    As Fr Dwight Longenecker (a former Evangelical-turned-Anglican vicar-turned-Catholic-layman-turned-married-Catholic-priest) wrote on his blog, blogspot.gkupsidedown.com,“On the one hand, it is wonderful to see non-Catholics desire a deeper and more real Eucharistic experience. On the other hand, it is confusing. Just what do non-Catholic Christians believe about the sacraments? Can a good Evangelical continue to deny that the sacraments are effective and also be annoyed when Catholics say that their non-Catholic sacraments are not effective? Do Evangelicals believe in the efficacy of sacraments or not? If they do, then in what way are they effective? If not, then why be annoyed at Catholic claims?”

    Fraternally in Christ,

    Fr Brian Mulcahy, OP

  21. Michael – This is hard for most denominations to accept, but as Tony Campolo says in Adventures In Missing The Point, “. . . what you believe may be partly correct, but it is certainly not completely correct. The Point? We must always be open to further insights that will give us fuller understanding of what God is all about.” And he cites 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 (For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. nkjv)

  22. Ok, I’ll take a stab at it. (WIth the caveat that I’m not a theologian or a canon lawyer and I could be wrong on any of these points. If someone wants to correct me in an error, I’d be grateful).

    1) Hmmm…I’d have to know what you mean by ‘valid minister’. I know a couple of converts who were protestant ministers prior to converting. They pretty obviously had been called to that ministry by God (the same God who later led them into the Church and into new forms of ministry among Catholics). Now, it’s important to distinguish between ministry and the ordained priesthood – the priesthood confers an indelible mark upon the spirit, and only valid apostolic churches (Catholic and most or many of the Orthodox) retain the apostolic succession needed to grant sacramental priesthood. BUT…that doesn’t mean that God might not call other people, at various points in their spiritual journey, into ministry in whatever Christian community they belong to.

    2)If you can prove that the Church infallibly teaches Y, it ought to be the end of the conversation with a Catholic. That it so often isn’t is just one more proof, IMO, that indeed the tares will grow alongside the wheat until Christ returns. Because Catholicism is sacramental, a person can be a Catholic because they were baptized Catholic and confirmed Catholic – their soul is marked. But…that they have been claimed through baptism isn’t a guarantee (unfortunately) that they won’t still be lost, misled, or in error. We can continue to have hope though that they will grow in their conviction of the truth contained in the deposit of Faith, and someday adhere and avow all that the Church has proclaimed to be true.

    The short answer would be that Cafeteria Catholics would rather stay in the Church since they have a cultural or familial attachment to being Catholic than they would leave the Church and lose the ability to say, “I’m Catholic but…”. Human nature being what it is, we are all tempted to reject the pieces of God’s truth most inconvenient to ourselves and to our pet sins.

    3) I actually don’t know. I would think a lot would depend on the gravity of the reasons for not converting, and on the state of that person’s soul and conscience. CS Lewis came very close to Catholicism but some biographers suggest that he was held back either by an inborn prejudice, or by the sense that Anglicanism needed him more. Possibly by both, at various times. Despite that, many Catholics hold Lewis in a great deal of esteem. And then, of course, if one concludes that it is a sin to refrain from conversion once convicted of the truth of Catholicism, the next question would be how sinful is it? Many converts that come from a position of authority in other churches have a variety of pressing reasons to delay their conversion or to keep their convictions secret for a time…

    My guess would be that this is a similar matter to a delayed baptism…if a person fully intends to be baptised but is prevented from doing so and dies prior to baptism, then they would be considered to have had a ‘baptism of desire’. If the convicted person desires to convert but circumstance makes it impossible to do so for a time, then I would think that as long as they were working towards remedying the obstacles to full conversion and reception in the church, that there would be no sin there, and that in fact, they would have spiritually united themselves with the Communion of the Saints through their desire.

    Obviously, someone who is merely looking for excuses not to make the move that their conscience has called them to is much more obviously in danger of sin.

    4) I’ll leave this one to someone else. I mean, by itself, asking for a blessing is asking for a blessing, and nothing more. But I’m not sure whether others might feel that doing so in the context of the Mass does/ought to signify a desire for greater communion.

    5) I think that a lot would depend on the marriage, honestly. Christ tells us in Matt. 10:37 that anyone who loves Father or Mother, Sister or Brother more than Him is not worthy of Him. That would seem to indicate that the woman who seeks to follow Christ’s call over the objections of her family (even her husband) does something laudable. On the other hand, she is supposed to obey her husband, and I think she also does nothing wrong if her husband outright forbids her conversion and she obeys him in the hope of winning him over (or at least gaining his permission) in the future.

    What kind of idiot husband would try to forbid his wife from following her conscience anyway? Jeepers.

    Actually, this sort of feeds into question 3 – because if neglecting to convert once convicted is sinful, then she is not bound to obey her husband’s will, since the wife’s duty to obey her husband is abrogated if he is leading her into sin. I mean, my husband has the last word in our house. This doesn’t particularly bother me because he also takes quite seriously the injunction to husband to ‘love your wives as Christ loved the Church’ – that is to say, even to a willingness to sacrifice yourself completely. This really tempers the whole authority question a lot. 😉 But, were my husband to command me to neglect our son, or become a Hari Krishna, or to go on the Pill, I would be under no obligation to do any of those things. I would feel somewhat obligated, perhaps, to schedule a psychiatric consultation and a visit with his spiritual advisor though, since all of that would be very much out of character. 😀

    I’m aware I’ve rambled some, I hope you can extract something useful from all that.

  23. I’m not much of an apologist but I’ll try. These are just my opinions, and I will probably get some things wrong.

    1) I don’t think RCs have opinions one way or another on the “validity” of Protestant ministers. It’s not something I’ve given any thought to, before now. Obviously, you’re not valid priests, but that doesn’t matter because you’re not claiming to be, and you’re not out administering sacraments, either. I would not presume to dispute that you’ve had a calling. The question is whether or not you have responded to the calling fully, but that is not for me to judge either.

    2) There’s a lot of misunderstanding around infallibility, and there are not a whole lot of infallible pronouncements to point at. So I wonder which subjects X and Y you’re talking about. Some of the flashpoint issues — the death penalty, war, birth control — are not enshrined in infallible pronouncements. Some are, for example, Mary’s perpetual virginity, and the intrinsic evil of abortion. We are tasked as individuals to properly form our own consciences, and so there is room for disagreement on many issues.

    I think your wording here is interesting: If a Protestant demonstrates that the church has infallibly taught Y, isn’t that the end of the discussion for the catholic? It doesn’t matter who is doing the demonstrating. If you can point to an ex cathedra pronouncement, or a decree from an ecumenical council that has received papal approbation, you’re OK; if not, then you haven’t demonstrated infallibility. The Catholic Encyclopedia has an extensive entry on infallibility.

    3) Sin is something that keeps us away from God. The scenario you’ve described makes no sense, because if someone truly believed in the Catholic faith and wished to be closer to God, he would convert. Obviously people who are unable to convert cannot be committing a sin if they are prevented somehow from worshiping as they would like. In the case of the person who “chooses not to openly convert” — I believe it is a sin to deny God if the only thing you’re sparing yourself is discomfort. The faith does not call upon us to martyr ourselves (as far as I understand it), so if being openly Catholic is going to get you executed, go ahead and hide. But in a free country where the only consequence you face is the opposition of your peers, that’s probably not a good enough reason to deny the faith that’s already in you.

    In the case of a person who does not feel worthy to join the Church, the Sacrament of Reconciliation can be administered to help heal the soul and give courage to follow the Lord’s calling to the Church.

    4) The blessing is, I think, an acknowledgment that we worship the same God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even though the non-RC does not believe in the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. As it says every week on our song sheets, partaking of communion indicates a oneness of belief with the Church. If you don’t believe that Christ is Present, you shouldn’t take Communion. This gets back to the formation of conscience. You should know what you’re doing and know why you’re doing it. You’re not going up there for a snack, so if that’s what you believe, please don’t.

    5) I participated in pre-Cana counseling before I married 13 years ago. The idea of submission in marriage was never broached. It’s not a teaching of the Church. Respect and love, yes; submission, no. Within a marriage, spouses must work together and communicate, but that doesn’t mean that one can dictate the religious practices of the other. If one spouse joins the Church or seeks to convert and this is causing a problem in the marriage, the couple should seek spiritual counseling.

    I think one spouse preventing the other from following a true calling would be a terrible thing to do, a grave sin. Obviously there’s a difference between preventing someone from joining a cult and becoming a member of the Church, but that’s not what we’re talking about here, is it?

    As I said — my opinions, and someone will likely come and show where I’m wrong, but I will take this as an opportunity to learn.

  24. 1) A complicated question. I think it is worth noting that most Catholics probably think of holy orders when a Protestant mentions “ministers”. For Holy Orders to be valid, there must be a preserved apostolic succession. That’s recognized in Orthodoxy. Anglicanism likes to argue that it too shares this trait, but I think common sense would indicate that it does not. Pretty much every other Protestant group by definition does not. Now all that is answering a very different question than whether they were called by God to minister. No, a Catholic is not required to now deny the possibility of God having worked in the calling of Protestants to the Protestant ministry. In fact, I would suggest to you, as evidence of how seriously the Catholic Church takes the fact that God works outside of the physical confines of the insitutional Catholic Church, the fact that the Catholic Church has various pastoral exceptions for married Protestant clergy who seek to become Catholic priests. This is not to say that all Protestant ministers are to be Catholic priests. In fact, many recognize that they were called to minister (Catholics would refer to serving in “apostolates”) as laity through the ordinary living of the faith and not to the unique ministries reserved to the ordained. But a good number have had their calls tested and have in fact been ordained by the Catholic Church. But if the Catholic Church didn’t see the possibility that God was at work in these men’s pursuit of ministry as Protestants, then such an exception to the West’s prohibition of married clergy would make no sense.

    2) We are sinners. Sadly, that’s the truthful answer to your question. There are plenty of Catholics who, when you pierce the shell of their cultural background, you will find a Protestant heart. You are right to recognize that “cafeteria Catholicism” is not permitted. But this is the world we live in. We are sinners, plain and simple.

    3) Michael, that’s a very tough question. Certainly, the Catholic Church would say that one convinced of the truth must pursue the truth. But it is not so cavalier to not recognize that that pursuit of the Catholic Church may take some time. The history of converts are filled with those who took a while in making those final steps, for a host of reasons. I’d say that it is better to not think of the “Is delaying a sin?” question but instead to think of the “Why delay?” question. For most, there will become a point in time that all of the reasons to delay (many of which probably quite understandable and real) will pail in comparison to what awaits. And then they will move ahead. However, to answer your question directly, it is a serious matter when someone is convinced the Catholic faith is true, but decides not to become Catholic. I wouldn’t come out and say it is sin, because I do not know the circumstances for why they do not choose to embrace the Catholic Church or for what length of time we are talking of a delay, but it is no doubt a serious matter.

    4) This is actually a cultural practice that has developed and is not actually part of the liturgy. I think it grew out of the tradition of priests blessing young children who accompanied their parents up to communion but who were not old enough to receive yet. Personally, I don’t think a non-Catholic should feel at all compelled to seek such a blessing at all.

    5) Let me deal with the middle question and point you to resources on the others. I would say that the Church fully recognizes the challenge you present of one spouse, but not the other, seeking reception into the Catholic Church. Catholics do not tend to think of marriage in the way that some Protestants do about male headship, etc. I think the very possibility of the question you raised would be foreign to many. I would suggest that the Catholic Church would do what it could to help the other spouse accept the wife’s desire for reception into the Catholic Church, taking quite seriously the tension that might have arisen from the situation. But I cannot see the Catholic Church, in a matter of such importance, in the end denying this woman reception into the Catholic Church or suggesting that she give primacy to her husband’s desires over her recognition of the Catholic Church’s true nature. In fact, I’d suggest (even just on a human level) that could present as many problems to the marriage as her reception would. Michael, your questions are challenging because they are at the crossroads of theology and pastoral care and both aspects are to be taken seriously. As for the Catholic teaching on marriage, I wish I knew an easy reference to give you. I will try to identify one, but I think the core works on the Theology of the Body would be helpful in this regard.

  25. Here’s a shot at these questions. I couldn’t see what others had written, so I may be repeating something that was better said elsewhere. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a really good read, if you’re interested in a concise teaching of the Catholic tradition.

    1. Catholics don’t have ministers in the same way. Priests are men who are called to do certain kinds of ministries, esp. the sacraments (which no one else can do,) and preaching (which any ordained man such as a deacon can do). There are many other ministries which a priest might do, especially if he is a part of a religious order and not a parish priest. I doubt that you see sacraments (physical modes of communication God’s grace that were established by Christ) as part of your job as a minister, so I don’t think you consider yourself as a valid priest. For an ordination to be valid, it must come down through apostolic succession. Every valid priest has been ordained by a bishop who has been ordained by a bishop where the line goes directly back to apostles. So the gift and grace of ordination come from Jesus. He ordained the apostles, who ordained others in his name, who ordained others in his name…..right down to my priest 2000 years later. This is not a claim I have ever heard a Protestant minister make, except for the occasional Anglo Catholic Episcopalian. Your RC friend is confessionally required to believe that you are not a priest and cannot administer the sacraments, but as to your being called to ministry of just about any other kind, there is no way for an outsider to know. It is possible that you would be called to the priesthood if you were RC, but you might also be called to be in a religious order with out being a priest, or called to various ministries of teaching, serving the poor, etc, that are the calling of all lay people.

    2) The reason for so much disagreement and frustration is that many people see being Catholic as a cultural thing more than a confessional thing, rather like many Jews describe being Jewish. In one way, they are right. Once you are baptized into the Catholic Church, you are always a Catholic, even if you are an apostate one. These people make the mistake of thinking they are in communion with the Catholic Church and ought to receive the Eucharist. There is a tendency in human nature for everyone to set themselves up as the arbitrator of truth instead of submitting to God’s will. Some Catholics, while respecting many things in the faith of the Protestants they know, essentially see each church or denomination as trying to be its own little Magisterium and/or Pope and interpret the Bible and history for their congregation, instead of being united with the tradition and institution established by Jesus. I am not trying to be rude, only to point out that the tendency is a human one, and since coming back to the Catholic Church I am just as confused by Protestants not accepting the authority of Church because I think history supports the Church’s claims. To a non-Christian, it all just looks like a mess and being Christian isn’t that much different than being an agnostic–you get to pick what you believe because there is a congregation that believes everything. The bottom line of this excessively long response, is that Scripture as interpreted by tradition is the teachings of the faith that all Catholics need to accept to be in communion with the Church and hence with Christ. If a teaching is not understood, or not liked, than it ought to be studied, and pondered, and one’s conscience formed through reason (the Church Father’s are very useful for this) so that one can wholeheartedly accept God’s truth. To reject a teaching flat out and still think oneself in full communion is a human failing. It is very hard for people to be honest with themselves.

    The other point to consider is the difference between dogma and doctrine. Dogma never changes (Christ is Lord, the sacraments). Sometimes we learn more about a truth, such as the trinity, which took 3 or 4 centuries to nail down. Other things, doctrine, can change. Sometimes things are just recommendations or thoughts by current leading thinkers that are promulgated even though they are never hashed out by the Magisterium and checked for agreement with Scripture and the canon of faith. I think some of the teachings on your third question fall into that category. Everything that a Catholic saint writes, even if it’s Aquinas or Augustine, is not dogma, or even doctrine, but is sometimes treated that way culturally. This can make it confusing to sort out what the Church actually teaches, as opposed to what smart Catholics have considered in the past. Catholics are required to accept dogma, but ideas such as limbo have never been dogma, and so one may reject such explanations. Even though John Paul II was very opposed to capital punishment, and wrote excellent teachings on the topic, they are not dogma and one can think differently while still being in communion. This is not true of things like the Eucharist, marriage, etc

    3)I’ll leave this one others.

    4) To be honest, I think this is partly because it makes traffic flow easier. But this is intended for Catholics too, not just non-Catholics, because one is not always in a state of grace and prepared to take communion on every given Sunday. If I have serious sins to confess but have not found the time yet, I ought to receive God’s blessing but not his Precious Body and Blood. It’s just a trinitarian blessing, in the case of non-Catholic or non-Christian, it doesn’t imply any desire to be received into the church, or any agreement with anything Catholic, just that you want God’s blessing . If you’re not Catholic than the priests orders don’t mean anything particular to you, so it would not be much different from a friend praying or asking for God’s blessing for you.

    5)Definitely check out the catechism. The Church’s teaching is the very biblical one that marriage between a man and a woman is a sign of Christ and the Church. Therefore, the as the Church serves and submits to Christ, the wife serves and submits to her husband. As Christ loves, cares for, serves, and dies for the church, so a man for his wife. Marriage is supposed to be a complete gift of self by both parties. It is a sacrament that the couple confer on each other and is witnessed by the church. The Church allows Prostestant/Catholic marriages (it calls them mixed cult) provided that a dispensation from the bishop is received, the marriage happens according to the Catholic forms and rubrics, and the children are going to be raised Catholic. As far as other, particular, situations such as the one you ask about, I am not aware of any dogmatic Church teaching. Family unity is an important consideration, but the fullness of Christ and faith and tradition subsists in the Catholic Church. The wife would not stop going to RCIA simply because her husband objected. If the husband would seek divorce if the wife converted, that would be different. A woman and family in that situation would do well to talk with priests, or deacons, as to the wisest thing to do in that particular situation.

    I hope you have received many interesting answers. Everything I have written is according my best understanding at this time. If it contradicts an actual teaching authority (or seems at all rude, it is so hard to tell tone over the internet), I apologize and did not intend it.

  26. Michael,

    I’ll try to answer your questions as best as I can. As personal background, I am a revert to the Catholic Church, having spent about 15 years in the Episcopal Church. I was a fairly “evangelical” Anglican, and so I had to wrestle with many issues before returning to the Catholic faith.

    1. The sticking point for many Catholics would be the word “valid.” To many, it might seem that the term “valid minister” implies an equality between a Protestant minister and a Catholic priest. However, the Catholic Church recognizes that there are “many elements of sanctification and truth” found outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church (Catechism, #819). Presumably, one of these elements of sanctification is an ordained ministry necessary to maintain the spiritual life of a Protestant congregation.

    As a Protestant minister, you have the task of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to your flock; you have the responsibility for teaching them in the basics of Christian doctrine; for ministering to their spiritual and temporal needs; for conducting baptisms, marriages, funerals, and other public rites. So as a “valid minister”, you have a role that sets you apart from the ordinary layman.

    No Catholic is “confessionally required” to believe that you were never called of God to be a minister. In fact, I would counsel any Catholic against making such an assumption. Most Protestant ministers I know who became Catholic don’t look on their prior ministry as “wasted years,” but as a preparation for even greater ministry within the Catholic Church. (And some have even gone on to become priests!).

    2. I agree that discussing the faith with “cafeteria Catholics” can be very frustrating! Sadly, many Catholics are not as fully informed on what the Church teaches as are many Protestants. But on the other hand, many Protestants have a narrow view of what the Church has taught “always, everywhere, and to all.” We frequently encounter evangelical Protestants who maintain that because Pope X taught something in the 10th century that it’s binding on all Catholics today. The Magisterium doesn’t work that way, though. While the content of the faith remains the same, our understanding of it deepens over time – the doctrine of “no salvation outside the Church” is a classic case of what I mean. But yes, to answer your question, if it is determined that the Church has infallibly taught something, that should be the end of the discussion. Perhaps not the discussion (we can always discuss matters of faith), but at least of dissent and debate!

    3. This question is very delicate, because so much depends on the circumstances. Generally speaking, someone who is convinced that Catholicism is true is morally obligated to join the Church – “They could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or remain in it” (Catechism, #846 quoting the Vatican II Constitution on the Church). However, there may be valid reasons for delaying entry into the Church (to help bring along a spouse, for example). But there may also be invalid reasons. These questions need the guidance of a solid spiritual director.

    4. The blessing at communion is a “sacramental” rather than a sacrament. It is, in essence, a prayer that God would bless the recipient. It is not required that you believe everything that the Church teaches or that you are seeking reception into the Church. (Incidentally, the practice of going forward to receive a blessing at communion is a recent and local practice; it is not uniformly observed or encouraged. Interestingly, the practice is somewhat analogous to receiving the antidoron or blessed bread in Eastern Orthodox Divine Liturgies).

    5. Again, this kind of question is best left to a spiritual adviser. However, I would say that a wife should do all that she can to convince her husband to allow her to convert. Failing that, I would say that she should offer her desire up to God as a sacrifice, and pray for the conversion of her husband.

    Michael, I hope these responses help! God bless you in your ministry and spiritual journey!

  27. 1) You’re not a validly ordained Catholic priest. (This likely does not surprise you, though.) As Catholics, we believe that there is much that God does in terms of sanctification and grace outside the visible Catholic church. As to what God has called you to do, you’re more likely to know about that; it would be presumption to say that you’re not called by God to serve his people. Given that you’re a Protestant, God is most likely going to start working with you right where you are.
    2) Because you’re an honest man. Because maybe God is using you to help Catholics be better followers of Christ. You’re right on on this one. Hang in there.

    That being said, even Jesus kept teaching his disciples wen they said things like “That is a hard saying.” The will is hard to deal with even when reason finds its work is done.

    3) There may be sufficiently grave reasons to hold off on such a decision in your case. Best to consult with trusted advisors to help you sort through the issues involved. E.g. How are you going to provide for you and yours. That being said, Jesus said that anyone who does not hate his wife/brother/sister/etc. is not worthy of him. This is an important question and you ought not act on it lightly. You would also want to make sure you saught the council of holy Catholic clergy on this as well.

    4) If you go up for a blessing, then as a Catholic, I would assume you’re asking for a blessing and that you find the blessing of a Catholic acceptable. May it bring you peace and a closer relationship with the Lord.

    5) A spouse should consider the effects of the decision to convert on the home, but on the other hand, no spouse has the right to deny the Truth to one who finds it. Maybe this is an opportunity for the couple to share in the personal journey of the one who is considering coming into full communion with the church. Yes, the husband is the head of the house, but he is head as Christ is head. That is, he is head to serve, and not to throw his weight around because he can.

    In all of these, much prayer will help.

    I will say a prayer on your behalf for the intension that by asking your questions, you will come to see the face of Christ more clearly.

  28. #1: Yes…a valid minister in your particular denomination.
    #2: With all due respect, the views of individual Catholics have always mattered to the Church, which is the Head of Christ on earth. Since we make up his body on earth, the head is very concerned what the body feels. See the Cathecism for “the sense of the faithful”
    #3: Call the Coming Home Network.They get this question alot.
    #4: By all means, come forward, Jesus loves to bless every person, all the time.
    #5: Every person is responsible before God to fidelity to the Truth..male & female, husband & wife.

  29. I’ve been reading your blog for a long time, but I’ve never commented because of the login requirement. Glad to see that’s changed!

    Anyhow, answers based on my best understanding:

    1) I don’t believe we’re required to believe that Protestant ministers aren’t called to be ministers. There’s no teaching that only Catholics are called to ministry. There is the matter of apostolic succession and ordination, but validity of ordination and divine call are two different issues, I think.

    2) Do you mean your dialog with Catholics is frustrated *by* cafeteria Catholicism? If not I’m not sure I understand the question.

    If you mean “by” rather than “with,” I think a lot of the problem is that, like most American Christians, American Catholics tend to be more American than they are Catholic. Some people think they can obey the Church’s teaching about individual morality and leave out her teaching about collective morality and be fine. Others do the opposite. Either way it’s a very individualistic and in my opinion quintessentially American approach to faith.

    3) It’s certainly not a sin to be unable to convert at a particular time, or to wait out of respect for a spouse’s or parent’s wishes. I can imagine there are situations where choosing to wait – say out of fear or pride – would be a sin.

    4) This is a great question and I would love to hear someone else’s answer. As far as I understand blessings from the Catholic end are an expression of the desire for unity. I suppose what it means for a Protestant depends on whether one believes that priests/deacons of any tradition are really uniquely disposed to give blessings or not.

    5) What is the church’s view of leadership and submission in marriage? The teaching as I know it is that the husband is the head of the family, but it’s not a teaching I’ve ever heard emphasized or expanded on. As far as I can tell the Church seems to leave what that means up to each family.

    Would the church teach that a wife should join the church over the objections of her Christian, but Protestant, spouse? I don’t know; I imagine that would be handled on a case-by-case basis, depending on the nature of the objections and the reasonableness of the husband. In my case my husband asked me to wait before converting, to give him some time to learn more about Catholicism and explore the possibility of converting himself. In that case it seemed perfectly reasonable to me to wait so that we could potentially convert together. On the other hand, he was willing to have me convert alone if he hadn’t decided or decided against converting after a few years. We’re both Catholic now and were confirmed together.

    I don’t really know what would be done in a situation where the husband was vehemently opposed to his wife converting, though.

  30. Michael,

    I am only a moderately educated laywoman, but I do have some insights.

    1). We do consider that you are a minister, and the possiblity of serving in a parish but not at the pastor right away. For leading a congregation as a priest, there would have to be a period of discernment and some more education. (I think that Catholic men who are in the process of becoming priests get more philosophy and theology than is common in Baptist seminaries). It is possible, but after a second ordination, for a married man to become a priest and to lead a parish. Dwight Longnecker is an example (http://gkupsidedown.blogspot.com/)

    2. A number of us Catholics are also very frustrated with cafeteria Catholics. It also depends upon what is being talked about. While I still have some doubts about some of the Marian doctrines, I still teach them to children and adults as is. (I’d try to get someone who was more comfortable with them if possible) I trust the Church.

    3. It sounds like a person in that situation cannot freely choose, and therefore it isn’t a sin. (and frankly some Protestants are doing more for Christ where they are, than if they converted)

    4. All that a blessing indicates is that a person isn’t in full communion with the Church, no reason why the blessing is asked. Sometimes, so I’ve heard, that Catholics will come for a blessing, if they haven’t fasted for the hour before partaking.

    5. When a couple are at different places in their journey, the one that is closer to the Catholic Church is asked to slow down, to see if the other can reach the same point as the other (a number of stories in the “Surprised by Truth” series have this in them.) Obviously, a family in this situation needs some very good spiritual direction.

  31. OK–I’ll try my best, with the discaimer tht I can be wrong!

    1–Catholics wouldn’t accept that you have recieved the Sacrament of Holy Orders. But, we would accept that you have been given the office of minister, and that your ecclesial community calls this ordination. We wouldn’t believe that you could validly confect the eucharist, or recieve communion in your church. That is to say, we wouldn’t believe it to be the body and blood of Christ. But we would accept that you are conducting a memorial service based upon the last supper. If you baptize in the trinitarian formula, that’s valid. Also, marriages you conduct for your co-religionists would be assumed to be valid.

    2–Cafateria Catholics are in the wrong–period. We are required to accept all de fide teachings, the fact that so many of use don’t reflects on the failures of our bishops for the last 2 generations.

    3–Depends on the circumstance.

    4–Blessing people during the Communion rite is a relativly new development. When you recieve a blessing from a priest, deacon or bishop you recieve the blessing of the whole church, linked to the sacraments. Extrodinary Ministers of the Eucharist are not actually able to impart this blessing, and their attempts to do so are an abuse, although a widespread one. A layman can only impart his personnal blessing.

    5–I got no clue

  32. Michael,

    Thanks for asking the questions. I got to your site via Amy Welborn’s site. I am more than happy to talk to you via the phone if you would like about these questions, because I believe these questions to be more personal than an internet dialogue can properly help.

    If not me, then consider going to a good priest. If I am correct, I know a couple within a few hours of you.

  33. I’ll try to answer, subject to correction by the more knowledgeable. I hope that my frankness will not be offensive:

    1. Note that there is a difference between what a Protestant minister is in Protestant theology and what Catholics believe a priest is. To some degree (depending upon the Protestant confession) the friend could continue to believe that you are called to be what you claim to be. But you’re not a priest, and don’t claim to be one. (An Orthodox priest, however, claims to be a priest and really is one.) If you believe that your calling is to preach the gospel, your Catholic friend may continue to believe that you are so called, even if you are, like Apollos at the beginning of his call, not fully informed. He would not think that you are called, ultimately, to be a Protestant minister, because ultimately you are not called to be a Protestant. But this may be a way-station on the road to whatever your calling is as a Catholic.

    2. Of course they are, but the Protestant should be careful that he has understood Y correctly.

    3. This is not a copout: It would depend on the reason. Two principles govern in this case: first, it is wrong to go against one’s conscience; second, I have no way of judging anyone’s internal culpability. If someone (like king Charles II after the treaty of Dover) has resolved to enter into communion with the Catholic Church, but has a good (perhaps, in this case) reason for not doing it, I am not the judge. I would say that, objectively, entering into communion with the Catholic Church is the right thing to do.

    4. Exactly the same thing as if I ask a Protestant pastor to pray for me, except possibly more effective. In this case, God’s blessing might involve the Holy Spirit changing your heart.

    5. I don’t know that there is single teaching on the subject of submission in general, but in that case I think that it would be considered right for her to do so (but see 3. above). The “Pauline privilege” that permits the dissolution of the marriage of a non-Christian whose spouse refuses to continue in the marriage after the new Christian is baptized is extended into what is known as the “Petrine privilege”–but that only applies if the Protestant husband refuses to continue living with his Catholic wife (or, I suppose, if she is in danger of bodily harm if she stays with him).

    The questions you pose are not easy to answer, and any answers, like the questions themselves, admit some ambiguity. That isn’t because Catholic teaching is vague in itself, but because it has to be applied to human beings, who are messy and confused. Moreover, each human being has God-given reason and conscience, which should not be violated; and the first duty of any Christian with respect to the brethren–indeed all men–is to love. I have many Protestant friends, whose commitment to Christ I do not question, even though I disagree with them on important points of doctrine. I pray that the may in this world come to the conviction of the truth of the Catholic Church, but I believe that God is able to save them all the same. They may be a bit surprised when they see Him face to face.

  34. Steven Hotovy says

    One Catholic’s (semi-knowledgeable) response:

    1. Yes you are a valid minister, but not priest. The Catholic ordained priesthood (as opposed to the priesthood of all believers) is tied in with the sacraments. Catholics have many kinds of ministers, many of them lay.

    2. Welcome to American Catholicism! This is America, where freedoms are celebrated, including the freedom to believe in what we want. That’s part of the cultural ethos. What you have to consider, though, is the grades of Catholic teaching. We Catholics must believe in dogma, which I think is the case for almost all Catholics. Non-dogmatic statements are different. However, if a Catholic personally doesn’t agree with a non-dogmatic teaching, he has the serious obligation of trying to understand more fully that teaching. He will likely find that there’s more intelligence behind that teaching than he was initially aware of, and he just might change his mind. It is most bothersome when Catholics pull the “freedom of conscience” card when confronted with a Church teaching they dislike. This exonerates them from studying the issue further.

    3. Depends a lot on circumstances and motives. Suppose a husband or wife has become convinced that the Catholic faith is true, but has a reluctant spouse, or potentially hostile family members? That person should make movements to the Church, but must do so with prudence. On the other hand, if the issue is one of laziness, or excessive, unwarranted fear of what others might think, that person is committing a sin.

    4. I think it means you have a deep respect for certain elements of the Church, deep enough to want its blessing. I wouldn’t link it to any decision to enter/not enter the Church. I attend Eastern Orthodox Divine liturgies on occasion, and receive the unsancitifed bread at the end of the service. There’s much in Eastern Christianity I admire, but I’m not looking to convert.

    5. Interesting question. I think the wife has an obligation to convert to Catholicism, despite objections of her husband. If my wife wanted to convert to a different denomination, I would be highly distressed and would certainly try to dissuade her. I would want to make sure that her discontents with the Catholic faith are fundamental ones, not just irritations due to an existing deficiency in the Church (like slovenly liturgies in the local Church). But if this were a serious calling, I would reluctantly let her do it. I figure that God may have strategic plans for her soul that might involve short-term tactical losses!

    These were very interesting, thoughtful questions. Good luck to you on your post-evangelical journey.

    Steve Hotovy

  35. Nobody Really says

    I’m no longer in communion with the Church, but I think I can answer some of these.

    (1) I don’t think there’s a meaningful answer to this, because it makes no difference (as you note later) what the views of individuals are. The Church’s view, in my understanding, is that it is possible to have a true vocation without being Catholic, but only those in communion with the Church can receive Holy Orders and thereby completely express that true vocation. (This is why excommunication of those who have been ordained is so much bigger a deal than excommunication of laypeople.) There is not strong dogma, as far as I understand, on the topic of receiving blessings and such like in non-Catholic liturgy, but there is clear dogma that non-Catholic liturgies are not Mass, and communion at such a liturgy is not the Sacrament of Communion (whatever more liberal clergy might say on this matter).

    (2) Yes, that ought probably to be the end of the discussion. If the Church has a point of doctrine with which individual lay Catholics disagree, too bad for them; they are still bound by obedience to accept the teaching on Y, even if in their conscience they disagree. Behaving in disagreement is a topic for confession; of course, disagreement is also a topic for discussion with one’s priest. The problem is more complicated the further up the Church’s hierarchy one goes or the more sophisticated one’s theological argument. Also, it is terribly important to distinguish different levels of dogma on Y: for instance, many things people often attribute to RC dogma are in fact just in the category of “may be believed” (nearly everything on the topic of Mary either once was or still is in this category). It’s worth noting also that there is a long tradition of people being, at different times, heretics and saints. St Francis, Origen, and St Thomas all found themselves in very hot water at times, for example.

    (3) Yes, that’s a sin, in so far as willful error is sinful. That is, a person who knows truth and denies it is in effect violating one of the Ten Commandments. There may be mitigating circumstances, however, which might need to be taken into consideration (consider the many Catholics who kept their faith secret under, say, Stalin). So this is a matter for discussion in the context of the sacrament of Reconciliation (but of course, if one has not embraced the Church, that’s not an open option). There’s also a behaviourist question here: if one truly believed in the truth of the Church’s teaching, then one couldn’t stand to be kept from the sacraments. So someone couldn’t “choose not to” be in communion with the Church, and at the same time believe in the truth of all the Church’s teaching. Belief in this sense is different to mere belief of propositions like, “There are trees growing outside my window.”

    (4) The point of the reception of blessing during the Sacrament of Communion has, in my view, rather poor liturgical underpinning, but is intended as a gesture of ecumenicism and inclusion in the Mass for those who are not in communion with the Church (in keeping with the ecumenical principles adopted at and after the Second Vatican Council). Note that this goes both ways: by refusing Communion but asking for blessing, the individual is admitting the holiness (and authority) of the Church and at the same time admitting that s/he is not in communion with the Church.

    (5) The Church would not only teach that a wife should join the Church over such an objection; but also that if the form of marriage undergone did not include submission to the authority of the Church, then it may not have been a true marriage and might be grounds for annulment. The Church’s teaching on marriage is extremely complicated (and in my view, deeply confused), though, so much of this would depend on the circumstances, and could quite possibly only be determined by looking at the case in question (and, of course, Canon Law). In any case, the duty of obedience to one’s spouse is always superseded by the duty to Christ as expressed in the truths expounded by the Church (one of which is, of course, obedience to the Church!).

    Hope this is helpful. I am not a theologian, I should note; what you really want is someone who knows a great deal about current Church dogma. A priest would be of assistance.

  36. This is Sherry Weddell of the Catherine of Siena Institute (www.siena.org). I’m a convert of nearly
    20 years myself (Southern-Baptist-Evangelical Quaker-Fuller-missions background) and now teach all over the Catholic world, do priestly/seminarian/lay minister formation, etc.

    I’m a world class expert in a few pretty narrow and specific areas (theology, mission, and formation of the laity, charisms and their discernment, evangelization, the secular mission of the Church to the world, the aspects of the ordained office that are specifically related to the areas above, etc.)

    Outside my areas of specific expertise, I have a pretty good general knowledge of the faith – good in the “intelligent, serious adult Catholic” sense – not in the sense of a theologian. Your questions move in and out of my area of special expertise but I’ll give it a shot.

    1) Do Roman Catholics consider Protestant ministers like myself valid ministers? More particularly, if a good friend becomes Roman Catholic, are they now confessionally required to believe that I was never called of God to be a minister?

    First of all, from a Catholic perspective, all Protestant ministry is essentially “lay ministry”, that is, it flows from the “common” or “royal” priesthood which all the baptized(Catholic or not) share – i.e, it’s real ministry but not the *ordained* priesthood as the Catholic Church understands it.

    So no Catholic is required to believe that you were never called of God to be a “minister” but no well-catechized Catholic going to believe that being a Protestant minister is the same as being a Catholic priest. Since most Protestant ministers don’t believe in, much less aspire to priesthood as Catholics understand it, this usually isn’t an existential problem. (In some Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, and emergent church circles, this is an issue, I know – but not for most “evangelicals”.)

    As a former Quaker, for instance, there is almost nothing that I could have done as a Quaker minister that I cannot do, under the right circumstances and by delegation from my local bishop, as a lay Catholic. Lay Catholics can (and do) lead prayer or communion services, lead local congregations, baptize, conduct funerals, witness marriages, do pastoral counseling, teach, bring communion to the sick, etc. What we cannot do – such as celebrate the Eucharist and give absolution was something we didn’t believe in or dreamed of doing anyway.

    2) Why is so much of my dialog with Catholics frustrated with “cafeteria Catholicism?” Catholics will tell me that I must accept the church’s teaching on subject X, but if I point out that they also must accept the church’s teaching on subject Y, I often hear, “Don’t put words in my mouth. That’s not what I believe.” With all due respect, since when did the beliefs of an individual catholic matter? If a Protestant demonstrates that the church has infallibly taught Y, isn’t that the end of the discussion for the catholic?

    If the Church has infallibly taught X, a believing Catholic is required to give the assent of faith. Tthere are many cafeteria Catholics on the right and the left and across the spectrum.

    The issues are seldom just academic ones and what is really at stake is usually lack of faith, hope, love and intentional discipleship. The presenting problem may be intellectual but the heart of the matter is existential, not academic.

    The majority of baptized Catholics (practicing or not) are not yet intentional disciples of Jesus Christ and their sense of belonging is more familial/tribal/cultural than discipleship. Just as an adult child can disagree with her parents without losing her place in the family, so many cradle Catholics see no conflict between claiming their Catholic identity and disagreeing with various areas of Church teaching. Since this is not how evangelical Protestants proceed, especially when we are trying to figure out what the Church actually teaches, it can be very frustrating.

    However, I also have to note that after 4 years of witnessing internet debates between Catholics and Protestants, that it is a rare Protestant who grasps and can articulate Church teaching in its wholeness. A deeply believing, well educated Catholic often faces a mixture of the true, the untrue, the irrelevant, and the badly mangled in these discussions and it can be hard to know how to begin to respond. Just because a questioning Protestant is sure that they know that X is infallibly taught by the Church doesn’t mean that they are right and that the Catholic is obliged to agree with them.

    3) What would be the church’s view on someone who is convinced the Catholic faith is true, but who is unable or chooses not to openly convert to Catholicism at this time? Is such a person committing a sin?

    The fundamental principle is “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by God through Christ would refuse to enter her or to remain in here could not be saved .”(Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 14)

    But there are many important issues invoked by your question. First of all, no one can answer it in general but only in specific. The issue is always “Thomas Corey of Portland, MA” or Gweneth Thomas of Swansea, South Wales” is asking what should I do?

    Let’s say Thomas Corey is a Baptist minister in his 50’s with a wife and 6 children, one of whom is handicapped and will always be dependent upon his parents. Thomas has no other work experience and will lose his retirement if he leaves the Baptist church. Thomas and his wife have had a happy marriage but now his wife is frantically set against such a move and her fundamentalist family is urging her to divorce Thomas if he becomes Catholic. Thomas has been drawn to the Church for years and after much struggle recently much come to the conclusion that the Catholic faith is true but now is in agony. Is Christ really asking him to leave his ministry to which he believes he was called and which seems to have been spiritually fruitful, all economic security, and risk the destruction of his marriage and family? Thomas has prayed and prayed and can’t come to clarity. What would he do? (And this isn’t a abstraction. I was recently in conversation with a Protestant minister facing something very similar.)

    The Church would never condemn such a person but at her best, would strive to walk with him/her as they go through their discernment process – and it is a process.

    The issue isn’t just entering the Church but also how, when, and under what circumstances based upon the clarity of conviction, conscience, and intention of the one thinking of doing so and their responsibility to and the probable impact, spiritual and personal, upon those closest to them, especially their spouse and children. It would be approached and discerned on a case by case basis.

    For instance, a man or woman whose spouse would probably divorce them if they became Catholic would be urged to move very slowly and would not be regarded as in sin if, after much prayer, they came to the conclusion that they needed to wait until their spouse’s heart changed and they could do so without threatening the marriage. Even unmarried and pregnant Dorothy Day was counseled to wait (in the 1920’s) to enter the Church in the hope that her anarchist lover might drop his resistance to the idea of marriage. (He didn’t and she eventually left him and she and her daughter were baptized.) The hope was that the whole family would stay together. Such a person would be urged to pray and seek personal counsel from a priest or spiritual director.

    4) Exactly what is meant when a non-Catholic goes forward at communion to be blessed, but not partake? What if such a person – like myself- openly disagrees with some of the church’s teaching and is not seeking reception into the church?
    Anyone can ask for and receive such a blessing, whether they are Catholic or not or for that matter, a Christian or not. Seeking such a blessing is a sign of some kind of faith(or why would you be there?) but not necessarily complete agreement with Church teaching or a desire to enter the Church.

    5) What is the church’s view of leadership and submission in marriage? Would the church teach that a wife should join the church over the objections of her Christian, but Protestant, spouse? If so, how does this fit into the church’s teaching on marriage?

    From a Catholic perspective, the situation of a wife desiring to become Catholic over the objections of her husband would not be significantly different from that of a husband wishing to do so over the objections of his wife. Submission within marriage is regarded as mutual.

    Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem described submission within marriage this way (http://www.its.caltech.edu/~nmcenter/women-cp/mulier-eph5.html):

    “However, whereas in the relationship between Christ and the Church the subjection is only on the part of the Church, in the relationship between husband and wife the “subjection” is not one- sided but mutual. . . The apostolic letters are addressed to people living in an environment marked by that same traditional way of thinking and acting. The “innovation” of Christ is a fact: it constitutes the unambiguous content of the evangelical message and is the result of the Redemption. However, the awareness that in marriage there is mutual “subjection of the spouses out of reverence for Christ,” and not just that of the wife to the husband, must gradually establish itself in hearts, consciences, behavior and customs.”

    So my answer would be the same as to question #3 above.

  37. Responses:
    1: In answer to your question I would have to say yes and no, but that must be qualified. I would have to ask what is meant by the term “valid”, if one was trying to say that transformation of bread and wine into the “Body and Blood” actually occurred, I would have to say no. This only occurs amongst validly ordained Catholics and Orthodox priests and bishops. What is at issue here is what is known as apostolic succession. Now to say that one might be called to witness to Christ, all Christians are called to witness to Him but one is never authentically called by God to teach anything other the what He revealed in its fullness. Now that is not to say that ministers of other ecclesiastical communities can’t introduce and bring others to faith in Christ and the life of Grace but this happens through the action of the Holy Spirit who works through the Church that was established by Christ. Anything that is not in keeping with the fullness of what God revealed, logically cannot be claimed as authentic. The doctrines of scripture alone and faith alone, cannot be authentically claimed as as revealed truth since neither are actually scriptural or find any evidence within the teaching of the Apostles or early Church Fathers or any Church Council.

    2. The “cafeteria” mentality is a sad consequence of relativism, and the misapplication of the concept of the formation of conscience. No Catholic is free to believe anything that is contrary to the the central tenants of the faith, such as what is contained in the creed as well as other things such as the Immaculate conception, the evil of abortion and so on. When a Catholic does this they often time place themselves out side the Church. The conscience needs to be informed by the faith and there also needs to be some personal assent to that faith even if we don’t completely understand it. Since faith and reason go hand and hand this assent to the faith/ belief is not “mindless” as some claim, but needs to be approached with good will and a diligent seeking of understanding. Let me put it this way: If a person claims to belong to a organization which holds well defined beliefs which are central to the life of the organization and this person happens to disagree with some these central common beliefs, they place themselves out side of the community to which they claim membership. A Catholic who picks and chooses in essence is founding a personal religion,which is not fully Catholic.

    3. If one is convinced of the truths of the Catholic faith, one is morally obliged to follow. One should assume that it is Holy Spirit who is leading the person to such understanding to deny it to say the least problematic. Choosing not to convert may have varying motivations, such as the potential and real pain of separation or rejection of friends, family, or the loss of income and identity. These are all real considerations and consequences of discipleship.

    4. Coming forward for a blessing is not generally problematic, for a non-Catholic. My question would be if the person thinks that the blessing is efficacious or not, if not why would they come forward?

    5. In general the issue of submission in marriage, is not quite seen from the same angle as many Protestants. If we look at Ephesians 5:21-33 we need to look at the verses 21 and 33 as bookends placing what is between in context. Verses 21 and 33 establish a certain parity between husband and wife “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (21) and “Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband” (33) both of these verses are somewhat contrary to a dominant/submission kind of interpretation, I think the point of this verse was to teach that husband and wife should love each other with the kind of love that Christ has for the Church and the kind of love that the Church has for Christ i.e. the total gift of self to the other for their growth in holiness. The spousal relationship is informed by the relationship of Christ to the Church and Christian marriage models this. I do not think that the Church would ever say that a wife or husband should prevent the other from following the prompting of the Holy Spirit, which of course trumps any claims of authority that a spouse might have. Our first obligation in life is first and foremost to God.

  38. I find questions 2 and 5 particularily interesting and I imagine they’re not easy to answer.

  39. Here’s my take:

    1) Do Roman Catholics consider Protestant ministers like myself valid ministers? More particularly, if a good friend becomes Roman Catholic, are they now confessionally required to believe that I was never called of God to be a minister?

    No, we are not confessionally required to believe Protestant ministers are not real ministers. But it also depends on what you mean by “minister.” If you mean serving and caring for others in love, sharing the gospel with them, teaching them to live as Christians, then yes, you are valid, and all Christian share this call to one extent or another. But you are not a priest, which is a special charism that includes sacramental ability to preach, hear confessions, consecrate the Eucharist, anoint the sick and dying, and be “in persona Christi,” in the person of Christ, in a unique way.

    2) Why is so much of my dialog with Catholics frustrated with “cafeteria Catholicism?” Catholics will tell me that I must accept the church’s teaching on subject X, but if I point out that they also must accept the church’s teaching on subject Y, I often hear, “Don’t put words in my mouth. That’s not what I believe.” With all due respect, since when did the beliefs of an individual catholic matter? If a Protestant demonstrates that the church has infallibly taught Y, isn’t that the end of the discussion for the catholic?

    Many Catholics have been poorly-formed in their faith since Vatican II (though not because of Vatican II, but because of many cultural upheavals that directly affected the life of the Church in the West). There are many reasons for this historically. But there is a new generation of Catholics who are being very-well formed, and it is a joy and an inspiration to encounter them. What matters is what the Church teaches – and whether individual Catholics believe it or not.

    3) What would be the church’s view on someone who is convinced the Catholic faith is true, but who is unable or chooses not to openly convert to Catholicism at this time? Is such a person committing a sin?

    As far as I know, maybe, maybe not. I think it would depends on the reasons, such as threat of death in very anti-Catholic countries, or fear of upsetting very anti-Catholic family members or losing one’s reputation in Protestant circles. It may or not be a sin, depending on the circumstances and motivations for not converting – and only God can truly know and judge the heart. The heroic thing to do would be convert regardless of the circumstances, which would be truly pleasing to God. There are people who struggle with these issues – and it is important to remember that the real obstacle is not worldly circumstances, but the ruler of this world who puts fear in the heart, so as to slow the conversion of the believer. But when a person feels ready and courageous enough to convert, it is a very rewarding experience, regardless of the circumstances.

    4) Exactly what is meant when a non-Catholic goes forward at communion to be blessed, but not partake? What if such a person- like myself- openly disagrees with some of the church’s teaching and is not seeking reception into the church?

    This is a practice that sprang up spontaneously in the West in the past couple of decades, and has received no official approval or disapproval from the Vatican. Opinions on it vary, from bishops on downward, which causes confusion as some approve of it, and some disapprove. It is thought that Pope Benedict may eventually address it. Here is an article about it at EWTN: http://www.ewtn.com/library/Liturgy/zlitur81.htm

    5) What is the church’s view of leadership and submission in marriage? Would the church teach that a wife should join the church over the objections of her Christian, but Protestant, spouse? If so, how does this fit into the church’s teaching on marriage?

    I haven’t encountered that specific situation myself, but I do know that the Church teaching on marriage is that both parties must submit to and serve one another in love, and neither may dominate the other. I doubt that the Church would prevent a wife from entering the Church, even if her husband didn’t want her to (any more than any church would prevent a wife from becoming a Christian at all, if her husband was a non-believer), though they might counsel her about it. Keep in mind that the believing wife may lead to the sanctification and conversion of an unbelieving husband – which has happened many times in the Church. But someone else will have to speak to the Church’s specific teaching on this.

  40. Greetings, Michael.

    I am a post-evangelical myself, who has become a convert to the Catholic church. I am not yet even a catechumen, but have just started to attend the local RC church with my wife and chidren. My wife and oldest daughter are not yet fully convinced about the Catholic church, although they are open to it. I have decided to be very patient with them and go slow, but through my prayers and those of the saints, they have come very far, and I have little doubt that we will enter the RC church united in our belief as a family. I believe it is important for members of families to come to the Church both as an individuals and corporately, i.e. as a family. It would be tragic for a husband or wife to push too fast and leave the rest behind.

    1. The Catholic church does not view your ordination as valid; you would be considered a layman in the Catholic church. This does not mean that God has not called you to ministry. It does mean that your ministry will come to its fulfillment within the Catholic church, whether as a deacon, lay minister, monk, or whatever form is most appropriate.

    2. If you can demonstrate that the Catholic church teaches Y, then yes, end of discussion. There may be elements about how Y is understood, however, which are not defined, and they are open for discussion.

    3. Not sure. I’m guessing it depends on the situation. If it is your sincere intention to join the Catholic when the time is right, then I cannot see not joining now as a sin. I compare this to baptism, where the desire for baptism is sufficient until such time as actual baptism is possible.

    4. Don’t know.

    5. Don’t know what the church says, but family division is tragic at any rate. How long has the wife been waiting for her husband? Has he been open to at least discussing the Catholic church? Has he read the early church fathers?
    In any case, I believe that a heart conversion to the Catholic church can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit, just as faith in Jesus must be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. The wife needs to pray fervently for but confidently, and from personal experience, it greatly helps to ask the saints to pray for our family with us.

  41. if a good friend becomes Roman Catholic, are they now confessionally required to believe that I was never called of God to be a minister?

    Smallish point: Roman Catholics are not confessionally required to believe anything. All belief requirements come from he who (supposedly) holds the keys.

  42. 1. God can call people to be all sorts of things. Heck, you could be called to be a garbageman, if that was what God thought would be best for you. When He calls people, it’s always to something that gets them one step closer to Heaven. Just because Catholics don’t regard Protestant ministers as the same thing as priests, or as serving in the hierarchy of Christ’s Church, doesn’t mean that Protestant ministers aren’t servants of God or called by God.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily called to _stay_ a Protestant and a minister. 🙂

    2. Either the Catholic is badly instructed in his faith, or your depiction of the current interpretation of the doctrine is weirding him out, or he’s dissident and disobedient.

    However, it’s not normal for somebody to confront me with what Catholics believe. Usually, it’s what they _think_ we believe, and at least 5000 miles off-target. (You’re a lot more informed than the folks who try to convert me or turn me into an atheist, though.)

    To be fair, sometimes “that’s not what I believe” really means “you’re not saying that right or there’s an important nuance that’s missing, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. So I will dig in my heels and wait for you to go away.” Vocabulary terms are often a problem here, especially since Catholic catechesis has used about three or four different sets of terms in catechesis over the last thirty years.

    3. If somebody knows and believes that the Catholic Church is the true Church, they are obligated to join up as soon as they can. Any reasonably serious reason that might prevent a person from doing so would probably be okay. However, it ought to be a pretty serious reason to have it prevent you very long. (Especially since converts tell a lot of stories about spiritual warfare, sometimes right up till the day of their reception into the Church.)

    This is the sort of thing where individual information about an individual case would be important, and where a priest would be a heckuva lot better judge than me. Also, there are a lot of priests who are very flexible about ways and means of admitting people, ie, you don’t always have to take a whole year of classes, you don’t always have to do it at Easter, special help for people in some kind of physical danger for converting, etc.

    4. It means you’re getting blessed. And since any Christian can give or accept a blessing from any other Christian, it’s not any kind of commitment to anything.

    An atheist or non-Christian getting blessed would probably be making more of an implied statement. If they cared. But I’ve never heard that accepting a blessing hurt anyone; it’s not a fraught thing like a big S Sacrament.

    5. Anyone can join the Church over the objections of anybody else, as far as I ever heard. (As long as you’re over the age of reason.) As you’re no doubt aware, there was no shortage of unequally yoked people back in the first century. It ain’t fun, but it’s certainly not prohibited. And rightly so. It’s the spouses’ duty to try and get each other to Heaven, of course. but nobody — not the Pope, not your mom, not the general or the president, not the Archangel Gabriel — has the right to keep you from doing God’s will and doing what you know to be right. You may disobey any lawful authority if they order you to do something wrong, and ordering you not to join the Church is wrong. (Besides, marriage only lasts till death, whereas joining or not joining the Church is concerned with eternal life.)

    But yes, wives are supposed to submit to their husbands and husbands are supposed to crucify themselves for love of their wives. Kids are also supposed to honor their parents and parents be nice to the kids. You know the drill.

    Some people call the Sundays with that reading “Elbow Sunday”. You get it both in Ordinary Time and every year for the Feast of the Holy Family (which is right after Christmas, so everybody’s there). So it’s not a secret. 🙂

  43. Howdy Monk, great questions!

    I’ll offer my own humble understanding….from a slightly left of center Catholic position…remember…it actually is (its size practically guarantees it) a large tent.

    1) Yes…and no. The Catholic Church believes itself to be to be the Church that Christ founded, and as such, the locus of the “fullness” of the Christian faith. However, as Vatican II made clear, and the Pope recently affirmed (although this bit didn’t make headlines), all Christians are united in baptism and thus members of the universal Church. Therefore, while the Church may see your call as somewhat “imperfect,” it would not say that it is invalid or require any of its members to view it in that way, and it woul see your work as having great potential for the saving of souls and the blessing of the world.

    2) As Pope John the 23rd said “Accept what you can, and pray over the rest.” Every catholic is required to take the teaching of the Church very seriously and to use it as the primary tool in the formation of one’s personal conscience. However, the catechism clearly states that individual conscience is, in the end, inviolable.

    3) In theory, yes, but as with all of the teachings of the Church, a pastoral understanding of the specific situation would be required to know for sure. In the end, the Church teaches that “sin” is the rejection of God. Sometimes membership in the Church and accepting God’s direction are not the same thing.

    4) This varies by location, but in most cases, the blessing is meant to be a broad embrace of Catholics who do not want to or are not able to receive communion, and non-Catholics who want to affirm our common bonds. Theological assent to the teachings of the Church are not a prerequisite for such a blessings.

    5) Certain fairly conservative Catholics adhere to a male leadership model that is very similar to the one found in many evangelical/fundamentalist protestant families. However, I feel safe in saying that the vast majority of Catholic families have interpreted the teachings of the Church as promoting a form of complimentarian partnership when it comes to decision making…one that recognizes differences in gifts, but not in power. As I said before, when it comes to faith, individual conscience (with a healthy regard for the greater good of the family) is to be respected.

    Hope this helps…

  44. Tim Ferguson says

    1 – Do Catholics consider non-Catholic ministers as valid ministers: No short answer to this one, but I’ll be as brief as I can. We wouldn’t consider someone ordained outside of the Catholic/Orthodox milieu to be validly ordained to the priesthood. Properly and strictly speaking, the Church maintains that “ministry” is restricted to the ordained – what those of us not ordained practice in bringing Christ to the world is most properly called our apostolate. That’s a pretty restricted view, however, and I would say that most Catholics – including official, bishop-type Catholics – would not have a difficulty extending the definition of “ministry” to those who minister in a non-ordained, clerical way. As a baptized person I – and you – are called to exercise our apostolate or ministry using the particular gifts, talents and charisms we’ve been given, both through our natural traits and the charisms we’ve received in baptism. That call to exercise our gifts and talents is not limited only to Catholics, but extends to all the baptized. If you have discerned your talents and charisms to give you a ministry of leadership in your community, then no Catholic would deny the validity of your exercise of those charisms. Deacon Alex Jones is a Catholic deacon of the Archdiocese of Detroit, having been a Pentecostal minister beforehand. In his book No Price too High, he states his firm belief in the validity of his ministry to his community before his conversion – that he was indeed called to lead and guide his community, and that part of that shepherding role was to help lead those he could into the Catholic Church.

    While the Catholic Church doesn’t accept the validity of Holy Orders conferred by protestants, including Anglicans, whenever Protestant ministers visit the Vatican they tend to wear clothes befitting their status as ministers, if the denomination has a tradition of clerical dress. Vatican letters addressed to them use their titles, “Rev.” “Deacon” “Bishop”, and popes have given to Anglican and Lutheran bishops gifts which indicate their status in their communities – crosiers, rings.

    More later, but I’ve got to get back to work right now…

  45. Good afternoon. To answer the first question about ministers, one must first have a common understanding of the word minister.

    A Catholic would tell you we are all called by God to minster to eachother. Within the many ministries God calls us to do are parents, ordained priests, deacons, teachers, religious sisters or brothers, etc.

    With this in mind, does the Church recognize a Protestant minister (leader of a congregation) to be a valid minister (Ordained priest)? No. But it is important to realize this does not mean the Protestant was not called to preach the Gospel, we all are called to do this. He or she just answered the call within their understanding of church.

    If this Protestant Minister joins the Church he is still called to live the Gospel and if he is able (and called) to the ordained priesthood he should answer that call. I do not believe we are ever complete in our answer to God – we are always striving to answer teh call as completely as we can. Only in Heaven will things be complete.

  46. Jim McCullough says

    Traveling for our ministry today. (Grayson, Kentucky.) Spiritual Emphasis Week happening here the next 3 days and nights. I didn’t sleep more than 2 hours last night after finishing a book and thinking through all the details of a day I’m not here, so pray for me as I drive. Plus my internet has been totally down since Sunday afternoon, so I can only check in when I’m on a computer at work. I have two posts to get up, but that won’t happen for a while. Sorry Frank.
    I have some questions for a knowledgeable Roman Catholic. Pretty important matters.
    1) Do Roman Catholics consider Protestant ministers like myself valid ministers?

    #By baptism they have a part in the general priestly call of Christians, and are therefore called to live and proclaim the gospel. This, by the lights of their own ecclesial communities, suffices for ministerial leadership, as it would for many organizations within the Catholic Church. It is not part of the ministry conferred by the sacrament of Holy Orders and therefore would not suffice for a pastor in the Catholic Church. Pastoral associates in the Church designated by bishops to provide leadership, including teaching (but not Mass, Confession, or the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick) have received baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist to be fully initiated members of the Cathlolic Church.

    More particularly, if a good friend becomes Roman Catholic, are they now confessionally required to believe that I was never called of God to be a minister?

    #No, they are not.#

    2) Why is so much of my dialog with Catholics frustrated with “cafeteria Catholicism?”

    #Because Catholicism casts a very wide net. Many fish are in the net, and the sorting will only come at the End, as indicated in Jesus’ parables.#

    Catholics will tell me that I must accept the church’s teaching on subject X, but if I point out that they also must accept the church’s teaching on subject Y, I often hear, “Don’t put words in my mouth. That’s not what I believe.”

    #You are correct. They are still struggling with growing into the full vision of the Faith.#

    With all due respect, since when did the beliefs of an individual catholic matter?

    #Simply in terms of what the Faith IS, it doesn’t change anything. In terms of that individual Catholic, it just tells you where they are struggling with the Lord right now.#

    If a Protestant demonstrates that the church has infallibly taught Y, isn’t that the end of the discussion for the catholic?

    #Probably not. The old man doesn’t give up his waywardness all at once. But also keep in mind the Church’s teaching always has a growing edge, where disputes and differences of opinion can be allowed, and that the Church is quite free, and very diverse, in the many questions that have not been infallibly decided or at least regularly taught by the ordinary teaching authority. Nevertheless, on very many of the hot-button issues of our day, the teaching of the Church is clear and isn’t going to change.#

    3) What would be the church’s view on someone who is convinced the Catholic faith is true, but who is unable or chooses not to openly convert to Catholicism at this time? Is such a person committing a sin?

    #Not necessarily. Why ‘unable’? Why ‘chooses not to’? This is a major change which often impacts family members, job situations, etc. It should not be done lightly or with undue haste. Sit down and have a long conversation with a priest or mature Catholic layman you have respect for and trust, would be my advice to such a person.#

    4) Exactly what is meant when a non-Catholic goes forward at communion to be blessed, but not partake?

    #This is a custom, not a universal practice in the Church. I believe it has evolved as a way to welcome and ask God’s mercy upon anyone unable to receive Communion. If you are in need of welcome and God’s mercy as you struggle with elements of the Faith or the changes such a choice might bring, it would be for you.#

    What if such a person- like myself- openly disagrees with some of the church’s teaching and is not seeking reception into the church?

    #Much better to go up as a publican than a Pharisee.#

    5) What is the church’s view of leadership and submission in marriage? Would the church teach that a wife should join the church over the objections of her Christian, but Protestant, spouse? If so, how does this fit into the church’s teaching on marriage?

    #In one line, the Church’s teaching is mutual submission in Christ, with both spouses seeking the ultimate good of the other. Much patience on both sides. Each should have that long conversation suggested in #3 above, then some long conversations with each other and with the Lord.#

  47. 3. Forgot to say in connection to this question —

    But whether or not it’s actually a sin not to join the Catholic Church would depend on individual circumstances and intentions, how grave the preventing circumstances actually were, and whether the individual was actually expending any real effort to find a way to do what God wants. And that would be between the person, God, and their priest.

    You don’t have to exercise heroic virtue in following God’s will, like walking a hundred miles overnight in a driving blizzard to get to RCIA class, in order not to sin! OTOH, there are certainly circumstances where heroic virtue and martyrdom are not too much for God to ask, and are the most reasonable course. (And of course that’s happened, too.) So individual circumstances and hearts are really important here.

  48. Disclaimer: of course, this is just my personal opinion.


    1) I was an ordained Protestant minister. Of course I thought myself valid, having been ordained by my regional presbyterate in accordance with my Protestant community practice. I was also married according to their practice.

    Since returning to the Catholic Church, which I was taken out of as a child, I have grown to realize that my Protestant ministry was well-intentioned, perhaps effective, but not really “Ordained Ministry” in the Catholic sense. I do not consider that I was validly an (ordained) minister. Nor do I consider that I was validly married, due to last years clarifications of “formal defection” in Canon Law, and so we got married in the Catholic Church earlier this year, on the 20th anniversary of our civil/Protestant marriage.

    Obviously, my answer to this question has changed over the past ten years!

    2) You and me both. I have learned that very few Catholics really know what the Church teaches in any comprehensive way. Everybody has their favorite clubs to swing and axes to grind. The Church is really big. Most poeple don’t have a lot of time, or interest, to really dig into and understand things. Sound bites from theologians and spokespersons, often very biased, abound. But nothing beats reading and study on your own, as broadly as possible, of actual ecclesial documents (prefereably not only in English, as even official English translation can lead to misunderstandings in English-only discussions.)

    3) I think that if this is a true and honest description of a person, such a person is blessed,
    and we all sin, even those who are “officially Catholic.” Time is a gift from God; feel free to use it. Better you take your time, than act hastily and then think, “Oh, nuts! This is not what I expected at all!” And then convert right out to something else. There have been some recent, very public examples of this. There is a lot of truth to the idea that the Catholic Church means “Here comes everybody!” That can be scary, frustrating, and also comforting. 2005 stats indicated about 1.115 billion Catholics in the world, about 1/6 of the global population. That is a lot of nice, sweet, holy people, and also about 1.114 billion that you could be uncomfortable with.

    4) Personally, I don’t care for the “blessing not communion” thing. You can ask a priest for a blessing any time. I feel it is better to not confuse it with Communion.

    5) Marriage is one of the most badly taught things in the Catholic Church, in my opinion. Because it is such a big thing, and such a sensitive thing, and everybody has very strong opinions. However, I don’t think you can beat John Paul II’s book, his collection of talks and documents, called “The Theology of the Body,” or whatever is the title of the new, improved translation. Just don’t expect that your average Catholic would know what you are talking about if your brought it up at a party.
    Yes, my wife and I believe the husband is the head, and has responsibilities for the family, including spiritual leadership. I don’t think the Church these days, in the US, would teach that anyone “should join the church” over objections of a spouse. On the other hand, “joining the Church” can be a very minimally instrusive matter.

    Best regards to you.

  49. 1) Not to be overly semantical, but we’ll need to define “ministry” before we can deal with this constructively. My immediate response is that you may very well be called to “ministry”–I don’t know you personally ,so I can’t give an educated guess–but you are not, nor have you ever been, validly ordained.

    Let’s take a personal example: My father is a Baptist minister (who has taken my swimming the Tiber comparatively well), and once asked what I felt about women’s ordination, since he has a female associate pastor at his church. I responded that I had little to no issue with it, because she was not validly ordained and more importantly did not even claim to be validly ordained–that is, she did not claim to be ordained in the line of apostolic succession and empowered to celebrate the sacraments of Eucharist, confession, etc. Her “ministry” entailed counseling, proclamation, and perhaps even leadership, but at no point did she claim a priestly mantle–and neither did my father.

    What Baptists, and the vast majority of Protestants, call ordination isn’t. To say that Protestant “ordination” is the same as the sacrament of Holy Orders is as confused as claiming that there is no distinction between the president of a Rotary club and the President of the United States. Yet, simply because my father is not called to act as a priest, this does not mean he cannot serve as a prophet–that is, one called to proclaim the Word of God. That’s what most Protestants think of when they think of ministry–and there’s no reason I can see why they can’t do that, just as there no reason that Catholic lay people can’t exercise ministry as teachers, catechists, and the like. If that’s all that’s meant by “valid minister”, then I fail to see a conflict.

    Things get more interesting with High-Church Anglicans or Lutherans, who most likely would view themselves as taking on a priestly role. I would argue they are a bit confused on that point.

    2) Leaving aside occasional confusion on what the Church has and has not taught infallibly, you are correct that “demonstrat[ing] that the [C]hurch has infallibly taught Y … [should be] the end of the discussion for the [C]atholic.” Furthermore, the Catholic should, in general, be attentive to the teachings of the Church even when they are not infallible.

    For example, the Church has not infallibly weighed in against capital punishment (see point three in this linked document). However, the clear teaching of the past two popes and much of the upper-level hierarchy is plainly ill-disposed to see capital punishment as a useful or even legitimate action. As a Catholic, it is incumbent upon me to listen faithfully to the Church’s teaching and address it properly. Although I am (very tentatively) in favor of capital punishment, were I to hold my position without careful consideration of present Church teaching, I would not be doing my job as a faithful Catholic.

    Given this, why is it so hard to get Catholics to accept even infallible teachings of the Church, much less respectfully listen to longstanding Church teaching which happens to be an affront to their modern individualist sympathies? Basically, most American Catholics are too Protestant. Or too American. But I repeat myself.

    Being slightly less flippant: The current state of religious education among American Catholics, particularly those who grew up in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II, is atrocious. Much of this is a rather poor reflection on the priests of the period, who in many cases abandoned their obligation to teach unpopular doctrines to their congregation, or to impress on their flock the severity of their decision to flaunt the Church’s ethical teachings. (The most obvious example is Humanae Vitae and birth control.) But blame must also fall on the laity of the period, who absorbed without question the pervading cultural message that one should question authority, and then applied it with glee to their faith while not applying it at all to their societal influences. The result is basically what you would expect, and in fact very similar to what you see in many Protestant denominations. The difference is the Protestants have a theological excuse.

    Anecdotally, the situation seems to be doing much better; I have no hard statistics, but general impressions I have heard from those in the know, and my own personal experience, has led me to believe that the current generation of Catholics (those my age–mid-twenties–or younger) are far more engaged with and aware of Church doctrine than their parents. But American Catholicism still can seem an awful mess at times.

    (Some of my cynicism, no doubt, stems from my position as a Wheaton College alumnus who read his way into the Church; we are almost always “more Catholic than the Pope”, as the saying goes, and thus perhaps too unforgiving of those with less inquisitive or intellectual theological backgrounds. It is not necessarily fair to expect my fellow Catholics to have read through the Catechism, even if I really wish they would.)

    3) Let me rephrase the question: “What would be the church’s view on someone who is convinced Christianity is true, but who is unable or chooses not to openly accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ at this time? Is such a person committing a sin?” This question answers itself.

    From the Catholic (and Orthodox, and Patristic, and …) standpoint, Christ and the Church are inseparable. You do not approach one and pretend to be independent of the other. Again, I would blame American (and, in this case, specifically Evangelical) theology for encouraging a “Me and Jesus” mindset which denigrates and belittles the role of the Church in the plan of salvation.

    Three things are required to make something a mortal sin: 1) grave matter, 2) full knowledge, and 3) deliberate consent. Rejecting the Church, like rejecting Christ, is a grave matter, and your question presupposes that full knowledge is possessed. So the only thing that would keep this from being mortal would be the “unable” qualification. Of course, it is very hard for one to judge whether someone else is “unable”–psychologically or otherwise–to do the right thing, which is why we should always be reluctant to judge others. But this is serious business. Refusing to stand with Christ always is.

    4) I don’t feel qualified to answer this question. I don’t even know precisely what the priest says during such a blessing, and thus am unaware of the precise pastoral purpose or theological rationale for such blessings.

    5) Although I am tempted to repeat my last answer, I would say that a wife should join the Church over the objections of her spouse as a general rule, but would strongly encourage prayer, conversation, etc. to bring her husband to agreement or at least acceptance with her action. In the same way, I would encourage Christians in this country to deal with infringements on their religious obligations within the legal/political system to the greatest degree possible, only resorting to civil disobedience under extreme circumstances. But there does come a time when one must obey God rather than man. Fidelity to Christ and his commands is more important than following any earthly authority, however legitimate.

    I should note that the above is just my own instinctive reaction to the problem; I don’t know of any “official” Church position one way or the other.

    I agree with you that these are “pretty important matters”–particularly the first three. I hope this helps.

  50. Hello, Michael – I found you through a link from Amy Welborn’s blog. Actually, I’ve heard other folks mention you as well, so I’m happy to come over and visit.

    I’m a convert to Catholicism, so I want to take a stab at your questions above. A little background: I was raised Baptist, but then discovered the charismatic movement in college and had to find a new church home. I was part of a New England congregational (with evangelical ties) church, an independent charismatic church, a Free Methodist church, and a house church/”simple church” group before joining the Catholic Church in 1999. Stories of my spiritual journey can be found via links from my website, http://www.mystagogia.net, and on my blog, http://www.kathleenlundquist.blogspot.com.

    OK. Let’s dive in:

    1) Catholic teaching draws a distinction between the priesthood/ministry of the ordained (deacons, priests, bishops, etc.) and the priesthood/ministry of the laity (all persons baptized into Christ). We all start out with the priesthood of the laity/the “priesthood of the believer”, which is conferred on us via Christian baptism, but those called to the ordained sacerdotal priesthood receive a different sort of mission, with specific delegated responsibilities. In this view, a Catholic priest’s authority and jurisdiction are delegated to him from above and are attached to his office (think of a police officer in uniform). The average Christian believer’s priestly authority and sphere of influence are attached to his/her God-given individual personality (think of a father or mother, or a gifted artist). Since most Protestants (and I assume you) don’t believe in the ordained priesthood in the sense I described, we do share a common understanding that all baptized believers have been given a mission by God, and that mission can include the use of pastoring and preaching gifts – even for a layperson (from a Catholic perspective). For more on this, visit the website of the Catherine of Siena Institute at http://www.siena.org.

    2) I as a Catholic apologize to you for the confusion you’ve encountered in trying to discover authentic Catholic teaching. As you’ve noted, infallibility is a touchy subject, especially among American Catholics. I believe the issues are these:
    – The Catholic Church believes there is a hierarchy to truth. There is the Nicene/Constantinople Creed, which all believers are expected to believe wholeheartedly since we recite it together every week at Mass and it’s what you have to say you believe in order to be baptized. Then there’s the Catechism, the compendium of Church teaching which is like the encyclopedia – the definitive reference to answer specific questions. Then there’s the Pope’s encyclicals and letters, which carry great weight because when the Pope is intending to teach about issues of faith and morals, the charism of infallibility applies. Then there are statements from various Church offices in response to certain issues – position papers from bishops’ conferences, etc., which aren’t by their nature binding on the believer’s conscience, though it’s usually a good idea to take them to heart. Then there are private revelations – things like the Marian apparitions and other reports of miracles, which after they’re investigated by the Church, are declared no more than “worthy of belief”, which translates to “This is officially harmless – believe it if it helps you, but if not, that’s OK.”

    – There’s also the issue of evaluating the consistency of the Church’s teaching on a particular issue as it relates to core principles. Take the death penalty, for instance. For most of its history, the Church regarded the death penalty simply as a necessary political tool of the state and didn’t have much to say about it one way or the other; there was no specific condemnation of it, anyway. Pope John Paul II, however, made strong statements during his lifetime against the death penalty and explained that though it might have been a necessary social tool at one time, since we now have the technology to lock folks up for life, we should avoid and proscribe it. Some have taken this to mean that the Church has changed its teaching on the death penalty and to be a good Catholic, you must now be anti-death penalty. Though I’m deeply sympathetic on this issue, it isn’t really the case that my fellow Catholics are in mortal sin if they don’t agree the me; it’s ultimately a political/temporal issue. One might say that the Church’s teaching has developed on this issue in accordance with its core principles, which include guarding the dignity and sanctity of human life, but the application of this development in the real world requires realism and debate.

    On the other hand, take the issue of abortion. Some Catholics have actually written books containing quotes from St. Thomas Aquinas and other Catholic writers that they claim support the possibility of morally licit abortion before “quickening”, about the 3rd month. This argument is bogus because the Church’s core principles and huge, consistent body of teaching on the dignity of human life and the sanctity of the family weigh heavily against modern interpretations of medieval Catholic writings that would attempt to carve out exceptions to those principles.

    – Many prominent American Catholic leaders in the ’60s and ’70s sadly did not grasp the nature of what was actually said about “conscience” in the documents of Vatican II. The “inviolability and primacy of conscience” did not refer to that of baptized Catholics at all, but rather to that of non-Christians and adherents of other religions that live amongst Christians. The point was that you can’t force someone to convert against their conscience, not that “conscience trumps all”. The documents actually say that every believer has a responsibility to form his/her conscience in accordance with Church teaching, but this idea was obscured by influential priests and teachers who were caught up in the ’60s zeitgeist and wanted to throw everything out that window that Vatican II opened. So, the unfortunate reality now is that the average American Catholic doesn’t really know his/her faith. (I’m sure you’ve met your share of Christians from Protestant traditions who are in the same boat.) If you want to know the content of what Catholics are required to believe, go to the Catechism or study the Creeds – or better yet, the early Church Fathers.

    Sorry this is so long – I’ll go ahead and post this and then work on the last three questions.