Allow me to vent a bit. Here are three things I’ve learned over the years as a Catholic active in the life of the Church:
First: There is no other faith tradition that is so clear and public about what it teaches. There are literally gobs and gobs of resources on what the Catholic Church teaches from reliable Catholic sources about almost any subject under the sun where the Church actually has an official teaching (though people would certainly be surprised to learn that there are many, many subjects on which the Church has no official teaching and where individual Catholics are free to discern their own position as best they can according to their wits). There is, of course, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which ought to be on the bookshelf of every Catholic. There are a number of excellent Catholic study Bibles, one of which also ought to be on the bookshelf of every Catholic. There are innumerable Catholic websites, including those of the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, that address any number of areas of Church teaching. There are also countless books, articles, magazines, etc… that offer clear and authoritative explanations of Catholic teaching.
Second: There is widespread ignorance of what the Church teaches, among Catholics, former Catholics, and non-Catholics.
Third: There is no shortage of insufferables, Catholic, formerly Catholic, and non-Catholic, who have no idea what the Church teaches and who have not bothered to avail themselves of the plethora of resources that explain what the Church teaches who are, nevertheless, ready and eager to comment on what the Church teaches. Many will simply not be disabused of their errors. Sadly, too, many are willfully ignorant of what the Church teaches, or actually know what the Church teaches but choose to purposefully misrepresent the Church’s teaching to serve their own agenda.
I have heard all of the following errors over the years from Catholics, former Catholics, non-Catholics, or all three:
- the Catholic Church teaches that homosexuals are going to hell
- the Catholic Church teaches that a homosexual orientation is a choice
- the Catholic Church teaches that abortion is a sin that cannot be forgiven
- the Catholic Church teaches that, if only the mother or the fetus can be saved in the event of a difficult pregnancy, then doctors must save the fetus and allow the mother to die
- the Catholic Church rejects the theory of evolution as contrary to the Bible and Catholic faith
- the Catholic Church teaches that Catholics must agree with the pope on everything he says
- the Catholic Church teaches that Catholics should pray to the pope
- the Catholic Church teaches that Mary is equal to Jesus
- the Catholic Church teaches that non-Catholic Christians are not real Christians
- the Catholic Church teaches that Genesis is a historical account of Creation
- the Catholic Church forbids Catholics to read the Bible
- the Catholic Church teaches that Catholics must do everything to keep a terminally ill person alive at all cost
- the Catholic Church teaches that Catholics who are divorced may not receive Holy Communion
- the Catholic Church teaches that saints were perfect people who could do no wrong
- the Catholic Church teaches that the only purpose of sex is to have children, so it is a sin to actually enjoy sex or to have sex more often than necessary
- the Catholic Church teaches that the rhythm method is the only morally acceptable method of natural family planning
- the Catholic Church teaches that contraceptives are evil in and of themselves and may not be used even for medical reasons unrelated to birth control
- the Catholic Church teaches that, while the Church can teach infallibly on matters of faith, the charism of infallibility does not extend to matters of morality
- the Catholic Church teaches that purgatory is a “second chance” for salvation for those who die in sin
- the Catholic Church teaches that unbaptized babies are relegated to limbo (I give people a break on this one since, while it has never been anything more than theological speculation, it was taught as doctrine to generations of Catholics by priests and sisters who should have known better; current thinking on the question leans more toward God’s mercy bringing these souls fully into the presence of the Beatific Vision, though the question remains officially unsettled)
Oh, and the list goes on and on.
Sometimes, people are willing to listen and accept correction. More often than not, they find it difficult to let go of their erroneous understanding of Catholic teaching and think I’m crazy or ignorant of what the Church really teaches when I try to explain that they are wrong.
Part of the fault certainly lies in the poor, even dismal, catechesis Catholics have suffered over the last few decades. As a result, and as I mentioned above, there are plenty of Catholics who believe much of what is on the list above, and more that is simply inconsistent with Catholic teaching. These Catholics, some of whom are active in the Church and even teaching children, help to spread these errors. Part of the problem lies in the fact that most people, even most Catholics, choose for some bizarre reason to get most or all of their information on things Catholic from non-Catholic sources, especially from the secular media. Some years ago, I wrote a journalist to thank him for saving me the time I had formerly wasted reading articles about the Church in secular journals. His article was so full of error that it would have taken a week to set him straight. I vowed then to no longer even bother reading articles about the Church published by the secular media. It serves no point, because so much of what is written is wrong, and so often grossly wrong. There’s no explanation for it except prejudice, hard-headedness, and laziness because, as to my first point, the correct information is available.
What to do? I try gentle retorts. I point people to resources. I try to keep myself educated, as well. In all things, charity. But, there are times when it gets to me, especially when I know someone is willfully distorting Church teaching in order to discredit the Church, or when someone simply will not be moved from their error.
Here are some resources you can go to to become a better informed Catholic:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
The Catholic Study Bible
w2.vatican.va (vatican website)
http://www.usccb.org (website of the U. S. bishops)
http://www.catholic.com (website for Catholic Answers)
jimmyakin.com (website for Jimmy Akin, a popular Catholic apologist)
canonlawblog.wordpress.com (blog for Dr. Edward Peters, canon lawyer)
http://www.magiscenter.com (website for the Magis Center, dedicated to issues related to Catholicism and science)
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.